Things That Make Me Go Hmmm...What's With All the Numbers in Mockingjay?
Warning: This post will have spoilers.
Today is Friday the 13th--a day that so many associate with bad luck or a hockey-masked killer. But it got me to thinking about the use of numbers in Suzanne Collins's novel Mockingjay.
As an English teacher, I like to believe that authors write with purpose. I mean, it is our job to teach students to find meaning. And, yes, I am sure there are times we go a little overboard.
But I was immediately blown away by the mention of all the numbers in Mockingjay when I first read it. Then, when I started to do a little research, I was amazed at some of the connections I came across.
The first number that stood out to me was Katniss's compartment assignment in district 13: 307. It seemed odd that the number was mentioned. At first I just assumed because district 13 was so structured, it would make sense to have room numbers, like a hotel. But why "307"? I typed in "Room 307" in a Google search just to see what might pop up, and came across this: http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/wwIIbayarea/307.HTM
What's so special about this Gilman Hall? According to the site, it is where scientists identified plutonium in 1941. In 1942, the room was “fenced off” and utilized for nuclear chemistry study as part of the war effort. The room was also part of the “Manhattan Project,” which developed the first atomic bomb.
This is the point where I had one of those English-teacher moments and thought surely this can't be coincidental, can it? The significance of Katniss being the symbol for the rebellion is assigned to a room whose number is symbolic for its contribution to nuclear warfare. This had to be intentional, right? Then there's the irony that it was bombs that destroyed her home district and here she is in a room that symbolizes the invention of a nuclear bomb meant to destroy a city. What did this all mean? Is this foreshadowing?
Of course, my excitement grew with this finding, so I paid close attention to all the numbers I came across in Mockingjay. I figured if Suzanne Collins was going to number all the rooms and compartments, she probably did so with intent and purpose, and of course symbolism. (I can't help it, people! I'm an English teacher. I live for this stuff.)
One of the most obvious of the symbolic numbers was for the Star Squad 451. Immediately I thought of the Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451. Both novels are set in a dystopian future and Katniss has many qualities similar to Bradbury's protagonist Guy Montag (which I'm not going to list here so my students--and perhaps yours--will look to the books for answers).
Other numbers mentioned in Mockinjay included:
Room (or Compartment) 3908 - the room Katniss's prep team was held hostage
Compartment E - the compartment Katniss, her mother, and Prim were assigned in the district 13 bunker
Space 47 - Gale's assignment in the bunker
Room 2212 - The next room assignment for Katniss, her mother, and Prim
Have your students research these numbers, looking at what they may symbolize in science or history. Have them try to make connections to the novel. Sure, some of it may be a stretch, and perhaps it is all accidental. But I still find it to be a fun activity and a great way to make connections with other content areas.
If you would like a formal handout and teacher's guide for this, I do have a packet of supplemental activities for Mockingjay. These are included in the Mockingjay novel unit in digital download and on CD; it is also found in the trilogy 3-pack unit.