14

During Mockingjay (both the book and the movie), Katniss sings a song called The Hanging Tree.

she sings it in District 12 when she and her film crew go for a visit.

I remember reading the lyrics to the song in the original book, and I remember that it's something about a couple of lovers - one of whom is to be hanged and it laments that they didn't run away together. I'm not 100% on this as it's been a while.

Katniss remembers it from her father singing it to her when she was younger. The song is also actually forbidden - probably because it represents rebellion:

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.

What is the meaning of the song "The Hanging Tree"?

  • What does it represent?
  • What do the lyrics mean?

This is the scene from the movie in which Katniss sings the song:

and here are the lyrics to the song from the book:

"Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where they strung up a man they say murdered three.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree."
"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."
"Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Where I told you to run, so we'd both be free.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree."
"Are you, are you
Coming to the tree
Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met up at midnight in the hanging tree."

-The Hunger Games: Book Three - Mockingjay, Part One - "The Ashes", Chapter Nine.

It should be pointed out that in the movie, Plutarch Heavensbee, claims that he changed the part "Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me." - he switched "rope" with "hope".

  • 3
    "forbidden - probably because it represents rebellion" - no, I'm pretty sure it was 'forbidden' by Katniss's mother, at least after her father died. – Rand al'Thor Feb 26 '15 at 0:04
  • @randal'thor Interesting, never thought of it that way. I always had a feeling that it was forbidden by the Capital. – Möoz Feb 26 '15 at 1:40
21
+100

Here is Katniss' inner monologue about the song after she sings it in the book Mockingjay:

"... We didn't sing it anymore, my father and I, or even speak of it. After he died, it used to come back to me a lot. Being older, I began to understand the lyrics. At the beginning, it sounds like a guy is trying to get his girlfriend to secretly meet up with him at midnight. But it's an odd place for a tryst, a hanging tree, where a man was hung for murder. The murderer's lover must have had something to do with the killing, or maybe they were just going to punish her anyway, because his corpse called out for her to flee. That's weird obviously, the talking-corpse bit, but it's not until the third verse that "The Hanging Tree" begins to get unnerving. You realize the singer of the song is the dead murderer. He's still in the hanging tree. And even though he told his lover to flee, he keeps asking if she's coming to meet him. The phrase "Where I told you to run, so we'd both be free" is the most troubling because at first you think he's talking about when he told her to flee, presumably to safety. But then you wonder if he meant for her to run to him. To death. In the final stanza, it's clear that that's what he's waiting for. His lover, with her rope necklace, hanging dead next to him in the tree.

I used to think the murderer was the creepiest guy imaginable. Now, with a couple of trips to the Hunger Games under my belt, I decide not to judge him without knowing more details. Maybe his lover was already sentenced to death and he was trying to make it easier. To let her know he'd be waiting. Or maybe he thought the place he was leaving her was really worse than death..."

The song started out as something Katniss' father taught her, something she held onto after he died.

It eventually becomes the rebellion's protest song (with a lyric tweak of course)- at least in the movie.

Here's a great article on an interpretation of the song. Says it better than I can. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/quora/what-was-the-meaning-of-t_b_6264250.html http://artery.wbur.org/2014/12/10/hunger-games-mockingjay

13

The song is about the execution of a martyr and the different possible viewpoints of the event.

I think the most important part is how each verse describes the same event but from a different perspective.

First Verse (An unbiased description of the event):

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree?
They strung up a man
They say who murdered three.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met at midnight
In the hanging tree.

Second Verse(How the Capital wants you to view the execution.):

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

Third Verse(How the rebellion views the execution):

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree?
Where I told you to run,
So we'd both be free.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met at midnight
In the hanging tree.

The first verse is a simple unbiased description. Note the "They say" there's no biasing about whether the man was guilty or justified. Just that the authority claims he was a criminal.

The tree is the rebellion. The "Strange things" are what happens when you rebel. It's an unknown. Noone knows what will happen if a rebellion were to take off. Meeting in the tree at midnight is joining the rebellion.

The second verse is how the Capital hopes you'll view the execution. They're killing this man as a warning. In this context:

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree?

Is a threat. Are you joining the rebellion? Well look what happens.

Where dead man called out
For his love to flee.

This man's death is a warning to flee to safety. Keep your head down and do your job. Prize your safety over your freedom.

The "Strange things" that happen at the tree if you come is the scary unknown. If you rebel, then bad things happen. You'll die, your district will be razed, disorder and chaos. Your life might be bad, but at least you're familiar with it. If you rebel, then who knows what will happen? But it will probably be bad.

The third verse is only slightly changed, but it turns everything on it's head.

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree?
Where I told you to run,
So we'd both be free.

This is a call to arms now, not a threat. The martyr is not calling you to flee to safety. Notice how "Where I told you to run" follows mentioning the tree. He's calling you to run to the tree, not to flee to safety like Capital's intent. In this context, the "Strange Things" reference a successful rebellion. The idea that the districts could be free is strange and unknown. Where the Capital wants you to be afraid of the results of a rebellion, the martyr wants to spread hope that the rebellion can be successful.

The final verse is the rebellion calling you to stand "Side by Side" with the martyr and fight for your freedom.

Are you, are you
Coming to the tree?
[Movie line:] Wear a necklace of rope,
[Soundtrack line:] Wear a necklace of hope,
Side by side with me.
Strange things did happen here
No stranger would it be
If we met at midnight
In the hanging tree.

Edit: Forgot to mention, there's a clever use of the ambiguities in English between the 2nd and 3rd verse.

In the second verse, they reference the tree "Where a dead man called out." In this case, it's referencing the tree/rebellion as where the man died, and it's focusing on his death being the message. A warning to flee from the rebellion.

In the third verse, the tree/rebellion is "Where I told you to run." Which is the intent of the martyr. His message is to run to the rebellion and risk your life for freedom instead of fleeing to safety.

  • I like it. I had never thought of the three different verses. Thank you! – Möoz Jul 7 '15 at 23:14
8

A very well written and thorough article exists on this exact topic. It includes a discussion about the poem and the song from the movie.

You realize the singer of the song is the dead murderer. He’s still in the hanging tree. And even though he told his lover to flee, he keeps asking if she’s coming to meet him. The phrase “Where I told you to run, so we’d both be free” is the most troubling because at first you think he’s talking about when he told her to flee, presumably to safety. But then you wonder if he meant for her to run to him. To death. In the final stanza, it’s clear that that’s what he’s waiting for. His lover, with her rope necklace, hanging dead next to him in the tree.

Above is an excerpt that most pertains to your question, but I suggest reading the entire article if you get a chance.

  • 2
    That discussion is actually internal monologue from the book – The Fallen Feb 25 '15 at 22:24
  • @SSumner Ah, yes, I remember that part from the book now. – Möoz Feb 25 '15 at 22:38
  • 2
    Freedom in death, instead of slave for life. – user16696 Feb 26 '15 at 14:00
  • @cde I very much agree! – Möoz Mar 29 '15 at 22:00
2

I believe it was a wrongfully accused man. That's why it starts with "THEY (ominous they) SAY he murdered three. He was trying to tell his lover to run. Strange things have happened probably means the story of the accusation from "they" and the murdered three. And if she was to meet him by the tree she would have a necklace of rope "side by side with me."

The premise of the whole story is "they" choose who dies and when a person dies. And the tree probably was their meeting point. So like most things in the capital, it is a symbol. That tree will be known and regarded as the hanging tree and no longer their point of freedom.

He asked her to flee so she wouldn't be with him hanging on the tree.

Something happened. Probably the accusation of the murdered three. He told her to run and flee and meet by the tree. But they caught him and hung him from that tree. He was afraid she would come and meet the same fate he did. He was screaming to tell her to flee. If she had come, it would be no stranger to have her hanging with him.

The more I read the lyrics the more it starts to move me in that direction.

It was forbidden by the capital. As well as the mum because she broke down and couldn't handle the loss of her husband. Katniss mentions this when she volunteers and tells her mom to hold it together not like when dad die.

I believe that the hanging man is an innocent man. And that's why it means so much to the rebellion. That even faced with certain death you can help and protect your loved ones. He is not asking for his lover to come and see him. He is asking because he fears she will share his fate.

2

One of the main points of Katniss' story is the choice between living under the orders of both the Capitol and the Rebellion, and the possibility to be killed; both of these in conflict with personal interest (read: family) and becoming a memoir, a heroine for anyone willing to rebel [not to be confused with being a (R)ebel].

All interpretations I've read here are pointed in the right direction, but one aspect of the story seems to be overlooked. Katniss had to choose many times between her death or a death of someone close to her. Mainly referencing the books, she often thought about Peeta being left to die, rather than being captured and tortured by the Capitol.

The song itself represents her and Peeta, she being murdered and him being the one making the choice. Who is going to judge Katniss' choice? Her family, by leaving them in this world? Her "lover" Peeta, who would like to escape from everything and live by her side? Her "friend" Gale, who would like to fight for both his family and the principle? The Capitol, which would like her to become deterrent? The Rebellion, which would like to use her as an instrument?

This is the interpretation I would go for - choose whichever of these questions, whichever suits you the most, and you can now be personally connected not only by distant analogies, but via your personal choice.

0

Here's my personal interpretation of the song's meaning:

The man was likely either a rebel or falsely accused. Before he was hung he told his family, his love to flee, trying to send them to safety. That sums up the first two verses (they strung up a man, they say who murdered three. And. Where dead man called out).

Then, in the third verse, we get "where I told you to run, so we'd both be free". He told the to flee to find a better life but there's nowhere to go. He knows they'll return, hence the repeated question.

This is followed by the verse "wear a necklace of rope/hope, side by side with me." He knew they would come back and fight. Some would die in the process but also some might live, hence the word hope. It's a sacrifice for a better future.

I think it's about a man that tried to change things peacefully and was falsely accused. When he told his family to run they instead fought to the end. It's a strange combination of sadness, death, pride, and determination. This is someone who watched their love die rather than surrender. It's a perfect song for a revolution.

I'm reminded of the Scottish Jacobites and their folk rebellion - unarmed peasants taking on an army and winning (at least for a while).

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