Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Ch. 19 – 20)

To be perfectly honest, I had to force myself to stop reading yesterday. I really wanted to read chapter after chapter of this book. But something about the end of chapter eighteen made me say “take a break, make one post about that, read more tomorrow.” It was just a complete overload of information and events. It felt like everything that could happen was happening. The announcement Peeta made, the subsequent reaction of the Capitol, and ending with the attack on Cinna? It was a lot to process and I didn’t want to overdo it in a single post.

Plus, I felt like the beginning of the 75th annual Hunger Game deserved it’s own nook on my blog. It’s the moment we’ve been waiting for this entire time. Katniss is back in the arena, ready to fight for her (and Peeta’s) life. Can you imagine going into something like completely expecting to die? And then having to do it again the next year? It’s horrifying. 

Of course, that’s the point, but still. I’m always blown away by how impossible this situation feels without coming across as unrealistic. The characters and scenarios they are put in are absolutely unbelievable, but I still believe them. It’s the mark of a good writer to make me feel like the unrealistic is approachable, believable, and even worthy of acclaim. Even though The Hunger Games series in general has received accolades for it’s writing, all of the books could use a little bit more. They’re just that good. 

And the movies really aren’t bad either now that I think about it.. Although, again, to be honest, I haven’t actually finished all of them. I still need to see the last movie! I rewatched the others while rereading the first book, but felt like I should say ‘Mockingjay Part 2’ for after I reread the last book. Maybe I’ll make a party of it! What could I do for themed foods? Poison berries? Lamb stew? Heck, I could even serve katniss herself. 

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 Nineteen Thoughts

At the beginning of chapter nineteen, Katniss is left reeling after the attack on Cinna. She has just entered into the arena for the Quarter Quell after watching a group of Peacekeepers brutally attack the poor man. Having seen them drag Cinna away, of course she’s frantically trying to figure out what President Snow plans on doing to him. Undermining the President’s desire to have Katniss displayed as a disheartened bride, and turning her dress into a symbol of rebellion instead, was masterful work, but it also put Cinna in grave danger. 

Will he become an avox? Will he be tortured? Or will he just be killed outright? And how will they use whatever they do to Cinna against Katniss going into the future? Having read the series many, many times, I know that Cinna is (spoiler alert) dead or soon to be dead.

What I never found out, through all of my rereads, is whether or not he truly expected that to be the punishment for what he did. I know he planned for his death to happen, at least in part, at least theoretically. He made too many plans for after his death to not expect it to some degree. But did he truly believe he would die? Or was he hoping for another outcome?

And if he did truly expect to die soon then why did he do it? I am dying to know more about Cinna’s background. I understand that he probably wanted to punish the Capitol for their horrible behaviors and nonchalant attitude towards torture and death, but most citizens in his shoes don’t even notice how cruel Panem is. Even if they do, they fear President Snow too much to do anything about it. How did Cinna get the guts to stand up to President Snow? How was he brave enough to make a show of rebellion, fully knowing he could die for it? Cinna is possibly the bravest out of everyone. I wish he had survived this series. 

In a way, the terror of Cinna’s death does detract from the terror of the beginning of the Quarter Quell in my opinion. My fear at him being attacked overshadows my fear for Katniss instead of adding to it. However, I could see it amplifying the fear and excitement for other readers. Katniss has barely a minute to process the attack on Cinna before being plunged head-first into the games. Personally, I would never be able to pull myself away from the anguish of watching Cinna be attacked in time to make a headstart to the Cornucopia before the other tributes do. 

Thankfully, Katniss has stronger survival instincts than I do. Before the gong has been struck, she has analyzed the situation to the best of her ability. She knows she will have to swim, she knows that she will be swimming in salt water, she knows where the other tributes are, and she knows she absolutely needs to get her hands on a weapon as soon as possible. There is no room for mistakes. When every tribute is a victor of a previous game, everyone needs to act like a career tribute. 

So when the gong is struck, she swims. 

Having arrived at the Cornucopia at the same time as Finnick Odair, the tribute from District 4, Katniss is put in a tough position. She can either fight it out with Finnick in an arena that seems to cater to his strengths… or she can make an alliance with him. At first, it seems like they’re going to fight, but when Katniss sees a flash of gold on Finnick’s wrist, she realizes that Haymitch wanted her to ally herself with him. 

Even though I’ve read Catching Fire many times before, I’ve never fully understood why Haymitch chose Finnick to be Katniss’s ally. Perhaps it’s that he knows Finnick’s affection for Mags will wear down Katniss’s walls. Or perhaps it’s Finnick’s easy access to Capitol secrets that appeals to Haymitch. I’ve never been able to imagine that Haymitch and Finnick were close friends in the same way that Haymitch befriended other tributes like Brutus. It’s also been slightly confusing to me that he wouldn’t choose a friend to ally with Katniss, even knowing how brutal his friends are. Considering the events that take place later in the book, why couldn’t he trust his friends? I don’t remember any clear explanation for that. 

Another part of me thinks that the arena plays to Finnick’s strengths on purpose and that Haymitch knew it would. Finnick is the darling for many people in the Capitol. They love him. Perhaps forcing the tributes to swim was meant to give him an advantage. Many people must be rooting for him to survive. Who knows?

Not me.

I’m also not crystal clear on why the Gamemakers made the decision to only include weapons at the Cornucopia. Most years they provide food and some tools for survival. On one hand, I think the failure to provide those things was a smart movie from an entertainment perspective. It would add some diversity to the games. Instead of everyone focusing on killing each other all the time, everyone would at some point have to focus on finding food and water. It wouldn’t just be a constant bloodbath. 

But on the other hand… The Gamemakers have made their distaste for Katniss readily apparent. They made her a target by giving her an impossibly high score. President Snow, also very obviously, wants her dead. Every person in Panem knows that Katniss can take care of herself. Finding food would never be a problem for her. Why not provide other tributes with food and tools that they could use to their advantage? They probably aren’t as adept at hunting as she is and even slight advantages can mean the difference between life or death in the arena. At least four of them, coming from districts where they trained as career tributes, could probably use the help getting food. They were trained for battle, not to hunt. 

The battle scenes somewhat distracted me from this train of thought, but to be honest I mostly glaze over battle scenes in general. They don’t hold the same appeal to me as they do to others. I find them interesting, but not necessarily comment worthy. I always spend the majority of my time reading them looking for clues about a book’s storyline. In Catching Fire, I’m always looking for clues about what President Snow is trying to do, or looking for interesting plot devices, not necessarily for blood. 

When Katniss and Finnick begin fighting with the other tributes, I’m mostly disinterested. At least until Finnick offers to save Peeta from the dangerous water and uses Katniss’s “condition” as an excuse. Finnick is extremely intelligent. He is cunning. In a manner of speaking, he almost reminds me of Foxface from the first book in the series. He must know that Katniss’s pregnancy is a ruse Peeta told Panem to get them upset about the Quarter Quell. Playing that up is smart of him. It may get them more support from sponsors. 

And then, when Katniss and her newly made alliance (Mags, Finnick, Peeta) enter the jungle, she starts thinking about how little the interviews the night before impacted the actual events of the game. Even though the tributes had made a grand display of unity by interlocking hands, they were still killing each other in the arena today. From her perspective, their moment of unity meant very little. They didn’t show any reluctance to kill each other when they came down to it. They didn’t throw down their weapons or curse the Capitol. They killed. Violently. 

While I completely understand where she’s coming from with this thought process, it’s impossible to say I wouldn’t do the same as victors. When it comes down to life or death, a lot of people will choose life. Even if it means killing someone else. I also wouldn’t say that their display of unity was meaningless just because they fought in the arena. It wasn’t meaningless at all. It was one of the first steps in showing a connection between the citizens of Panem, especially between people from separate districts. The Hunger Games were specifically designed to make people from different districts hate and distrust each other. The moment where every victor locks hands is one of the first moments of unity between districts since the uprising that caused the games to be invented. It shows that the games are not a perfect way to inspire hate and distrust between people. Even if they turned around and attacked each other the next day, it’s a moment of progress. 

However positive that is, it’s not what Katniss realized. Instead, she realized she should probably kill Finnick while he’s defenseless. Getting attached to him could cost her her life in the future. Thankfully, Finnick knows where her mind went during their trek. He understands what she’s thinking and puts himself in a defensive position. His mind probably went to a similar place considering he follows it up with an explanation that no one in the Quarter Quell, except for possibly Peeta, was a victor by mistake. Their moment of unity the night before meant something, but would never prevent people like the victors from doing what they have to do to survive. What they do in the arena may not necessarily reflect what would happen in the real world. 

While they’re seemingly calculating the amount of risk involved in killing the other person, Peeta steps in between them. Katniss seems to believe that he did it on accident, not knowing what the two of them were thinking about, but it was definitely on purpose. Peeta may be kinder and more compassionate than the other victors, but he isn’t stupid. He’s amazing at reading body language and probably wanted to prevent violence between their alliance. 

Chapter Twenty Thoughts

When Peeta collides with the forcefield at the end of chapter nineteen, his heart stops and mine does too. When I first read Catching Fire, I really thought he was going to die. I was shocked that Collins would kill him off, especially so quickly, but it kind of tied right into classic dystopic fictions. In the classics, a corrupt world will take everything from you so I wasn’t necessarily surprised that a modern dystopic fiction would go the same route. It didn’t feel unrealistic or without precedent. 

However, it didn’t feel right. Catching Fire and The Hunger Games series in general is far more upbeat than most classic dystopian fiction. Their universe goes extremely far in the pursuit of creating a perfect world for people of the Capitol to live in, but it doesn’t go as far as other universes do. For example, there’s little in the way of completing altering and changing everyone’s mind through direct mind controlling technologies or through extensive drugging. The idea that Collins would fail to include those facets of a dystopian world, but would take Peeta from Katniss felt somewhat far-fetched. She couldn’t kill him. It was just a little too dark for the world she had created.

That’s part of why it’s so relieving when Peeta survives. Finnick saves his life, thus creating a newfound trust with Katniss that will likely prevent future violent clashes. 

When Katniss begins to sob after Peeta is restored to life, it’s the first moment where the whole world gets to see how she genuinely feels for Peeta. While a lot of their romance had been a show for the sake of the audience, Katniss genuinely loves Peeta. It isn’t all an act. She cares for him deeply. The idea of losing him terrifies her. Even Finnick, who questioned their love affair from the get-go, seems confused by her display of love and fear for Peeta’s life. He wasn’t expecting it to be anything but an act.

A large part of me wants to see what President Snow was thinking during all of this. Did any part of him feel regret for putting Peeta and Katniss in such a terrible position? Did he pity them at all? Or did he feel encouraged by a sign that Katniss loved Peeta? He wanted her to show Panem that her act of defiance was one of love, not rebellion. He finally got that. Was it enough to satisfy him or did he still want more out of them?

And how did he react to Finnick’s involvement in saving Peeta’s love? It’s difficult to justify saving the life of another tribute in the games. President Snow had to have known that there was something more to Finnick’s heroic deed. Did he ever expect the rebellion to involve themselves in the Quarter Quell? And if he didn’t… Why didn’t he? For someone so intelligent, President Snow always comes across as one step behind. He underestimates his opponents to his own detriment. He focuses more on killing Katniss and ruining her image than on solving the readily apparent problems in his country.

Not a very good move for a president if you ask me. 

When Katniss realizes that Peeta’s token is a mockingjay necklace meant to emulate her own pin, I’d love to see Snow’s face then as well. It takes any amount of progress their moment of love might have made with the rebellion and very likely turns it into encouragement of the rebellion. Was he enraged? Did he throw things? 

Of course, I’d also like to know why Katniss is even bothered by the idea of death any more. Both her and Peeta seem to be taunting President Snow at times. At this point even Peeta has to realize that Katniss has turned into a symbol of rebellion. Everything she touches is tainted by her affiliation with the uprising, the mockingjay symbol in particular. So why did he wear it?

For the most part, I think that Peeta wore the symbol because he wanted to be a part of the rebellion, even in a small way. More than any other tribute described in the series, Peeta didn’t want the games to change who he was. He also wanted to hold the Gamemakers accountable for the terrible acts performed in their game. Of course he’d want to be a part of a rebellion against all of these horrible things, even a little bit. 

And of course it made him feel more connected with Katniss and isn’t that just the cutest thing ever? 

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