“President Snow takes a seat at the large desk of polished wood where Prim does her homework and my mother her budgets. Like our home, this is a place that he has no right, but ultimately every right, to occupy. I sit in front of the desk on one of the carved, straight-backed chairs. It’s made for someone taller than I am, so only my toes rest on the ground.”
This description, from Chapter 2, subtly establishes the power structures of the novel’s setting. President Snow is the single authority in Panem and can invade Katniss’s home at his pleasure, yet his presence and utter politeness are hateful. He can stop Prim from going to school. It’s at his pleasure that Katniss’s family has enough to eat, to pay their way. He can exert control over the smallest aspect of any citizen’s life—he, in fact, has just ordered Katniss to sit down in her own house, at her own desk. Collins uses the verb “occupy” to describe Snow’s use of the desk, a verb that is military, colonial, threatening, and accurate in this context. Katniss’s own disempowerment, similarly, shows in the oversized and uncomfortable chair; like a child seated in an adult’s place, she can’t ground her feet on the floor.
“Do what? Blow my lips up like President Snow’s? Tattoo my breasts? Dye my skin magenta and implant gems in it? Cut decorative patterns in my face? Give me curved talons? Or cat’s whiskers? I saw all these things and more on the people in the Capitol. Do they really have no idea how freakish they look to the rest of us?
“The thought of being left to my prep team’s fashion whims only adds to the miseries competing for my attention—my abused body, my lack of sleep, my mandatory marriage, and the terror of being able to satisfy President Snow’s demands.”
As Katniss’s prep crew gets her ready for her first Victory Tour appearance, they chat about what surgical alterations they think she should have when she’s older. Her thoughts on the Capitol citizens’ craze for “the capricious fashion trends of the Capitol” reveal the chasm between the subsistence life of the district populations and the spoiled, vain, appearance-obsessed lives of Capitol dwellers.
“‘This has to stop. Right now. This—this—game you two play, where you tell each other secrets but keep them from me like I’m too inconsequential or stupid or weak to handle them. . . . I have people I care about, too, Katniss! Family and friends back in District 12 who will be just as dead as yours if we don’t pull this thing off. So, after all we went through in the arena, don’t I even rate the truth from you?’”
In the dome of the Justice Building in District 11, Peetaobjects explosively when he realizes that Katniss and Haymitch have kept Snow’s threats a secret from him. Katniss’s unwillingness to tell him—before his well-intended but disastrous gesture of goodwill toward Rue’s and Thresh’s families—is in keeping with her generally suspicious nature. But it is also rooted in her sincere desire to protect Peeta.
“But the real star of the evening is food. Tables laden with delicacies line the walls. Everything you can think of, and things you have never dreamed of, lie in wait. Whole roasted cows and pigs and goats still turning on spits. Huge platters of fowl stuffed with savory fruits and nuts. Ocean creatures drizzled in sauces or begging to be dipped in spicy concoctions. Countless cheeses, breads, vegetables, sweets, waterfalls of wine, and streams of spirits that flicker with flames. . . .
“‘I want to taste everything in the room,’ I tell Peeta.”
At the feast that culminates the Victory Tour, the extravagance of the food is only hinted at by these lines. The people stuff themselves and then carry one of the “tiny stemmed wineglasses filled with clear liquid” provided into the bathrooms to drink the emetic and vomit so that they can eat more. Katniss and Peeta had been tasting the delicacies with delight, but when they understand what the citizens are doing, they are disgusted. The excessive behavior seems wickedly selfish to Peeta and Katniss, who have lived their whole lives among people near starvation and who themselves nearly starved in the arena.
“‘Safe to do what?’ he says in a gentler tone. ‘Starve? Work like slaves? Send their kids to the reaping? You haven’t hurt people—you’ve given them an opportunity. They just have to be brave enough to take it. There’s already been talk in the mines. People who want to fight. Don’t you see? It’s happening! It’s finally happening! If there’s an uprising in District Eight, why not here? Why not everywhere?’”
As they hunt in the woods, Katniss tells Gale that she is now ready to gather their families and escape into the woods. She thinks that if even just she and Gale run away, the people they leave behind will be safe. She does not know that Gale’s feelings have changed, that he is now ready to fight, not run. He urges Katniss to redefine what it means to be safe, which is to be entirely free of the Capitol’s oppressive rule.
“The berries. I realize the answer to who I am lies in that handful of poisonous fruit. If I held them out to save Peeta because I knew I would be shunned if I came back without him, I am still self-centered, although forgivable. But If I held them out to defy the Capitol, I am someone of worth. The trouble is, I don’t know exactly what was going on inside me at the moment.
“Could it be the people in the districts are right? That is was an act of rebellion, even if it was an unconscious one? Because, deep down, I must know it isn’t enough to keep myself, or my family, or my friends alive by running away. Even if I could.”
Katniss questions her motives in the quiet house at night, as she sits by Gale after he is flogged nearly to death, holding his hand. Gale’s courage, Thread’s ferocious punishment, and the realization that no one near Katniss is safe combine to move her nearer to understanding what she must do. Yet if she is more able to understand how she must act, she still struggles with the question of why she should act.
“The dining room gets quieter and quieter as the tributes file out to go perform. It’s easier to keep up the irreverent, invincible manner we’ve all adopted when there are more of us. As people disappear through the door, all I can think is that they have a matter of days to live. . . .
“We sit in silence awhile and then I blurt out the thing that’s on both our minds. ‘How are we going to kill these people, Peeta?’
“‘I don’t know.’ He leans his forehead down on our entwined hands.
“‘I don’t want them as allies. Why did Haymitch want us to get to know them?’ I say. ‘It’ll make it so much harder than last time. . . .’”
As Peeta and Katniss wait for their individual performances before the Gamemakers, they confide their misgivings for the first time. Beyond the usual stresses of the arena—the dangers of the environment, the Gamemakers’ sadistic ploys to keep ratings up, and the violence tributes inflict on each other—there is another conflict in the Quarter Quell. Motivations are muddied—and if they are for Katniss and Peeta, who’ve just met the other victors, they must be even more so for the victors who’ve known each other for years. How, for example, will Career siblings Gloss and Cashmere respond if they are the last two tributes alive?
“Even if you count Beetee and Wiress out, we’ve got four good fighters. It’s so different from where I was last year at this point, doing everything on my own. Yes, it’s great to have allies as long as you can ignore the thought that you’ll have to kill them.
“Beetee and Wiress will probably find some way to die on their own. If we have to run from something, how far would they get? Johanna, frankly, I could easily kill if it came down to protecting Peeta. Or maybe even just to shut her up. What I really need is for someone to take out Finnick for me, since I don’t think I can do it personally. Not after all he’s done for Peeta. I think about maneuvering him into some kind of encounter with the Careers. It’s cold, I know. But what are my options?”
Before the disaster at the Cornucopia that results in Wiress’s death and the disorientation of the arena, Katniss stresses—and not for the last time—over how to sort out her feelings for and obligations to her allies. She has come to admire and even like some of them, and it’s against her nature to kill those who are clearly vulnerable and weak, as Wiress and Beetee are. The terrible binds under which she is suffering testify to the Capitol’s power to pervert what is good in human behavior and to punish those who, despite everything, maintain an ethic of kindness and compassion.
“Enemy. Enemy. The word is tugging at a recent memory. Pulling it into the present. The look on Haymitch’s face. ‘Katniss, when you’re in the arena . . .’ The scowl, the misgiving. ‘What?’ I hear my own voice tighten as I bristle with some unspoken accusation. ‘You just remember who the enemy is,’Haymitch says. ‘That’s all.’
“Haymitch’s last words of advice to me. Why would I need reminding? I have always known who the real enemy is. Who starves and tortures and kills us in the arena. Who will soon kill everyone I love.
“My bow drops as his meaning registers. Yes, I know who the enemy is. And it’s not Enobaria.”
Just before she shoots the arrow at the dome, Katniss experiences a flash of insight. Until this moment, she’s stuck in the same thoughts that have dominated and in fact plagued her waking hours since the reaping—that she must keep Peeta alive, that the only way to do so is to make sure everyone else dies, including herself. It’s this dogged determination that prevents Katniss from understanding that the allies—dead and alive—have protected Peeta and her and that keeps her suspicions alive. In her moment of clarity, Katniss grasps that Beetee was trying to tell her what to do with the knife he still holds: attack the Capitol. He tried but failed, and as Katniss’s arrow is on the string and aimed at Enobaria, the Capitol’s corruption of the tributes’ behavior nearly causes her to forget what Haymitch told her. “That’s all” were his final words to her—because knowing whom to call enemy is indeed the most important advice he has to offer.
“Haymitch stops to see if I am following. Or maybe he is done for the moment.
“It’s an awful lot to take in, this elaborate plan in which I was just a piece, just as I was meant to be a piece in the Hunger Games. Used without consent, without knowledge. At least in the Hunger Games, I knew I was being played with.
“My supposed friends have been a lot more secretive.”
Katniss learns, in the hovercraft on the way to District 13, that she has been kept in the dark about the plans for the Games. For her own good, the conspirators insist—to protect her in case she’s captured by the Capitol—but in fact, she knows that they protected themselves, assuming that she would break and betray them if tortured. Also, they need her, the mockingjay, the symbol of the resistance, yet they know that she is reluctant to play the role. Rather than asking her, they simply force her into the role, without her knowledge. Katniss herself is a keeper of secrets. She thought she was doing what was right by making a pact with Haymitch without Peeta’s knowledge and by withholding the information about Snow’s threats. But now she understands how deeply hurtful it is to be used, to be mistrusted, and to be manipulated.
Catching Fire : Top Ten Quotes