Catching Fire : Part 3 : Chapter 21-22
Part III: “The Enemy”
Finnick carries Mags, and Katniss helps Peeta as they flee the searing fog, but Katniss must fight the urge to leave the others and climb a tree to get out of its reach. The chemicals in it burn skin and have a deadening effect on the nervous system; Peeta’s face, Katniss notices, is slack on one side, and he can’t control his legs.Katniss takes the lighter Mags, and Finnick carries Peeta as they try to reach the salt water by the beach, but one of Katniss’s legs goes stiff. Finnick’s arms go slack; he can’t carry both Peeta and Mags, even if they hang on to his shoulders and back. Mag unexpectedly kisses Peeta on the lips and then “hobbles straight into the fog” to die in terrible contortions. Katniss tries to scream, but her throat is “on fire.” The cannon booms as the other three stagger on, and finally the fog rises and the attack ends. They lie in the lush plants, gasping, when Peeta, looking up, sees monkeys—or that’s what they suppose the animals must be, since none of them has ever seen a monkey. Monkeys and tributes watch each other for a few moments, but the animals don’t seem to be a threat, so Peeta and Katniss crawl to the salt water to wash their wounds. At first the salt water is excruciatingly painful, but then it soothes. They even breathe the water in to purge their throats and sinuses of the noxious chemicals.Peeta and Katniss carry water to Finnick, who has collapsed on the beach, and lave his wounds. It takes longer for control of their arms and legs to return, and meanwhile, they’re visible and vulnerable on the beach in the moonlight. Yet no other tributes approach.
Peeta goes back to the tree line to get water as Katniss wonders why Mags “ran straight to her death without hesitation” and why Finnick let her go. Now is not the time to ask, she knows. But as Finnick swims and Katniss waits on Peeta, she suddenly becomes aware that a “mass of warm bodies” is above them in the trees—scores of monkeys, an “ominous” gathering. Finnick grabs his trident and Katniss fits two arrows to her bow as she callsPeeta to come quietly toward the water. When he’s five yards from the beach, Peeta glances up, and “it’s as if he triggered a bomb.” The mutts move fast, shrieking and swarming Peeta, “[f]angs bared, hackles raised, claws shooting out like switchblades.” Katniss shoots one after another, and Finnick stabs and flings others, while Peeta slashes with his knife. Katniss is soon out of arrows, but the mutts keep coming. One leaps at Peeta, and Katniss pushes him to the ground to protect him, “even though I know I won’t make it in time.”
But someone else does—the female morphling from District 6 seems to come out of nowhere, “bloody, mouth open in a high-pitched scream, pupils enlarged so her eyes seem like black holes.” She flings her arms up “as if to embrace the monkey,” blocking Peeta with her own body as the mutt slashes open her chest.
Several events in the chapter conspire to make Katniss and readers wonder what is going on in the arena. Finnick, Mags, and the unnamed District 6 morphling seem to be working with Katniss to help her achieve her secret goal to keep Peeta alive. The sudden appearance of the morphling is particularly perplexing. Has she been shadowing them? Why is she already injured? And why does she, without a second of hesitation, take the mutt’s fangs in her chest to protect Peeta? These questions and others crowd Katniss’s mind, but since she entered the arena, she has not had time to stop to consider what might be going on without her knowledge. The events are worth considering as foreshadowing techniques; with other suspicious events from previous chapters, they point to something beyond Katniss’s comprehension.
Peeta kills the attacking mutt with his knife, and suddenly all the monkeys retreat, “as if some unheard voice calls them away.” He gently carries the wounded morphling to the beach; four deep puncture wounds slowly weep blood from internal damage. She gasps, thin and “sickly green” from years of drug abuse. Katniss doesn’t know what to do as they stay by her, doesn’t know whether she likes songs, as Rue did. But Peeta knows what to do. He speaks to her in a soft voice, in words that seem “nonsensical,” of all the colors he can mix with the paints in his paintbox: “Green like spring grass. Blue that shimmers like ice on water.” He describes layering colors and trying to catch a rainbow on the canvas. The woman seems soothed, and she moves her fingers in her own blood and paints what might be a flower on Peeta’s cheek. He whispers thanks and says, “That looks beautiful.” She grins and dies, and he carries her body to the water so that the hovercraft can retrieve it.
Finnick gathers up arrows, and Katniss washes her weapons and wounds in the salt water. The mutt bodies are gone, vanished mysteriously into the vines. The three tributes begin to itch terribly as the wounds from the fog scab over, and they get fresh water to drink and to pour over the scabs. Night comes, and Finnick, hardly able to hold back tears, takes the first watch so that he can grieve alone. Katniss and Peeta sleep through the night and wake to find that Finnick has woven a grass mat to shelter them and left them grass bowls of fresh water and shellfish. They sit on the beach and eat the shellfish, and Katniss, who scratched her skin raw during the night, bathes to wash of the blood. She calls up to Haymitch that they could use “a little something for our skin,” and soon after, a parachute floats down with a tube full of ointment. “What I wouldn’t give,” Katniss thinks, for “five minutes of conversation” with her mentor. The ointment turns their skin “a ghastly gray-green” but eases the tormenting itch. She and Finnick smear their faces and then startle Peeta out of his sleep—a moment of levity in the deadly arena. As she and Finnick laugh, another parachute, this one delivering fresh bread, arrives, and Katniss knows that Haymitch is rewarding her for acting friendly toward Finnick. The bread is seaweed green, clearly from District 4. They feast on shellfish and bread.
Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick stick to the beach for now, even though they feel exposed, because the jungle is clearly no haven. They hear a distant scream and see an enormous wave of water crashing toward the beach on the other side of the Cornucopia. The wake rushes toward them, and they grab their supplies before the wave can wash them away. The cannon fires; now half the tributes are dead, only a day into the Games. Three people stagger towards the trio, so they slip into the edge of the jungle to observe. It’s Johanna, pushing and pulling Beetee and Wiress along; all three are oddly red. Peeta, Katniss, and Finnick go out to meet them, and Johanna says, “We thought it was rain, you know,” but in fact, they ran right into “Thick, hot blood” that filled their mouths. As they fled it, Blight hit the force field. Beetee is wounded and nearly fainting; he was stabbed in the back at the Cornucopia. Wiress seems to have lost her mind; she circles and repeats, “Tick, tock. Tick, tock.” But Johanna has brought them to Katniss. Before she can say why, Finnick picks her up and carries her to the water to wash as she hollers insults at Katniss. Peeta points out that Katniss did say, during training, that she wanted Beetee and Wiress as allies. They lead the dazed District 3 tributes to their camp to care for them. Beetee carries a metal cylinder full of wire that must matter to him, so Katniss sets it on the beach, and she and Peeta peel off his blood-soaked clothes and help him wash. Then they guide him to Finnick’s mat and examine his wound, which is not deep but which is bleeding. Katniss makes a pad out of moss and uses vines to tie the makeshift bandage to the wound. They help Beetee drink water and then leave him to rest in the shade as Peeta comments that Katniss is a good healer. Then she helps Wiress bathe, using moss as a sponge. Wiress’s eyes “are dilated with fear,” and Katniss tries to calm her by repeating, “Tick, tock.”
As Beetee and Wiress rest, the others eat their fill of shellfish and describe what they’ve experienced so far. Then Johanna and Katniss take watch, and Johanna explains that Mags was Finnick’s mentor and “half his family.” She also explains that Haymitch told her to bring Beetee and Wiress to Katniss if she wanted to be allies, and Katniss, still puzzled, thanks her as Johanna shoots her a look of “loathing.” Johanna goes to rest, and Wiress joins Katniss, still saying only, “Tick, tock.” Katniss notes the sun and guesses that it’s about noon; as she thinks this, an enormous lightning bolt strikes the big tree across the arena again. She assumes that a tribute moved into its range, triggering the attack, but as Wiress’s “Tick, tock” sounds in her ear, she has a flash of insight. The arena is segmented into wedges—twelve wedges, like the hours on a clock face. Wiress is right. The arena is a clock.
The death of the morphling is important to the chapter and novel in several ways. First, she becomes a symbol for the Capitol’s destructive capacity: “Everything about her speaks of waste—her body,her life, the vacant look in her eyes.” “Waste” is an instructive word. This was a woman capable of desires, achievements, contributions, and worth, but her experience in the arena subverted her energies and drives so that all she wanted was the drug that helped her forget. She survived; she was a victor. In other words, she was yet another victim of the Capitol’s utter subjugation of the districts. In addition, her death allows readers (and Katniss) to see Peeta at his compassionate, wise best. Only he knows how to comfort the morphling as she dies, murmuring to her about the colors he mixes when he paints and whispering thanks when she paints a flower in blood on his cheek. Peeta has a sweetness and an intuitive understanding of people’s natures; he always seems to know the words to say. This is why Katniss wants to send him back, to lead the rebellion, but readers can also sense that Peeta would be harmed to have to lead so many to their deaths.