In the Mockingjay book in the Hunger Games series Katniss sings a song called 'The Hanging Tree'. She mentions that the song is actually forbidden:

I have not sung "The Hanging Tree" out loud for ten years, because it's forbidden, but I remember every word. I begin softly, sweetly, as my father did.
-The Hunger Games: Book Three - Mockingjay, Part One - "The Ashes", Chapter Nine.

At first I thought it was the Capitol itself that had forbidden the song, however, after Rand pointed out in a comment on my related question (What does Katniss' song “The Hanging Tree” mean?), it could actually have been Katniss' mother who forbid the song.

Was it Katniss' mother or the Capitol who has forbidden 'The Hanging Tree'?

  • Argh, you should have pinged me about this question - I'd have answered it! :-) Ed's answer is good though: he's found exactly the right passage to quote from to answer this.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Oct 18, 2017 at 17:11
  • 1
    @Rand you snooze you lose my man :p
    – Möoz
    Oct 18, 2017 at 19:03

4 Answers 4


It was most likely forbidden by the Capitol, although this is never stated explicitly

Katniss' mother, does however personally forbid her husband and possibly Katniss from singing it

Katniss recalls some memories from the song, including her dad singing it to her in the woods. Recalling that her and her sister would make necklaces out of rope without truly understanding the meaning of the words:

In the stillness I remember the scene. I was home from a day in the woods with my father. Sitting on the floor with Prim, who was just a toddler, singing "The Hanging Tree." Making us necklaces out of scraps of old rope like it said in the song, not knowing the real meaning of the words.
The Hunger Games - Mockingjay: Chapter 9

Katniss' mother was clearly outraged by the imagery of the lyrics reflected on her daughter making rope necklaces (recall the singer, who was hanged, is calling their lover to hang with them and join them in death) that she began to scream at her husband.

Suddenly, my mother snatched the rope necklaces away and was yelling at my father. I started to cry because my mother never yelled.

Katniss' father finally explains that the mother doesn't want to hear the song and that they are no longer to sing it.

He calmed me down and told me everything was fine, only we'd better not sing that song anymore. My mother just wanted me to forget it. So, of course, every word was immediately, irrevocably branded into my brain.

It would appear that Katniss' mother simply wanted to protect her daughters' innocence and ensure they didn't get into any trouble singing it in public without fully understanding the lyrics.

I guess my mother thought the whole thing was too twisted for a seven-year-old, though. Especially one who made her own rope necklaces.

This would make it seem like Katniss' mother forbade it, which is possible, however, most discussion seem to agree that it was "forbidden" by the Capitol, and Katniss' mother as a healer didn't want to see her husband's back whipped.

I have not sung "The Hanging Tree" out loud for ten years, because it's forbidden, but I remember every word.

As @DanielB mentions in their answer, the term forbidden is most commonly used in reference to the Capitol forbidding things. This however does not leave out the possibility that Katniss' mother's reaction led Katniss to convince herself it was forbidden, even if the more unlikely scenario.

Further reasons for the banning of the song may include its role as a song for the rebellion. It is likely Katniss' father sang it to let others in his district know that he was willing to rise up against the Capitol and that they should join him. This is similar to songs in our history, such as Strange Fruit by Billie Holliday becoming a civil rights movement anthem in the 50s and 60s.

  • Whoops, I can't upvote this because of the final paragraph. Have you actually read the HG books, or even seen the films?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Oct 18, 2017 at 17:14
  • @Randal'Thor nope. I use the mighty google. Smarter than any of us will every be.
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 19, 2017 at 10:03
  • It should also be noted that they make a point of mentioning that Peeta heard the song, sung by Katniss' father, while he went to trade at the bakery. Granted, 12 having somewhat lax enforcement of Capitol edicts (at least before the second book) is a trend, it still seems pretty risky to be singing an illegal song in public. May 30, 2018 at 23:04
  • I've downvoted because you don't provide any evidence that it was forbidden by the Capitol, and because your last paragraph makes it clear that you don't actually know what you're talking about: there was no rebellion in Katniss's father's lifetime, nor any indication that he might have wanted to rise up against the Capitol.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Oct 8, 2018 at 13:17
  • @Randal'Thor out of interest, what changed between a year ago and today, unless the sudden decision to downvote has nothing to do with the content, given it hasn't changed in any significant way?
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 8, 2018 at 15:19

The phrase "forbidden" is pretty consistently used to refer to the Capitol.

All forms of stealing are forbidden in District 12. Punishable by death.

Hunger Games p. 30.

I have to remind myself that he’s still not used to the woods, that it’s the scary, forbidden place beyond the fences of District 12.

Hunger Games p. 310.

Some of the stations teach survival skills, others fighting techniques. We are forbidden to engage in any combative exercise with another tribute.

Hunger Games p. 93

The woods, of course, are forbidden.

Then, for a week, there was a lockdown. No food, no coal, everyone forbidden to leave their homes. The only time the television showed anything but static was when the suspected instigators were hanged in the square

“I'm not sure. I just wanted to hold them accountable, if only for a moment,” says Peeta. “For killing that little girl.” “This is dreadful.” Effie sounds like she's about to cry. “That sort of thinking ... it's forbidden, Peeta. Absolutely. You'll only bring down more trouble on yourself and Katniss.”

Catching Fire.

Moreover, considering her mother was catatonic for a while, I can't imagine that she had the authority to forbid anything in a way Katniss would listen to.

  • Sorry, I have to downvote this answer because it's wrong. The passage quoted by Edlothiad in his answer shows very clearly that it was Katniss's mother who forbade the song.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Oct 18, 2017 at 17:12
  • 2
    @Randal'Thor That doesn't make sense at all. You think that when Katniss, face of the revolution against the Capital, says that she hasn't sung the song in ten years "because it is forbidden", that she's referring to the fact that her mom told her dad not to sing it? Come on.
    – Daniel B
    Oct 19, 2017 at 2:50
  • 1
    Yes. She hasn't been the face of the revolution for ten years, and in that time she's done a lot of other things which were forbidden by the Capitol. A prohibition by one's mother in childhood is often harder to overcome than a prohibition by law.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Oct 19, 2017 at 9:28

It was likely forbidden by the Capitol

I have not sung "The Hanging Tree" out loud for ten years, because it's forbidden, but I remember every word.
Mockingjay, Chapter 9, by Suzanne Collins

The crucial words here are "it's forbidden". It is forbidden.

Had her mother forbidden her to sing the song, she would not have expressed it like that. She would've said "my mother forbade me" or something similar.


Likely Coriolanus Snow himself

The case of the song, The Hanging Tree it a curious one and has been elaborated on in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

Written by Lucy Gray Bird

The song 'The Hanging Tree' was written by Lucy Gray Bird of the Covey in District 12 after witnessing the hanging of a rebel (Arlo) at what was at that time known as the 'hanging' tree - due to there being no official gallows.

Lucy Gray begun writing the song in her meadow:

Coriolanus gave his hair a swipe and waded into the Meadow. He’d never walked in such high grass, and the sensation of it tickling his fingertips added to his nervousness. It far exceeded his hopes, getting to meet up with her in private, in a flower-filled field, with the whole day ahead. Just the opposite of what the rushed encounter in the filthy Hob would’ve been. This was, for lack of a better word, romantic. He moved forward as quietly as possible. As a rule, she mystified him, and he welcomed the chance to observe her without her usual defenses in place.

Drawing close, he took in the song she sang as she quietly strummed her guitar.

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three?
Strange things did happen here

He didn’t recognize it, but it brought to mind the hanging of the rebel two days before. Had she been there? Had it prompted this?

Are you, are you Coming to the tree
Where the dead man called out for his love to flee?
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree.

Ah, yes. It was Arlo’s hanging, because where else would a dead man call out for his love to flee? “Run! Run, Lil! Ru — !” You’d need those unnatural mockingjays for that. But who was she inviting to meet her in the tree? Could it be him? Maybe she planned to sing this next Saturday as a secret message for him to meet her at midnight in the hanging tree? Not that he could, as he’d never be allowed off base at that hour. But she probably didn’t know that.

Lucy Gray hummed now, testing out different chords behind the melody, while he admired the curve of her neck, the fineness of her skin.

Hated by Coriolanus Snow

You'll note hints of Coryo's distrust of the music and the lyrics. This is a common theme that occurs throughout the story. He doesn't quite understand songs and music, and it unnerves him.

There are also many instances where he hears the Mockingjays and he hates them, which adds to his dislike of music.

The Banning of Music and Disbanding of the Covey Shows in District 12

The Covey were a much loved group of performers in District 12, where they were allowed to put on shows and raise money to feed themselves. They were more than tolerated by the Peacekeepers, who were in fact their main customers.

They event put on a special show for Commander Hoff's birthday, within the barracks!

However, after the events of Coriolanus' stint as a peacekeeper in District 12, it was said of the Covey and their music:

Snow did not care to talk about Lucy Gray with anyone, particularly not Dean Highbottom. Smiley had sent him a letter at the Plinths’ old address, mentioning her disappearance. Everybody thought the mayor had killed her, but they couldn’t prove it. As to the Covey, a new commander had replaced Hoff, and his first move had been to outlaw shows at the Hob, because music caused trouble.
Yes, thought Snow. It certainly does.

Now, although it was this new commander at District 12 who initially forbade it, I believe Snow went on to specifically ban the music and any symbols relating to the Mockingjay. As it was offensive to him and his sensibilities as Capitol.

Lucy Gray’s fate was a mystery, then, just like the little girl who shared her name in that maddening song. Was she alive, dead, a ghost who haunted the wilderness? Perhaps no one would ever really know. No matter — snow had been the ruination of them both. Poor Lucy Gray. Poor ghost girl singing away with her birds.

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where I told you to run, so we’d both be free?

She could fly around District 12 all she liked, but she and her mockingjays could never harm him again.

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