Catching Fire : Part 1 : Chapter 5-6
Part I: “The Spark”
Peacemakers wielding automatic weapons push Katniss and Peeta back into the Justice Building. Effie, Cinna, and Haymitch have no idea what happened, and the Capitol-controlled screens show static. Peeta lies that a vehicle backfired, but then they hear two more shots. Haymitch recalls the building’s floor plan and leads Katniss and Peeta to the dome through a trapdoor. They describe what they saw, and Haymitch tells Katniss to bring Peeta up to date on Snow’s threats. Peeta sees, with remorse, that his sincere and generous offer has only made things worse and is angry that Katniss withheld the facts, causing him to endanger people in District 11. In his anger, Peeta smashes items stored in the dome, worrying that Rue’s and Thresh’s families will suffer or even be killed. Haymitch agrees that there will be no more secrets, and Peeta storms out. Katniss, for her part, now understands Snow’s concerns more thoroughly. Life in District 11 is worse than it is in her district, and the people are closer to desperation and therefore rebellion. Yet she never intended to start any of this.
The prep teams, unaffected by and perhaps unaware of events outside the building, get Peeta and Katniss ready for the celebratory dinner, and Cinna reminds Katniss to smile as he helps her into a lovely pale pink dress and silver wrap. Effie frets because the Peacekeepers have been pushing her charges—and her!—around, even prodding her with a gun, so Katniss hugs her and suggests that they boycott the dinner. Effie, of course, sticks to the schedule but is consoled by the offer. So Peeta and Katniss go to dinner hand in hand, as he apologizes for yelling at her and admits that he and Haymitch had secrets, too.
The Victory Tour becomes routine—prepared speeches, dinners, dancing, a chance to see a little of the other districts. Katniss and Peeta stick to their scripts but are “quietly miserable” and fearful on the train now that they’ve become aware of “the rolling boil of a pot about to run over” in some districts, especially 8, 4, and 3. In others, they witness exhausted acquiescence among residents. Play-acting at love, Katniss realizes, won’t help in either case. She herself can hardly sleep for nightmares and looks haggard; her prep team offers her sleeping pills and makes her up to look more lively. But the only way Katniss can sleep is if Peeta holds her, so they begin sharing a bed, chastely. People will talk, of course, and perhaps the news will deceive Snow.
The tour stops in Districts 2 and 1 are “their own special kind of awful” for Katniss because she dropped the tracker jacker nest on Glimmer, killing her, and shot Marvel, whose name she never knew during the Games. Finally, the train arrives in the Capitol, where citizens have no need to fear the reaping and where Katniss and Peeta are beloved celebrities. Back in their rooms on the twelfth floor of the training center, Katniss asks whether a public marriage proposal might help calm the districts, and Peeta agrees to the idea but then retreats to his room. Haymitch explains, “He wanted it to be real.”
At the interview that night with Caesar Flickerman, Peeta “gets down on one knee, pours out his heart, and begs me to marry him.” Katniss accepts, and the audience is “besotted with happiness.” President Snow himself joins the interview to congratulate them. He shakes Peeta’s hand and then embraces Katniss, enveloping her in “the smell of blood and roses” as he digs his fingers painfully into her arms. They exchange a look in which she asks, with her eyes, whether she has satisfied his requirements, and he responds with “an almost imperceptible shake of his head.”
The Victory Tour is, for Katniss and for Peeta, too, after he learns of Snow’s threat, an anxious race to soothe the district temperaments before citizens suffer more harm, more oppression, and more desperation. After the deaths in District 11, Peeta and Katniss play their roles carefully (and, in private, in fear and misery), even to the extent of the public marriage proposal, a proposal Katniss does not want and Peeta wishes he could enact as he would choose to, since he is still truly in love with Katniss despite her ambivalence. They seem to be obeying Snow’s commands, yet a sense of dread and futility permeates the chapter, which is punctuated by nightmares and plagued by exhaustion. In the final sentence of the chapter, in which Snow indicates that Katniss has not persuaded him, readers can feel Katniss’s bitter discouragement. Her sacrifices, Peeta’s speaking ability, Effie’s management, Haymitch’s advice, and Cinna’s fabulous designs—none of these efforts will protect the districts from Snow’s anger and need to control.
Katniss feels her hope to avoid Snow’s wrath die, but she also feels relief because now she’s free to act how she wants to, and soon. When she and Peeta get back to District 12, they and Gale and the families must flee, she thinks. A surge of confidence helps her stand straight as she hears Snow suggest to the audience that the Capitol will throw the wedding, if Katniss’s mother approves. She and Snow banter and laugh as she thinks, “Oh, the fun we two have together.”
Then Katniss and Peeta attend the victory party, an extravagant affair featuring more food than they have ever seen at once. They want to try a bit of everything, but there’s simply no way to do so. Fans come up to show Katniss their mockingjay-themed accessories, which are now all the rage in the Capitol, no doubt to Snow’s irritation; but Katniss has “zero interest” in her Capitol admirers, who are merely “distractions from the food.” By the time her prep team finds her, she’s too full to take another bite. “No one lets that stop them!” Flavius says, pointing out a table set with tiny glasses of a clear liquid, an emetic, and Octavia says she’s already vomited twice that evening so that she can eat more. Peeta pulls Katniss away to dance, expressing his disgust, and she thinks of “the emaciated bodies of the children” her mother treats, prescribing “what the parents can’t give. More food. . . . And here in the Capitol they’re vomiting for the pleasure of filling their bellies again and again.” Peeta starts to wonder whether they should have worked to subdue resentment in the districts and then remembers the cameras.
Peeta’s stylish Portia introduces them to Plutarch Heavensbee, Head Gamemaker now that Seneca Crane is dead, who wants to dance with Katniss. He senses her discomfort and gives her space as they dance. Plutarch recalls her performance for the Gamemakers and confesses that he was the one who fell backward into the punch bowl in alarm and has “never recovered” from the embarrassment. Irritated, Katniss thinks of the twenty-two tributes who never recovered from the arena he helped to build. Plutarch says that he can’t be late for a strategy meeting for the Quarter Quell that evening and takes out a pocket watch to show her. When he touches it, the glowing clock face fades and is replaced for a few seconds by the now-famous mockingjay image. Plutarch says, “It starts at midnight,” and mentions that the watch is unique. As he leaves, Katniss considers the strange, “[a]lmost clandestine” encounter. Perhaps he doesn’t want anyone else to own such a watch. She catches up with Peeta at a table full of beautifully decorated cakes, where the Capitol bakers are “tripping over each other” to show him their work. They load him down with tiny cakes to take home and examine as Effie comes to remind them that it’s time to board the train.
By the time they get to the train, it’s early in the morning, and Peeta and Katniss go to bed, sleeping in each other’s arms. In the morning, Katniss tells Peeta that she dreamed of following a mockingjay through the woods. When she realized that the bird was really Rue, Katniss felt happy. Peeta’snightmares are about losing Katniss, and only waking to find her by him banishes them. Suddenly, she feels “immoral” about sharing the bed.
In District 12, they attend the Harvest Festival, funded by the Capitol this year, so there’s plenty of food for everyone. Katniss and Peeta will dine with the mayor, and Katniss looks forward to seeing Madge, who has become a good friend. After she dresses for dinner, Katniss looks for Madge, who’s not in her room. She checks the mayor’s study and sees on his screen a report—not intended for district-wide consumption—about District 8. The reporter says that “conditions are worsening and a Level 3 alert” is in place. Peacekeepers are moving in, and textile production has stopped. Katniss sees images of District 8’s square: Buildings are on fire, and people are throwing bricks as Peacekeepers fire into the crowd. The uprising Snow predicted has begun, it seems.
This chapter is replete with explicit and implicit contrasts. The Victory Tour party and feast, with its obscene amount and variety of food and its revelers in their mockingjay-themed outfits and accessories, display the people of the Capitol in all their vanity. For them, oppression, enslavement, and the violent deaths of children are indeed entertaining. They can indeed eat, purge, and eat again while knowing, to some extent, of the conditions of the districts. Certainly they know that hunger and starvation are the tributes’ enemies in the arena. Yet they seem not to notice the ironic contrasts, or they have been well taught by the Capitol to overlook them. Snow and those in actual authority, of course, know that the Games are not entertainment but effective intimidation, and Snow’s sense that the districts may find the strength to rebel is grounded not only in their hatred of the Games but in the daily privation and exploitation they suffer.