Katniss is many things: the hunter, the hunted, a friend, a lover, a sister and daughter, a Panem celebrity, and the Mockingjay. But in trying to be so many things to so many people, she loses sight of who she actually used to be a few short years ago.
When she and Gale receive permission to go aboveground in District 13 and hunt together, she's excited mostly because, as she thinks to herself, "We could be ourselves again" (3.26). The self she remembers herself being is not the Hunger Games victor, the Quell escaper, or the face of the rebel movement.
Katniss had a strong and clear identity before she entered the Games. (You can read all about that in our guide to The Hunger Games.) She was a girl who thrived on being her family's caretaker and providing for others. A girl who sought out freedom wherever she could find it. A girl who would protect her little sister, Prim, at all costs, even if it meant dying in the Hunger Games.
The only thing is, Katniss didn't die in the Games arena. She didn't give her life for Prim's – or rather, she tried to give it and instead was vaulted into a key role in a national rebellion. So who is she now?
My Name is Katniss Everdeen…
Good question. Its such a good question, in fact, that Katniss doesn't quite know how to answer it. Throughout Mockingjay, Katniss tries to get a grip on her identity by reciting facts about herself. Here's an example:
My name is Katniss Everdeen. I'm seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. (1.7)
Why doesn't Katniss know who she is? Well, as Johanna says to Katniss, all the victors have "changed":
"So have you. So have I. And Finnick and Haymitch and Beetee. Don't get me started on Annie Cresta. The arena messed us all up pretty good, don't you think? Or do you still feel like the girl who volunteered for your sister?" (17.45)
Johanna's exactly right. "The girl who volunteered for [her] sister" is gone. In her place is someone else: someone older, angrier, more cynical, and, frankly, depressed. Let's take a closer look at some of the ways our girl has changed.
Did you notice that Katniss is a little traumatized from her experiences with the Capitol? (Um, if you didn't notice, then you must not have read the book.) Right. She's more than a little traumatized. She's hiding in closets, having vivid flashbacks to the Hunger Games, screaming uncontrollably, and in need of morphine to calm down. We'd say she's suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Though Katniss may have escaped to District 13 without too much physical damage, she certainly didn't walk away unscathed.
Katniss has always been defined by her drive to survive, but by the time she's killed President Coin, Katniss has lost the will to live. And sometimes she's actively suicidal:
Jumping to my death's not an option – the window glass must be a foot thick. I can make an excellent noose, but there's nothing to hang myself from. It's possible I could hoard pill and then knock myself off with a lethal dose, except that I'm sure I'm being watched around the clock. […] What I can do is give up. I resolve to lie on the bed without eating, drinking, or taking my medications. (27.11-12)
And we aren't the only ones who think Katniss is suffering from some serious trauma. The main reason she isn't imprisoned or executed for killing Coin is that Dr. Aurelius successfully argues that Katniss a "hopeless, shell-shocked lunatic" (27.19). Everyone can see that Katniss is different, and deeply wounded from the Hunger Games and the fight against the Capitol.
As we learn in the Epilogue, Katniss never fully recovers. Many, many years later, she's still suffering from horrible nightmares.
The new Katniss is also angry. Make that ANGRY. Sure Katniss has always disliked and feared President Snow, but now she wants him dead. More importantly, she determined to kill him herself. That's one of her conditions for agreeing to be the Mockingjay – if he's captured by the rebels, Katniss "want[s] the privilege" of executing him (3.38).
We know what you're thinking: Shmoop, you're crazy. Katniss passive? No way, the girl is a hunter and a fighter.
That's absolutely true. In The Hunger Games and Catching Fire Katniss is all about action. She volunteers for the Games; she tricks the Capitol into allowing two tributes to win; and at the Quell, she's all about saving Peeta. But in Mockingjay, is she all that active?
We're not really sure. It's debatable. Let's go through some of the key decisions she's faced with in Mockingjay:
1. To be or not to be [the Mockingjay] that is the question. Katniss thinks about it and makes a decision. Yes, she will be the Mockingjay…if President Coin will meet her conditions (Prim can keep the cat, Katniss and Gale can hunt, the victors get immunity, etc.) Go, Katniss! Way to take control of the situation.
2. Down with President Snow! …or maybe Coin. This is an interesting one. Katniss sets out to execute Snow (publically), but ends up shooting Coin instead. Was this Katniss's plan, or did it just, well, happen? Since Katniss is our narrator, usually we have access to all of her thoughts, however messy and conflicting they may be. Which is why it's kind of surprising when Katniss up and kills Coin. We didn't hear Katniss think it over at all, or debate what she should do. And check out how she describes the move to kill Coin instead of Snow: "The point of my arrow shifts upward" (26.74). It's like the arrow is making the decision, not Katniss. What do you think? Passive or active?
3. Gale or Peeta? Peeta or Gale? Ah, the all-consuming question of the entire trilogy…which man will Katniss choose? In the end, we're not totally sure if Katniss does choose. Sure, she ends up with Peeta, but let's take a look at how that actually happened:
Prim is killed by a bomb that is suspiciously like the one Gale invented. When Gale talks to Katniss about it he says, "Does it matter [if it was my bomb that killed Prim]? You'll always be thinking about it" (26.34). Katniss says nothing. She doesn't deny it, but she doesn't chew him out either. He leaves, and she still says nothing. Is she actively making a decision against Gale here, or just passively going with it as he removes himself from the competition? Things just end with Gale.
Does Katniss now go and tell Peeta she wants to be with him? Um, no. After assassinating President Coin, Katniss goes back to 12 with Haymitch…and she doesn't even ask about Peeta. Eventually, Peeta shows up. She doesn't welcome him, but she also never tells him to go away. Wait, so does that mean Katniss has chosen Peeta, or that she just passively accepts him as her life partner? Good question.
Ultimately, we'll leave that up to you to decide: has Katniss, our action hero, become passive? And if so, how do you feel about that?
Not all of Katniss's changes in Mockingjay are for the worse. One thing Katniss gains in this book is a certainty that life, especially the lives of children, is valuable. And anyone who is willing to kill innocent children cannot be good.
In The Hunger Games, Katniss has a small circle of friends and family she cares about: Prim (most of all), her mother, Gale, and Gale's family. She'll fight for these people, but isn't overly concerned about anyone else – and certainly not concerned enough to risk her life to fight the government, even if it sacrifices children to the Hunger Games every year. Over the course of the series, the circle of people she cares about grows. It includes Rue and Peeta. It expands further to include Haymitch, Cinna, many of the victors, Katniss's prep team, rebels she fights alongside… Eventually, she thinks far beyond herself and the people she knows and loves. She decides that killing the innocent, for whatever reason, is simply wrong:
Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children to settle its differences. You can spin it any way you like. Snow thought the Hunger Games was an efficient means of control. Coin thought the parachutes would expedite the war. But in the end, who benefits? (27.15)
Let's not forget that Katniss is more than just another girl from the districts, she's also the Mockingjay. She's supposed to be "the face, the voice, the embodiment of the revolution" (1.28) and "the symbol of the revolution" (1.28). Though she may be the face and symbol of the revolution, the Mockingjay is really a sort of PR tool. President Coin doesn't want Katniss to have any real power.
Because of Katniss's important role, she has very little personal freedom. She can't actually fight because the rebels can't afford for her to be hurt. This may be annoying, but more difficult is the fact that, because she's the Mockingjay, people are willing to die for her, or at least for what she represents. Several times, she feels like she can't go on because she doesn't want other people to make such huge sacrifices on her account.
Another problem with the Mockingjay gig is that sometimes Katniss doesn't feel at home in her own body. The Mockingjay the rebels are trying to create and the Mockingjay Katniss naturally is don't always mesh:
I watch the woman on the screen. Her body seems larger in stature, more imposing than mine. Her face smudged but sexy. Her brows black and drawn in an angle of defiance. Wisps of smoke – suggesting she has either just been extinguished or is about to burst into flames – rise from her clothes. I do not know who this person is. (5.68)
Like the Capitol, the District 13 rebel government is molding Katniss, asking her to perform a role. (Want to know more about that? Check out "Setting" and "Themes: Manipulation.") The Mockingjay doesn't match with the way Katniss views herself; Katniss the Mockingjay is taller, "more imposing," and even "sexy." That's just not how Katniss thinks of herself.
Ultimately, Katniss can't be the Mockingjay that President Coin wants her to be. In Katniss's final appearance dressed up as the Mockingjay – what is supposed to be President Snow's execution – Katniss instead kills Coin, the rebel leader.
Want to know more about Katniss as the Mockingjay and symbol of the revolution? Check out "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory."
Katniss is so focused on her role in the revolution that romance gets pushed to the wayside. She clearly has feelings for both Gale and Peeta, but for most of the book she simply doesn't have time to resolve them. Part of her loves both of them. But she can't be with both.
In the end she's knows that Peeta is the man for her, because she needs to be with someone who will help her embrace life:
What I need to survive is not Gale's fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that. (27.62)
By killing President Coin, Katniss has tried to eradicate evils on both sides of the war, and open the door to an authority that will (hopefully) rule with justice and mercy. Someone who will, perhaps, try to make things "good again."