First, a little refresher: what is a mockingjay?
Well, a mockingjay is a bird, of course, but a hybrid one. They originate from a species known as the jabberjay. Jabberjays were birds that the Capitol genetically engineered to be spies during the rebellion of the past 13 districts. The little guys were meant to overhear subversive conversations, and bring that information to the Capitol, and repeat what they heard. This was all fine and dandy, of course, until the rebels caught on and started feeding the jabberjays false info. Once the Capitol figured this all out, the birds became useless to them. The jabberjays were left alone in the wild where they mated with female mockingbirds. After a few generations, the hybrid birds could no longer repeat or carry information, but they instead learned to carry a tune and to repeat songs and melodies. Hence, the mockingjay was born.
Katniss, like the mockingjay bird, must repeat others' words instead of her own. But she's sure trying to break away from being manipulated and find her own voice:
What they [President Coin and the rebels] want is for me to truly take on the role they designed for me. The symbol of the revolution. The Mockingjay. […] I won't have to do it alone. They have a whole team of people to make me over, dress me, write my speeches, orchestrate my appearances – as if that doesn't sound horribly familiar – and all I have to do is play my part. (1.28)
During the Hunger Games, Katniss became associated with the mockingjay symbol because of the mockingjay pin she was given to take into the Hunger Games arena. This pin became very important to her. The connection between her and the mockingjay idea was strengthened by the final costume Cinna created for her. When Katniss put it on, she embodied the mockingjay. Both Katniss and the mockingjays are mouthpieces that want, ultimately, to find their very own voices. The mockingjays might be genetically unable to do so, but Katniss isn't.
In an interview with School Library Journal, Mockingjay author Suzanne Collins describes the particular role of the mockingjays:
Now the thing about the mockingjays is that they were never meant to be created. They were not a part of the Capitol's design. So here's this creature that the Capitol never meant to exist, and through the will of survival, this creature exists. (source)
In other words, mockingjays aren't supposed to be here, but somehow are. Despite all odds, they're still around. In that sense, it's easy to see why the rebels select the mockingjay as a symbol for themselves: they aren't supposed to be around, yet they persist. And they're determined to survive no matter what.
It's also logical that the rebels would see Katniss as the perfect embodiment of their mockingjay symbol. In fact, Collins goes on to explain that the mockingjay, as an unusual survivor, is a lot like Katniss:
Symbolically, I suppose, Katniss is something like a mockingjay in and of herself. She is a girl who should never have existed. And the reason she does exist is that she comes from District 12, which is sort of the joke of the 12 districts of Panem. Katniss is the mockingjay. She is the thing that should never have been created, that the Capitol never intended to happen […]. (source)
Katniss herself is a symbol too, because of what she represents to the revolution. As Boggs tells her, "You're the face of the rebellion. You may have more influence than any other single person" (19.13). She's constantly being reminded that she's not just her own self, and that she can't act just based on what she thinks or what she wants to do, because whatever she does reflects back on the revolution. This can be a positive thing, like when Katniss visits the hospital in District 2 and brings hope and inspiration to many of the wounded there. But it can also be a negative thing, as Katniss is really uncomfortable with the idea that people are dying to support and protect her (or at least the rebellion she represents).
The idea that Katniss is a symbol – that she is the Mockingjay – is reiterated when a false rumor spreads that Katniss died in the Capitol: the rebels' president, Coin, claims that "Dead or alive, Katniss Everdeen will remain the face of this rebellion. If ever you waver in your resolve, think of the Mockingjay, and in her you will find the strength you need to rid Panem of its oppressors" (21.28).
The Hunger Games
The memory of the Hunger Games loom over the characters in Mockingjay. Even though Katniss and many of the other Hunger Games victors are in District 13 and safe from the arena, Katniss still can't stop thinking about the parallels between her present (the rebellion) and her past (the Hunger Games).
The politicians and leaders of 13, and their manipulations, are just too similar to authorities in the Capitol. The rebels' war is fought with weapons and strategies just like those used in the Games. It's almost like the Games arena has expanded to cover all of Panem, and the stakes are even higher. Both the rebellion and the Games/Capitol manipulate reality for political gain, in the form of their televised media and propaganda campaigns. Both use unusual, lethal weapons that are employed through surprise. Both sacrifice innocent lives. Members of both regimes seem, in the end, to encourage the same kind of political authority (the evil kind, obviously).
Arena Tokens: Peeta's pearl, Katniss's pin, the gold locket, and the silver parachute
Katniss holds on to these precious objects that remind her of her experiences in the Quarter Quell once she has escaped and is relatively safe in District 13. They are some of the only possessions she can call her own in her new home. Here's the deal with each object:
The gold locket has pictures of her mom and sister.
The silver parachute came to her in an hour of great need during one of her Games.
The mockingjay pin has a very important role in earlier books, it was a present given to Katniss by a wealthier girl from 12, Madge. During her experiences in the Games, the audience begins to associate Katniss with the idea of the mockingjay itself. (Read more about the pin in our analysis of The Hunger Games https://www.shmoop.com/hunger-games/symbolism-imagery.html.)
The pearl is a present from Peeta – he gave it to Katniss in the arena during the Quarter Quell. Throughout Mockingjay, Katniss thinks about or holds the pearl when she needs reassurance about Peeta. During the Capitol's assault on 13, for example, Katniss clings to it:
I knot the pearl into the corner of the parachute, bury it deep in the recesses of the bag, as if it's Peeta's life and no one can take it away as long as I guard it. (10.50)
The pearl comes to stand in for Peeta when he isn't there. When Peeta returns and is drastically changed, the pearl remains the same. Katniss holds on to it and hopes that, somehow, the old Peeta will return to her.
Crazy Cat appears briefly, for only a few pages, but it's still a potent symbol in Mockingjay. Crazy Cat is a game Katniss plays with her family's cat Buttercup in District 13. She waves a flashlight around and he goes bonkers, chasing the light. (Maybe you've done this with your own cat and a laser pointer. We sure have. Good times.) Buttercup is most interested in the light when he can't get it but if they play the Crazy Cat game for too long, Buttercup really goes bananas.
One night Katniss realizes that Crazy Cat is a metaphor for how the Capitol plays games with her. She compares herself to Buttercup and the light to the imprisoned Peeta, who she wants desperately, but the Capitol dangles out of reach.
Roses are a small but potent symbol in Mockingjay. Though we usually think of roses as symbols of love or beauty, here they are usually a reference to the ultra-evil President Snow. At the beginning of the book he has left a white rose in Katniss's house as a kind of message for her. The smell of roses makes her violently ill, probably because she associates them with Snow, who's out to get her. Prior to Snow's execution, Katniss selects a white rose from his garden for him to wear when he dies. She's sending her own message back to him.
Roses are also noteworthy because they end up being a reference to Katniss's sister, Prim. Prim's name is short for "Primrose," another kind of flower. At the end of the book, Peeta brings Katniss primroses as part of the healing process once the war ends.
Katniss's Dad's Hunting Jacket and Bag
These are items Gale brings back from the ruins of District 12 to Katniss in 13. They remind her of her father and the innocent life she led prior to the Games. Katniss uses them when she begins to hunt again; they make her feel more like herself.
Katniss brings this family book back to her mother from District 12; it has lists of different plants in it and is helpful for medical purposes. It also gives Katniss the idea of making a memory book at the end of Mockingjay.