Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Ch. 16 – 17)

I did not feel like reading or writing this weekend. Not at all. No matter what I did to try to convince myself, I could not manage to drag myself over to my computer and start working on things. I wanted to sleep, or eat, or go outside to do a bunch of fall-themed activities. Apple picking anyone?

To be honest, though, I’m kind of bummed that I didn’t manage to make myself do it. I was on a 49-day streak with blogging (or something like that; I don’t remember the exact number.) I wanted to make it to 50-days at least. Or a year, but that may be a little bit far fetched. 

However, I really don’t want to get into the habit of reading or writing just because of some weird sense of obligation. I want to read and write because I enjoy doing it. This isn’t a professional blog so much as a hobby to make me slow down and enjoy my books more. If I force myself to do it, I’ll probably start hating it. I definitely don’t want to sour my love of reading. 

Especially when it comes to this series. It’s been taking me a while to analyze The Hunger Games chapter-by-chapter, but it feels totally worth it. I’m noticing so many new things about the series at large. My newfound understanding of President Snow is worth it all by itself. Who knew he was such a sick and twisted man? I did right from the get-go. But who knew he was so pathetic? I had never realized it to the same degree.

I mean what type of grown man makes fierce enemies with a teenage girl? I’m living for the little dramas and ironies I barely noticed during my first ten reads. Katniss and Snow’s relationship alone has given me a lot to think about. I genuinely never really appreciated their age difference and the odd vibe it gives to Snow’s actions. 

As a teenager, it seemed perfectly plausible that Snow’s biggest enemy was a sixteen or seventeen year old girl. His hatred towards her made sense. I could even justify the worst of his actions as a retaliation against an enemy. As a young adult, that same idea is absolutely ridiculous. He is a grown man, a leader of a country, who goes out of his way to mentally torture a teenage girl. President Snow is an absolute creep. President Snow is a psychopath. 

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 Sixteen Thoughts

The idea of turning Darius into an avox simply for standing up against something wrong is a bit flabbergasting to me. Standing up for other people should be rewarded, not punished. I understand that Panem considers his actions close to treason (if not treason), but, even for Panem, that’s a bit harsh. You shouldn’t be allowed to publicly murder someone over a turkey. Even to discourage poaching – a concept that is utterly ridiculous considering Gale was poaching from an unutilized forest ground.

So making Darius into an avox was horrible. We started with that. It was horrible. Even knowing that the leaders of Panem have no limits, it’s still shocking to see how far they will go. Mutilating someone over something small does not even begin to bother them. What is more surprising is that half the time, their lack of limits seem to serve no real purpose. They do horrible things just to do them. Darius’s mutilation served a purpose, however small it was. Other things don’t. 

Placing Darius with Katniss specifically is one of those horrible things they just do for the sake of doing them. The only purpose it could possibly serve was making Katniss feel more unstable. It was a petty, senseless revenge move against a teenage girl in a tough position. And yet the grand leaders of Panem felt it was worth doing.

Isn’t that crazy?

Like I said earlier in this post, I think it is so ridiculous and pathetic that President Snow’s biggest enemy is a teenage girl. As a teenager, I didn’t think anything of it. It felt plausible. Katniss was a thorn in Snow’s side, a revolutionary. 

As an adult, their hatred of each other comes across as misplaced. Or, more accurately, President Snow’s hatred of Katniss specifically is misplaced. She is not to blame for all of the problems in Panem. Her specific game was not the cause of the rebellion. His actions and Panem’s continuous mistreatment of the people throughout the twelve districts is what caused the rebellion. Treating Katniss poorly because she had the misfortune to spark rebellions is idiotic. Rebellion would have eventually happened no matter what. Katniss didn’t create the conditions that caused the uprisings. President Snow’s attitude towards her as the spark is childlike. 

Of course, the majority of people who live in the Capitol are overwhelmingly childlike to begin with. It should hardly be surprising that President Snow acts almost infantile when enraged when everyone around him acts infantile 24/7. He was raised with selfish desires in mind by a selfish community in a selfish world. He wasn’t given the tools to be a responsible well-rounded adult. 

And that makes me wonder a lot about the citizens of the Capitol and what they think about everything. For example, what is their take on avoxes? Is it standard to have an avox in your home? Does it ever occur to the average person that what is done to avoxes is cruel and unfair? Or do they think it’s justified? Avoxes are criminals. They must deserve how they are treated. 

I assume that people like Cinna feel pity for the avoxes. They would probably love to change Panem’s criminal justice program. But people like Effie probably barely notice them. The majority of the Capitol is more like Effie than Cinna, sadly. The real world is somewhat similar and there is something quite sad about that.

When Katniss sits down to watch the recap of the opening ceremonies, I was newly surprised at how apt her take on the situation was. Watching adults dressed in silly costumes on their way to die is pitiful. I can’t imagine that even the most avid fans of the Hunger Games can enjoy the proposition of watching aged victors fight each other. Part of the appeal of the games is watching attractive young people encounter dangerous situations. 

Perhaps seeing adults parade themselves during the open ceremonies also hurts the fantasy of the games. The young and healthy tributes that are the norm during the Hunger Games are so vibrant and beautiful that they may seem unrealistic to viewers. They aren’t people, just images on a screen. They mean little more than exciting television, interesting conversations, bets, and fun parties. Aged victors have enough flaws so as to seem real. Viewers also have the misfortune of having to get to know them as they aged. The general population knows that they are real people because they have taken the time to get to know and love them.

Or, vice versa, the lack of commentary during the opening ceremonies could be due to the fact that aged victors hold less appeal for the audience interest-wise. Watching aged victors fight to the death doesn’t promise the same level of violence or horror as watching children fight. The violence won’t be quite as violent. The action scenes may not be quite so action-filled. Morphling addicts and elderly people offer quieter deaths for the hungry audience of Panem. 

And, in part, it must be gruesome to even view these previous victors. The games have had resounding impacts on them. Panem typically offers viewers an illusion that the victors spend the rest of their lives in luxury. Everything is glamorous. The games are worth it because the victors are given the world at their fingers. Seeing that most victors struggle with addiction and substance abuse shatters that illusion. It must be quite disquieting to see that the lies you’ve been fed are so obviously lies. It breaks the illusion.

That is part of the reason why, once again, I think that President Snow made the wrong call with this Quarter Quell. Killing the victors off one-by-one doesn’t make sense politically. It just gives each district more of a reason to despise the Capitol. Beyond that, showing citizens of the Capitol the results of their games must create some sense of distrust there. They are experiencing never before seen shortages. Their victors are being killed off. They were lied to about what their victors lives were like. Even as self-centered as all the people in the Capitol are, they must start putting the pieces together at some point and realize how corrupt their government is. They must feel some level of pity for the people they subjugate. When you shatter the illusion that people are happy, what is left except rebellion?

Speaking of illusions, I still have a hard time imagining myself in Katniss’s shoes. I can’t picture myself staring down my own death. Having to pretend to be in love at the same time sounds impossible. Of course, Peeta isn’t that hard to love and I think it’s somewhat ridiculous that Katniss would even have to pretend… But still. The constant creation of an illusion for the sake of the audience sounds difficult during the best of times. Doing it while imagining your own horrific death is beyond me. 

The inclusion of Enobaria from District 2 adds to that. Her filed-down fangs in her mouth absolutely terrify me. Can you imagine being introduced to someone with a mouthful of fangs? And then being told you have to fight that person to the death? No thank you. It’s such a small detail about her, but it instantly adds to the terror of the Quarter Quell. 

Wiress and Beetee come across as much more approachable. Teaching Katniss about how to detect force fields is insanely useful. However, when I first read Catching Fire, I was surprised that force fields had such a large design flaw. Being able to detect it with your human eye is a big deal. No one ever remedied that. Part of me thinks that Beetee designed it and intentionally included a flaw. Perhaps he was always a part of an underground rebellion, slowly including design flaws in all of the technology he provided Panem with.

And that does make me wonder if our own scientists and engineers do the same. Do they intentionally include design flaws in our technology and infrastructure in case the government ever becomes overly corrupt? Does anyone try to protect the common man in such small ways? Or do they deem it unnecessary or even stupid? Flaws in our technology can be exploited by other nations, not just our own people.

Beyond that, the end of this chapter always surprises me as well. I love Peeta. We all know how much I love Peeta. He’s great. But the depth of his character is always astounding to me. The fact that he acted against the Gamemakers to their face is shocking. Can you imagine the amount of bravery it took for him to call attention to the horror of their own games?

It positively guaranteed him a spot as an enemy of the Gamemakers and that’s a dangerous move. He labeled himself as a direct target of their wrath, more so than he already would have been as one of the tributes from District 12. And yet it’s so completely brilliant that I can’t even blame them. Panem is horrible and Panem should know that.

Katniss’s desire to deflect their attention from Peeta is similarly brutal, but must be somewhat ineffective. Peeta and Katniss are obviously a team. Showing the Gamemakers a hanged Seneca Crane as a distraction from whatever Peeta’s done probably wouldn’t distract them. It would just make the two of them more of a target.

Chapter Seventeen Thoughts

When Katniss and Peeta begin to explain what they showed the Gamemakers to Haymitch, I always feel for them. I’d be terrified to tell Haymitch that I did something so harmful to myself. What they did was impulsive and bold and brilliant, but it was also really, really, really stupid of them to do. They made themselves into direct targets of the Gamemakers wrath, more so than they already were. 

However, I can hardly blame them. The Hunger Games in general is a disgusting event. The fact that the Gamemakers feel perfectly justified in making a game out of dozens of deaths is degrading to human life and is plenty immoral. Showing them the horror of what they do, and the horrible consequences it can have for even them, the Gamemakers, is brutal and absolutely necessary. The Gamemakers need to take responsibility for the terror of the event they run. They are directly responsible for children losing their lives. 

Of course, I somewhat agree with Katniss’s assessment that both her and Peeta don’t necessarily have to be Snow’s target. He could get away with choosing one and allowing the other to live. Personally, I think that it would make more sense politically-speaking to have one of them survive the Quarter Quell. They would be living reminders of what happens if you oppose the wishes of the Capitol. It would perhaps even be better if Katniss were the sole survivor of the games just so that people could watch her live out her life without Peeta. 

Plus, I also agree with Katniss in regards to what her death would do for the rebellion. It wouldn’t quell rebellion, but would, instead, give it new life. She would become a martyr for the rebellion. Why would the President want to risk that? It would make more logical sense to show the entire nation a warped version of their ideal revolutionary and show the pain involved with rising against the government. 

Back to the story though.

Thankfully, the prep team managed to control themselves in this chapter. While prepping Katniss for her interview with Caesar, there were few tears. Each time a new person started crying, first Octavia and then Flavius, they were dismissed. Katniss wouldn’t have to sit through comforting them again. 

She would probably have to sit through comforting me if I were there, however. The idea of having Katniss wear her wedding dress to the interviews is absolutely horrific. It is cruel and sadistic and utterly unnecessary. Even from a purely political perspective, it’s the wrong move. Why remind people in the twelve districts of what they could have had from Katniss? Why rub a perfect love story gone wrong in their face? Or, worse, why remind them of what they are fighting for? Children like Katniss should be allowed to grow old and marry and live happy lives, not be forced to die off in a brutal yearly ritual. It’s sickening and it was just another petty move to humiliate Katniss in front of the nation. 

Once again, President Snow is a child. His anger knows no bounds. He has no limits and it’s kind of embarrassing to watch him do all of this to a teenager. 

However, dressing Katniss in her wedding gown did bring up unexpectedly strong reactions from the other tributes. I wasn’t expecting it the first time I read Catching Fire and it still comes as a surprise to me now. Why should Cashmere feel enraged at Katniss for being forced to wear a gown? Does she genuinely believe that this is a move on behalf of Katniss to gain sponsors? Cashmere’s reaction is silly. 

Again, thankfully, the majority of victors don’t act like that when they see Katniss. Instead, they’re enraged at the Capitol. This at least makes sense. Katniss isn’t the one sending them back into the arena. When they all continually strike out against the Capitol, begging or cajoling or convincing them to cancel the Games, I love it. 

But of course none of them could compare to what District 12 has up its sleeve. The moment where Katniss’s wedding dress burns down into a harsh political statement against the Capitol is powerful. Cinna’s mastery of design and complete understanding of his political surroundings is absolutely divine. Katniss becomes the Mockingjay that Snow fears.