Prompt: In chapter 16 of Mockingjay, Collins writes about District 12 “We may have been the smallest district in Panem, but we know how to dance.” Discuss the importance of music and dance in The Hunger Games compared to Appalachia. Make sure to talk about at least one of the 3 songs mentioned in the trilogy: “Deep in the Meadow,” “The Valley Song,” and “The Hanging Tree.”
Music plays an integral part in the culture and history of the people of Appalachia, so it only makes sense that it would be similarly important to the citizens of Panem. In Appalachia, music is a social occasion. Usually played live on traditional instruments, it is a way of bringing together friends and family and celebrating both the joy and anguish of life. It is also a method of storytelling, passing on old stories that are a part of cultural history. Because the more isolated people of Appalachia have historically often been illiterate, the oral tradition perpetuated by song and dance has been especially critical in passing on their culture from one generation to another.
In Mockingjay, this same love and joy is apparent in the scene of Annie and Finnick’s wedding, when a single fiddle player revives a long-dormant sense of celebration in the refugees from District 12. The song connects every person in attendance to each other. Similarly, music is a thread that connects Katniss to her family throughout the book series. Most notably, the traditional songs of District 12 are linked to Katniss’ memory of her father, who used to sing them to her and to any birds and animals that would listen. When Katniss finally comes to align herself with the rebel cause and becomes less afraid of the memory of her father, she remembers the songs and begins to sing them. Just as they did for her father, the mockingjays stop their whistling when Katniss sings.
Because music is so connected with District 12, it becomes a part of the rebellion against the Capitol. When Katniss was a child, her mother forbid her or her father singing “The Hanging Tree,” an eerie tune about a hanged man urging his lover to join him in death. The song is banned by the Capitol for many years until Katniss resurrects it by singing to Pollux, an event that is captured and broadcasted in a propo across Panem. Here, the defiance inherent in the song is blatant, and Katniss’ singing is a reclamation of her culture that flies in the face of President Snow’s regulations.
Other District 12 songs are also representative of the rebellion, albeit less directly. “The Valley Song” is mentioned when Peeta recalls seeing Katniss for the first time. On the first day of school, when they were both children, she enthusiastically volunteered to sing the Valley Song, drawing Peeta’s attention. Not only does this link Katniss to her roots, her father, and her past, but it is a memory of Peeta and Katniss’ relationship that has nothing to do with their Hunger Games performance. Rather than being false or jaded, it is a moment of childhood affection captured in a fond memory long before the Capitol took control over Peeta’s and Katniss’ lives.
“Deep in the Meadow” is a lullaby that Katniss sings to Prim on the morning of the reaping and, later, to Rue as she dies in the arena. It serves as a link to Katniss’ family and home, but it also comes to symbolize unity between the districts, and major spark in the initial steps of the revolution. By singing this song in front of all of Panem, Katniss brings her oppressed culture front-and-center while breaking down the walls of suspicion and ignorance meant to separate the districts. Rue’s four note mockingjay song plays a similar role, representing life in her district and eventually becoming a symbol of the rebellion itself, whistled over and over by the defiant people of Panem.
It is unlikely, but perhaps all the more fitting, that the music of the most downtrodden district becomes the soundtrack of the revolution that brings down Panem. The roots of District 12 are as deep as those of Appalachia, and in more ways than one they are woven from the strings of a fiddle.