Symbolism of "The Hanging Tree"...?


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Initial post: May 3, 2012 7:33:12 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 3, 2012 10:35:41 PM PDT
As I was reading Mockingjay I kept wondering whether the song Katniss sings, "The Hanging Tree," had more symbolism in the story than met the eye, especially since she kept referencing it. When I went back and re-read all three books back-to-back I found some interesting connections, especially with Katniss and Peeta. (All of this could be me reading way too much into it, of course. I have a tendency to do that.) The one that really caught my attention at first was the beach scene from Catching Fire; there's a reference to the lightning tree ("Are you coming to the tree, where they strung up a man they say murdered three"), and, if I remember right, I *think* Peeta only killed three people throughout the series. Plus, the lightning tree is in the midnight section: "Strange things did happen here, no stranger would it be, if we met up at midnight at the hanging tree." That's also when Peeta tells Katniss he wants her to be the one to survive the arena: "Where the dead man called out for his love to flee"/"Where I told you to run so we'd both be free." AND he gives her the chain with the Mockingjay locket, a nod to "Wear a necklace of rope side by side with me"?

I would've maybe thought this was all coincidence, but then I kept noticing references to midnight popping up in Mockingjay, and they seemed to be in places that tied in with the song. Katniss says it must be midnight when the rescue team brings back Peeta from the Capitol... and then he almost strangles her (they meet up at midnight in the "hanging" tree). Plus, at that point, Peeta has given three "treasonous" interviews, so that seemed to tie into the line about "the man they say murdered three." When he asks to see her once he's recovered somewhat, it's midnight, and when she first reaches out to him in the camp in the Capitol when she's on guard, it's also midnight.

I also thought it might tie into the end of the book, when the two of them come together in District 12 (midnight=12 o'clock), where in the past she had wanted to escape with him and Gale and her family (that whole "Where I told you to run so we'd both be free" line). The last verse seemed to fit, too... the "necklace of rope side by side with me." The rope maybe stands for the emotional baggage they need to work through?

The song could apply to Gale and his role in the revolution; seems like he's calling Katniss to join him in sacrificing their lives for the cause.

Anyone else have any other ideas or theories?

Posted on May 3, 2012 9:08:15 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 3, 2012 9:27:34 PM PDT
satsuma says:
Wow, this is really interesting! In-book, it's Gale who compares himself to the hanged man. But I can see how it could also apply to Peeta. Especially the references to midnight. I'll add that it's quite plausible that when Katniss finally admits she loves Peeta at the end, this may have happened around midnight as well since there are hints that they were physically intimate before that, and Katniss refers back to what happened on the beach during CF, which as you note occured at midnight.

ETA: As for the question of how many people Peeta winds up killing in the story: This is actually quite ambiguous, both in terms of who he killed in the sense of, who would still be alive if not for his actions, and who he's actually *responsible* for killing in terms of, is what he did the same as murder.

In the first book, he claims to have "finished off" the D8 female tribute who lit the camp fire. But Katniss never sees this. The fact that the cannon sounds *after* Peeta's come back to the Career pack and says "she is now" when they ask if she's dead, makes me think he probably did something that made him sure that she would be dead by the time he got back. So I think he did more than just sit there holding her hand. But you could argue that she was going to die anyway and that Peeta's not really responsible for her death. Katniss credits Peeta with Foxface's death, and I think he does feel responsible for it, but when he left the nightlock berries there, he had no intent to kill anyone with them. So is he really responsible for that?

We also don't see Peeta kill anyone in CF. He claims to have killed Brutus in his interview with Flickerman in MJ. We know Peeta has lied in interviews before. But he talks about how "killing innocent people takes everything you are", even though you could argue Brutus was the least innocent tribute in the QQ, he volunteered for it, as a 40-something man, not a naive kid. So is he talking about killing Brutus? Killing Foxface? Killing the D8 girl? Or did he kill someone else in his first Games while he was with the Careers? A popular fan theory I've read about is that the reason the D4 boy didn't survive the first day is because Peeta killed him to prove himself to the Careers, and that's how he wound up in the Career pack.

Finally, in MJ, Peeta winds up killing Mitchell when he attacks Katniss, Mitchell defends her, and he throws Mitchell onto the pod. Peeta himself takes full responsibility for this and asks to be killed. And I'm pretty sure that in court, if someone tries to kill one person, and winds up killing another "accidentally", he's still charged with murder, even though he didn't mean to kill that specific person. For example, if there's a shoot out between two people, and a stray bullet winds up killing someone else. But you could argue that Peeta would be found not guilty by reason of insanity, anyway.

That being said, the song says "they *say* murdered three", not that he actually did. So I guess you could say that Peeta kills at least one person in each of the books, that you could count either the D8 girl or Foxface for the first, Brutus for the second, and Mitchell for the third. Linking the "three" to his three interviews might be more plausible.

Posted on May 3, 2012 9:42:19 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 3, 2012 10:12:31 PM PDT
@satsuma: Good points about Peeta. I did think about those too... and I also noticed in the book that Katniss emphasizes the fact that the line says "they SAY" murdered three. It left it ambiguous whether the man actually did murder three or not. I guess I was thinking that, as far as I could recall, Peeta seems to claim/feel responsibility for three deaths (Foxface, Brutus, and Mitchell). Though granted, I wasn't sure about the girl from D8.

I also remembered that in the first book Katniss is "strung up" in the tree by the Careers, and Peeta warns her to run before getting attacked by Cato. And then the warning he gives D13... and it's at least plausible to think that the really serious torture/hijacking starts after that. (He's pretty much a "dead man" for giving that warning.) Seems to tie into the song again.

Oh yeah, and once he's back in D13 and asks to see Katniss, he's got restraints on and he's handcuffed for a lot of the story from there on out. "Strung up" again.

That's one of the things I loved most about these books, the little details that might not seem so important initially but come together throughout the series.

Posted on May 3, 2012 10:28:09 PM PDT
satsuma says:
Well, I guess if you use the "would still be alive if not for Peeta" criterion, then Foxface, Brutus, and Mitchell would be the best candidates for the "three" dead by his hand. And since the cameras were still rolling during that part of the QQ, if Peeta had lied about Brutus that would be easy to check on, so he likely did indeed kill Brutus as he claimed.

I also agree with Peeta likely giving himself up as a "dead man" during his third interview when he warns D13. I think some of the hijacking likely had started by then already because Katniss describes him as looking insane, but it doesn't seem they'd turned him against her yet. Maybe at first they tried to get him to support the Capitol and be their spokesman the way Katniss was the rebels' Mockingjay, and when they realized that was a lost cause, figured they'd cut their losses, and focus on getting him to hate Katniss so he could be set up as an assassin. I mean, he winds up thinking Katniss is a *Capitol* mutt.

Posted on Oct 18, 2012 7:58:29 PM PDT
Katniss directly compares *herself* with the narrator in the song, though. She remembers that at first, as a child, she thought it was just a love song and didn't understand why her mother thought the song was too dangerous. Later she realized what it was about: the hanged man's lover is in danger or being punished because she was either an accomplice in his crime, or they (the Capitol) are just taking it out on her. (A pretty obvious parallel with her and Peeta.) She thought that the hanged man in the song was the creepiest person in the world when she realized that he isn't calling her to safety, but to join him in death. But now she thinks she understands him better - he's calling her to find safety in death because the things they were going to do to her might be worse than death. Katniss thinks she understands it now and remembers that he wanted to kill Peeta with a syringe after the Quarter Quell so the Capitol couldn't torture him.

This is a theme that comes up again and again in Mockingjay - whether it's better to kill your beloved to save them from pain and fate that is worse than death. (Back at the end of CF, even Finnick was thinking that it might be better if Annie were dead, if Peeta were dead, and if they were all dead.) After Peeta's hijacking Katniss pretty much gives up on any hope of life and tries to channel all her energy into revenge: go to the Capitol, kill Snow and get killed. The question of whether to kill Peeta or not comes up several times, and he asks to be killed because he can't take it anymore and wants it to end - and the only time Katniss does decide to kill him, in the tunnel, and aims her bow, is when she thinks that Snow has really ruined him and turned him into a mutt (which comes shortly after Peeta himself had asked to be put out of his misery) and she thinks to herself that it will be all over in an instant and he won't feel a thing. She later thinks about the song "The Hanging Tree" when they're saying goodbye at Tigris' house; she's promised Gale to shoot him if he's captured, and when Peeta, who will be going separately to cause a diversion, asks for the nightlock in case he's captured, she thinks of the song and gives him the nightlock, saying: "Take it, Peeta; there will be no one to help you".

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 18, 2012 8:06:29 PM PDT
"We also don't see Peeta kill anyone in CF. He claims to have killed Brutus in his interview with Flickerman in MJ. We know Peeta has lied in interviews before. But he talks about how "killing innocent people takes everything you are", even though you could argue Brutus was the least innocent tribute in the QQ, he volunteered for it, as a 40-something man, not a naive kid. So is he talking about killing Brutus? Killing Foxface? Killing the D8 girl? Or did he kill someone else in his first Games while he was with the Careers? A popular fan theory I've read about is that the reason the D4 boy didn't survive the first day is because Peeta killed him to prove himself to the Careers, and that's how he wound up in the Career pack."

I find that hard to believe. He is prepared to kill if he must, but I think he would be feeling much more guilty if he had committed a cold blooded murder, if he were even prepared to do it. It doesn't fit with his characterization (and I'm not one of those people who think Peeta is the most perfect saint who ever sainted).

Regarding Brutus - I don't think that Peeta would regard Brutus as *not* innocent just because he was a 40-something Career Tribute who volunteered to go back in the Arena. I always felt that Brutus was another example of how damaged Career Tributes are, in a different way than many of the other Tributes or Victors: people like Cato and Brutus have been raised to do nothing but kill in the Arena, winning the games is all they exist for, and they don't know how to do anything else. Add to that the fact that Peeta talked to Brutus during the training and that they seemed to get along - whatever Brutus was like, Peeta got to know him a bit more as a person. And I believe that Peeta understood who the real enemy was, and that the *not innocent* weren't the people in the Arena, but those who put them there.
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Participants:  3
Total posts:  6
Initial post:  May 3, 2012
Latest post:  Oct 18, 2012

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Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games)
Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games) by Suzanne Collins (Hardcover - August 24, 2010)
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