Catching Fire : Part 1 : Chapter 3-4
Part I: “The Spark”
Katniss feels faint and fearful that she can’t play her role. Peeta is likable and at ease with people; she is not. She immediately decides to keep her mother from knowing about Snow’s threats and thinks about how they have tried to “mend” their relationship since the Games. Katniss has had to let go of her anger over her mother’s reaction to her father’s death, and Mrs. Everdeen has tried to shelter Katniss from press questions about Peeta.
As Katniss bathes, she considers whether she can tell anyone about Snow’s threats. She can’t tell Prim. Gale doesn’t need incentive to defy the Capitol. Cinna is already at risk because of his association with her. To tell Peeta would be to inflict new injury on him by asking him to “act extra in love” with her so that Snow doesn’t kill Gale. “Drunken, cranky, confrontational Haymitch” is the only person she can confide in, and his duty as her mentor is to advise her. Katniss’s thoughts stray to time she spent with her father at a nearby lake. They swam, hunted ducks and their eggs, and gathered tubers from the plant she’s named for. She’s never taken Gale there, though she could; it’s a place special to her memory.
Katniss’s prep crew arrives and falls to despairing over her shabby state. Venia is scandalized by her eyebrows, Octavia by her bitten, torn nails, and Flavius by her unkempt hair. They kiss her and go to work, gossiping about the Capitol and about the Quarter Quell. They make her up in a girlish, sweet palette of Cinna’s choosing, appropriate to the role she must play. Downstairs, Cinna arranges fabrics and sketches for the cameras, carrying out the deception that Katniss has chosen fashion as her “talent.” Victors don’t go to school or work, so they must have a talent to display. Peeta paints, and Katniss, the story goes, designs clothes.Cinna’s presence and affection reassure Katniss. They’ve stayed in touch by phone so that Katniss will know how to talk to interviewers about her “passion” for fashion design. She dresses in the soft, warm clothes Cinna has brought, just in time for Effie Trinket to sweep in and keep everyone on schedule.
Prim, home from school for the occasion, stands in the kitchen, and Katniss suddenly sees not her but Rue, “who I didn’t save. Who I let die.” Fear seizes Katniss—who else will die because of her? But Cinna wraps a fur coat around her, and Mrs. Everdeen brings her mockingjay pin, “For good luck,” which Cinna pins on her scarf. These comforting actions buoy Katniss somewhat as Effie commands, “[B]ig smile, you’re very excited,” and pushes Katniss out the door toward the cameras. With President Snow’s words, “Convince me,” in mind, she runs to Peeta, who catches her and twirls her—a lovely moment for the cameras except that he slips on his artificial leg, and they land in the snow, kissing. Katniss feels “the steadiness that Peeta brings to everything” and knows he will look out for her.
They rush to the train station, say their goodbyes, and start their journey in the luxurious train with an “incredibly delicious meal” that Katniss can’t recall. That night, Katniss goes quietly to talk to Haymitch, who is drunk, as usual. The train stops for fuel, so Katniss and Haymitch talk outside, in the snow, away from snooping cameras. When he knows everything, Haymitch merely says, “Then you can’t fail.” Not just on this tour, either—Haymitch explains that, from now on, she and Peeta will be mentors. Every year, the “romance” will come up. She has only one choice: “live happily ever after with that boy.” The truth of this strikes Katniss fully for the first time. Her private life is over. A possible life with Gale is over. She, like her prep crew, is a creature of the Capitol now. To protect those she loves, she will have to marry Peeta.
The invasion of the prep crew reminds readers of the vapid, media-consumed lives of many in the Capitol. Venia, Octavia, and Flavius are empty-headed, caring mostly about fashion, and Katniss must listen to them prattle about their “incomprehensibly silly lives,” so different from the hard working lives of people in the districts. Yet, as Mrs. Everdeen demonstrates how she braids Katniss’s hair, they are “so readily respectful and nice” that Katniss feels bad for looking down on them. They are what the Capitol has made them—childlike and shallow. Katniss’s growing sympathy for these three and, by extension, others in the Capitol foreshadows later action.
As Haymitch and Katniss board the train, he says, “You could do a lot worse, you know.” That night in bed, she thinks about his words and knows that he’s right. Yet people have few freedoms in District 12, and one is the freedom to choose one’s spouse. Now it’s gone. Also, Katniss never wants to have children because she can’t bear that one might be reaped. Gale suspects that the reaping is sometimes rigged. She thinks, “And wouldn’t it be something to see the child of not one but two victors chosen for the arena?” And a parent can’t volunteer for a child; tributes must be between twelve and sixteen years of age. Haymitch, who is wealthy by District 12 standards and could marry easily, has stayed alone in self-imposed “solitary confinement”; Katniss wonders if he has the same fear of having children.
Katniss considers her options. If she ran away, her family would suffer in her place. Suicide would likely bring punishment on them as well. For now, she decides after thinking about her situation for hours, she must focus on the Victory Tour and on persuading Snow that she loves Peeta.
District 11 is the first stop on the tour, and after breakfast, Katniss’s prep crew gets to work as Cinna manages the dozens of outfits in the garment car. Venia, Octavia, and Flavius are rarely up before noon in the Capitol, and they drink coffee and take pills to wake up. They wax, buff, pluck, and otherwise prepare Katniss, from head to toe, while chatting about the surgical alterations they think she should get. At lunch, she feels “too weighed down to talk” as the others chatter about upcoming events. When the train stops for a repair, Effie frets about staying on schedule, and Katniss snaps, “No one cares, Effie!” and flees the train. She is surprised to find balmy weather; they’ve come farther south than she thought. She regrets her outburst of “bad manners”; manners matters so much to Effie. Peeta approaches to apologize about his reaction to her admission, on the way home from the Games, that she didn’t know how she felt about him or Gale. He knows that it “wasn’t fair to hold you to anything that happened in the Games.” He’d like to “take a shot” at a real friendship, and she wishes she could tell him about Snow’s threat. Since she can’t tell him what’s wrong, he asks her favorite color (green) and says that his is the orange of sunsets. This calls to mind his paintings, and they return to the train, holding hands in a more friendly way, to see the paintings, which are his talent and thus part of the Victory Tour. Katniss apologizes to Effie as they go in.
Katniss is surprised that Peeta’s paintings portray the Games. Some scenes anyone would recognize, like the golden Cornucopia; others only she knows, like the cracks in the ceiling of the cave where they hid. Many feature her. “I hate them,” she admits, because they are so realistic, so packed with sensory details. Peeta says that he sees these scenes in his nightmares every night—which she experiences as well—but the painting doesn’t seem to help. The paintings are “extraordinary,” but Katniss can’t bear to look at them any longer and confesses that her “talent” is Cinna’s display of clothing. They walk to the last car, which has large windows, to look at District 11 as they approach the station. They see a sweeping landscape of fields of crops and fields for grazing, so different from the forests of District 12. Then they see the fence: “Towering at least thirty-five feet in the air and topped with wicked coils of barbed wire, it makes ours back in District 12 look childish,” Katniss realizes. Its base is thick concrete, and manned guard towers interrupt the meadows of flowers. Katniss and Peeta see workers in the fields and “shacks” that make the houses in the Seam look “upscale.” District 11 is so huge and has so many people that Katniss wonders how they handle the reaping. The place tires her with its “vastness” and “endlessness.” She’s glad when Effie calls her to dress.
Cinna has a pretty dress with autumn leaves, and Katniss thinks how much Peeta will like the color. Then Effie reminds them of the program: a public appearance on the square, at the Justice Building that was once a beautiful marble building and sounds like an old plantation house or perhaps courthouse, with a verandah and tall columns. The mayor will read a speech, and they will read scripted words of thanks. It is “good form,” Katniss knows, to say a few words about any ally from the District, so she should say something about Rue and Thresh, but she can’t come up with the words. Then they’ll receive a plaque and attend a dinner in the Justice Building.
When they reach the platform, Effie is slighted to see, rather than a welcoming committee, a squad of Peacekeepers, who hurry them into an armored truck. In the Justice Building, the aromas of a delicious dinner mingle with the odors of mildew. The anthem plays, and Peeta and Katniss step out onto the verandah to restrained applause. The dilapidated state of the buildings around the square has been disguised—somewhat—with banners, and the square is full, though only a fraction of the district’s residents are there. “As usual,” there’s a platform for the families of the fallen tributes. For Thresh, only “an old woman with a hunched back and a tall, muscular girl,” his sister, probably, are seated. Rue’s family includes her parents, “faces still fresh with sorrow,” and five young siblings, like “a flock of small dark birds.” After the mayor’s speech, bouquets are presented, and Peeta addresses the crowd and praises Rue and Thresh, saying that he and Katniss can never repay the debt they owe them. Then, going off script, Peeta says that he and Katniss want to offer one month of their winnings every year to Rue’s and Thresh’s families. The crowd gasps. No one’s ever done this before, but Peeta says, “As long as we live, they will not hunger.” Katniss, as surprised by this offer as anyone, thinks that Haymitch is right. Peeta is a good person. She kisses him. Then she sees one of Rue’s sisters looking at her critically and decides to speak off script as well. She speaks of Thresh’s “refusal to play the Games on anyone’s terms but his own” and sees a “trace of a smile” on his grandmother’s face. She tells Rue’s family, “Everything beautiful brings her to mind,” and she thanks the district for the gift of the bread.
Then Katniss hears “wizened old man” in farm clothes whistle Rue’s four-note song that marked the end of work hours in the orchards and signified safety during the Games. Then, in what is clearly a planned gesture, all the people in the square give the District 12 salute: three left fingers touched to the lips and then held out. Katniss is filled with fear at this “very public salute to the girl who defied the Capitol.” Snow told her to stop such acts of dissent, yet her impromptu comments have spurred one. Someone cuts off the microphones, and the mayor, who seems unaware of what’s happened, walks Katniss and Peeta back into the Justice Building. Katniss realizes that she forgot her bouquet. As she and Peeta step back onto the verandah to get it, they see two Peacekeepers drag the old man to the steps, push him to his knees, and execute him.
This chapter is long, complex, and critical. It sets in motion the conflict between the districts and the Capitol that threaten rebellion in Panem and shows people, for the first time, so infuriated that they are willing to risk their lives to stand up, even if only by slight actions like a whistle or a gesture, against the Capitol. It also makes clear the Capitol’s intention to punish any such action swiftly and viciously. Before the events on District 11’s square, Katniss was fearful about what Snow might do. Now she knows the lengths to which he will go to preserve the fragility of Panem and of the Capitol’s hold on the districts.