Panem is a country that is under constant surveillance by the Capitol through the enforcement of laws and Peacekeepers. As a result, citizens of the twelve districts must self-monitor to ensure they fall in line with the Capitol’s expectations. If not, they face a range of punishments from whippings to slavery to death. The question remains: how does one express their personal beliefs in a safe and discreet manner? Through deliberate yet seemingly harmless stylistic choices made by Cinna and Katniss, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins tells a story of rebellion using fashion as argument.
Since the beginning of the novel, Katniss shows that she is against the actions of the Capitol, the center of the dystopian country of Panem; most people in the outlying District 12 are. Cinna, Katniss’ stylist during the preparation for the Hunger Games, is an example that not only the oppressed people of Panem have negative feelings towards the Capitol. As soon as he meets Katniss and dresses her for her first live performance, we see that Cinna uses fashion to rebel against the Capitol during the 74th annual Hunger Games. Katniss is his perfect subject on which to display his rebellion, because as soon as she volunteered herself to take part in the most dreaded event of the year, she demanded respect from her district and even from many of the people of the Capitol. “‘Whose idea was the handholding?’ asks Haymitch. ‘Cinna’s,’ says Portia. ‘Just the perfect touch of rebellion,’ says Haymitch. ‘Very nice.’… ‘Presenting ourselves not as adversaries but as friends has distinguished us as much as the fiery costumes’” (Collins 79). Cinna, while making Katniss and Peeta unforgettable by putting them into identical flaming costumes, presents them to the Capitol as a team. Normally tributes from the same district are shown standing apart from each other, enemies before they even enter the arena, and this is expected. When Cinna asks the two tributes from District 12 to hold hands, he is arguing the ways of the Capitol and the power that it holds. If one simple stylist can disrupt its ways, how will it be able to protect itself and its citizens against any level of uprising?
When Cinna is dressing Katniss, he has a clear objective to make sure she is unforgettable. “‘I want the audience to recognize you when you’re in the arena,’ says Cinna dreamily. ‘Katniss the girl who was on fire’” (Collins 67). In the second novel, Catching Fire, it is revealed that Katniss is the face of the rebellion, and from the beginning, Cinna makes sure that everyone knows who is leading them. The second outfit in which Katniss is presented is the most memorable. Cinna puts her in something in which she feels very much unlike herself, but this fiery dress represents the hatred that Katniss slowly begins to feel towards the Capitol. “The slightest movement gives the impression I am engulfed in tongues of fire.” (Collins 120). Cinna is slowly turning Katniss into the icon and leader of the rebellion.
After the Games are finished and Katniss and Peeta are declared co-winners, Haymitch, their mentor, brings President Snow to Katniss’ attention. She pulled a risky stunt to win the Games, something that could have left the Capitol without a single winner, and the Gamemakers, who control everything that happens throughout and concerning the Hunger Games, have been bested. The president of Panem makes it clear that the only thing he wants is Katniss’ flame extinguished. This leads Cinna to dress Katniss in the most innocent outfit after that he can. “I look, very simply, like a girl. A young one. Fourteen at most. Innocent. Harmless. Yes, it is shocking that Cinna has pulled this off when you remember I’ve just won the Games…This is a very calculated look. Nothing Cinna designs is arbitrary” (Collins 355). She needs to be seen as young, small, and most of all, a teenage girl, which she has no desire to be. Cinna is again, manipulating the people of the Capitol, and doing everything he can to make Katniss unforgettable.
When Katniss is saying her goodbyes prior to leaving for the Capitol, Madge gifts her a pin to wear as her tribute token into the arena. It isn’t until Katniss is on the train that she recognizes the pin as a mockingjay. Mockingjays are “funny birds and something of a slap in the face to the Capitol,” a result of crossbreeding between mockingbirds and jabberjays, one of the Capitol’s experimental animal weapons for the rebellion gone rogue (Collins 43). Still, it isn’t until Katniss’ encounters with Rue – using mockingjays as communication, learning that the pin meant she could be trusted as an ally – that Katniss takes a closer look at the symbol. As The Hunger Games trilogy unfolds and Katniss continues to participate in acts of rebellion – burying Rue, deciding to eat the berries with Peeta, – what was once a mere fashion statement becomes something bigger. Katniss becomes the Mockingjay herself, the face of the rebellion. Her appearances become increasingly calculated and deliberate. “” (Celt 128). This critical assessment of Katniss not only discusses her physical strength as a victor but her mental strength in opinion against the Capitol. For Katniss, Cinna, Madge, and the viewers in Panem, there is an unspoken weight to symbol of the mockingjay and its ability to transform from a fashion piece to the voice of rebellion and victory.
Through distinct stylistic choices in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Cinna and Katniss rebel against the Capitol. The ever present mockingjay becomes a symbol of the rebellion against the leadership and president of Panem, and Cinna uses his influence as a stylist in the Games to show the Capitol that their ways are easily changed. Collins demonstrates that through fashion, a powerful rebellion can arise and change a nation.
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Press, 2010.
Chusna, Aidatul, & Lynda Susana W.A.F.. “THE HUNGER GAMES: REPRESENTING THE NEW IMAGE OF AMERICAN POPULAR HEROES.” Celt (A Journal of Culture, English Language Teaching & Literature) [Online], 15.2 (2015): 118-133. Web. 25 Sep. 2017
What are some parallels between Katniss’ use of fashion as argument in the Hunger Games and your personal choice of fashion in daily life?
In The Hunger Games, fashion aids character development and is an integral part of developing the rebellion against the Capitol. Are there any other YA dystopian novels that you have read in which fashion plays an important role?