Part I: “The Spark”
Peeta shakes Katniss, who has fallen asleep while holding Gale’s hand, awake and offers, “with such a sad expression,” to watch Gale while she rests. As she stumbles to her bed, she thinks about how loyal and brave Peeta is. She dreams that Clove is chasing her, slashing at her face and then transforming into a mutt to lick the blood. She wakes in fear, wishing Peeta were there to hold her before she remembers that she has allied herself with Gale and the rebellion; Peeta was the Capitol’s idea. A blizzard has hit the district, allowing her time to think and plan. Though Katniss accepts now that she is a target and that things likely won’t end well for her, she still wants to protect Prim. But can she? Prim lost her father to risky mining work, nearly starved, was chosen as a tribute, was forced to watch her sister suffer in the arena, all despite Katniss’s desire to shelter her. As long as the Capitol has power, Prim, Rue, all will suffer. Katniss doesn’t know whether District 12 will rally behind her, but they would follow Peeta because “people embrace everything he says.”
Downstairs, the morphling Gale took is wearing off, but Mrs. Everdeen fears giving him too much of it, so she makes a soothing pack of snow and salve and applies some to Katniss’s cheek as well. Katniss apologizes for her outburst, but her mother shrugs it off as something some people do “when someone they love is in pain.” Katniss checks on Peeta and Haymitch, knowing they’ll have to wait till the blizzard ends to speak privately.
After three days, the roads are clear again, and she, Peeta, and Haymitch walk to town. She explains that she wants to start an uprising, but Haymitch laughs and tells her to let him know how that goes. Meanwhile, he has a wedding to work on. As they reach the square, they stop short. It’s been transformed: Panem banners hang from the Justice Building, Peacekeepers are there in force, and more man machine gun nests along the rooftops. Stockades, a new whipping post, and a gallows sit in the center of the square. Peeta, Katniss, and Haymitch see a fire begin to burn a few streets away and know that it’s the Hob. They split up to check on family and friends, and as Katniss makes her way to Hazelle’s house, she sees how deserted the streets are; people peek at her through windows and draw their curtains—yet she had expected them to rise up in rebellion. She realizes that she and Gale have flouted the rules their whole life, poaching and using the black market. But most District 12 people would consider a trip to the Hob a terrible risk.
Gale’s little sister Posy has the measles, and Katniss tells Hazelle she’ll get her mother to send medicine. Hazelle’s laundry clientele has quit her since Gale’s flogging, and the mines are closed “until further notice,” so Katniss leaves money for food. Then she rejoins Peeta, and they go to see what’s left of the Hob. Katniss wants to check on Greasy Sae, but Peeta cautions her, “I don’t think we’d be helping anyone by dropping in on them.” They walk to Peeta’s father’s bakery on the square and shop, talking casually, as if there weren’t a newly constructed gallows in sight, and Katniss realizes that not one Peacekeeper’s face is familiar to her.
The mines remain closed for two weeks, forcing people nearer to starvation, and even children signed up for tesserae don’t always receive the extra rations of grain and oil. When the mines reopen, workers get reduced wages, longer hours, and worse conditions. When Parcel Day arrives, the food Katniss and Peeta won for the district turns out to be “spoiled and defiled by rodents.” And every day, the stocks and whipping posts are in use “for offenses so long overlooked we’ve forgotten they are illegal.” The Capitol is tightening the screws of oppression and privation.
Meanwhile, Gale heals enough to go back to work and is furious to learn that Rory has taken tesserae. Haymitch hires Hazelle to keep his house clean, which gives her some income, though she must endure Haymitch’s withdrawal symptoms. Ripper, his long-time supplier of alcohol, serves her time in the stocks. Katniss has become “pariah” in the district, but illness and hunger drive more people to her house, despite their fear of association with her, for Mrs. Everdeen’s help.
The woods are now strictly off limits, but on the day that a shipment of wedding dresses arrives for the photo shoot, Katniss decides that she must get to the woods to be alone. Dressed in insulated gear, she slips through the fence and finds her bow and arrows. She heads to the lake, knowing she may never see it again, but is surprised to see footprints in the snow outside the cabin. She hears “the unmistakable click” of a gun and draws her bow against a woman in a badly fitting Peacekeeper’s uniform. The woman drops her weapon and holds something out—a small, white cracker with a mockingjay image baked into its surface.
Readers may have noticed that Catching Fire (and its companion books in the trilogy) is divided into three parts of nine chapters each. A dramatic, almost “cliffhanger” event often occurs as a part ends, and this chapter follow that model. Someone, clearly, has done what Gale and Katniss discussed so often: run away from a district and hide in the forest. Given the ratcheting up of brutality and intimidation in District 12, Katniss might not be surprised to find runners, but that one of them has a mockingjay talisman is a mystery that sets up the novel’s second part. Katniss has seen the mockingjay used in fashion and on accessories in the Capitol; now she’s seen it used by fugitives.