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This young adult dystopian novel offers readers a glimpse into the early days of Panem and the cruel evolution of the Hunger Games.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
Whether you’re a long-time fan of the Hunger Games series or dipping your toes into this dystopian universe for the first time, you’re in for a treat.
In this reading guide, we’re going to peel back the layers of this gripping prequel and dive into its characters, themes, and symbolism. In addition, linked below you’ll find the included book club discussion questions along with a printable PDF.
If you find this guide useful, let me know in the comments below! ✨
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Summary
Note: Keep in mind that this reading guide contains spoilers, so proceed only after you’ve read the novel.
The following is the complete summary of the The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Plot Overview: The story revolves around the young Coriolanus Snow, who would eventually become the ruthless President Snow of Panem. In this world, the annual Hunger Games force 24 young tributes to fight to the death, with the lone survivor securing resources for their district. This gruesome spectacle serves as both punishment and reparation for the failed rebellion against the Capitol by the 12 districts.
Coriolanus Snow: The Protagonist Turned Antagonist: The novel opens as Coriolanus Snow approaches his 18th birthday, filled with uncertainties about his future. The once-powerful Snow family has fallen from grace after his mother’s death and his father’s demise during the rebellion. Coriolanus and his cousin Tigris now reside with their formidable grandmother, known as “Grandma’am.”
The Reaping and District 12: Coriolanus is selected to mentor a tribute from District 12, which, notably, is the district that Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of “The Hunger Games,” hails from. Lucy Gray Baird, a 16-year-old Covey performer, becomes his unlikely mentee. Despite initial reservations, Lucy Gray captivates the Capitol with her talent, charisma, and mysterious background.
The Games and Unethical Practices: As the story unfolds, Coriolanus mentors Lucy Gray and gradually falls in love with her. The tributes enter the Hunger Games arena, where most meet gruesome deaths. Lucy Gray survives, partly due to Coriolanus’s assistance. However, the Capitol deems his involvement as “cheating,” leading to severe consequences.
District 12 and Rebellion: Coriolanus is later assigned as a Peacekeeper in District 12, a role he despises. Here, he encounters Sejanus Plinth, a former classmate involved in a rebellion plot. His involvement in a murder adds complexity to his situation. Coriolanus eventually decides to flee with Lucy Gray, betraying Sejanus in the process.
The Transformation into President Snow: The story concludes with Coriolanus returning to the Capitol, harboring ambitions for power and ruthlessness. He becomes a favorite of Dr. Gaul and aligns himself with the Plinths, unaware of his betrayal of Sejanus. The novel concludes with Coriolanus’s ascent to power and his first act of poisoning an obstacle.
“Coriolanus’s name reverberates throughout history… of oppression and violence to explain his morality—or rather, the lack of it.”
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Character List
In Suzanne Collins’s “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” a diverse cast of characters brings the dystopian world of Panem to life. From the cunning Coriolanus Snow to the spirited Lucy Gray Baird, each character plays a unique role in this prequel to “The Hunger Games” series.
This comprehensive character list provides insights into their backgrounds, relationships, and key attributes, offering a deeper understanding of the personalities that shape the narrative.
- Coriolanus Snow: The novel’s 18-year-old protagonist, Coriolanus comes from a wealthy Capitol family. His parents died during the war, leaving him to navigate a challenging future.
- Sejanus Plinth: One of Coriolanus’s classmates and a mentor in the Hunger Games. He is not Capitol-born, which leads to mistreatment from some of his classmates.
- Lucy Gray Baird: The female tribute from District 12. Lucy Gray is a charismatic performer who captures the Capitol’s attention with her singing and bold personality.
- Dr. Volumnia Gaul: The elderly Head Gamemaker in charge of the science lab that creates muttations (modified animals used as weapons).
- Dean Casca Highbottom: The dean of students at the Academy and the inventor of the Hunger Games. He is also a morphling addict.
- Tigris Snow: Coriolanus’s cousin, who has been living with him and their grandmother since the war.
- The Grandma’am: Coriolanus and Tigris’s imperious grandmother who cares for them after their parents’ deaths.
- Crassus Snow: Coriolanus’s deceased father, a munitions magnate who lost his empire during the war.
- Coriolanus’s Mother: Coriolanus’s mother, who died in childbirth at the start of the war.
- Strabo Plinth: A munitions magnate from District Two, and Sejanus’s father.
- Mrs. Plinth “Ma”: Sejanus’s mother and Strabo Plinth’s wife.
- Jessup Diggs: The male tribute from District 12, mentored by Lysistrata.
- Marcus: The male tribute from District Two, mentored by Sejanus.
- Pluribus Bell: An old friend of the Snow family who now sells black market items.
- Clemensia Dovecote: One of Coriolanus’s close friends and a mentor in the Hunger Games.
- Lysistrata Vickers: One of Coriolanus’s friends who mentors Jessup from District 12.
- Arachne Crane: One of Coriolanus’s classmates and the mentor to Brandy, the girl from District 10.
- Bobbin: The male tribute from District Eight, mentored by Juno Phipps.
- Lucky Flickerman: A weatherman with the Capitol News Network who hosts the 10th Annual Hunger Games.
- Lepidus Malmsey: A young reporter with the Capitol News assigned to cover the Hunger Games.
- Brandy: The female tribute from District 10, mentored by Arachne.
- Festus Creed: One of Coriolanus’s classmates and Coral’s mentor during the Hunger Games.
- Persephone Price: One of Coriolanus’s classmates who mentors Mizzen during the Hunger Games.
- Pollo and Didi Ring: Twin classmates of Coriolanus’s who mentor the tributes from District 6.
- Dr. Wane: A doctor at a Capitol hospital who oversees care for the mentors hurt during the arena bombing.
- Reaper: The male tribute from District 11, known for his unusual behavior.
- Mayor Lipp: The mayor of District 12.
- Mayfair Lipp: Mayor Lipp’s daughter.
- Maude Ivory: The youngest member of the Covey in District 12.
- Billy Taupe: A former member of the Covey and Lucy Gray’s former lover.
- Arlo Chance: A rebel in District 12.
- Bug: One of Coriolanus’s bunkmates and a fellow Peacekeeper in District 12.
- Dr. Kay: An assistant scientist in Dr. Gaul’s lab.
- Spruce: A rebel in District 12 and Lil’s brother.
- Commander Hoff: Runs the Peacekeepers’ base in District 12.
- Lil: A District 12 resident involved with Arlo Chance.
- Livia Cardew: One of Coriolanus’s classmates.
- Lamina: The female tribute from District Seven.
- Gaius Breen: One of Coriolanus’s classmates and a mentor in the Hunger Games.
- Pup Harrington: One of Coriolanus’s classmates and mentors Wovey during the Hunger Games.
- Nero Price: A wealthy man in the Capitol and Persephone’s father.
- Wovey: The female tribute from District Eight.
- Beanpole: A Capitol boy who joins the Peacekeepers in District 12.
- Smiley: One of Coriolanus’s bunkmates and a fellow Peacekeeper in District 12.
- Tam Amber: Plays mandolin in the Covey.
- Clerk Carmine: The fiddle player in the Covey.
- Barb Azure: The bass player in the Covey.
- Vipsania Sickle: One of Coriolanus’s classmates.
- Hilarius Heavensbee: One of Coriolanus’s classmates and mentors Wovey in the Games.
- Coral: The female tribute from District Four.
- Domitia Whimsiwick: Tanner’s mentor.
- Io Jasper: Circ’s mentor.
- Circ: District Three’s male tribute.
- Urban Canville: Tanner’s mentor.
- Treech: The male tribute from District Seven.
- Felix Ravinstill: Dill’s mentor.
- Juno Phipps: Bobbin’s mentor.
- Mizzen: The male tribute from District Seven.
- Tanner: The male tribute from District 10.
- Dill: The female tribute from District 11.
- Iphigenia Moss: Sol’s mentor.
- Sol: The female tribute from District 5.
- Professor Crispus Demigloss: A history teacher at the Academy.
- Professor Agrippa Sickle: The physical education professor at the Academy.
- Professor Satyria Click: A professor at the Academy and Coriolanus’s mentor.
- President Ravinstill: The president of Panem.
- Cookie: The Peacekeeper cook at the District 12 base.
- Teslee: A tribute from District Three.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Character Analysis
Coriolanus Snow is a young man from the Capitol, whose family once held a prestigious position, thanks to his father’s heroic role in the rebellion. However, their fortune took a nosedive due to the war’s toll, leaving them struggling to put food on the table, surviving on meager rations like lima beans and potatoes. This grim reality fuels Coriolanus’s bitterness, as he’s burdened with the responsibility of restoring the Snow family’s reputation and wealth.
This dire situation forces Coriolanus to wear a mask of opulence, even as he yearns for his family’s return to Capitol’s high society. This inner turmoil makes him a secretive and distant figure, someone who sees himself as a loner rather than a lover.
Initially, Coriolanus grapples with conflicting emotions about the Capitol’s brutal control and the significance of the Hunger Games, particularly under the influence of Dr. Gaul. But as time passes, Dr. Gaul’s teachings start to shape his beliefs. He comes to see absolute control as the only way to maintain dominance and power. In his view, without such control, people would revert to their primal, violent instincts.
This belief, reinforced by Dr. Gaul’s indoctrination and his conviction in the Snow family’s legendary status, becomes Coriolanus’s guiding principle. He abandons compassion and adopts a Machiavellian approach to ruling, one marked by fear rather than love. He believes that being viewed as a tyrant is a necessary evil to ensure survival and human evolution.
Coriolanus becomes consumed by arrogance and power. He betrays those close to him, forsakes love, and commits acts of murder without remorse, all while convinced of the righteousness of his actions. His journey leads him to the pinnacle of power, but as those familiar with the original trilogy know, it also sets him on a path to his ultimate downfall.
Lucy Gray Baird
Lucy Gray Baird is one of the central figures in the book, often referred to as one of the “songbirds.” Lucy Gray possesses a remarkable presence right from her very first appearance, where she slyly places a snake down the mayor’s daughter’s blouse during the reaping day ceremony. Even though her fate seems doomed, she stands out like a vivid butterfly amidst a field of ordinary moths.
Hailing ostensibly from District 12, Lucy Gray’s uniqueness is partly due to her training as a singer and performer, setting her apart from the other tributes. However, her extraordinary nature also stems from her background as a member of the Covey, a group of wanderers with mysterious origins.
Think of the Covey as a community akin to real-world nomadic groups like the Romani or Irish Pavees, although the book doesn’t delve deeply into their backstory. Lucy Gray’s identity is a puzzle, neither Capitol nor district, leaving Coriolanus and his companions, as well as the reader, perplexed.
Lucy Gray is subjected to objectification and sexualization that set her apart from the other characters. While readers gain insight into Coriolanus’s complex thoughts, Lucy Gray’s inner life remains elusive. It’s challenging to determine whether her words and actions are sincere or performative.
Coriolanus views her as his possession, even as he ultimately eliminates her to secure his own future. His love for her is tainted by jealousy concerning hints about her past relationships.
Interestingly, Lucy Gray’s name carries historical resonance, although it is entirely fictional. It is borrowed from William Wordsworth’s poem, “Lucy Gray,” which tells the tale of a young girl’s mysterious disappearance, with her presence lingering in the landscape.
This allusion is significant, as Coriolanus’s Lucy Gray, whose body is never found, is destined to haunt District 12, eventually becoming a catalyst for a rebellion against him.
Sejanus Plinth’s character serves as a striking contrast to Coriolanus throughout the book. While Coriolanus hails from the Capitol, Sejanus is a district native. Coriolanus’s family has fallen into poverty, but Sejanus’s family is still wealthy. Moreover, their values diverge significantly, with Sejanus guided by a strong moral compass while Coriolanus consistently acts out of self-interest.
When we first encounter Sejanus, it’s through Coriolanus’s perspective, who views the Plinths and similar district families as a threat to his way of life. From the outset, Sejanus is portrayed as a district newcomer, enjoying privileges solely due to his father’s wealth and connections. Coriolanus’s initial interest in Sejanus stems from a desire to ignore him, but later, he seeks Sejanus’s company because of his father’s status and riches.
Sejanus grapples with the inhumanity of the Hunger Games and engages in heated debates with Dr. Gaul about the Capitol’s exercise of power. When asked why he gave food to the tributes, Sejanus responds, “They were starving. We’re going to kill them; do we have to torture them ahead of time as well?” This highlights his strong sense of morality and empathy.
Coriolanus observes that Sejanus’s actions are consistently driven by his determination to do what he believes is right. Sejanus emerges as the book’s moral center and a tragic hero. He ultimately faces betrayal from Coriolanus and is executed for treason, becoming a voice for ethical arguments against the Capitol’s philosophy of governance and humanity, which extends to Dr. Gaul’s influence.
Dr. Volumnia Gaul
Dr. Volumnia Gaul predominantly serves as Coriolanus’s adversary throughout the book. She’s a menacing, unpredictable figure, driven to extremes, with a disturbing obsession for her experiments involving “muttations” that often seem more important to her than human life.
Although she touches on significant themes in the story, Dr. Gaul is portrayed more as a caricature than a fully fleshed-out character.
When we first encounter her, she’s depicted cruelly teasing a caged rabbit with a metal rod and speaking in eerie rhymes. This unsettling behavior, such as saying, “Hippity, hoppity, how was the zoo? You fell in a cage and your tribute did, too!” highlights her unsettling nature.
She personifies the idea, reflected in one of the book’s epigraphs, that without a clear and all-encompassing power to govern society, humanity would be trapped in constant conflict and warfare, echoing the Hobbesian view.
The fact that Dr. Gaul is drawn to Coriolanus tells us much about his character. She molds him for a grim future, teaching him to hold others in disdain and prioritize control over freedom. Her ruthless willingness to dispose of human life eventually becomes Coriolanus’s—President Snow’s—defining approach, his way of operating.
She is the mastermind behind the Capitol’s most brutal endeavor, the Hunger Games themselves, and the creator of its most lethal weapons, the various muttations. As her favored protege, Coriolanus naturally inherits these creations and their consequences.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Themes
Love or Power
Let’s explore Coriolanus’s transformation from a conflicted youth to a ruthless killer through his evolving relationship with Lucy Gray, all while preserving the key quotes.
At the outset, Lucy Gray is merely a faceless tribute to Coriolanus, later becoming a potential unfaithful lover, and finally emerging as a threat to his very existence. Throughout these stages, despite professing his love, Coriolanus struggles to perceive Lucy Gray as fully human.
Gradually, readers witness Coriolanus’s gradual metamorphosis into President Snow, the ultimate antagonist in the original trilogy. He comes to the chilling realization that, for him, people are either tools to advance his ambitions or obstacles to eliminate in his relentless pursuit of power.
Initially, Coriolanus sees Lucy Gray as a means to an end. She represents a challenge that could grant him greater power through successful mentorship. His actions, such as meeting her at the train station, providing food, or giving her his mother’s compact, can be interpreted as gestures of gallantry or self-serving measures to further his own agenda.
Simultaneously, Lucy Gray is defined by her connection to Coriolanus. She oscillates between being his tribute or “his girl” and his responsibility. They are intertwined by the task of saving each other’s lives, with Coriolanus saving her intentionally (albeit dishonestly, as per those in power), and Lucy Gray saving him incidentally.
However, their “love” story is steeped in mutual interests, making it challenging to decipher their true intentions, especially given Lucy Gray’s inner thoughts remain hidden from both Coriolanus and the reader.
Throughout their evolving relationship, one constant remains: Lucy Gray is consistently objectified, never quite seen as fully human. At a certain point, Coriolanus realizes that “[t]he more he treated her as something special, the more she’d become human.”
This notion is reinforced by the indoctrination Coriolanus undergoes from his elders, including his Grandma’am, who bluntly tells him that the districts are not equal to the Capitol and suggests dining with Lucy Gray implies seeing her as an equal, which she isn’t. This rhetoric extends to the classroom under Dr. Gaul’s authority, where students openly express their lack of concern for the tributes, whom they perceive as sub-human.
When love exists within such a lopsided power dynamic, it inevitably distorts and withers under the weight of status and the prevailing order. Coriolanus cannot simply shed his “Capitol” identity, just as Lucy Gray cannot abandon her “Covey” roots. In the world of Panem, this means that only one of them can possess power and control.
Ultimately, Lucy Gray becomes another obstacle for Coriolanus to conquer. As Coriolanus himself acknowledges while hunting her down, the irony of their star-crossed love story lies in “how quickly their relationship had deteriorated into their own private Hunger Games.”
Human Behavior and Governance
“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” goes beyond its characters and fictional setting to explore profound questions about power and the social contract, a theme often central to dystopian works.
Through characters and overarching themes, the author engages with philosophical ideas concerning human behavior and governance, as indicated by the opening epigraphs, which include quotes from Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.
Hobbes presents a rather bleak view of humanity. His epigraph suggests that in the absence of a controlling authority, people exist in a state of constant conflict, which he calls “Warre.” Dr. Gaul endorses this perspective, reminding Coriolanus that civilization can rapidly crumble when faced with mortal threats.
She emphasizes that the nature of a society’s governance is shaped by its people. By the book’s conclusion, Coriolanus comes to believe in the necessity of control, asserting that the entire system would collapse without the Capitol’s authority.
This stands in stark contrast to Sejanus Plinth’s philosophy, which values living in a place where the Capitol cannot dictate one’s life. His perspective aligns with Locke, who argued that authoritarian control stifles individual freedom.
Locke’s philosophy, expressed in another epigraph, highlights the equality and independence of all individuals, asserting that no one should harm another in terms of life, health, liberty, or possessions.
This philosophy laid the groundwork for democratic systems of government, notably echoed in Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence. It directly opposes the autocratic rule of the Capitol and questions the existence and justification of the Hunger Games.
Ultimately, Coriolanus’s, and by extension, the Capitol’s views prevail as Sejanus is branded a traitor and executed, ensuring the continuation of the Games.
Thus, the book serves as both an origin story for the Hunger Games and a narrative about Coriolanus Snow’s moral descent. The Epilogue reveals Coriolanus’s collaboration with Dr. Gaul to refine the Games into a perfect deterrent against rebellion.
They plan to incentivize participation with additional food for districts whose tributes win and offer rewards to potential volunteers. Coriolanus finally grasps the true purpose of the Games: to witness innocent children become killers, proving that humanity’s essential nature is violent.
Reflections on Freedom
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s impactful statement, “[m]an is born free; and everywhere he is in chains,” sheds light on a central conflict within the novel. No one in Panem is truly free, as they grapple with the Capitol’s oppression and societal expectations tied to their social class.
Sejanus yearns for liberation from the Capitol’s control, but Coriolanus understands that its influence is too pervasive. Coriolanus himself longs for freedom from the burdens of his prestigious status and the demands of morally dubious figures like Dr. Gaul, who push him toward power.
Despite his family’s fading prestige, Coriolanus remains no more liberated than Sejanus, and the author underscores this by repeatedly highlighting how mentors and mentees are interchangeable.
As Dean Highbottom succinctly puts it, “we’re all in the arena together.” When Coriolanus returns to the Capitol after a brief exile in District 12, Dr. Gaul’s greeting equates him with a tribute, underscoring that everyone is implicated in Panem’s deadly social contract, both literally and figuratively.
The notion of freedom becomes more complex with Lucy Gray’s arrival in the Capitol. She defies categorization, belonging neither to the Capitol nor the districts. As a Covey member, she is an outsider and wanderer, and her strong connection to the natural world is highlighted by her association with the nature poet William Wordsworth.
However, she too becomes entangled in the Capitol’s schemes, first as a tribute and later as someone at Coriolanus’s mercy. The Wordsworth epigraph aptly captures the idea that the beauty of “Nature” is marred by “meddling intellect” and concludes with the line, “We murder to dissect.” According to Coriolanus’s rationale, enigmas like Lucy Gray, similar to the unintended mockingjays, must be controlled.
From his perspective, anything beyond the Capitol’s influence is seen as chaotic, dangerous, and “unnatural.” He firmly believes that the Capitol should control the known world, dismissing the mockingjay, Lucy Gray, and the Covey as nothing more than “Nature running amok.” Yet, it is in this very aspect that the Capitol’s limitations are exposed.
In their quest for absolute power, the Capitol, and later Coriolanus, overlook the citizens’ yearning for freedom and self-determination, even at the risk of peril. Similar to “nature running amok,” the force of rebellion becomes a self-perpetuating entity, gaining strength and followers as it grows.
The ultimate irony lies in Lucy Gray’s departure from the lake house to gather katniss, an edible aquatic plant root, just as Coriolanus decides to hunt her down. If he did indeed succeed in eliminating her (given her body is never found), her remains would return to nature, nourishing the land.
Lucy Gray’s spirit lives on, sustaining the katniss plant, which eventually becomes the namesake of a future heroine, rebel, symbol, and President Snow’s nemesis—Katniss Everdeen.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Symbols
Roses emerge as a significant symbol in the life of the future President Snow, representing the very essence of the Snow dynasty. They become his signature emblem, a connection that runs deep in his life.
Whether it’s the rose garden atop Grandma’am’s once opulent apartment or his mother’s rose-scented powder, Coriolanus’s association with this symbol of love and courage is profound. Roses are not just beautiful but also treacherous, with their sharp thorns, mirroring a character for whom appearances matter, and whose prickly personality can inflict harm.
Coriolanus and Lucy Gray find common ground in their shared status as orphans, even though Coriolanus dislikes being referred to as such. Lucy Gray unveils her mother’s rainbow-ruffled dress, which carries sentimental value. Coriolanus remembers his mother’s fragrance of roses and offers Lucy Gray his mother’s compact, initially scented with rose powder but later replaced with deadly rat poison.
On reaping day, Grandma’am insists he wear a rose, but a thorn pierces his palm, nearly ruining his father’s meticulously tailored shirt. Roses carry an undertone of danger, as evidenced in the original trilogy, where President Snow uses them as threats.
Their first encounter is marked by Coriolanus gifting Lucy Gray a rose, a symbolic gesture. In return, Lucy Gray takes a bite of the rose, symbolically consuming him. As she runs her thumb over the glossy, white petal and savors its flavor with closed eyes, Lucy Gray becomes an object of obsession for Coriolanus.
She transforms into an object of desire, both pragmatically, as he needs her to secure the Plinths’ prize, and sexually, before ultimately becoming an all-consuming threat that he must eliminate.
Hunger is not just a thematic thread in the series’ ominous Games; it is a constant presence in Coriolanus’s thoughts and a formidable challenge for the tributes, with multifaceted implications. The Capitol intentionally starves the tributes, weakening them before their inevitable sacrifice.
Subsequently, the tributes are coerced into performing for the audience, a performance that grants them the sustenance they need for survival. During the Games, while contemplating the fate of one of the tributes, Coriolanus questions whether it’s natural to wield hunger as a weapon, highlighting the inhumanity of such a tactic.
Coriolanus himself recalls the war and how the districts, having control over food production, attempted to subdue the Capitol by using food, or rather, its scarcity, as a weapon. Now, with the Capitol in control of food production, the Hunger Games serve as a fitting retribution, metaphorically twisting the knife into the districts’ hearts.
Hunger, a frequently employed weapon in war, is shown to be inhumane, and its use continues in the arena. Lucy Gray manages to poison at least one tribute by using an apple as bait, alluding to biblical narratives such as the fall from Eden and the Snow White fairy tale.
Coriolanus also remembers the desperation that drove some Capitol families to resort to cannibalism during the war. He acknowledges that the ceaseless struggle with hunger has defined his life. When he is compelled to join the Peacekeepers, the one silver lining is that, as a Peacekeeper, he is unlikely to starve.
It becomes evident that a significant part of his desire for control stems from his disdain for cabbage, a sentiment revealed in the book’s opening line. With power in his hands, he can ensure that he never has to endure the humiliation of hunger and poverty again.
In addition to the iconic mockingjay, emblematic of rebellion in the original trilogy, the book introduces us to the Covey, a term used to describe a flock of birds. Lucy Gray, with her captivating voice, emerges as the primary songbird of this narrative. Dean Highbottom even inquires of Coriolanus upon his return to the Capitol from District 12, asking whether his “little songbird” was saddened by his departure.
Coriolanus’s aversion to songbirds becomes a recurring theme in the book. He views mockingjays as “unnatural” and believes they should be eradicated. He becomes weary of the pervasive intrusion of music into his life, finding it everywhere, from birdsong to Covey song to a blend of both.
This loathing foreshadows his eventual confrontation with Lucy Gray; he refuses to let her, or the mockingjays, intrude upon his beloved Capitol. When the Peacekeepers are finally granted permission to exterminate the remaining birds, Coriolanus takes delight in shooting down mockingjays from the branches, taunting them in his triumph.
This parallels his later hatred and pursuit of Katniss Everdeen, known as the “Mockingjay” of the rebellion, in the original trilogy.
Coriolanus associates these birds with death, initially hearing their mimicry after witnessing a rebel’s hanging in District 12. They later echo Sejanus’s final word following his execution. Towards the end of the book, Lucy Gray uses them as a veil when Coriolanus pursues her through the woods. She sings about a “hanging tree,” prompting the birds to echo her song, signaling to Coriolanus that she is aware of his betrayal of Sejanus.
After emptying his gun, Coriolanus collapses to the ground, overwhelmed and nauseated, as the woods erupt with the cacophony of birds of all kinds, while the mockingjays persist in their rendition of “The Hanging Tree.” It’s a scene that symbolizes nature spiraling into chaos, genetic devolution, and madness. In Lucy Gray’s apparent “death,” Coriolanus gains temporary control over the chaotic chorus of his “songbirds.”
Dr. Gaul’s genetically engineered snakes make a chilling appearance in the arena, fulfilling the foreshadowing of her reaping day trick as they slither toward Lucy Gray. Even Coriolanus is taken aback by the unmistakable connection: “That was it!
The thing the snakes had reminded him of the first time he’d seen them. They matched her dress. As if they had always been her destiny.” The snakes become an integral part of Lucy Gray’s signature appearance, as “the faded fabric vanished, leaving her with a brilliant skirt of weaving reptiles.” They trail her, seemingly captivated by the melody of her singing. Lucy Gray becomes not only a charmer of citizens but also of snakes.
The image of a snake typically evokes treachery, as seen in the biblical narrative where a serpent convinces Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit. Lucy Gray herself employs a snake to fend off Coriolanus’s attack, concealing it within a scarf she leaves behind.
The snake strikes Coriolanus, seemingly validating his murderous intentions: “Lucy Gray had tried to kill him! This was no coincidence. The trailing scarf. The poised snake. Maude Ivory had said she always knew where to find them.” However, the incident remains ambiguous, as the reader never witnesses Lucy Gray setting a trap, and it could be that she simply lost her scarf during her escape.
Despite Coriolanus believing the snake’s bite to be lethal, it turns out that the snake “wasn’t even venomous,” leaving the reader to ponder whether Coriolanus convinced himself of Lucy Gray’s betrayal to justify his own actions.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Quotes
- “Coriolanus released the fistful of cabbage into the pot of boiling water and swore that one day it would never pass his lips again.” (Chapter 1, Page 3)
- Coriolanus despises cabbage as a symbol of poverty and the Snow family’s decline, which drives his decisions throughout the story.
- “Without such a prize, he had no way to afford to go to university, which meant no career, which meant no future, not for him, and who knew what would happen to the family, and—” (Chapter 1, Page 8)
- The pressures on Coriolanus to secure a prize for university illustrate the difficulties he faces, creating empathy for his character.
- “Where she’d gotten the makeup he had no idea, for it was only just becoming accessible again in the Capitol, but her eyes were shadowed blue and lined with black, her cheeks rouged, and her lips stained a somewhat greasy red. Here in the Capitol, it would have been bold. In District 12, it felt immoderate.” (Chapter 2, Page 26)
- Coriolanus’s initial encounter with Lucy Gray evokes a mix of fascination and discomfort. Her bold appearance both intrigues and repels him, and her mystery keeps her beyond his control.
- “By now the smell of the car, musty and heavy with manure, had reached Coriolanus. They were transporting the tributes in livestock cars, and not very clean ones at that.” (Chapter 3, Page 41)
- This passage highlights the Capitol’s dehumanizing perspective on the tributes, transporting them in squalid conditions, emphasizing their expendability.
- “Without turning he knew it was the girl, his girl, and he felt immense relief that he was not entirely alone. He thought of how cleverly she had played the audience after the mayor’s assault, how she had won them all with her song.” (Chapter 4, Page 49)
- Lucy Gray’s presence provides Coriolanus with a sense of security among the other tributes. He acknowledges her charisma and how she won the audience’s favor, but the possessive tone suggests that his support for her depends on her obedience.
- “Sejanus looked down at the empty backpack by his feet. ‘Ever since the reaping, I keep imagining I’m one of them.’ Coriolanus almost laughed before he realized Sejanus was serious. ‘That seems like an odd pastime.’ (Chapter 5, Page 72)
- This dialogue captures the stark contrast between Sejanus, who empathizes with the tributes and the districts, and Coriolanus, who harbors contempt for them. Coriolanus makes exceptions for Lucy Gray due to her exceptional qualities and her status as an outsider.
- “He found her easy to tell things to, somehow. Was it because he knew that all he recounted would vanish in the arena in a few days?” (Chapter 6, Page 89)
- Coriolanus’s willingness to confide in Lucy Gray reflects his understanding of her expendability as a tribute. He shares his secrets, knowing that she will likely not survive the Hunger Games, ensuring the secrecy of his past.
- “His terror was a private thing, not meant for public display.” (Chapter 7, Page 100)
- Coriolanus’s calculated response to the attack on Arachne underscores his awareness of the Capitol’s obsession with public spectacle. He contrasts his private fear with the tributes’ public terror, highlighting the stark contrast in their experiences.
- “He buried his head in his hand, confused, angry, and most of all afraid. Afraid of Dr. Gaul. Afraid of the Capitol. Afraid of everything. If the people who were supposed to protect you played so fast and loose with your life… then how did you survive? Not by trusting them, that was for sure.” (Chapter 8, Page 116)
- Coriolanus’s fear and disillusionment with the Capitol and its authorities, particularly Dr. Gaul, mirror the central theme of betrayal and mistrust. This quote also draws a parallel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, emphasizing the impact of those who were meant to protect but instead exhibited scorn.
- “Her hand found his, intertwining their fingers and sending a buzz through his body at their closeness. At this small intimacy in the dark. He gave her hand a final squeeze and released it as they headed into the sunlight at the end of the passageway, where such a display would have been inexplicable.” (Chapter 9, Page 136)
- Coriolanus and Lucy Gray share a private moment of intimacy, contrasting with the performative nature of their mentor roles in the Games. Their affection remains hidden from the public eye, adhering to the Capitol’s expectations and norms.
- “Coriolanus had never really considered her a victor in the Games. It had never been part of his strategy to make her one. He had only wished that her charm and appeal would rub off on him and make him a success.” (Chapter 11, Page 157)
- This quote underscores that Coriolanus views Lucy Gray as expendable and primarily values her for her potential to benefit him. His self-serving agenda often colors his perception of others.
- “And while he had no claim on her heart—he barely knew the girl!—he didn’t like the idea of anyone else having it either. Although the song had been a clear success, he felt somehow betrayed by it. Even humiliated.” (Chapter 12, Page 172)
- Coriolanus’s possessiveness over Lucy Gray becomes evident when he becomes jealous of her song’s success. He wants her to be exclusively “his girl” and feels slighted when she gains attention from others.
- “Maybe he’d broken a rule or two by giving her the compact and suggesting she fill it with rat poison, who knew? There was no real rule book for the Hunger Games.” (Chapter 13, Page 193)
- This quote highlights the arbitrary nature of the rules in the Hunger Games and the lack of a clear ethical framework. Coriolanus’s punishment for his transgressions suggests the Games are more about control and manipulation than fairness.
- “If Dr. Gaul decided he was to go into the Capitol Arena, that’s where he would go, even if his prize was not at stake. He was just like the subjects of her other experiments, students or tributes, of no more consequence than the Avoxes [mute servants] in the cages. Powerless to object.” (Chapter 15, Page 229)
- Coriolanus’s powerlessness in the face of Dr. Gaul’s decisions underscores the dehumanizing nature of the Capitol’s control over its citizens. He becomes a pawn in her experiments, much like the tributes he mentors.
- “Without the control to enforce the contract, chaos reigned. The power that controlled needed to be greater than the people—otherwise, they would challenge it. The only entity capable of this was the Capitol.” (Chapter 19, Page 292)
- Coriolanus adopts Dr. Gaul’s view that extreme control is necessary to prevent societal chaos, despite the inherent cruelty in such a system. He sees the Capitol as the only entity capable of maintaining this control.
- “And how much uglier District 12 had the likelihood of being, with its additional coat of coal dust. He’d never really seen much of it, just the grainy coverage of the square on reaping day. It didn’t look fit for human habitation.” (Chapter 21, Page 323)
- Coriolanus’s disdain for District 12, both its environment and its people, is evident. His perception of the districts as undesirable places contributes to his detachment from their suffering and his willingness to exploit them.
- “He wondered if that wasn’t the problem. The impossibility of being a Snow in this postwar world. What it had driven him to do.” (Chapter 21, Page 327)
- This quote reflects Coriolanus’s self-entitled nature and his inability to accept the changing world around him. He believes he should be exempt from the consequences of his actions due to his Snow lineage.
- “He leaned over and kissed her, flushed with happiness, because although he did not believe in celestial writings, she did, and that would be enough to guarantee her loyalty. Not that his own loyalty was in question.” (Chapter 24, Page 386)
- Coriolanus’s willingness to manipulate Lucy Gray’s beliefs to ensure her loyalty reveals his cunning nature and his disregard for her genuine feelings. He remains committed to his own agenda.
- “Dr. Gaul had defended him. Well, not defended him. But made sure Strabo Plinth understood that Coriolanus was in an entirely different class than his delinquent son [Sejanus]. […] Perhaps she hadn’t written him off entirely.” (Chapter 25, Page 399)
- Coriolanus aligns himself with Dr. Gaul to gain favor and protection, even if it means distancing himself from Sejanus’s empathy. This reflects his growing willingness to compromise his principles for personal gain.
- “Coriolanus felt increasingly wary the farther away they got from what passed as civilization out here.” (Chapter 27, Page 430)
- Coriolanus’s discomfort with nature and the district environment contrasts with Lucy Gray’s connection to it. It highlights his detachment from the Covey and the natural world.
- “The idea that the roses, the very symbol of the Snow dynasty, were to be demolished precipitated [Grandma’am’s] downward spiral into even greater agitation and confusion. […] Anger, impotence, humiliation—those were all he had to offer.” (Chapter 28, Page 454)
- The quote underscores the weight of Coriolanus’s family legacy and his desire to uphold it. The roses represent his family’s power, and their potential demolition symbolizes his loss of control.
- “He’d killed for the second time. If Bobbin’s death had been self-defense, what was Mayfair’s? Not premeditated murder. Not murder at all, really. Just another form of self-defense. The law might not see it that way, but he did.” (Chapter 28, Page 464)
- Coriolanus’s rationalization of his actions illustrates his growing moral ambiguity and willingness to bend the truth to fit his own narrative.
- “Coriolanus felt giddy as he blasted the mockingjays off the branches, managing to kill three. Not so clever now, are you!” (Chapter 29, Page 477)
- Coriolanus’s aggression towards the mockingjays reflects his desire to control everything, including nature. His attempt to eliminate them foreshadows his violent actions towards Lucy Gray.
- “They would hang him, but she would be there, knowing he was still a genuinely good person. Not a monster who’d cheated or betrayed his friend, but someone who’d really tried to be noble in impossible circumstances. Someone who’d risked it all again to save her from Mayfair. The hero of her life.” (Chapter 29, Page 480)
- Coriolanus’s belief that he is the hero of Lucy Gray’s life exemplifies his narcissistic view of himself, even in moments of moral ambiguity.
- “This was his life now. Digging for worms and being at the mercy of the weather. Elemental. Like an animal. He knew this would be easier if he wasn’t such an exceptional person. The best and the brightest humanity had to offer.” (Chapter 30, Page 495)
- Coriolanus’s final reflection underscores his belief in his exceptionalism and the inevitability of his destiny as a Snow. His ego remains intact, even as he descends into a life of survival in the wild.
As we delve deeper into the world of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series through “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” readers often find themselves with questions beyond the plot and analysis.
In this section, we’ll address some commonly asked questions that can enhance your understanding of the series.
Is Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes a Novel?
Yes, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is a full-length novel written by Suzanne Collins. It is a prequel to the Hunger Games series and offers readers a deeper look into the history and origins of the Hunger Games in the dystopian world of Panem. The novel is a work of fiction and serves as a valuable addition to the Hunger Games universe.
Is there a release date for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes?
“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” was released on May 19, 2020. It marked the return of Suzanne Collins to the world of Panem and garnered significant attention from fans and readers eagerly awaiting new content within the Hunger Games franchise. The screen adaptation will be released in the United States on 17th of November 2023.
Is Katniss in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes?
No, Katniss Everdeen, the iconic protagonist of the original Hunger Games trilogy, does not make an appearance in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” This prequel shifts its focus to different characters and events, providing a fresh perspective on the early years of the Hunger Games.
Are there 5 Hunger Games books?
No, there are four books in the Hunger Games series. The original trilogy consists of “The Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire,” and “Mockingjay,” all of which follow Katniss Everdeen’s journey in the dystopian society of Panem. “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” serves as the fourth book in the series and is a prequel to the events of the original trilogy.
Was Lucy Gray mentioned in the Hunger Games?
No, Lucy Gray Baird, the central character of “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” was not mentioned in the original Hunger Games trilogy. She is a newly introduced character in the prequel, and her story was not part of the original series.
Will Katniss be in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes?
Katniss Everdeen does not appear as a character in “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.” This prequel explores events that took place before Katniss’s time in the Hunger Games, and the story centers on different characters.
Is Lucy Gray Katniss’s grandmother?
No, Lucy Gray Baird is not related to Katniss Everdeen as her grandmother or in any other familial capacity. The two characters exist in different time periods within the Hunger Games universe, and there is no known family connection between them.
What is the connection between the Hunger Games and the Ballad of Songbirds?
“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” is a prequel to the original Hunger Games trilogy and provides readers with an in-depth exploration of the early years of the Hunger Games. It delves into the history and origins of the Games, offering insights into the societal and political factors that led to their creation. While it is connected to the Hunger Games universe, it features a distinct set of characters and a unique narrative that contributes to the overall lore of Panem.
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes offers readers a unique opportunity to explore the origins of a character who has both fascinated and repelled audiences for years.
Through its intricate plot, well-developed characters, and thought-provoking themes, the novel adds depth to the Hunger Games universe, challenging readers to consider the complexities of power, morality, and the human condition.
As you delve into the pages of this prequel, keep in mind the central themes of ambition, privilege, and the blurred lines between good and evil. Reflect on the symbolism of the mockingjays, roses, and snakes, which add layers of meaning to the narrative.
Whether you’re reading this book as part of a book club or on your own, I hope the provided resources, including character analyses, quotes, and book club questions, have enriched your reading experience.
Happy reading! ❤️