Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Ch. 21)

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I cannot recommend this series enough. The Hunger Games series in general is resoundingly powerful writing. The characters, no matter how insignificant, are all dynamic and impactful. The scenarios they are put in come across as real, no matter how far-fetched they can be. Their interactions with each other are just stunning. It is amazing writing and, while I can’t imagine not having read this series yet, I definitely recommend it if you haven’t.

I really wanted to focus on chapter twenty one during this blog post. I think it’s one of the strongest chapters in the entire series. There’s so much going on, but even the smallest details matter. It’s one of those chapters that bring up a lot of things that I think about vaguely in other chapters. It helps make sense of everything that’s going on, but without feeling boring at all. If anything, it’s almost too exciting! There’s something being thrown at Katniss and Peeta every five seconds during this chapter and all of it is, of course, extremely dangerous.

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 Twenty One Thoughts

I don’t really know how Suzanne Collins came up with everything she came up with. The Hunger Games universe is so detail oriented and creative that it’s hard to imagine coming up with half of it, let alone all of it. When I looked up what inspired her, it seems like it was a weird mix of reality television and war films. Can you imagine coming up with such an intense world with such a simple inspiration? There are so many levels to Panem that it’s just incredible. 

And why am I thinking about this, you may ask? At the end of chapter twenty, an ominous fog starts to roll in. It’s honestly the stuff horror movies are made of with its slow creep towards Katniss’s group of tributes. The horror is furthered when it immediately blisters Katniss’s skin upon contact. 

The fog itself may be a small tiny little detail, but it really adds to the growing fear of the Quarter Quell. Even the fog can kill you. And, while the fog itself is not the most creative invention (again, every horror movie ever seems to capitalize on our nonsensical fear of fog/the unknown), it’s the fog in conjunction with everything else that made me stop and think wow, she really did this. Catching Fire just blows my mind sometimes. 

Regardless, the fog was a really great plot device in general. It brought back to mind the danger of the games themselves while getting rid of the weakest link in Katniss’s alliance with Finnick – without having someone kill off one of the best characters in the entire Hunger Games series. The death of Mags was resoundingly powerful and utterly heroic. She once again sacrificed herself to save the lives of others, others far younger than herself to note. 

It may not have been the most painless death, but it was a huge moment for the series. Katniss has inspired people to sacrifice themselves for others, to stand up for others. While Mags may have sacrificed herself either way had the situation presented itself without Katniss’s involvement, she might not have done so in front of the entire nation. It was another example of someone from the districts sacrificing themselves for someone from another district. 

Because it was such a powerful moment, I wonder how the Gamemakers spun it. Even considering the fact that Mags was so aged compared to the rest of the tributes and no one genuinely expected her to emerge victorious, it must not help their case to have one tribute sacrifice themselves for the lives of others. Self sacrifice is not really the aim of the games. Turning districts into enemies of each other is. Promoting distrust is. Keeping people separate and weak is. Mags’ death didn’t really play into making people hate each other. Instead, everyone in Panem would probably go on to remember her fondly. If anything, her death could be used to bring people together.

And that’s kind of huge by itself, but from a political perspective… It once again draws my attention to the fact that President Snow’s decision to involve victors in the Quarter Quell was a gigantic mistake. If Snow was trying to show how he could still force the strongest of the strong to fight each other, even as life in the districts was falling apart due to the ongoing uprisings, he failed at that task in a lot of small ways. The fights were just not as vicious as previous games and the sacrifices being made by many tributes to protect the lives of others proves my point. The hand-holding at the interviews, the love of Panem for their victors, Mags volunteering for the games to begin with and then sacrificing herself to help save people who hail from outside of her own district… It all adds up and none of it looks good for Snow. Instead of crushing rebellion, he’s giving the uprising hope that they can find aid in other districts. He’s giving the victors a chance to show the first signs of unity and respect between districts since the original uprising. 

However, maybe President Snow had hoped something else would happen. When the fog first began to gravely impact Katniss, she did have a terrible impulse to run from it, abandoning her alliance in an attempt to save herself. She didn’t, but she very well could have. If that had been what took place instead of Mags’ valiant self sacrifice, the national perspective of this scene would probably have been a bit different. It would have shown the world that everyone, even the Mockingjay, is only out to save themselves. There is no point in fighting for someone who will never fight for you.

I don’t know how realistic Snow’s expectations were, though. President Snow gave people who are essentially celebrities, who all know each other, the chance to show that things could be different, not expecting them to actually show that. He didn’t really consider the fact that all of these people have gotten the chance to get to know each other. They have established connections with each other, even friendships. How did President Snow expect the previous victors to kill each other without any heartfelt interactions? Or sacrifices? The victors are connected by the trauma of the games. In a manner of speaking, they understand each other in ways that no one will ever understand them. They’ve lived through the same horrible things. Even if they wanted to kill each other, there would have to be some moments of hesitation or even just some human interactions between them. They’re not props; they’re people. To not foresee any type of detectable connection between them was naive. Considering the fact that President Snow was relying on the victors being heartless killers in order to squash the uprisings, it’s just a stupid move on Snow’s behalf. 

Personally, I wouldn’t hedge my bets on such a narrow chance that all of these people are mindless murderers. It’s perhaps my greatest problem with The Hunger Games as a series that Snow does. Time and time again, President Snow is described as one of the greatest minds in Panem. He is insanely intelligent. He is cunning and quick. More often than not, he is described as a literal snake. And more than that, President Snow obtained power from a very young age and kept it for longer than any other president in Panem’s history. You can’t underestimate your opponents and hold onto power. It just doesn’t work. President Snow would not be so incredibly naive or short sighted. He is too smart for that. The fact that the entire series makes it sound like the Quarter Quell was his last attempt to restore order to his nation is laughable. I just don’t buy it. 

Thankfully, I can blame most of that perception on the fact that we are hearing this story from Katniss’s perspective, not President Snow’s. We don’t know what is actually going on in the Capitol. We actually don’t even know how involved Snow actually is with the games themselves. We don’t even know what the rebellion is up to. All we know is what is directly impacting Katniss as the previous victor of the Hunger Games, as a symbol of rebellion, and as a tribute in the current Quarter Quell. Her perception that so much relies on the success and failures of the games could just be her perception. She is living it. Considering the fact that she’s a teenage girl from the poorest, most ignored district in the entire nation, she’s probably incorrect with that assumption. 

And that’s fine.

I just want to know more about what’s happening outside of the games and outside of Katniss’s limited perception. In particular, I want to know more about what is happening in the Capitol. What is President Snow focusing on instead of the games? How does he really plan to prevent rebellion? How does he make his decisions on how to move forward? Who does he trust? What underground forces is he dealing with? How involved is he in designing the games themselves? 

While I definitely have a lot to look forward to in A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I don’t really think they’ll cover enough about what Snow is thinking during these events. The book seems to focus on President Snow’s rise to power which is, of course, extremely interesting and I’m dying to know more about it. I’d just also like to learn more about what is actually happening outside of what is happening to Katniss.

And that does include learning more about the rebellion itself. I’m dying for a history lesson about it. Who started the ongoing rebellion? How have they maintained themselves following the events of the original uprising? Did the idea of rebellion completely die out after the nation was punished or did it continue in silence? How large is the rebellion organization? What does their power structure look like? While we do get some answers to these questions later on in the series, we don’t get nearly enough to placate my curiosity. Suzanne Collins did manage to answer all of the “big” questions, but her universe is so vast and realistic that it’d be hard not to come up with a million more.

However, getting back to the actual fog itself, it is absolutely terrifying what it can do to people. It not only blisters the skin on contact, but it somehow manages to partially paralyze people as well. Technologies like this make me think that the Hunger Games are just an excuse to show off to the districts how truly powerful the Capitol is. Even their fog kills. I know I’m one hundred percent right that this is one of the reasons that the game exists, but it’s still remarkable that they kill children as a televised fear tactic for preventing national rebellion. Designing deadly technologies just for the sake of torturing people is sadistic and horrifying, but imagining these same technologies being used against thousands upon thousands of people is even worse.

It’s intelligent design, but horrible nonetheless. 

It would be even more horrible if the fog had been what had killed off their entire alliance. Would any of the Gamemakers have stepped in? One death from fog may be “entertaining” enough for Panem, but killing off four tributes in one violent strike seems a bit much… even for them. It would bring the games to a close too early. Plus, I can’t imagine that the fog would be a brutal enough death for two tributes that have caused the Capitol so much trouble. President Snow would want their deaths to be gory and violent, possibly even slow. A relatively quick death by fog wouldn’t placate his desire to punish Katniss for inspiring rebellion. He’d want more of a show.

Not that I think that killing off Katniss is the correct political move. Like I’ve said before, I actually think that involving her in the games to begin with is too risky. It gives the nation someone to stand up for. There’s not much he can do considering she’s already in the games, but having her die is definitely the incorrect move. It would be the smartest move to have Katniss survive the Quarter Quell. It doesn’t make sense to kill her off and risk turning her into a martyr for the rebellion. Even though I’ve repeated myself a million times with this sentiment, I’ve just never been able to understand what Snow was thinking. Her death has the potential to do more for the uprising than her life would. 

Curiously enough, though, I’m surprised that none of the Gamemakers used Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick’s weakness to draw other tributes towards them. Death at the hands of other tributes would probably be right up their alley. However, it probably wouldn’t be “appealing” to watch a group of defenseless tributes get attacked by other tributes. Even the most sadistic individuals can only do so much to make a death like that entertaining.

Plus, watching these tributes heal each other was probably enough for a bored audience. While everyone enjoys an action scene, just watching Finnick swim sounds entertaining enough for me. Many of their interactions with each other also add an element of humor that would help the audience destress. I’m assuming many members of the audience are rooting for Katniss in particular to win the games because of her alleged pregnancy alone, not to mention the events of the previous game and her dynamic relationship with Peeta. 

And it’s not like they had a long time to be bored by that either. As soon as the three were feeling better, they were attacked by monkeys. Once again: it’s crazy how even the most ridiculous sounding sentence can feel entirely realistic in this series. Attacked by murderous monkeys? Not super surprised. It’s the Quarter Quell! 

Of course, when the morphling from District 6 throws herself in the way of one of the monkeys trying to kill Peeta, it does throw me for a loop. I’m sure most of Panem is shocked. Why would she sacrifice herself for a tribute she barely knows? Another sacrifice was made to save the tributes from District 12. And why? Personally I’ve never been able to one hundred percent know what the morphling was thinking. Part of me thinks that she just wanted to be a part of something greater than herself. She knew about the rebellion, hated the Capitol, and wanted to protect the people who inspired the nation to fight back. But another part of me thinks she did it without thinking about it. Someone was in danger. She saved them. Both options are powerful and are definitely not what President Snow wanted from this game.

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