Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Ch. 7 – 9)

Sometimes I find myself wondering what characters from books would be like if you met them in our world. Would they be the same people in their hearts if they didn’t have to go through whatever they go through that’s interesting enough to write a book about? Who are they if they don’t have to live their lives?

I ask myself that question a lot during Catching Fire. Who would Katniss be if she wasn’t raised in Panem? What would her character traits be? Would she still be as strong and as passionate as she is during The Hunger Games series? How much does the world around her shape her personality?

That exact line of questions is probably the reason why fan-fics are so popular amongst readers. They want to know what their favorite characters would look like if they lived lives more similar to their own. I’ve never really been able to get into fan fiction though. The characters I love so much seem unrecognizable when I read about them in different storylines. Their story is an integral part of who they are. 

Back of the Book (Amazon.com)

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Disclaimer: My Chapter Thoughts DO INCLUDE SPOILERS. They assume that you have read ALL of The Hunger Games series (books 1-3). They will mostly contain spoilers, however, in the chapter that they are covering. 

Chapter Seven Thoughts

To be honest, I wish we learned more about Madge sometime during this series. The information we get about her just isn’t enough. Her relationship with Katniss allows the reader to take a tiny glance at how the other part (the more well off part) of District 12 lives. Compared to the starvation and constant neglect most citizens of District 12 experience, Madge’s life almost seems like a life of luxury and glam. She has enough food to eat and that’s huge.

Of course, compared to the lives of people who live in the Capitol, Madge’s life isn’t glamorous at all. Madge could even still be entered into the game. Her father being mayor doesn’t exempt her from the possibility of having to fight for her life. The divide between the people who are starving in District 12 and those who have food may seem gigantic, but it’s more of an illusion than anything else. They’re all the same in the eyes of the Capitol. Madge is still a citizen of District 12. 

I do wonder, however, if Madge has ever visited the Capitol herself. Do mayors and leaders in the districts sometimes get to take part in the nonstop festivities in the Capitol? Do they get to experience some of the plentiful luxuries available to citizens of the Capitol? Somehow I doubt it. While Madge does seem better educated about the Capitol than others, I think that’s just because her father has access to more information than the average citizen. I don’t foresee anyone in the Capitol wanting the mayor of District 12 at their parties. They consider the people of District 12 to be barbaric and uneducated compared to themselves. I can’t envision Madge or her family in the Capitol itself.

I also wish I knew more about Madge because, in a way, she was the spark behind the entire rebellion. Her gift of the mockingjay pin to Katniss is what inspired Rue to trust Katniss and form an alliance with her. Because of this alliance, and Rue’s close resemblance to Prim, Katniss grew to love Rue. She saw her as a real person, a child, not a threat or just another tribute. She cared about her. Katniss’s treatment of Rue was one of the largest driving factors in starting widespread uprisings against the capital. 

The gift of the mockingjay pin has one of the largest butterfly effects in the series. Every choice we make impacts the world around us. Even small decisions can have huge impacts. Would a rebellion have even started if Madge hadn’t given Katniss her mockingjay pin? I don’t know. For such a small character, and such a small moment, it has huge consequences for the entire series.

And to be even more honest I’d rather focus on Madge than the rest of the chapter. I don’t know why, but I always want to skip over scenes with Gale. His emotions are too intense and feel almost forced to me. It’s almost like he feels like he has to love Katniss. Even now, trying to analyze each chapter, I had to stop myself from skipping over his confession of love. Once I got past a few pages of barely skimming the material, I realized what I was doing and stopped and went back and read. 

But I just don’t even know what to say about it. I’ve never really enjoyed their triangle. It feels too complicated and difficult when Katniss has so many other things to worry about. She’s focused on the uprising of a society; Peeta and Gale are just too much right now. They’re too much for me and I’m just a reader! The poor girl has no time to worry about love when her entire world is on the edge of falling apart.

I don’t really blame Gale and Peeta for that though. It’s easy to forget that they’re all still teenagers. It’s easy to lose track of what’s really important when you’re young. Keeping focus on uprisings and rebellions and nonstop threats sounds impossible. Plus, they’re just not as educated as Katniss is about how dire things are in Panem. She always finds out new information far before anyone else. 

Personally, I can’t imagine being her. She has a lot on her plate. And she doesn’t really have anyone to talk to about this. Her interactions with even Gale and Peeta are so consumed by other concerns, like ill-timed romantic confessions.

And I know a lot of people really enjoy the break from all of the stress Katniss undergoes. The romance is a nice break from all of that. I know a lot of readers really enjoyed the romance part of The Hunger Games and focused more on that than the actual storyline. To me, that felt like a disservice to the book. How can you get distracted by romance when children are getting murdered and citizens are being starved? You’re doing exactly what President Snow wants the people of Panem to do! But I get it. It’s a crazy love story. And I’m Team Peeta… obviously.

I’m also not really a revolutionary. The idea of dying scares me too much. I used to spend hours every night thinking about the fact that we all eventually die and feeling scared about it. That makes it hard for me to relate to Gale. Like Katniss, I’d probably want to vanish into the woods, never to be seen again. While I admire Gale for wanting to stay and fight against a corrupt Capitol, I’d just never want to do the same and I can’t relate to him. We’d all like to say we’re fighters, but I know I’m not. I can relate more to Peeta’s fierce love of people and desire for peace than I can Gale’s passionate pleadings for war.

Somewhat ironically Gale seems to suffer the consequence of his rebelliousness almost immediately. The public whipping in the yard is violent and disturbing, but definitely ironic. Will he still want to fight after being whipped? Without a doubt. They’re just going to make him mad (if he lives…)

Knowing what I do about the series, I know that Gale’s public lashing is a part of a plan on behalf of President Snow to squash the rebellions. He thinks that if he exercises more control over life in the twelve districts, he will prevent future uprisings. People will be too scared or too weak to fight. He thought if a love story couldn’t placate them, strict punishments would. 

Plus, if he carried out this plan while flaunting how happy Peeta and Katniss are, maybe the districts would turn against them. They might not be convinced that they truly love each other, but they could be convinced that they’re living happy lives while everyone else in the twelve districts are suffering. I know he wants to reduce their loyalty to Katniss.

However, I’ve never thought this plan was the smartest way to crush the rebellion. People throughout the twelve districts have never had happy lives. They work hard and have very little food. Their lives are difficult. If you take away what little they had left to them, they’ll just have nothing to lose if they rebel. How much worse can their lives get?

While we don’t get to see the inner workings of this decision during the book as much as we do during the movie version of it, I think the movie had it right. I don’t think this decision was made without outside influence, possibly Plutarch. Whoever told President Snow that punishing the districts was the right way to proceed knew that this would help drive people to rebel. I think it was Plutarch because Plutarch is very, very smart and knows how to work horrible situations to his own benefit. I think he encouraged President Snow to punish the nation so that the nation would rise up against President Snow in rebellion, leaving the seat of leader for himself. He wants power at any cost. Even at the cost of the thousands upon thousands of lives that would be lost during a real rebellion against the leaders of Panem. 

Chapter Eight Thoughts

When Katniss jumps in front of the new Head Peacekeeper during the very beginning of this chapter, she receives a lashing directly to her face. The pain at the strike is unimaginable. It burns. I’ve always wondered if the Peacekeepers laced their whips with something to cause the victim additional pain. It seems unimaginably cruel so I don’t think it’s entirely likely. It could have just hurt Katniss so much because the strike across her face was a head injury.

But what if it was laced with something? I wouldn’t really be surprised by that either. Panem is unimaginably cruel.  Peacekeepers and the Capitol in general have little to no regard for the sanctity of human life. They don’t respect people in the districts as fellow human beings. They don’t care if they die, especially if it serves a purpose. The death of Gale in particular would serve multiple. It would, one, be a reminder not to rebel against the Capitol’s power. Two, it would dishearten and possibly break Katniss.

And yet, it’s all still horrible. Can you imagine whipping someone to death over poaching in a forest that is never used? The Capitol doesn’t care about wild game. They just want to keep the people of Panem starved and weak. Hungry people are easier to control than people with full bellies.

It’s also strange to think that Peacekeepers come from the districts, not from the Capitol. We find this out later in the series, but it’s especially pertinent to this scene. While the new Head Peacekeeper of District 12 may never have experienced the same degree of hunger and need as the people of District 12 have, he should still be capable of feeling sympathy for them. The Capitol still looks down on him. He still isn’t a first class citizen in Panem. He’s a slave. Why does he glorify in hurting people that are just like himself?

From my perspective, he does it so he can feel some level of power. The actions of the Peacekeepers remind me of the Stanford Prison Experiment. People in positions of power will use their power against others just because they can. They will get satisfaction from it. They also look down on people less powerful than themselves, developing an “us versus them” mentality.

 Of course, the police force of Panem does this to an extreme. Even old Cray, the previous Head Peacekeeper, liked to use his power for his own gain. He lured young women into his bed with money, promising them a way to feed their families. I’m sure he then looked down on the women for having to accept his offer. He was a lecherous, disgusting old man. But was he better than the new one who prefers sick and twisted punishments to sexual manipulation? It’s hard to say what’s worse: torture or coercion.

And once again, this series makes me wonder what these Peacekeepers are like outside of their horrible, disgusting storylines. Even the worst character has a background story. Are they always terrible? What would they be like if Panem didn’t give them the power to hurt people?

Chapter Nine Thoughts

Thankfully, the beginning of this chapter takes a departure from me being constantly horrified by Panem. Even when everything is terrible, I absolutely love getting to see Peeta. He is so wholesome.  He is so completely devoted to Katniss and his quiet loyalty really makes this series so much better. He will even protect Gale for her, knowing their confused emotions for each other. I love him. I just love him.

And I want a better world for him. I don’t know what would have happened for him had he developed feelings for Katniss is a normal world, though. Would she ever have had the opportunity to view him in the same way? Or, without the existence of the games, would she never have fully noticed him? Or, worse, thought of him as weak and sheltered?

It’s strange to think that love is partially based on the world around us. Who we choose as partners depends on more than who they are and somewhat relies on when we meet them and what happens while we get to know them. You could love or hate the same person. It all depends on when and how you meet them, what you experience together, and what you yourself are feeling and experiencing as you get to know them.

Another strange thought, I’ve never thought it was inspirational that Katniss was spurred to action by Gale’s whipping. During this entire series, I never really got the urge for her to join the rebellion. I wanted her to be tucked away somewhere safe with her family. I didn’t want her to have to suffer anymore than she already has. I was worried for her, not excited that she wanted to fight against the overwhelming power of the Capitol. 

Does anyone else feel like that sometimes? Like you’d rather your favorite characters be safe than have exciting, dangerous storylines? I get so attached to some characters that I don’t want them to risk getting hurt. I’d rather the storyline and plot be hurt than them.

Towards the end of this chapter, I’ve always been surprised by how willing the Capitol is to treat the people in the districts poorly. They are willing to cause thousands upon thousands of people endless suffering as long as it means they can continue to live in luxury. It’s disgusting. I almost feel like they should have to apprentice in the districts in order to be allowed to continue to live their lives as normal. They obviously have no understanding of real suffering or pain. It should be mandatory for them to learn what they subject other people to. How do they justify starving out entire communities as punishment? 

Of course, I know that part of the reason why District 12 is allowed to starve week after week is because of uprisings in other districts. People are refusing to work. If people don’t work, there won’t be food. But even in that case it feels like the people should have been given something more than rotten leftovers. Did Panem never come up with a back-up plan for food? Plagues and pests can kill crops just as easily as rebellion. I’m surprised that they didn’t have a good amount of food stores.

But that kind of reminds me of the beginning of the coronavirus situation in America. Grocery stores ran out of seemingly everything. I couldn’t find bread or flour, most canned goods, bottled water, toilet paper, or laundry supplies for weeks. I was surprised then that we didn’t have a real emergency plan regarding household supplies and food in the case of catastrophes. Maybe we aren’t so different from Panem as we think. 

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