© Linda Joy Singleton 2011
NOTE FROM LINDA JOY SINGLETON:
Sometimes when you finish reading something amazing, you just want to discuss it and think about it more.
That’s how I felt after reading The HUNGER GAMES trilogy. When kids read HUNGER GAMES they’ll realize that
war is about more than kick-ass weapons; it’s personal and horrible. This trilogy, a world of powerful words, is like
a weapon, too. Books change minds, and ultimately, can change the world.
As a writer, I learn so much by reading and even re-reading amazing books like this trilogy. I was impressed by the plotting
structure and theme of the brutality versus humanity of war. As I reread through the books analyzing weapons of war, not just
physical weapons like Katniss’ bow and arrow, but social, political, emotional and technological weapons. I wrote the
following essay with my answer to the question:
What do you think is the ultimate weapon in the Hunger Games?
WEAPONRY IN THE HUNGER GAMES
By Linda Joy Singleton
With the cunning of a cougar, Katniss Everdeen stalks the woods outside District 12 with her weapon of choice--a bow
and a sheath of arrows.
Her hunting partner is Gale; they fish, hunt, gather berries, eggs and edible plants with simple but effective weapons:
snares and knives; bows and arrows. Five years of hunting has toned Katniss’ body, sharpened her reflexes and lit a
fire in her soul against the injustice inflicted by the Capitol. More importantly, it has forced her to become a skilled
When Katniss is whisked off on a train to begin her new role as a tribute, she learns that knowledge of archery and non-
poisonous berries isn’t enough to keep her alive.
The twenty-four tributes are primped, plucked and whipped into attractive killing soufflés. Sending starving ugly
children to their death would never do in the Capitol where glamour is contagious and food is so abundant that
vomiting is an art form. They may be going to their deaths, but damn it if they won’t look fabulous—accessorized
with killing skills and killer smiles.
The tributes polish up their skills at the Training Center; a playground of tantalizing weapons. Individual battle skills are
related to their District, for instance, the tributes from Districts 1, 2, and 4 are well-fed, stronger and capable of killing with
their bare hands. Tiny Rue from District 11 has the physical skills of a gymnast from her grueling work harvesting fruit from
trees. And the District 4 tributes with fishing skills are deadly with spears. District 12, poor and starving, has never had strong
or exceptionally skillful tributes—until Katniss.
In the Training Center, those who prefer the flee-and-forage method are instructed in life-sustaining skills that are critical
weapons for survival: building fires and shelters, edible plants, knot-tying, and camouflage. The more blood-lusting students
practice throwing spiked maces, axes or spears. For those up close and personal murders, the tributes practice going for the
jugular with a knife or hand-to-hand combat techniques. There will be no grades or pop quizzes. Failing students die first.
While Katniss comes to the game with archery skills, she worries about Peeta. He’s a well-fed baker’s son; tall and strong,
but lacking in fighting skills. Peeta insists he has skills, and explains to Katniss that he’s skilled in cake decorating, showing
her camouflage designs painted on his arm. She isn’t impressed and says, “It’s lovely. If only you could frost someone to
But Peeta’s training in camouflage as a weapon pays off. When Katniss searches for him so they can work together, she
finds him submerged in mud. The baker’s son has used camouflage to survive: mud-frosting himself into the ground so that
only his eyes show when he blinks up in surprise at Katniss.
His face and arms are so artfully disguised as to be invisible. I kneel beside him. “I guess all those hours decorating
cakes paid off.”
Peeta smiles. “Yes, frosting. The final defense of the dying.”
Katniss begins her training with snares, camouflage, fire-starting, knife throwing and making shelter—all the time longing
to work out her top skill: archery. When she finally gets her chance, she is excited by the array of bows and arrows.
“Oh, the weapons! Bows made of wood and plastic and metal and materials I can’t even name. Arrows with feathers
cut in flawless uniform lines (Hunger Games).”
She severs ropes, shoulder-rolls forward and sends sparks flying as she shoots a hanging light. But when she
looks over to the Gamemakers for approval, they aren’t even paying attention—so she fires an arrow at the dead
pig on their table. Score. Katniss!
By Catching Fire any victory Katniss achieved is cut swift and deadly. The Capitol has always manipulated the
Games, but never with such cunning horrors as the 75
A second Hunger Games battle? I could hardly believe Suzanne Collins would do this when I read this in Catching Fire. I
expected Katniss to travel to other Districts and join rebels to fight the govern-by-terror Capitol. Sending Katniss
and Peeta off to another Game seemed like crazy-weird plotting. I compare plotting to a weaver twisting different
threads in conflicting directions, yet in the end they all come together symmetrically into an artfully woven fabric.
So the plot-thread of another Game just didn’t make any sense to me since it had already been done in the first
book. But I read further and realized this wasn’t a random plot twist tossed in for drama—it was skillfully crafted
plotting that introduces even more brilliant and horrific weapons. This new battle builds on the foundation of the
first book; deepens characterization and ups the stakes with techno weapons, intense levels of emotion, and
physical conflict. Manipulation has become a weapon; a deadly force played by President Snow with one goal: to
stop the Mockingjay rebellion by killing Katniss.
The first battle which offered poisonous rain, tracker jays, walls of fire and ferocious mutations seemed like child’s play
compared to the horrors of the Quarter Quell. The arena itself is a weapon; a force field shaped like the dial of a clock rotating
a sequence of deadly attacks.
Each hour begins a new horror, a new Gamemaker weapon, and ends the previous. Lightning, blood rain, fog,
monkeys---those are the first four hours on the clock. And at ten, the wave (Catching Fire).
By the third book, Mockingjay, sophisticated weapons for killing games escalate into a bloody war with aircraft,
bombs, explosive traps, techno terrorism, and the underlying threat of nuclear war—not from the enemy Capitol,
but from Katniss’ allies in District 13.
While arrows and knives kill in a physical battle, Katniss learns that winning a war requires more subtle weapons, too. In
Hunger Games, to gain support and supplies, she needs sponsors. This means going through grueling fashion-
makers to impress with dazzling costumes and telecast interviews which are life or death trials on whether she’s
worthy of public support. Not easy for a girl with the charms of a hibernating grizzly woken from a deep slumber.
Luckily, she has a charismatic ally.
Peeta loves her; she distrusts him. But their mentor Haymitch, who is the only other champion from District 12, urges
Katniss to pretend to be in love with Peeta as a strategy to win sponsorship. Sponsors send life-giving gifts during the Game,
like water and medicine. Reluctantly, Katniss fakes a romance and even an engagement with Peeta—but it’s her best friend
and hunting companion, Gale, she longs for:
I can’t help comparing what I have with Gale to what I’m pretending to have with Peeta…Gale and I were thrown
together by a mutual need to survive. Peeta and I know the other’s survival means our own death. (Hunger Games)
In the Games, a tragic romance wins audience hearts and generous sponsors, so Katniss clasps Peeta’s hand
and smiles adoringly into his face. Peeta’s love for Katniss is genuine; he would sacrifice himself to keep her alive.
But suspicious of his motives, Katniss resists any friendly feelings for him. She can never forget that despite their
tender caresses and shared smiles, she’ll have to kill him…eventually.
Other friendship bonds are social weapons, too--even fake friendships.
The Career Tributes, born to fight and teethed on weaponry, understand the benefit of joining forces with frenemies.
Fighting in packs like wolves is only a temporary weapon but it’s been a successful strategy in the past; usually a Career
Tribute wins the Game.
“So they’re fighting in a pack. I’m not really surprised. Often allegiances are formed in the early stage of the Games.”
(Katniss in The Hunger Games)
But Katniss isn’t a team player. In Hunger Games, once she enters the arena, she fights alone, making a run for a
silver sheath of arrows and a bow, even though Peeta gestures a warning for her to “run” the other direction. Her
hesitation costs her the bow and arrows, and nearly her life as a well-aimed knife lodges in her backpack. I love
her kickass humor when she pulls out the knife, grinning, and thinks, Thanks for the knife.
When enemies are allies, there is little room for trust. Katniss is beyond shocked when she finds out Peeta has joined the
Career Wolf Pack. Betrayed by the only person she’s started to trust, she’s more determined than ever to survive on her own.
Still it’s not long before she opens her heart to bird-like Rue, the young tribute from District 11 who reminds her of her
beloved sister Prim, suggesting they team up. Rue immediately proves her loyalty and her value by foraging for food,
soothing Katniss’ injuries, and spying on the Careers. Together, they go from a defensive to an offensive strategy; plotting
sabotage. As fleet as her flying arrows, the temporary team of Kat-Rue uses the Career’s own land mines to explode their
supplies; striking where it hurts most--in their stomachs.
But alliances are short-lived and when Rue is killed by a boy from District 1, Katniss retaliates with an arrow through the
boy’s neck. Tears slide down her cheeks as Katniss honors Rue with song and flowers. In a shift from killer to mourner,
Katniss has changed her role in the game. By honoring Rue, she’s shown defiance to the Capitol and gained support from
District 11 who sends her a gift of bread; something unheard of in the history of the Games. Katniss has changed inside, too,
as she realizes:
…the boy from District 1 was the first person I knew would die because of my actions. Numerous animals have lost
their lives at my hands, but only one human. I hear Gale saying, “How different can it be, really?”
Katniss and Peeta, no longer Game virgins in Catching Fire, train like Career Tributes and ally with friendly enemies.
Katniss leads with her heart when choosing allies; she seeks to help others rather than build a strong army. She
aligns with elderly Mags who can barely walk but can tie a wicked fish hook and the techno-geeks with brains but
zero brawn, Wiress and Beetee. And instead of hiding her archery prowess, Katniss flaunts her amazing ability in
rapid-fire shooting during practice; never missing, and gaining hatred and admiration from her competitors. As for
strategy, Katniss only has one goal: to keep Peeta alive. Not only because of her feelings for him but because she
thinks his charismatic gift for speech can be a powerful weapon to lead the rebellion to victory.
My decision to keep Peeta alive at the expense of my own life is itself an act of defiance. A refusal to play the Hunger
Games by the Capitol’s rules (Catching Fire).
Other players have hidden agendas, too. As the Games are ready to begin, all twenty-four Champions join hands in “one
unbroken line” of unity; another act of rebellion. Also within the Game, a group of competitors have secretly united with the
sole goal to rescue Katniss—their “Mockingjay” symbol of rebellion. But Team Katniss has one player whose goal has never
changed: Peeta, who once again is ready to sacrifice himself to save Katniss. Otherwise, the rules of the Games have changed
in new and terrible ways; not held in a faux-nature wilderness but a techno-landscape.
In the arena, the most dangerous enemy is the Capitol.
Winning the 1
Hunger Games saves Katniss and Peeta, but at what cost?
In Catching Fire there’s a hint of other battles going on--more subtle and dangerous. The surface goal is all
about survival; staying alive despite starvation, manipulations from the Capitol and the final blood-battle in the
While Katniss can defeat enemies with fierce skills in battle, being a pawn—used as a political weapon first by the Capitol
(and later by District 13) makes her feel helpless. She’d rather shoot an arrow through President Snow’s blood-thirsty heart
but since that isn’t an option (yet). She fears that public resistance will result in the deaths of her family and friends, so she
surrenders to the Capitol’s orders: pretending to be Peeta’s blissful bride-to-be; moving into the luxurious Victor Village; and
making pretty speeches at public appearances. But in her heart, defiance flutters on fiery wings, waiting for a chance for
Sharing a common goal unites foes into a powerful force of allies, even though Katniss is resistant at first. She’s
suspicious when Finnick saves her life and can’t figure out why Haymitch wants them to be allies. She’s even more shocked
when Mags saves their group by walking into death; a morphling sacrifices herself to save Peeta; and Joanna protects Wiress
and Beetee. Katniss assumes that these selfless acts are all part of a plot to save Peeta, not realizing until later that she’s the
“Mockingjay”—the shining hope of the revolution to defeat the Capitol. Still, Katniss is reluctant become a symbol of
“We had to save you because you’re the mockingjay, Katniss,” says Plutarch. “While you live, the revolution lives.”
The bird, the pin, the song, the berries, the watch, the cracker, the dress that burst into flames. I am the mockingjay. (Catching
This new Game, where surviving is only a minor goal, includes unexpected moments of humanity.
Champions have bonded over the years as friends and would rather die for a cause than target each other. Even
Katniss, who knows few of the champions, is saddened when the murdered faces flash in the sky with the sound
of canon booms, and she thinks that while she doesn’t know them personally, she knows their names. It’s hard to
separate her heart from the brutality of the Game. Katniss isn’t fighting to win one battle; but to protect the people
she loves by winning the war. A big heart is a huge weapon; giving Katniss something more important than her
own life to fight for; the lives of the people she loves.
While Katniss can survive against terrible weapons, the worst weapon of all breaks her heart and spirit: Peeta. When he’s
rescued from the Capitol, Katniss can’t wait to see him again—but their reunion is the opposite of romantic.
I run to meet him, my arms extended to embrace him. His hands are reaching for me, too, to caress my face, I think.
My lips are just forming his name when his fingers lock around my throat.
Hijacked. That’s what’s happened to Peeta’s mind; all his love for Katniss erased and replaced with a murderous hatred.
This is the part of the book that really got to me; even more than a long list of deaths. Peeta has always been there for Katniss;
loving and protecting her no matter what. But now he shouts out, “She killed my friends! My family! Don’t even go near her!
She’s a mutt!” When I read this part, I flashed back to when I was a sixteen and a guy I loved took me outside to a bench
during a dance and broke up with me. Those same hot-angry-hurt emotions rushed over me and my heart broke along with
As a reader I was crushed, but as a writer, I thought, “Wow! Brilliant!” Plotting is all about crashing waves of conflict, and
what better conflict that turning love into hate as a weapon? Peeta has become a pawn, much like Katniss has been a pawn;
but instead of being on the same side, they’re suddenly enemies. It’s terrible and clever. By using Peeta this way, his character
sharpens with darker edges, and the villainous President Snow’s character becomes even more despicable. Later Katniss
realizes that they didn’t need to rescue Peeta.
Peeta would’ve been delivered to me anyway. Dropped off in an actively warring District or perhaps 13 itself. Tied up
with ribbons and tagged with my name. Programmed to murder me.
President Snow has turned Peeta’s love for Katniss into fearful hate. Fear is a powerful weapon in Snow’s wicked arsenal.
The Capitol controls the Districts with threats of destruction, warning they could be destroyed like District 13. At the same
time, the Capitol promises protection for those that follow their rules. Fear makes people look for a protector, and Snow
combines powerful promises of protection with threats to maintain control.
But using Peeta as a weapon backfires on Snow; giving Katniss more venom in her revenge and more determination to
take down the Capitol. Without Peeta as a hostage anymore, Katniss is free to go back into the battle. The war is more
personal this time and Katniss is willing to die to achieve her goal: to kill President Snow.
Emotions and anger are like ammunition fired from the most dangerous weapons. In Catching Fire, oppressed angry
Districts unite to save the Mockingjay, so that by Mockingjay most Districts have joined forces with District 13 to
strike back at their mutual enemy for revenge and justice.
Strong emotions of hate rouse peaceful people into a riotous mob. Hate, revenge burn with such outrage that anyone can
turn from sweet into savage. Reading this, I wanted President Snow to be horribly punished: his blood-tinged lips skewered
with an arrow in a public execution. That's what a skilled writer like Suzanne Collins does to her readers; spill blood in her
words, pitting fictional characters against each other and making readers scream for vengeance, too.
It’s ironic that love is the motivation that turns Katniss into a tool of war: loving her sister, her mother, her friends, and her
growing romantic love for Peeta. The same love that connects people is fuel for murderous rage. The emotional weapons to
heal hate are empathy, courage and compassion.—the traits found in Peeta. His compassion and pacifist beliefs help Katniss
consider the consequences of war before firing her final fatal arrow.
WEAPONS OF WAR: WIN OR LOSE, WE’RE ALL LOSERS
In the final book of the trilogy, Mockingjay, Katniss finds refuge in the mythical District 13; that not only exists but
has amassed an army and possesses weapons of mass destruction. District 13 leads other Districts into a full-
scale battle against the Capitol, utilizing stealth planes, bombs and other fiery weapons of destruction. But
weapons of force aren’t enough to unite thirteen Districts into one army so District 13 uses the weapon of illusion
to create a symbol of freedom to rally all the Districts together—the Mockingjay.
My ongoing struggle against the Capitol, which has so often felt like a solitary journey, has not been undertaken alone.
I have had thousands upon thousands of people from the Districts at my side. I was their Mockingjay long before I
accepted the role (Mockingjay)
With this realization, Katniss is back in the Game. Literally. She bitterly jokes with Finnick, “Let the Seventy-sixth Hunger
The battlefield is the Capitol—President Snow’s turf--with mine-like pods that trigger killing devices beyond
horrible: pods of gunfire, bombs, lethal oil, barbed nets, waves of tar, tracker jackers, reptile mutts, flesh-eating
rats, mechanical Meat Grinder, boiling steam and even a street which flips up to devour victims.
The arena has changed dramatically, but there’s still a Gamemaker in control; formerly working for the Capitol,
Plutarch, is the weapon puppeteer. He helped create the pods and other killing devices, and although his
allegiance is now with District 13, he still ruthlessly controls the Game. It’s all about winning; no matter how many
innocent people die. When Gale and Beetee proudly show Katniss booby-traps that lure parents by using children
as bait, Katniss is appalled. “That seems to be crossing some kind of line,” she says. But Gale argues they’re just
“following the same rule book President Snow used.”
Katniss grimly accepts this explanation, comforted by one difference in the new Game of horrors: “This time Snow
will be a player, too.” And Katniss is determined to take him down.
THE ULTIMATE WEAPON
Katniss would probably say that her “ultimate weapon” is an arrow and bows. In Hunger Games she began
with a crude bow made by her father then later used a Capitol-made silver bow with arrows. In Catching Fire, she
swims in a techno-treacherous sea and retrieves a golden bow. In Mockingjay, District 13 decks her out in armor
as supple as fabric and she’s armed with a sheath “divided into three cylinders of arrows” with fire power and
Throughout the trilogy, Katniss evolves from victim-to pawn-to assassin; used by her Capitol enemies to kill in a Game
then used by her District 13 allies as a symbol for more killing. But even when she’s a pawn, she continues to fight for what
she believes in, and save the people she loves. Although motivated by revenge for her sister, her final arrow flies for all the
innocent victims and the future of humanity—to save the next generation.
Katniss Everdeen is the ultimate weapon.