Catching Fire : Part 2 : Chapter 14-15
Part II: “The Quell”
Katniss had worked on how to say goodbye, but “now the Capitol has stolen that as well.” Peeta tells her that they can write letters for Haymitch to deliver, if necessary, but Katniss knows she’ll never write. She needs gestures and touch to convey her feelings. To keep from collapsing into tears, she focuses on her “mission” to get Peeta home. She says goodbye silently to her family and friends and lets them go, and by dinner, she feels lighter, more reconciled to her decisions. As they eat, Effie explains that she had her hair dyed gold to match Katniss’s District 12 token, the mockingjay pin, and wants to get a gold jewelry for Peeta and Haymitch “so we could all look like a team.” She’s unaware that Katniss’s pin has become a symbol of rebellion in the districts; for Capitol citizens, it’s “a reminder of an especially exciting Hunger Games.” Peeta likes the idea; Haymitch is indifferentand generally miserable, craving alcohol but committed to staying sober while he’s a mentor. Effie refrains from wine, to support him.
After dinner they watch the reaping in the districts and take notes. Of the seventy-five victors of previous Games, fifty-nine are still alive and eligible, though some are “so old or wasted by illness, drugs, or drink” that Katniss doesn’t recognize them. Haymitch sits stoically as the roster fills, but Effie sighs in distress. Katniss recognizes a brother and sister, Careers from District 1, who won in consecutive years, and Brutus, a middle-aged man from District 2. She does not know the female tribute from District 4, an old woman who volunteered to take the place of a young woman who became hysterical when her name was called. She knows Finnick, who won for District 4 at the age of fourteen, the youngest victor ever, and is now a Capitol darling, and Johanna Mason from District 7. Cecelia, from District 8, leaves three little children, who try to cling to her, behind. When the announcer gets to District 12, he becomes teary about the unfairness of the cancelled wedding. Haymitch leaves, and Effie’s distress grows. Peeta stays up to study, and after failing to fall asleep, Katniss joins him. They hold each other for a while, and a Capitol attendant comes in with warm milk to which, of his own volition, he’s added honey and spice. He seems to want to say something but stops himself.
Peeta and Katniss uneasily watch the tape of Haymitch’s Games, the only Quarter Quell they available to study. Haymitch and Maysilee Donner were two of District 12’s tributes. Katniss sees her mother, as a girl, hugging Maysilee before she goes to the stage at the reaping. Madge’s mother, Maysilee’s sister, is there, too. The three were best friends. Katniss suddenly understands why Madge’s mother suffers so terribly from headaches—and she knows now that the mockingjay pin had belonged, once, to Maysilee. When Haymitch is called, Katniss and Peeta watch the image of a strong, good-looking young man whose eyes are “bright and, even then, dangerous.” When Caesar Flickerman, looking very much the same as he does now, asks Haymitch what he thinks of having forty-eight tributes rather than twenty-four, Haymitch says there’s no real difference: “They’ll still be one hundred percent as stupid as usual, so I figure my odds will be roughly the same.” Katniss notes: “Snarky. Arrogant.Indifferent.”
The arena is breathtaking in its beauty, with delightful aromas and sights. Haymitch raids the Cornucopia and makes it to the woods with supplies and weapons before many tributes have even moved. The bloodbath at the Cornucopia claims eighteen of the forty-eight tributes right away, and more deaths come quickly because the beautiful arena is poisonous: “the luscious fruit dangling from the bushes, the water in the crystalline streams, even the scent of the flowers when inhaled too directly.” Only rainwater is available to drink; only the food in the Cornucopia is safe to eat. Haymitch heads away from a snow-capped mountain, dealing with “fluffy golden squirrels” that are carnivorous and butterflies that can sting a person to death. Maysilee, meanwhile, learns to make poisons from the plants and dips the darts she got from the Cornucopia in the toxin to kill her enemies.
On the fourth day, the beautiful snow-capped mountain explodes with volcanic fury, killing a dozen tributes, including many Careers. Three other Careers ambush Haymitch in the woods, and he kills two with a knife. Just as the third is about to kill him, Maysilee drops the Career with a dart and suggests an alliance. They salvage rainwater, gather food from the packs of dead tributes, and move on. Haymitch is looking for the edge of the arena, for something he can use to survive. They burn their way through a thick hedge and come to a flat area that ends at a cliff. Haymitch decides to stay put, and Maysilee returns to the woods, saying, “I don’t want it to come down to you and me.”
Haymitch explores the cliff edge and accidentally kicks a pebble over it. A moment later, the pebble shoots back up. He flings a rock; it comes back, too. He laughs, having figured out the force field, but stops when he hears Maysilee scream. He runs to her but arrives too late: A flock of pretty pink birds has attacked her, and one pierces her throat. Haymitch holds her hand as she dies, just as Katniss did for Rue. Finally, only Haymitch and a girl from District 1 remain. She’s big, fast, a better fighter than Haymitch, and they wound each other badly. He runs toward the cliff, “holding his intestines in,” and she pursues him with an ax. He falls to the ground as she flings the ax. When the force field throws it back, it kills her, and Haymitch has won.
Peeta and Katniss realize that Haymitch turned the force field into a weapon—an act as embarrassing to the Gamemakers as what they did with the berries—or, as Haymitch, who they suddenly realize is behind them, says, nearly as bad. Haymitch is drinking again, but Katniss doesn’t care. She feels a new confidence because “I think I finally know who Haymitch is. And I’m beginning to know who I am. And surely, two people who have caused the Capitol so much trouble can think of a way to get Peeta home alive.”
Effie is a creature of the Capitol. When readers meet her in The Hunger Games, she’s ambitious. She feels mostly disgust for the District 12 tributes she’s had to escort thus far (not to mention the drunken and embarrassing Haymitch), and she’d like nothing more than to be promoted to a “better” district. She seems utterly shallow, obsessed with appearances, and dismissive of Katniss and Peeta. But she’s also good at her job, which adds to their chances of survival. This chapter provides clear evidence that Effie is changing. Katniss and Peeta have won her affection, and she has even developed something like a friendship with Haymitch. Readers see, too, that Effie, regardless of what she may once have thought, is beginning to have doubts about the Games and, by extension, the Capitol. Given her background, her work, and the risk to anyone who questions the Capitol, that Effie undergoes this gradual shift is remarkable. Readers also learn a lot about Haymitch in this chapter as Peeta and Katniss view the recording of his time in the arena. Smart but gruff, Haymitch, they discover, has in common with them a deep scorn for the Gamemakers and their ploys.
In the Training Center, Flavius, Octavia, and Venia go about their usual tasks to prepare Katniss for Cinna—while whimpering and sniffing. They’ve become very fond of Katniss, so the Quarter Quell reaping “has undone them.” And if she dies, there’ll be no more invitations for them to elite parties. Katniss ends up having to comfort her childish, Capitol-stunted prep team.On the one hand, Katniss has never had to think about “being strong for someone else,” but on the other, since she must go into the arena and likely die, “this is somewhat annoying.” Still, between the prep team, Effie’s reaction, and the kindness of the attendant on the train, Katniss begins to realize that many people in the Capitol are unhappy that former victors, celebrities and “friends” to them, must fight again. It’s a small taste, perhaps, of what the districts must endure each year during the Games. Still, by the time Cinna comes in, Katniss has had it with tears and sighs. She’s glad to see that Cinna is composed. They eat an enjoyable lunch together, and then he braids her hair and does her makeup for the opening ceremonies himself. He applies “dramatic highlights and dark shadows,” sets a black Victor’s crown on her head, and dresses her in a black jumpsuit of fabric that seems to glow in shifting hues, like an ember in a coal bed. Katniss sees herself in the mirror, like “some unearthly being” that dwells in a volcano. The black crown reflects red hues and looks “as deadly as fire.” Cinna jokes that Katniss’s days of “pink lipstick and ribbons” are done and instructs her not to smile or wave to the crowd but to “look straight ahead, as if the entire audience is beneath your notice.” That, she can do.
The victors are gathered in the chariot room; most know each other from previous Games, since all living victors attend the Games each year. FinnickOdair, with his “famous sea green eyes,” approaches and flirtatiously offers Katniss a sugar cube, usually a treat for the horses, but, as Finnick says, “if we see something sweet, we better grab it quick.” Finnick, a District 4 Career, is so handsome that sponsors helped him without being persuaded in the 65th Games, even sending him a costly trident, which he used, along with a net, to win quickly. Each year since, during the Games, wealthy people in the Capitol pay him to be their lover, or so the story goes, and give him extravagant gifts. Katniss is not attracted to Finnick, but she knows that he is “one of the most stunning, sensuous people on the planet.” For the opening ceremonies, he wears only a “golden net that’s strategically knotted as his groin.” He describes her costume as “terrifying” and says that if she lives, she can make a killing in the Capitol with her beauty. He himself is so wealthy now that he’s paid in secrets, and he asks whether she has any. No, she says, she’s “an open book,” and others seem to know her secrets before she does. Finnick expresses faux sympathy about the cancelled wedding before sauntering away.
Peeta arrives, and Katniss fills him in on Finnick’s comments; they share a distaste for his method and wonder, whether, if only one of them had survived, they would have become part of the “freak show” of victors. Then it’s time to mount the chariot, hit the switch that turns on the false fire, and ride out. They ignore the near hysterical screams of the audience, and Katniss sees on the big screens that they look “not just beautiful” but also “dark and powerful . . . unforgiving.” That suits her fine. Even the other tributes stare, and Snow seems to be paying special attention to them as well.
After the ceremony, Haymitch introduces Katniss and Peeta to the District 11 tributes: Chaff, who won thirty years ago but lost a hand, and Seeder, who is about sixty but still strong. Seeder hugs Katniss and whispers that Rue’s and Thresh’s families are okay. Chaff boldly kisses Katniss on the mouth, making Haymitch laugh. The Capitol attendants nearby don’t approve of the camaraderie among the tributes and herd them to the elevators. Johanna Mason, from District 7, approaches; she won her Games by appearing to be weak and helpless. She complains about her unimaginative stylist, who’s made forty years’ worth of tree costumes and strips off her costume, except for the shoes, and talks with Peeta about his paintings as they ride up, the still glowing light from his costume flickering on her bare skin. When Katniss and Peeta reach the twelfth floor, Peeta laughs that all the bizarre behavior of the tributes is about Katniss. They’re teasing her because she’s so “pure.” Katniss is objecting as they step into their rooms and she sees Haymitch’s expression suddenly “grown hard.” The red-haired Avox girl from last year has been assigned to them again, but a new Avox is there, too. It’s Darius, the red-haired Peacekeeper who tried to stop Thread from whipping Gale.
Drama and humor mark this chapter and serve as a short break from the growing tension and dread that characterize the previous chapters. Readers meet some of the former victors, who are certainly colorful characters. Finnick’s salacious flirting, Johanna’s nudity in the elevator—these and other actions lend specificity to the tributes. Because Collins takes the time to personalize each, readers become more invested in what will happen to them in the arena. The opening ceremonies set the board, and Peeta continues to prove himself an adept student of human nature. But the lull in the suspense is renewed suddenly at the end of the chapter, when it becomes clear that Snow placed Darius, now an Avox because of his “crime” of trying to help Gale, in Katniss’s and Peeta’s rooms. His message is implied but undeniable: He knows the people Katniss cares about and can hurt them any time he likes.