Part I: “The Ashes”
Katniss enters her family’s compartment to see Buttercup, Prim, and her mother snuggled together much like on the morning of Prim’s first reaping. Katniss has her own bed; nightmares cause her to thrash too much to share it. That night, Katniss can’t sleep. She finds the mockingjay pin, Peeta’s locket and pearl, and the spile in her draw and holds them for comfort. She touches the pearl against her lips, a “cool kiss from the giver himself.” Prim wakes, and they sit together wrapped in a blanket, and talk. Prim has maturedand she is now Katniss’s confidante.
Katniss tells Prim that she is willing to be the Mockingjay but that she worries that, if the rebels win, Peeta will be executed as a traitor. Prim assures her that she matters so much to District 13 that she can demand concessions in exchange for her service. Burned by Haymitch’s betrayal, Katniss know that to ensure that Coin will keep her word, she will need witnesses. They sleep on the plan.
At breakfast, Gale slips Katniss a bit of his rations, though sharing food is frowned upon. Katniss decides that another condition of her being the Mockingjay is that she and Gale be allowed to hunt. They both miss being above ground, in the woods, and the district can use the meat. Katniss and Gale go to the Command room, where Katniss asks for a pencil and paper—precious commodities—and spends about twenty minutes working on her demands.
Buttercup must be allowed to stay. She and Gale want to hunt. Peeta must be absolved of treason. Coin must announce the terms of the agreement publicly. And finally, Katniss writes: “I KILL SNOW.” The team is clearly relieved, but Coin remains “impassive” as they negotiate the term. Katniss’s family will move to a room on the top floor, where a narrow window will allow Buttercup to leave to hunt. Katniss and Gale may hunt for part of the day but must wear “tracker anklets.”
Then Coin asks: “Do you want [Gale] presented as your new lover?” Plutarch objects; people think Katniss is carrying Peeta’s baby, and she would be a less sympathetic Mockingjay if she appeared to betray Peeta. They decide to present Gale as a “fellow rebel.” The conversation upsets Katniss because each of her relationships is treated as a convenient fiction, as if she has no real feelings for Gale or Peeta. Angrily, she presses for Peeta’s pardon. “Dead silence” falls in the room, and Katniss adds that the other captured tributes must also be pardoned. Coin refuses, but Katniss insists. She commands Coin to “pledge” before all of the districts that Peeta, Enobaria, and Johanna will be pardoned—“or you’ll find yourself another Mockingjay!”
Fulvia and Plutarch are thrilled. Minutes pass before Coin agrees, but with the threat that Katniss had “better perform.” She orders a “national security assembly” for that very day and then asks whether Katniss has presented all of her conditions. Katniss says she wants to kill Snow, when the time comes, and sees Coin smile, ever so slightly, for the first time. Coin agrees to “flip you for it.” Hatred of Snow is perhaps the only thing Katniss and President Coin have in common.
Coin leaves, and the team gets right to work. Fulvia hands Katniss a black leather sketchbook. In it she sees a drawing of herself in a uniform. The work is Cinna’s, and on every page, his designs cast her brilliantly as the Mockingjay. On the last pages, Katniss sees his sketch of her pin and the words, “I’m still betting on you.” Cinna made Plutarch promise not to show Katniss the designs till she had decided, of her own will, to be the Mockingjay, but clearly, it’s what he hoped she would do. Gale teases Katniss that she’ll be “the best-dressed rebel in history.”
The team is ready to begin shooting “propos”—short propaganda spots—featuring Katniss. Beetee is at work on defying the Capitol’s control of broadcasts so that they can carry out an “Airtime Assault.” Fulviatells Katniss that she has a surprise for her, and they head to an elevator, Katniss’s arms wrapped around Cinna’s sketchbook.
They ride down to floor 39, courtesy of a special key that Plutarch has. As they exit the elevator, a guard appears, and Katniss feels that things are “very wrong.” The elevator entrance has an additional metallic grate, and the “caustic smell of antiseptic” is in the stale air. Plutarch greets the guard cheerily but is cut off: “You have the wrong floor.” The guard refuses to check Plutarch’s clearance, and they argue as Katniss sees the door to Compartment 3908, their destination—a door that has no knobs. She hears “a tiny whimper,” andshe and Gale exchange a glance, and she drops the sketchbook. The guard leans down to get it just as Gale does, too, and they bump heads—a distraction so that Katniss can reach the door and push it open. There, she sees three people: “Half-naked, bruised, and shackled to the wall”—her prep team.
The events of this chapter reveal uncomfortable truths about District 13. Regimented days, rationed food, punishment for infractions—these conditions may indeed have ensured the district’ssurvival for nearly eight decades underground so that it can now challenge the Capitol. However, the district’s militaristic society has now become entrenched, and readers suspect that abuses have arisen. An insularity is behind Coin’s authoritarian leadership style; readers see it when she declares that the captured tributes will “be tried with other war criminals and treated as the tribunal sees fit” and in Plutarch’s lament that, unlike in District 12, there’s no black market, no Hob, where he can get coffee. Utter intolerance for any divergence from district policies is the rule, and the imprisonment of Katniss’s prep team, deep down on restricted levels, reveals the consequences of disobedience. Readers may begin to wonder whether the Capitol is the only oppressor in Panem.
Venia, Octavia, and Flavius “recoil” as Katniss enters the cell, so she kneels in front of Venia, takes her hands, and gently asks, “What happened?” Venia says that on the night that the Quarter Quell arena was destroyed, “people” came to take them away from the Capitol. Plutarch confirms that Cinna arranged their departure, but Katniss knows that Cinna would never have wanted or expected what happened to them.
The guard explains that the three are being punished because they stole food. Venia seems confused; they were so hungry, and it was “just one slice” of bread. Octavia sobs, and Katniss realizes that she took the bread and recalls the time when she slipped Katniss, starved after the arena, an extra roll.
Katniss sees sores under the shackles on the teams’ wrists and orders the guard to release them. Plutarch assures the hesitant guard that he will take responsibility for them, so the guard makes a phone call and returns with keys. The three can hardly walk; Flavius trips over a drain in the center of the cell’s floor, and Katniss quails to think why a cell would need such a drain. They lead the prep team to Katniss’s mother, on duty in the hospital who reacts to their state with “consternation.”Katniss, Gale, Plutarch, and Fulvia wait outside while Mrs. Everdeen treats the trio, and Katniss says, “I guess we’ve been put on notice.” Their discovery of the prep team was no accident, she thinks, but rather a warning from Coin that she is in charge and that even Plutarch and Fulvia, Gale and the Mockingjay herself, are “disposable.” Fulvia argues that she and Plutarch are too important to the rebellion to be vulnerable, but Katniss points out that the “tributes were necessary to the Games, too. Until they weren’t.” They wait in silence after this exchange till Mrs. Everdeen comes to report that the team will be all right but to expect “some emotional instability” because Octavia, Flavius, and Venia were “ill prepared” for life in District 13.
The lunch period begins, but Katniss finds that she can hardly eat her ration of bread. Her spirits lift when she recalls that the training period means that she and Gale get to hunt. They race to the armory, retrieve their personal gear and a game bag, and allow guards to put trackers on their ankles. Outside, guards open a thirty-foot electrified fence to allow them access to the woods, and they walk till they can’t see the fence. They soak in the sunlight and take off their ill-fitting district-issued shoes. Then they quickly kill about a dozen small animals.
Gale asks suddenly why Katniss cares about her prep team, given that they “spent the last year prettying you up for slaughter.” Katniss struggles to explain: The team is “not evil or cruel” or “even smart.” They are more like children, incapable of understanding . . . .” Gale interrupts. Surely they understand that the tributes are “actual children”—unlike “your trio of freaks”—who are manipulated into killing each other for the amusement of Capitol citizens. Katniss sees how indefensible her position is, yet her team “is so clueless, and they belonged to Cinna,” who was—she thinks—on her side.
As they walk back, Katniss tells Gale about how the team couldn’t even finish her prep before the Quarter Quell “because they couldn’t stop crying over me going back in. And Venia could barely say good-bye.”
They take the meat to Greasy Sae, who now works in the district’s kitchen. Katniss is exhausted and heads to her compartment, forgetting that it’s now on the top floor. She finds the new compartment and sleeps till Prim wakes her for the assembly. They go to the Collective, a room that can easily accommodate many thousands of people and that swallows up District 13’s population, diminished by the pox. Prim notes how much the people suffered, but Katniss dismisses her comments. She sees her mother with a group of hospital patients, including Finnick, handsome but “dazed” as he ties and unties knots in a short rope.He is glad to see Katniss but confused about why they are in the Collective, so she explains the deal.
Katniss walks to the podium to add Annie Cresta to the “immunity list,” but Coin says it’s not necessary. Katniss thinks about her prep team and tells Coin to add Annie’s name, necessary or not. Coin begins her speech, and Katniss hears “rumbling” among the listeners when Coin lists Katniss’s terms. She ignores their “hostile looks.” Coin pauses to let the dissenting murmurs quiet and in just a few words reestablishes herself as District 13’s authority.
A power struggle takes place in this chapter. At stake are Katniss’s identity and free will, the survival of the captured tributes, and even the nature of the new government that will take effect should the rebellion succeed. Coin—cold, efficient, determined, and authoritarian—recognizes in Katniss a passion and fire that are unpredictable and that attract loyalty among followers. Coin needs Katniss, but she also needs to control Katniss. Readers may wonder, after the assembly, if even the fact that Coin has agreed to Katniss’s conditions publicly will guarantee that she will abide by them. Coin’s strategy is far-reaching; she’s not looking merely to the Capitol’s downfall but to her own exercise of power afterward. How Katniss fits into Coin’s scheme is not clear, but goodwill is absent, and Coin poses a threat—of a different kind than Snow does, but no less intimidating.