Catching Fire : Part 2 : Chapter 16-17
Part II: “The Quell”
Katniss is not supposed to speak to an Avox, and what would she say if she could? Snow’s intimidating message is clear: His reach is long. No one she loves is safe.She goes to her room to change for dinner and watches the power in her glowing suit ebb away. She sets the suit and crown aside. At dinner, Katniss knocks a dish off the table, feigning clumsiness, so that she can lean over and touch Darius’s hand briefly as he picks it up. After dinner, the team watches the recap of the opening ceremonies, and Katniss senses how undignified the whole affair is: “Kids in costumes are silly, but aging victors, it turns out, are pitiful.” The younger, fitter tributes don’t look so bad, but those who are older or ill “look grotesque in their costumes.” She understands now why the audience was so crazy for her and Peeta, “looking so young and strong and beautiful in our brilliant costumes.” She thanks Cinna and Portia for their brilliant designs and heads to bed, as Effie, in a “hollow” voice, calls reminders about the next day’s schedule. Katniss feels for Effie, whose triumph in the 74th Games has “broken down into a mess that even she can’t put a positive spin on.”
Katniss hears a quiet knock on her door but ignores it. She has nightmares that feature tongues—dismembered, bloody, drooling, dry with thirst—and wakes terribly thirsty. In the morning, she puts off going to breakfast because there’s little point in discussing strategy; she can’t do it, anyway, with the silent Darius there. She eats in her room and comes out just in time to head to the Training Center. She sees that Haymitch is wearing a nice gold bangle, styled in overlapping flames, his “concession” to Effie’s plan. He says that she has two jobs during training—to stay in love and to make friends. She objects, but he insists that she’ll need allies this year. The victors, who are not “trembling children,” know each other and will naturally team up; she and Peeta are the newcomers but are “desirable” allies. He recommends Finnick, Chaff, and Seeder. They head down without Effie (no “babysitter,” Haymitch says) to find only Brutus and Enobaria present. Enobaria killed a tribute by ripping his throat out with her teeth, which she afterwards had sharpened into fangs and inlaid with gold. She has “no shortage of admirers in the Capitol.” Tributes gradually straggle in, and Atala, head trainer, gets the day started. Katniss works on knots while Peeta practices with spears. Finnick comes up behind Katniss, puts his arms around her, and easily finishes a tricky knot. Then he makes a noose and pretends to hang himself to tease her, so she moves to the fire-making station, where she meets Beetie and Wiress, inventors from District 3, both middle-aged and so close that they finish each other’s sentences. In coded language, they reveal that District 3 has suffered during its uprising and express disappointment that District 12 is still passive. They look up to where Plutarch Heavensbee and the other Gamemakers are eating and watching, and Wiress notices that the corner of the table seems to waver or shimmer. It’s a force field, they explain, and the shimmering spot is like a “chink” in the armor.
The tributes eat in groups that are clearly on their way to informal alliances, and Katniss explains to Peeta why she wants Wiress and Beetee, whom Johanna calls Nuts and Volts, as allies. Peeta favors Chaff and Seeder. After lunch Katniss trains with the District 8 tributes and wonders how she could mention having met Twill and Bonnie. She meets Gloss and Cashmere, the District 1 tributes, who are “polite but cool”; Katniss killed both District 1 tributes in the 74th Games. Enobaria is clearly not interested in an alliance, either. Finnick brings Mags, the elderly District 4 female, to meet Katniss. Mags’s speech is hard to understand, likely because she’s had a stroke, but she’s clever with her hands, and like Katniss, she volunteered to protect a younger girl. Katniss wants her as an ally and thinks, wryly, that Haymitch is going to love her choices. She practices at the archery range and does so well against increasingly difficult challenges that the other tributes gather to watch, with expressions ranging “from envy to hatred to admiration.”
At dinner on their floor, Haymitch tells her that about half of the victors want her as an ally after seeing her shoot—even Brutus. When Katniss says that she wants Mags, Beetee, and Wiress, Haymitch sighs and says he’ll tell the other mentors that she’s still deciding.
The teasing stops now that Katniss’s skill is known, and she spends time over the two remaining days of training with nearly all the tributes, even the mophlings, who mostly want to paint flowers on each other and anyone who will sit still, and with Finnick, trading an archery lesson for a trident lesson. She becomes more uneasy. She likes some of these people, and others are “so damaged” that she feels an urge to protect them. But she must send Peeta home.
They joke about the upcoming private performances for the Gamemakers, Mags saying she plans to take a nap to impress them. Since the Gamemakers already know each tribute, it’s hard to know what to do to impress them. Katniss is last to perform. As she enters the room, she smells strong cleaners and notices that a mat has been dragged into the middle of the floor, obviously covering something. The Gamemakers whisper in irritation; the mood is very different from last year’s, and Katniss wonders what the other tributes and in particular Peeta have done. Katniss decides to shelter Peeta from their anger by disturbing “the smug veneer of those who use their brains to find amusing ways to kill us” and reminding them that they, too, are subject to “the Capitol’s cruelties.” She goes to the knot station and makes the noose that Finnick taught her; then she drags a target dummy to the middle of the room and hangs it by the noose from the chinning bar. She uses blood-red berry juice from the camouflage station to write “SENECA CRANE” on the hanged dummy and then steps back to reveal the words and to see how the Gamemakers react.
Despite the varied state of the tributes—some so old that they can’t hear or speak or walk well, some middle-aged but still strong, some clearly mentally incompetent, and some young and well-trained—the feeling grows during this chapter, which describes the training, that this year’s Games will be somewhat different. The tributes are experienced. Many are going into the arena expecting to die for someone else. They know each other well, which presents wrinkles in terms of alliances and the willingness of each to kill the others. Peeta and Katniss struggle with this demand in particular. And it’s clear that many of the tributes are actively observing and gaming the Gamemakers. They’re openly defiant, willing to risk the ire of the Gamemakers. This is a much less passive group than last year’s, less willing to follow the plans laid out for them by the Capitol.
The Gamemakers are shocked. Some shriek, some look faint, some drop their wine glasses. Plutarch stares at Katniss—he’s crushed the peach he was eating in his fist—and dismisses her. As she leaves, she tosses the juice container over her shoulder at the dummy. She knows she’ll pay for this display, but she feels strong. Back in her room, however, she stands in the shower and second-guesses herself.
At dinner, Peeta explains that he used the camouflage dyes to paint Rue lying among her flowers on the floor. After a moment of stunned silence, Haymitch asks “in a very measured voice” what Peeta was thinking. Peeta wanted, just for a moment, to hold the Gamemakers “accountable” for Rue’s death. Effie is on the edge of tears: “That sort of thinking . . . it’s forbidden,” she says. He and Katniss will suffer for it. Katniss says that it’s “a bad time to mention” what she did and then explains. Effie is shocked that Katniss knows about Seneca’s death, but Katniss points out that Snow as much as told her about it. Effie flees the table, and Portia and Haymitch express their disapproval. Then Katniss announces that they don’t want any allies in the arena. Haymitch approves of this plan: “Then I won’t be responsible for you killing off any of my friends with your stupidity.” Only Cinna doesn’t react badly as they go to watch the training scores. Peeta and Katniss both get 12s, a first for the Games and, in Haymitch’s opinion, a signal to the other tributes to target District 12’s pair. He sends them to bed because he “can’t stand to look at either one of you.” But Peeta and Katniss don’t regret their actions (much). They understand their motivations—to keep from being “just a piece” in the Games, to stand against the Capitol’s cruelty. Besides, they’re pretty sure Snow plans to kill them in the arena anyway, and Katniss at least wants at least to die with spirit, to support the rebellion. Even her mission, to send Peeta home to lead the rebellion, is an act of defiance, she realizes, a refusal to play the Hunger Games by the rules. They sleep together that night and wake up rested.
The red-haired Avox brings a note from Effie to say that there will be no coaching sessions that day, so Katniss and Peeta take a picnic to the roof. They sunbathe, weave vines, and enjoy their time off. Peeta wishes they could live in these moments forever. They watch a stunning sunset and head to bed. In the morning, their prep teams come to prepare them for the interviews, and Katniss’s team can hardly stop sobbing. Only Venia holds her emotions in check, sending Octavia and Flavius away so that they don’t upset Katniss. When Cinna comes in, Venia takes Katniss’s hands, looks into her eyes, and tells her it was a “privilege” to be her prep team before she leaves. Katniss thinks warmly of her team as her “foolish, shallow, affectionate pets” and feels almost heart-broken. Venia’s words mean that no one thinks she’ll be coming back.
Cinna explains that Snow ordered the dress for the interview, the wedding dress that garnered the most votes, heavy and dripping with pearls. “It’s so barbaric,” Katniss thinks, “turning my bridal gown into my shroud.” The dress weighs more than Katniss remembers, and Cinna says that he had to alter it and tells her to keep her arms at her sides because the bodice is tightly fitted, until the last moment, when she should twirl and lift her arms. He’ll give her the signal.
Peeta looks elegant in a white tux, and Katniss thinks how extravagant Capitol weddings are, compared to the simple weddings in District 12. As the tributes wait for their turn, the others stare in awe at Katniss’s dress. Finnick can’t believe that Cinna made her wear it, so she explains that it was Snow’s idea. “Make him pay for it, okay?” Johanna says.
The victors don’t hide their feelings of betrayal during the interviews.Cashmere says that she cries when she thinks of how sad the Capitol people are over losing their victors, and Gloss recalls the Capitol’s kindness to him and his sister. Beetee questions the legality of the Quarter Quell requirements; Finnick recites a poem to his “one true love” (and people all over the Capitol faint, Katniss smirks, thinking it’s them). Johanna argues that the people who wrote the Quell requirements seventy-five years ago couldn’t have foreseen the love that developed between the Capitol and the victors, and Seeder asks why, if Snow is all-powerful, he can’t change the Quell. He must not realize how much people object to it.
By the time Katniss’s turn comes, people in the audience are weeping and calling loudly for change, and at the sight of her wedding dress, their distress grows. She says she’s sorry they won’t be able to come to the wedding and praises the wonderful dress, standing and twirling as she raises her arms. The crowd screams as smoke rises around and flames burn away the wedding dress, but she trusts Cinna and keeps twirling. The fire wanes, and she finds herself in a dress “the color of coal and made of tiny feathers,” with sleeves like wings. She realizes, “Cinna has turned me into a mockingjay.”
Their actions in front of the Gamemakers are so alike in spirit that Peeta and Katniss seem to have planned them. It’s certainly the case that, compared to their states of mind as they went into the last Games, they have become much more alike in their thinking. Specifically, Katniss has matured and now understands what Peeta already knew before the 74th Games. The horrific and painful experiences of the Games, the Victory Tour, the sham love, and the oppression in District 12 have changed her. And she’s not alone—all the victors, their mentors, their stylists, and their escorts, at least those readers see, seem to be coming to a united feeling that is decidedly anti-Capitol, anti-Games, anti-Snow. The interviews are tense, and even Caesar Flickerman, the consummate host, is taken aback by the tributes’ comments and the audience’s reaction. The mood is unquestionably different than it was a year ago—defiant rather than compliant, and angry rather than acquiescent. The revealing of Cinna’s masterwork, the mockingjay dress, is an appropriate high point in the crescendo of insubordination.