Catching Fire : Part 1 : Chapter 7-8
Part I: “The Spark”
On the Sunday after her return to District 12, Katniss slips through the fence to hunt. She leaves fur-lined gloves, hot tea, and food for Gale and arranges sticks as a map so that he can follow her before she heads to the lake. There, they can talk without fear of spies and cameras. She recalls how Mayor Undersee found her in his study and tells her that Madge is in her room. As Katniss went to find Madge, she saw the mayor enter his study with a “grave” expression to listen to the televised report, shutting the door behind him. Katniss found Madge and told her that the mockingjay pin had started a fashion trend in the Capitol, and they recall the origin of the birds—the offspring of jabberjays and mockingbirds. Madge reminds Katniss that mockingjays were never Capitol muttations or weapons. They’ve always just been songbirds. Now, as she walks to the lake, Katniss allows herself to enjoy the birds’ songs around her and considers why Gale skipped the Harvest Festival and dinner, pleading illness. She reaches the small concrete cabin that still stands by the lake and lights a fire.
Gale arrives, angry and refusing her gifts, which she understands. She tries to justify her engagement to Peeta as necessary to prevent Snow from killing Gale and all their families. But she has a plan to escape. Mollified, Gale agrees to accept the warm gloves, which belonged to Cinna, not Peeta. Katniss explains what she saw on the tour and in the mayor’s office as Gale gets the food ready. She loves to watch his “beautiful, capable hands,” so “strong and deft.” When she suggests that now is the time for them to run away, he picks her up, spins her around the room, and tells her that he loves her. “I know,” she replies, but she can’t think about or feel love now. She’s too scared. Perhaps when they’re someplace safe—but now, she feels terrible guilt. If she had eaten the berries and let Peeta be the victor, everyone would be safe, she imagines.
Gale tries to help her see reality: “Safe to do what?” Only to continue to live in oppression, fear, hunger, and despair. What Katniss and Peeta did, he says, has brought hope for change. Katniss, however, has seen how effectively the Peacekeepers deal with uprisings. She wants to gather their families and flee into the woods. Gale refuses. The rebellion has begun, and he will fight in it because once it starts, no place will be safe. He flings Cinna’s gloves away, refusing anything from the Capitol, and storms out. Katniss is angry at the implication that he thinks of her now as “just another product of the Capitol” and worries about what he might do to endanger himself. She decides to talk to Hazelle and ask her to dissuade her son from rash action.
As Katniss walks back to her house in the Seam, she meets Peeta, on his way to visit his family in town. She asks whether he’d be willing to flee District 12 and explains that Snow was not fooled by her act. She tells him about the crackdown in District 8. Peeta agrees to go with her if that’s what she wants, though he doubts she really would flee, but that they should consult with Haymitch before deciding. They hear an odd sound and stop to figure out what it is—a “whistling, the sound of an impact, the intake of breath from around.” They run to the square, where a crowd of people obstruct their view. Peeta climbs on a crate to see and then orders Katniss, “Get out of here!” Others in the crowd add their voices—she must leave at once; her presence will only make it worse. Desperate to know what’s happening, Katniss pushes her way through the crowd to see Gale, tied to a wooden post in the square’s center. A wild turkey—his game—is nailed to the post above him. He’s shirtless and unconscious, held up only by the straps that bind him to the post, and a man in a Head Peacekeeper’s uniform is whipping his back raw. It’s not Cray, the mildly drunk and rather ineffective Head Peacekeeper, but a “tall, muscular man with sharp creases in his pants.”
Chapter 7 accelerates the speed of the plot in Part I—“The Spark”—of the novel. Much of Part I contains Katniss’s attempts to keep the uprising from beginning, and her motivations are fairly insular. She wants to protect her family, especially Prim, Gale and his family, and Peeta. Though the punitive actions she sees in District 11, firsthand, and District 8, in the report, frighten her for all the districts, her main concern is for her small community and particularly the people she loves most. In this chapter, Katniss begins to understand that she can’t have what she most wants. Gale angrily rejects her willingness to let the Capitol go on having its way and to run and hide while others stay to suffer. Peeta is gentler but doubts that she can bring herself to carry out her escape plan. And Gale’s arrest and whipping should be ample evidence that she can’t protect the people she loves from the Capitol anyway. The spark has been lit. Yet even now, Katniss hasn’t quite grasped her symbolic value; she insists on getting to Gale even while people in the crowd tell her that her presence will increase his punishment.
Katniss runs to shield Gale’s body from the next blow, and the lash strikes her left cheek. She feels her eye beginning to swell shut and falls on the bloody pavement. The new Head Peacekeeper, a large and cruel-looking man, prepares to strike her again when Haymitch rushes in, tripping over Darius, the friendly red-headed Peacekeeper, who lies on the ground near the whipping post, a purple bump rising on his head. “Oh, excellent,” Haymitch fumes—now how will Katniss be ready for the wedding dress photography session?The Head Peacekeeper recognizes Katniss now and blames her for getting in the way of Gale’s punishment, but Haymitch’s threat to “Find out who authorized you to mess up my victor’s pretty little face!” unnerves him a bit. Peeta chimes in, saying that Gale is Katniss’s cousin, and she is his fiancée, so if the Peacekeeper wants to hit her again, he’ll have to go through the two of them first. “There will be repercussions,” Katniss knows, as a District 12 woman named Purnia respectfully addresses the man: “I believe, for a first offense, the required number of lashes has been dispensed, sir”—unless he intends to kills Gale, but an execution requires a firing squad. Katniss doubts that anyone there, even Purnia, knows what “standard protocol” for poaching is, but the bluff works. The man gathers his squad and leaves the square, letting them know that the next offense will mean execution.
The square empties quickly as Peeta and Haymitch, with the help of mining crewmates Bristel and Thom, lay Gale on an old board and carry him to Mrs. Everdeen for treatment. Leevy, a girl who lives near the Hawthornes in the Seam, offers to help, her eyes “scared but determined,” and Katniss has her send Hazelle to Gale but keep the younger kids at home. Katniss packs snow on her cheek as Bristel and Thom explain what happened: Gale took the turkey to the Head Peacekeeper’s house, where he often sold game to Cray. But Cray was gone; no one knows where. Romulus Thread, the new Head Peacekeeper, arrested Gale for illegal hunting and dragged him to the square. Gale said that he found the turkey in the Seam and killed it with a stick, but Thread forced him to plead guilty and strapped him up for flogging. After thirty blows, Gale fainted, and Thread had hit him more than forty times when Katniss intervened. After twenty lashes, Darius, the friendly red-headed Peacekeeper, grabbed Thread to stop him, but Thread hit Darius with the whip’s butt and knocked him down. “Nothing good waiting for him,” Bristel predicts, and Haymitch agrees that they’re all in trouble now.
They reach the Victor’s Village as snow falls, and Mrs. Everdeen grasps what has happened when Haymitch says only, “New Head.” She is a competent and experienced healer and goes right to work, impressing Katniss, as always. Haymitch sends Thom and Bristel home with handfuls of coins, since the whole crew may bear Gale’s punishment. As Prim ably assists her mother, Haymitch explains that, before Cray took over, Mrs. Everdeen had to treat many flogging victims. But Katniss, never able to bear such scenes anyway, comes undone and wants her mother to stop Gale’s pain. She screams “obscenities” as Haymitch and Peeta carry her to her room, where she cries on her bed as Peeta updates Haymitch on the uprising in District 8 and on Katniss’s desire to flee. Mrs. Everdeen comes in to treat Katniss’s cheek and asks, “So it’s starting again?” People in District 12 despised Cray because he preyed on desperately hungry young women for sex, but he let many small infractions slide.
Madge arrives with a potent painkiller, a precious and expensive medicine her mother, as the mayor’s wife, gets from the Capitol for her debilitating headaches, and leaves quickly so that Mrs. Everdeen can’t refuse the gift. One shot of the morphling eases Gale’s pain, but Katniss can’t be wholly glad because she suspects that Madge and Gale might be more than friends.
People head home and Katniss stays with Gale as he sleeps. She touches his face and thinks he looks young. She imagines how she’d feel if their positions were reversed and feels hatred for the “phantom girl” she conjures up. Then her cowardice hits her. She feels selfish and guilty, even of winning the Games because her alliance with Peeta was insincere and self-motivated. She wishes she’d died in the arena. What matters, she realizes, is why she threatened to eat the nightlock berries: selfish desire to live? Loving desire to save Peeta?Or unconscious desire to rebel? Katniss can’t answer this question, but she now sees that running away will not save those she loves: “My choices are simple. I can die like quarry in the woods or I can die here beside Gale.” She apologizes to the sleeping Gale and kisses him. He wakes, groggy from pain medication, and says he thought she’d have fled by now. She assures him that she’s going to stay and “cause all kinds of trouble.”
Events in this chapter force Katniss to decide her path. A single event or a combination of some might not have pushed her to commit to the rebellion, but after the sudden replacement of Cray, the nearly deadly whipping Gale receives for a minor offense, the attack on Darius, and the knowledge that Gale, Peeta, and Haymitch agree that escape is futile, Katniss can no longer pretend that she and her family can find safety in the woods. Readers see hints, too, that some people in the district are coming to similar decisions.Darius, a Peacekeeper, tries to protect Gale, against orders. Purnia takes a huge risk in speaking, even respectfully, to Thread to keep him from killing Gale. Haymitch and Peeta risk their safety to come to Katniss’s aid; Madge risks abetting a criminal by bringing the medicine; Gale’s crewmates, too, risk punishment for helping him. “So it’s starting again,” Mrs. Everdeen realizes. She and those her age understand that a time of relative peace is ending.