6.23.2011

What's So Important About the The Green & Silver Moth?

A luna moth.

Yes, this post contains SPOILERS...

In chapter 21 of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Katniss returns to the cave after attending the "feast" and retrieving the life-saving medicine for Peeta. After she injects him but before she passes out, she notices a luna moth* on her wrist:

“The last thing I remember is an exquisitely beautiful green-and-silver moth landing on the curve of my wrist.” (from page 289)

Because the moth is never mentioned again, it seems quite odd to include it in the story, right? Well, not if you are a brilliant master of symbolism as Suzanne Collins is. Moths have made appearances in literature and poetry for centuries, including in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, 1596. In  Act 2, Scene 9, Portia compares men to moths, drawn to the bright lights, only to get burned by them:

"Thus hath the candle singed the moth. 
O these deliberate fools! When they do choose, 
They have the wisdom by their wit to lose."
The moth continues to be a topic for contemporary writers, as shown in Carl Phillips' poem "Luna Moth" on the Poetry Foundation site found here.

Typically, moths (and butterflies) have represented transformation of a character, just as these insects undergo a transformation  from caterpillar to cocoon to moth.

In The Hunger Games, when the luna moth lands on Katniss's wrist it marks the point in which she has begun her own transformation. Not only has she changed from a girl in the Seam who hunts to feed her family into a “girl on fire” popular tribute, but she is transforming from a self-serving individual (or selfish for her family & their needs) into a selfless person who cares about others’ well-being, putting them first. Yes, I do know that she sacrificed herself for Prim, which is a selfless act. However, it was still for her own family's benefit.

At the beginning of the Games, she would have never sacrificed herself for Peeta or any other tribute, and yet, here she is risking her life to safe his. What happened to just saving herself in order to save her family?

I believe it began with the loss of Rue, realizing the bigger picture: suffering will continue in Panem and children will continue to die. Children like Rue. Children just like Prim. She’s no longer OK with that. (Not that she was before, but she couldn’t think about others because her family’s needs were too great.)

In addition, according to Animal Symbolism of the Moth the moth represents determination and faith. Each night it follows the moonlight; in the absence of moonlight, it will seek man-made light. "Even at the risk of losing its life, the moth is ever-vigilant in following its path of light." Could the "light" that Katniss seeks be the ultimate end to the Capitol's reign over Panem? Or is it simply to win the Games?

To further enhance the symbolism, there are several references to the moon in the novel.  First, she mentions wanting to see the moon the night before she enters the arena on page 138. This leads her up to the roof, to Peeta. Next, on page 231, a "moonbeam ray" will help take your troubles away in the Meadow Song she sings to Rue. When Katniss learns of the new rule change on page 243, she holds her face up to the moonlight to make sure the cameras see her smile - which registers her realization that Peeta is not her enemy and they can both survive. She uses the moon as a timepiece, counting the hours until the feast on page 275. And on page 305, she views the full moon and realizes it must have completed its cycle. Her last mention of the moon is while she and Peeta await Cato's death on top of the Cornucopia on that long last night in the arena on page 333.

Has Katniss completed her cycle of transformation, just as the moon and just as the moth? Perhaps her first stage of transformation is complete, but, of course, we will see her undergo even further transformations in the next two novels.

*I call it a luna moth (aka Actias luna) because they are found in North America and the other option, a green-with-silver-lines moth (aka Pseudoips prasinana) is only found in Europe. It made sense to me since Panem is in the former North America.

Applying In Your Classroom
Challenge your students to find other symbols in the novel. Reading into the text can bring new awareness and interest to the novel, especially for students who may have previously read it. As it becomes more popular, chances are you will have students in class who have read the novel will need an extra challenge. Finding hidden symbols can be a rewarding activity for them.
I put together a 12-page packet of handouts with an additional 13 pages of research. Some of the things I found include:
• The significance of May 8th as Katniss Everdeen's birthday
• The symbolism of strawberries and how they relate to Mayor Undersee
• Plant symbolism, including primrose, rue, daisies (from the Meadow Song), wildflowers, and dandelions
• What a willow tree represents
• The contradiction of "the girl on fire" and katniss root plant
• The significance of Prim's pets: Buttercup & Lady
• Symbolism of (and juxtaposition of) the silver parachutes
There are so many more and I could have worked on this much longer than I already have, but after beginning this well over a year ago, I decided it was time to share my findings and the activity with you. You can find the packet here for digital download:  http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Additional-Symbolism-in-The-Hunger-Games

It is aligned with the Common Core Standards for English/Language Arts, fulfilling the following anchor standards:
Reading Literature:
Craft and Structure
4. Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and
connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
Writing:
Text Types and Purposes
1. Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
1.a. Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.
Research to Build and Present Knowledge
7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.
9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Speaking & Listening:
Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of
reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Language:
5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
5.a. Interpret figures of speech (personification, symbolism) in context.

Sample pages from the packet (just five of the 12 handouts):





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