The Hanging Tree theme in THG trilogy
I love this song. It’s so beautifully complex and its lyrics are woven thematically though out the trilogy.
Even though the song only first appears in Mockingjay, the theme of the song exists in all three of the stories, repeatedly. While it can be applied to a variety of characters and situations, this post is going to focus on Katniss and Peeta.
The primary message in the song is about sacrificing for a loved one, wishing to protect them from harm, and then ultimately expressing the desire to ‘wear a necklace of rope, side by side’ together in death.
In THG, Peeta sets a plan in motion to surrender any hope for his own survival by focussing all his skills on ensuring Katniss wins in the arena. He calls out to her to flee when they are stung by the tracker jackers. He tries to stop her from risking her life to help him when the feast is announced. When the rule change is revoked, he finally agrees to Katniss’s plan that they both take the nightlock berries together, rather than insist that she become the victor.
Katniss sacrifices for Peeta by staying by his side even though he is a liability to her due to his injuries. She risks her life going to the feast for his medicine, knowing that if she fails, they will both die. While she does not specifically compel him to flee, she worries about his fate after the blood bath and the encounter with the tracker jackers. Her choice at the end to risk death by dying with him rather than survive alone is her call to hang together rather than be apart.
In CF, Peeta and Katniss both are determined to give up their lives for the other in the QQ arena. When they are calling each other’s name, just before the lightening strikes, in order to draw the careers to themselves, they are in a way helping the other to flee. We aren’t privy to Peeta’s actions at the end, however, Katniss laments that by blowing out the forcefield she has condemned Peeta to death alongside her. Later, she alternates between desperately searching the hovercraft seeking Peeta so that she can kill them both rather than the two of them face the wrath of the Capitol, and hoping he will somehow survive in exchange for her death.
By Mockingjay, we are given the lyrics to the song. And Katniss begins to relate it to her own life and situation. She sees Peeta condemn himself for her sake by warning her of the attack on D13. He is both sacrificing himself and calling out for her to flee from harm. Despite the aftermath of his hijacking, he eventually follows her into the heart of the Capitol, drags her from the lizard mutts in order to enable her escape, and tails her to the City Circle so that he can jump into harm’s way when needed.
Katniss puts her life at risk to keep Peeta from slipping back into the clutches of the hijacking while in the Capitol, and pleads with him to hide safely when they depart from Tigris’s shop, as she faces likely death carrying out her assassination plan.
By the end of the story, when Peeta returns to D12, they have both symbolically experienced a type of death together. Peeta’s is due to his hijacking which so altered his mind for a time, that he became something he couldn’t recognize as himself. Katniss had given up hope with the death of Prim and the loss of so many people she cared about.
When Katniss witnesses Peeta planting the primroses, she is filled with a new purpose and sense of hope. Eventually she describes that together with Peeta, she has claimed ‘the dandelion in the spring’ that symbolizes rebirth. They faced The Hanging Tree together and prevailed, and out of the destruction of the Games and the Rebellion, they created a new life for themselves.