Catching Fire : Part 2 : Chapter 12-13
Part II: “The Quell”
Katniss is restless, still stuck in bed and relying on Haymitch to bring her news—all dismal—about the district. As winter passes, her foot heals, and one morning she finds her prep team waiting to prepare her for the wedding dress photo shoot. They indulge in their “usual histrionics” about her hair, nails, and skin and get to work. She explains the pale scar on her cheek as the result of slipping on ice. As they work, they chat in their self-centered way about their lives in the Capitol, and Octavia laments not having been able to buy shrimp for a party. Katniss asks why and learns that bad weather in District 4 has meant no seafood for weeks. Katniss knows immediately that District 4 is in revolt. She asks carefully what other shortages have happened. Electronic gadgets (District 3) and fabrics (District 8)are in short supply.
Cinna interrupts her fact-gathering; he doesn’t buy her excuse for the scar on her cheek. Effie bustles about, keeping everyone on schedule, as Cinna helps Katniss in and out of six ensembles, so they have little time to talk. By evening, Katniss foot is aching, and she scrubs off her makeup before joining Prim and their mother by the fire, happily chatting about the shoot. They feel that Katniss is safe, but that night, she has a nightmare in which she must flee the mutt tributes as her wedding dress catches on branches. She wakes in terror, wanting to talk to someone, before dawn. After breakfast, she sees that Haymitch, unusually, is up, and they walk to town. He’s heard rumors about uprisings in Districts 7 and 11, so perhaps half the districts are rebelling in some way. But Haymitch thinks District 12 is too small, still too scared, and not ready to join. He warns that the Capitol might utterly destroy a district, as they did 13, to make it an example to the others. He rejects the theories about District 13’s survival as a rumor that appeals to “desperate people.”
Prim comes home a bit early from school because the Capitol is broadcasting mandatory viewing that evening. Katniss assumes that the propaganda has to do with the wedding dress shoot and is worried because she hasn’t had time to prepare Gale, who works every day now, to see it. At 7:30, Caesar Flickerman, in his usual role of Hunger Games interviewer, talks with Cinna about the dresses. Citizens in the Capitol are “very invested” in the wedding, Caesar says, and get to vote on which dress Katniss will wear. Then Caesar addresses the third Quarter Quell, which will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games. Mrs. Everdeen, who remembers the second Quell, looks “solemn and distant” as she prepares for “the reading of the card.” The Panem anthem plays, and President Snow appears and speaks of the history of the Dark Days. Each Quarter Quell is time for “a glorified version” of the Games, “to make fresh the memory of those killed by the districts’ rebellions”—pointed words, under the circumstances, Katniss thinks. On the first Quarter Quell, each district had to hold an election and vote on its own children as tributes. On the second, twice the number of tributes was reaped. Mrs. Everdeen speaks softly of Maysilee Donner, her friend, who was reaped that year and died. Her parents gave Mrs. Everdeen Maysilee’s canary. Prim and Katniss have never heard their mother speak of this.
Snow continues as a little boy holds up a box. Snow draws a card from it—the story is that the Quarter Quell instructions were all written when the Games were first devised, by the first Gamemakers; they provided enough cards for centuries of Games. Snow reads: “On the seventy-fifth anniversary, as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol, the male and female tributes will be reaped from the existing pool of victors.”
Mrs. Everdeen cries out and Prim covers her face, but it takes Katniss a moment to understand that she is the only existing female tribute in District 12. She must go back into the arena.
The unspoken question of this chapter is how far the Capitol’s machinations go. Were the instructions for the third Quarter Quell in fact written seventy-five years ago? If so, that would suggest that the victors in the Capitol, after the Dark Days, knew that the brutal oppression and punishment of the districts would have to increase over the years to check uprisings. They also understood the delicate balance between enough intimidation and too much—that tipping point beyond which more suffering was unthinkable and the risks of rebellion thus acceptable.But it’s also possible that the cards are a lie and that the Capitol has created the conditions of the Quarter Quell specifically to address the current uprising and, in particular, to eliminate Katniss and Peeta, symbols of the rebellion. Thoughtful readers may entertain other possibilities when they recall Plutarch Heavensbee’s odd behavior when he danced with Katniss at the Victory Party and showed her his secret mockingjay watch face. Why would he have done that? Did he perhaps already know what was on the card? This chapter raises intriguing questions; readers may make predictions and then adjust them as they read on.
Katniss runs from the house, hardly aware that she’s doing so. She can’t seek refuge in the woods as she once did, so she hides in the cellar of one of the empty houses in the Victor’s Village. She stuffs her shirt in her mouth and screams till she’s hoarse. She had imagined many futures, most of them bad, but never had she expected this. One of the rewards of victory in the Games is exemption from reaping. Katniss pulls a painter’s cloth over herself to keep warm and ignores the people calling her name. She doubts that the Quarter Quell specifications were written seventy-five years ago; these Games are perfect for killing her and snuffing out rebellious spirits in the districts. Victors “survived the arena and slipped the noose of poverty that strangles” the districts. A district’s victors as “the embodiment of hope where there is no hope.” Now the Capitol wants to extinguish that hope as well. Katniss comforts herself with the thought that she doesn’t know the other victors, as Haymitch does. But she’ll be required to kill either Peeta or Haymitch, and she decides to refuse.Peeta, she suspects, will insist on going, to protect her. As Katniss climbs out of the cellar, she sees that her hand is cut and bleeding, yet she doesn’t recall breaking the window to get in.
She goes to Haymitch’s house; he’s already drunk, empty bottle in one hand and knife in the other. “Finally did the math,” he says scornfully. Peeta came right away to volunteer, so why is Katniss here? He laughs when she replies that she wants a drink. She chokes down a few gulps of the liquor and decides she likes it. In her opinion, Haymitch should go into the area because “You hate life, anyway.” Haymitch agrees, but they both know Peeta will go. They will have to work to keep him alive. Katniss feels shame. While she hid, thinking about herself, Peeta thought first of her welfare. Haymitch tells her, “You could live a hundred lifetimes and not deserve him,” and she agrees. For Haymitch, going as mentor will be unbearable anyway, in addition to seeing his fellow victors, many of whom have become friends over the years, back in the arena. Katniss sees profound pain in Haymitch’s eyes, but he agrees—aloud, at least—to help her save Peeta.
Katniss staggers home. Gale is there; he holds her and says that they should have run. Now, they can’t, because their escape would endanger Prim, Mrs. Everdeen, and others. Katniss, exhausted and drunk for the first time, passes out. When she wakes, she vomits and fights a hangover. She showers and notices that someone stitched up her cut hand while she was out. She heads back to bed, unable to face Prim or her mother, but they bring her tea and toast in bed. Katniss sobs as they hold her and tuck her back in. Later that afternoon, Katniss wakes again and heads downstairs, embarrassed but grateful that no cameras were rolling. Mrs. Everdeen and Prim work hard to hold their own emotions in check for her sake.
Katniss takes broth to Haymitch, and Peeta joins them as they sip it and talk quietly. Peeta has poured the rest of Haymitch’s illegal alcohol down the drain and threatened to turn Ripper, his supplier, in if she sells him more. (Peeta also paid Ripper off so that she can eat.) He tells Haymitch that there will be “no drunkards on this team.” Two people are coming home, he says—a victor and a mentor. Effie is sending records on all the living victors for them to study, and he and Katniss are ready to train as if they were Career tributes.
They embark on the training. It occurs to Katniss that some victors may be old, a thought “both sad and reassuring.” Haymitch describes their personalities and styles. The training is hard on Haymitch at first—his hands shake too much to hold a weapon—but Katniss and Peeta thrive under the regimen. Madge sneaks Capitol newspapers to them, and they eagerly read the predictions, coverage, and general Capitol buzz. Even Gale helps. Katniss, having decided now that she will never marry, knows that both Peeta and Gale must let her go. She’s not coming home.
Reaping day is hot and humid, and though everyone knows what will happen, all of District 12 is in the square as required, under the guard of the rooftop machine gun nests. Effie, wearing a gold wig this year, “lacks her usual verve” and conducts the drawing quickly. She draws Katniss’s name and then Haymitch’s, and Peeta volunteers. They go into the Justice Building to say goodbye, as is traditional, to their families, but Thread is there with a smile. “New procedure,” he says as Peacekeepers rush them to the train.
Readers who remember the first reaping day, in The Hunger Games, note the contrasts between that scene and this. Katniss and Peeta were shocked when they were reaped for the first time. They were unprepared, despite Katniss’s hunting skills, for what lay ahead. They were naïve, despite years of forced viewing, of what exactly would happen to them in the arena and how they’d be changed. This year, despite Thread’s cruel denial of moments to say goodbye, the team is ready: trained, educated on their opponents, with a plan. There’s a sense of almost defiant optimism in the little group. Yet readers also know that this optimism arises from Peeta’s desire to send Katniss home alive and Katniss’s insistence that she will die so that Peeta can come home. This apparent paradox creates tension that the sudden, ceremonially-deprived reaping and departure add to as the three leave District 12.