Catching Fire : Part 3 : Chapter 23-24
Part III: “The Enemy”
Each “hour” of the arena’s clock contains a “Gamemaker weapon,” Katniss realizes—“Lightning, blood rain, fog, monkeys”—and later in the day, the massive wave. She realizes that right now, the blood rain is falling, so the fog will come next, and they must move to get ahead of it. She wakes everyone and explains briefly; only Johanna doubts her. Wiress, on the other hand, is deeply relieved to have been understood, and Katniss suddenly recalls Plutarch Heavensbee, when they danced in the Capitol, telling her, “It starts at midnight.” Why would he have given her a clue, if indeed he did? They gather everything and, with the less wounded supporting the more wounded, move. Katniss and Johanna exchange insults; they distrust each other so much that Katniss assumes that “it’s just a matter of time” before one kills the other. They walk across the land spur to the Cornucopia to check the remaining weapons and confirmtheir guess about the arena’s construction. Katniss thinks sadly about the team they’ve formed, yet only one of them can live. She doesn’t think she can kill Finnick and instead “fantasizes” about killing President Snow.
On the island, Peeta leads Beetee to shade, where he can rest, and asks Wiress to wash the blood of Beetee’s coil of wire. They see the poisonous fog creep onto the beach in the two o’clock wedge, and Peeta praises Wiress for having figured out the clock. Beetee says that Wiress is not just smart but also “intuitive”; like a canary in the mines of District 12, Katniss realizes, she discerns the situation even before all the facts are available.Wiress sings softly as she washes the wire, a song Katniss doesn’t recognize but many readers will know is the childhood ditty “Hickory Dickory Dock.”
Johanna takes a pair of axes from the weapon hoard, and Katniss realizes that District 12 has fared badly in the Games over the decades because they don’t go down to the mines till they’re eighteen. In the mines, they learn things that would be useful in the Games: “Wielding a pick. Blowing things up.” By contrast, Johanna’s been working since she was a young child; she handles the axes with ease. “It’s like Finnick with his trident,” she realizes. “Or Beetee with his wire. Rue with her knowledge of plants.” Other districts’ tributes simply have more useful experience.
Peeta is “drawing” a map of the arena on a large leaf, and he notices that the Cornucopia’s tail points to twelve, the top of the clock. They fill in the information they have and feel more confident. Then Katniss realizes that “[o]ur canary has stopped singing.” Instantly, she has an arrow on string. She turns to see that Gloss has slit Wiress’s throat and fires an arrow, which hits his temple. Meanwhile, Johanna has killed Cashmere with an ax, and Finnick is parrying a spear that Brutus threw at Peeta while Enobaria stabs Finnick in the thigh. The Cornucopia protects the District 2 tributes, but the cannon booms twice for the District 1 Careers as Brutus and Enobaria make for the jungle. As Katniss and her allies give chase, the island shudders violently into motion and accelerates into a fast spin, flinging bodies and tributes down. They hang onto the land spurs, dizzy and trying to avoid drowning. When the spinning stops, Finnick swims to Beetee, who is in danger in the water, and Katniss swims to Wiress’s body to retrieve the coil of wire before the hovercraft comes. She whispers goodbye and heads for the beach, where she “can still taste her blood mingled with the sea salt.” She returns the precious, hair-thin wire to Beetee but says nothing because she knows he’s grieving Wiress. She and Peeta are now the only pair left among their alliance. They gather their weapons and decide to rest in the twelve o’clock wedge when they realizes that the Cornucopia’s tail no longer points to it. Until the wave comes, they won’t know which wedge is which. So they choose a land strip at random and go for water. Peeta works on a new map, and as Finnick and Katniss carry the spile to the trees, she wonders again why it seems that everyone is protecting him. Perhaps, she thinks, his “underlying goodness” has swayed them. Just then, she hears a terrified and terrifying scream. It’s Prim, calling her, and without a thought, Katniss runs through the jungle toward the sound.
Katniss’s own compassion is called out in this chapter, as are its limits. Her affection for Wiress, whom Johanna dismissively but not without cause calls “Nuts,” has been growing since their time in training, and she comes not only to be fond of her but also to admire her. Katniss hates the killing of the Games, but as she did when Marvel killed Rue in the 74th Games, she reacts immediately and viciously to Gloss’s murder of Wiress, killing him with a single arrow. When Katniss swims out to Wiress’s body, her goal is to get the wire that Beetee deems vital, and the hovercraft is above her, its claw already descending. Yet she takes time to close Wiress’s eyes and to say goodbye before she swims to safety. Katniss’s allies mean more to her than she dares admit to herself, and for good reason. For Peeta to live, they all must die. She finds that she can’t even let that thought come to the front of her mind. The perverted nature of the Games dulls the natural compassion that is awakening in Katniss—for Mags, for Beetee and Wiress, for Cecelia, and even—though she can’t acknowledge it—for the deadly Finnick.
Panting and sweating, Katniss crashes through vines and leaves following the voice and imagining what some torturer must be doing to Prim to elicit “such a lost, irretrievable sound.” When she reaches the voice, she sees that a jabberjay is emitting the sound and quickly shoots it down. It’s another “sadistic trick of the Gamemakers.” Finnick catches up with her, but before she can explain, he hears a young woman shrieking and immediately chases the sound, yelling, “Annie!” Katniss follows and kills that jabberjay, too, but her explanation doesn’t comfort Finnick because the jabberjays must have heard the sounds they imitated. As Katniss absorbs this idea, she hears Gale’s screams from another bird. She and Finnick flee toward the beach but run, hard, into a transparent wall. For an hour, they are trapped behind the wall with dozens of jabberjays screaming and crying in the voices of those they love, “a carefully orchestrated chorus of horror.” Katniss shoots every arrow she has and then collapses by Finnick, hands over ears.
When the hour is up, the wall disappears, and Peeta, who could see Katniss but not reach her during the attack, holds her as she shakes. He assures her that Prim is okay. When eight or fewer tributes remain in the arena, camera crews go out into the districts to interview their families and friends, so Prim must be fine. Beetee assures her that the Capitol could easily harvest snippets of recorded speech and alter them to produce the horrible screams; in District 3, even young children can manipulate recordings in this way. Then Johanna shocks Katniss by saying that Prim is adored throughout the districts. If the Capitol harmed her, it would likely incite rebellion. Johanna shouts toward the camera, “Wouldn’t want anything like that!” Katniss can’t believe it—“No one, ever, says anything like this in the Games.” She’s sure the cameras cut away quickly, but “I have heard her and can never think about her again in the same way.” Johanna goes off to get water, but Katniss tries to stop her from entering the jabberjay section of the jungle. Johanna shakes her off. She explains. “There’s no one left I love,” so the jabberjays can’t hurt her.
Finnick goes to swim, to wash off the blood and sweat, and Katniss asks Peeta who Annie is. All Peeta knows is that AnnieCresta is the young girl who broke down when she was reaped from among the District 4 female victors and whose place Mags took. In her Games, Annie became hysterical when her district partner was beheaded; she won only because the Gamemakers engineered a flood, and only she could swim long enough to survive it. Annie doesn’t attend the Games each year—she’s too psychologically fragile. This, then, is the girl Finnick uses his pull in the Capitol to protect, “a poor, mad girl back home.”
They hear the cannon and see in another wedge a hovercraft retrieving pieces of a body. Peetaadds “beast” to that wedge on the map and “JJ” to the wedge they’re in. Now they’re oriented again. They rest, and Finnick fishes. When the sun sets, they see the faces of the day’s dead: Cashmere and Gloss, Wiress, Mags, the District 5 morphling who saved Peeta, Blight, and the male tribute from District 10. In less than two days, two thirds of the tributes have died. Left now are Katniss, Peeta, Finnick, Beetee, Johanna, who are allies, Chaff, who seems to be on his own, and Brutus and Enobaria, who form a small Career pack. “That must be some kind of record,” Katniss thinks.
A parachute arrives with twenty-four rolls of the type common in District 3. The number is not, Johanna wryly observes, evenly divisible by five, but whoever survives till morning can decide on the remainder. Katniss laughs, and Johanna seems to approve of her response.Finnick, meanwhile, counts and sorts the rolls, arranging them in rows. After the wave recedes from the ten to eleven wedge, they camp there, safe for several hours at least. They hear “an unpleasant chorus of clicking” in the eleven to twelve wedge and wonder what sort of horrid insects are swarming there. Katniss and Peeta take the first watch, leaning back to back on the beach and talking. He confesses that he made Haymitch agree to keep her alive, and since they both made such deals, he says that they can “assume he was lying to one of us.” Peeta says his life is worth nothing without her; he has no one back in District 12. He shows her that the token disk is in fact a locket, with little photos of Mrs. Everdeen, Prim, and Gale, who need her. She must go home. Katniss is dismayed because Peeta is giving her “my life and Gale at the same time.” Now she’ll never have to doubt his intentions. But she tells Peeta that she needs him and kisses him—really kisses him—before he can argue. She feels desire rising in her, but the midnight lightning strike interrupts their tender moments together and wakes Finnick, who comes to relieve their watch. Katniss and Peeta go to sleep, as Peeta tells her, for the cameras’ sake, what a great mom she’s going to be and giving her the locket. Before she sleeps, she wonders what it would be like to live in a world where “Peeta’s child would be safe.”
Despite the high and quick death count, Katniss and her allies have exerted some control over their destinies in the arena. They’re proactive as often as they can be, working together to figure out the arena’s construction, make a map, get food and water, build shelters, arm themselves, and treat injuries. They are also clearly becoming more bonded to each other; even the hostile Johanna and the suspicious Katniss are approaching something like a friendship. The five allies have created a micro-society, inside the arena, that likely mirrors the potential alliances among districts that Snow fears so much. Their success, despite death and setbacks, in the arena hints at what the Panem rebels could do if districts find a way to communicate and work together. Readers may recall from The Hunger Games that the Capitol has isolated each district; people in one district know very little about the lives of people in the others. Now readers can see that, from the Capitol’s point of view, this is wise policy. Alliances in the arena are a model for alliances in Panem as tributes from Districts 3, 4, 7, and 12 collaborate successfully.