Dytopians, Birds, and Why They're so Commonly Mixed.

9:23 AM

Personally birds freak me out.  Their lack of hands, ability to float in the air, and sharp pointy beaks are just too creepy for my liking.  Plus, their beady eyes have this way of staring straight into your soul it seems.  And I know I'm not alone in my dislike of this species.  

So then why do so many YA books, especially in the Dystopian genre, continuously reference them?  Lately, I've noticed all my favorites have made reference to a bird as a theme of the novel.  And it made me wonder.  Is this such a universal and powerful theme that is necessary for a book about a world of destruction and societal disintegration?  Or is it just so commonly overdone because no one can think of anything original?  I'd like to think the former because the books I'm about to mention are written by some of my absolute favorite authors.  There are mild spoilers so if you haven't read any of these books just skip on to the next one.

Lets start with Divergent.

I used the UK cover image as evidence.  Those three birds represent the tattoo Tris got once she moved over to the Dauntless factor.  While Tris says she got those tattoos to represent each family member she had left behind when leaving her faction, I still wonder.  Why birds?  Veronica Roth could have used anything...flowers, hearts, even initials.

I think it's supposed to symbolize her freedom and independence.  She has flown the coop and is exploring new world.  It might also represent her fear.  Not only of leaving her family, but one of her actual fears.  When the birds attack her in her landscape she feels she has no control over the situation. Much like she feels in her new faction.  So again I ask.  Why birds?  Roth could have had a pack of feral dogs descend upon Tris.

"This time, I do not hit the bird as hard as I can. I crouch, listening to the thunder of wings behind me, and run my hand through the grass, just above the ground. What combats powerlessness? Power. And the first time I felt powerful in the Dauntless compound was when I was holding a gun.
A lump forms in my throat and I want the talons off. The bird squawks and my stomach clenches, but then I feel something hard and metal in the grass. My gun."

Shatter Me is a little more straight forward I think, but yet still holds some mystery to me.

Juliette is locked in a cell for the majority of her life.  Whether it's the physical one in the beginning of the book or the emotional cell society has placed her in by isolating her as a young child.  So it didn't come as a surprise to me when she kept dreaming about a bird and why Adam just so happened to have one tattooed on his chest.  At first I thought it symbolized her yearning for freedom.  But then why would Adam have it on his chest?  It makes me think there is more to this tattoo choice...unless he was drunk one Friday night and lost a bet against Kenji.  But I doubt that.

“There will be a bird today. It will be white with streaks of gold like a crown atop its head. It will fly."

Yep, you knew this one was coming.  The Hunger Games trilogy is all about the Mockingjay bird.  I had looked up what a Mockingjay was because like many of you out there I had no idea.  It sounds suspiciously like Mockingbird though.  

National Wildlife Federation explains that it is a made up species.  Apparently the Capitol created these birds to spy on the people of Panem.  But when the people figured it out they used the birds against the Capitol and the birds were cast off to live in the wild.

The NWF site says, "But, in an example of extraordinary wildlife almost never doing what we expect, male jabberjays bred with female mockingbirds, giving birth to the mockingjay, which could repeat both human melodies and birdsong and were thus better able to protect themselves - See more at: http://blog.nwf.org/2012/03/is-the-mockingjay-from-the-hunger-games-real/#sthash.DZxvtP6H.dpuf".

The line I highlighted really popped out at me.  Was suzanne Collins using this species that unexpectedly transformed into something different as a symbol for Katniss, who President Snow had no way of knowing would transform into the leader of a revolution?  Like the evolution of the birds, Katniss evolved from a plan to keep the people of Panem in line to something more. 

Also why Mockingjay?  and not Parrotjay?  Both would imply that the bird could mimick sounds.  I think Suzanne used Mockingjay because it's similar to a Mockingbird.  Which brings me to my next book.

"We had to save you because you're the mockingjay, Katniss," says Plutarch. "While you live, the revolution lives."

The bird, the pin, the song, the berries, the watch, the cracker, the dress that burst into flames. I am the mockingjay. The one that survived despite the Capitol's plans. The symbol of the rebellion." 

Now while To Kill A Mockingbird is not technically a Dystopian, I would never want to live in that world/time period because it had dystopian like qualities.

So while this author uses the death of the bird as a symbol of loss of innocence, The Hunger Game's rise of the Mockingjay could symbolize the same thing.  Katniss (and really all of Panem for that matter) is no longer a bystander.  She's fighting back.  Also, Harper Lee uses the death of a Mockingbird as a martyr almost.  The line,

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 

suggests that killing this bird that is minding it's own business is evil.  Which is kind of like the Capitol and the Hunger Games killing innocent children.

And then there's Delirium.  While this one doesn't throw the bird reference in your face as often (it's not even on the cover!), it does mention it a few times.  Enough for me to notice.  

Lauren Oliver writes about these birds flying over the fence the government had put up to keep out the Deleria and keep in the people "free" of the disease.  So when Lena sees birds flying over the fence I think it's supposed to symbolize the freedom she wishes she had.  

I think it also helps her realize that while the government is keeping the people in this gated area, they aren't able to control everything like the birds.  And that thought gives Lena something dangerous...hope.

“I thought nothing was totally free in Portland but I was wrong, there was always the birds.” 

Now I want to hear from you guys.  What do these symbols mean to you?  
Have you noticed birds being used in any other books?

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