Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Ch. 22 – 23)

My biggest fear with The Hunger Games series is that Suzanne Collins would build everything up just to let me down in the end. And while I definitely tend to prefer dystopian fictions that end in a bleak manner, she definitely doesn’t let me down. The entire series is absolutely brilliant from the very beginning to the very end. I didn’t even mind how *relatively* happy the ending to Mockingjay is! (Okay, I loved it, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make right now.) 

However, it was really hard for me to expect a better chapter than chapter twenty-one. It’s one of my all time personal favorites. The first time I read it, I was shocked by how many layers it had to it. There is a surprising depth to each and every scene in Catching Fire, even the goriest and most horrifying of them all. 

Now that I’m rereading the series once again, I felt a little bit stuck after finishing chapter twenty one. I don’t remember it possibly getting better from that point on. Somehow the previous chapter made me think about a ton of different, somewhat unrelated, components of this series. From thoughts about President Snow to desires for a complete history lesson about Panem, it had me hooked. 

Of course, if I want to read about President Snow’s personal history, I need to keep reading. I’ve been absolutely dying to get started with A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes! Feeling icky last week really put me behind where I wanted to be and I’m almost itching to get through Catching Fire and Mockingjay so I can finally start reading Collins’ newest book.

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-Two 

After the monkeys end their assault on Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick, the morphling’s death seems to be enough to placate the Gamemakers… at least for a little while. The monkeys depart without any further attacks. Peeta picks up and carries the fallen tribute to the nearby beach. Unfortunately, the morphling is beyond saving and quickly dies. 

What is especially horrifying about this scene, however, perhaps more so than the death itself, is the description of how the dying woman appears to Katniss. The morphling has been completely ravaged by the consequences of drug addiction. Her body looks on the verge of starvation even though, as a victor, she has more than enough money for food. Her eyes come across as vacant, empty. The games have turned what was probably a healthy young woman into little more than a drug addict. 

Very few people publicly involved with the Hunger Games ever comment on this and I particularly wonder if any normal citizen in the Capitol does either. Do they ever notice how the games impact the victors themselves? Do they ever ask why so many of them rely on some type of substance to get through the day? Or do they just blame it on life in the districts, separate their own involvement in this ongoing problem of substance abuse, and call it a day?

When it comes to Haymitch’s alcohol addiction, it seems obvious to me that they just blame District 12’s “odd traditions.” They laugh about him stumbling on screen or otherwise making a fool of himself. They describe it as quaint and unusual, but not as self destructive or frightening. No one draws a connection between Haymitch’s involvement in possibly the most traumatizing Hunger Games there was and his ongoing problems with alcohol. 

I wonder if Peeta’s refusal to treat this woman poorly helped call attention at all to what the games do to people. When he describes different colors to the dying woman, I wonder if anyone in the Capitol took a second to think that she deserved a better life than the one she was given. Did anyone with any type of power care about her life? Does anyone care about the people in the districts at all?

Based on how the people of the Capitol act, I doubt it. And that makes it somewhat unsurprising that Peeta and Katniss’s love for each other was just enough to inspire people to rebel. It is so obvious that no one with power or publicity cares about anyone except for themselves. I would also be inspired by a display of selflessness if I lived in such a similarly selfish world. 

When Finnick agrees to take the first watch, I also wonder if his display of somewhat private mourning could possibly impact the crowds of people watching in the Capitol. When tributes die in previous games, it’s easier for the other tributes to move on. They didn’t have a chance to really get to know the other tributes. They aren’t real people to each other, just obstacles in the way of surviving. The victors are real to each other. They have developed friendships with each other, real relationships. Seeing a victor mourn for another is something powerful in a game pointedly designed to make each death a celebration. Does seeing a tribute feel sorrow over a death partially negate that sentiment?

Considering the fact that there are other tributes competing in the games as well, I bet the Gamemakers tried to avoid focusing too much on Finnick’s mourning or on the morphling’s self-sacrifice. They probably just panned the cameras back to whatever the other tributes were doing and tried to refrain from giving the people of the Capitol too long to think about how horrendous the Quarter Quell is. When Johanna shows up with Wiress and Beetee, it’s obvious that they’ve been through something more interesting, and perhaps more shallow depth wise, than Finnick’s mourning process. They’re literally covered in blood. 

The first time I read this series that little detail really, really bothered me. The idea of rain coming down as actual hot blood was horribly gruesome and disturbing. I’d probably have a similar reaction as Wiress: losing my mind. These mental tortures are more than enough to make someone lose their grip on reality and there’s something very, very sick about the fact that all of these things are done to real people as a way to keep an entire nation from rising against the Capitol. They’re a sadistic form of entertainment. 

I also remember being particularly confused by Johanna’s statement about Haymitch the first time I read Catching Fire. Why would he want Johanna to bring Wiress and Beetee to Katniss? Wouldn’t her small amount of attachment to them risk more than it’s worth? Having additional allies isn’t always a good thing. A large group may help protect her from the career tributes, but it would never guarantee her protection. Someone in the group could kill her. 

Of course, I’ve read the entire series so, in retrospect, I understand why Haymitch wanted Katniss to ally herself with three more people. I’m just saying it must be very confusing from the audience’s perspective. How did no one guess that something nefarious was underway? This alliance emerged a bit late in the game to be so incredibly large. One or two people alliances may make sense, but six people does not. 

However, I didn’t mind it too much. Even when I was confused the first time I read the series, I was somewhat distracted by how much I enjoy Johanna as a character. She is so straight forward and somewhat brutish that it impresses. Her constant glares at Katniss add a special touch that I am absolutely living for. 

Chapter Twenty-Three

After Katniss’s group of tributes realize that the arena is a clock, a lot of the events that took place prior make more sense. It’s easier to understand why the fog and the monkeys suddenly stopped. The overall shape of the arena also makes more sense. 

What I’ve never understood, however, is why this arena is so much more intense than the previous ones. I understand that it was designed with the Quarter Quell in mind, but preparations for this arena must have taken place years prior to the actual games. I don’t believe it was the founder’s original intents to have victors as tributes for this arena. How did they expect normal tributes to survive this arena for any amount of time? What was the original Quarter Quell really supposed to be like? 

It’s just hard to imagine that they built this arena in a year and, without knowing who it was intended for, I don’t imagine them putting untrained children into such a completely hostile environment. Of course, Haymitch’s own arena was similarly intense. It just didn’t seem to practically guarantee death. Although everything was poisonous… so maybe I’m wrong.

Either way, after determining that the arena is a clock, Katniss begins to discuss Wiress with Beetee. He explains to Katniss that Beetee is extremely intuitive, kind of like the canaries in the mines in District 12 that are supposed to warn miners in the case of emergency. After he explains, Katniss begins to think about how much danger Gale could be in back home. It would be so easy for President Snow to make his death look like an accident if he wanted to. He could just rig the mines where Gale is working to explode and blame it on the canaries failing to warn Gale in time. 

In my opinion, that would be a huge waste of time for the President to do, but, considering the way he treats Katniss, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had decided to kill Gale. President Snow may be the president of Panem, but it doesn’t seem like he shys away from wasting time on petty revenge moves. He definitely made the time to plan Cinna’s death. President Snow’s distaste for Katniss puts everyone she loves in harm’s way. 

And personally I think that’s Snow’s biggest character flaw, or one of Suzanne’s biggest flaws in the overall Hunger Games series. I have such a hard time envisioning such a cunning man being so intensely petty. His behavior towards Katniss is almost childlike. It’s immature. I have a hard time picturing a man who was smart enough, and deadly enough, to keep power for years in one of the most volatile countries I’ve ever imagined spending so much time on being cruel to a teenage girl. It’s a difficult thing to imagine.

Regardless, it’s one of President Snow’s traits so I suppose I have to accept it. It’s just not my favorite. 

As the chapter proceeds, Katniss’s newly enlarged alliance is attacked by the career tributes. During the attack, the Gamemakers reset the arena so that Katniss and her group can’t use their understanding of the arena to their advantage. The clock has been reset. The group has to figure out what time it is and how to read the clock again. 

Because of this reset, Katniss and Finnick had the misfortune of being in a section that was activated. Katniss hears the sound of her sister screaming. And although this is definitely going to bleed into my opinion of the next chapter, how screwed up is that? Like who comes up with this stuff? What type of psychopaths become a Gamemaker?

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