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After a long weekend, I was very excited to get back into Catching Fire today. It’s strange how some weekends can feel more like work than the work week does. I had so much to do! Yesterday, I did six loads of laundry – not to mention all of the cooking and cleaning I had to do.
Adulting is a lot of work.
Thankfully, I had some free time today to crack open this book. And, by crack open, I mean turning on my phone, of course. While I have a huge soft spot for hard copies of books, particularly books I love, they feel almost impossible to keep on hand at all times. I’m notorious for refusing to carry a purse so there’s just nowhere for me to hide my books. Maybe I should get a backpack?
I do really miss the smell of a new book. It’s unlike anything other.
Even though I was super busy cleaning all weekend, my tasks gave me plenty of time to think about The Hunger Games series. My brain kept coming back to these books over and over again. While I’ve mentioned in previous posts how strongly I feel about this series, I don’t know if I’ve ever taken the time to make direct comparisons between President Snow and the actions of our own politicians. Listening to the news as I cleaned made me realize that many politicians come across just as deceitful and cunning as Snow does. They have the same kind of falsified charm and wit. They spout horrifyingly similar lies about prosperity and caring about the common man.
It’s just crazy the stories you hear on the news and I’ve never really thought about American politicians in the context of The Hunger Games before. At least, not as far as I can recall. This is perhaps due to the fact that I avoid watching the news as much as possible. So much of it comes across as biased propaganda that it’s hard to stomach. Of course, that, too, directly ties into what is put on screen in Panem. Their propaganda is just a little more straight forward about what it is.
However, beyond just hearing things on the news as I cleaned, I also heard a story from a friend of mine that somewhat relates to this concept. They told me about a relatively local aspiring politician who had to step aside from politics and pursue a different career route. They had had big dreams of making wonderful changes for this country, but, when it came down to it, they couldn’t aspire for more than the success they had already obtained. Why? Because, in order to move forward, he would have to compromise on his own values and act in manners that he considered corrupt, or deceitful. He wouldn’t be able to move up in the political world without acting in a manner he considered dishonest.
How horrible is that? The fact that an up and coming politician felt blocked in by refusing to act in a corrupt manner? Considering the upcoming election, things like this scare me. This is how you end up with a dystopian world. This was the first real moment in my life where I could imagine a universe like the one in The Hunger Games emerging. Panem isn’t so far off when our politicians already act like President Snow.
And that’s part of the reason why dystopian fiction matters, at least to me. These things may seem scary and far off, but, as I’ve gotten older and learned more about the world, they feel strangely realistic. It’s gotten progressively easier to imagine a world where the corruption and lies of Panem are commonplace in the real world. The fiction we are fed could be uncannily similar. It’s hard to tell what is actually happening in the world when you can’t trust your leaders. While we may never go to the extremes that a book goes to, it’s scary to think what our limits actually are. Do we have any?
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.
Disclaimer: My Chapter Thoughts DO INCLUDE SPOILERS. They assume that you have read ALL of The Hunger Games series (books 1-3). They will mostly contain spoilers, however, for the chapter that they are covering.
Chapter Twenty Four
Once again I find myself asking how Suzanne Collins comes up with this stuff. Using Prim’s screams as a form of torture against Katniss is just sick and twisted. To be blunt, it’s the work of an absolute sadist. Is there something dangerous to be found in the dark recesses of Collin’s mind? She essentially writes war stories for children. There must be something to say about that.
Personally, however, I think her work is brilliant. It may be sick and twisted at times, but so is life. The Hunger Games is genius and it calls attention to real world problems in an utterly unique way. Somehow it manages to bring up things like the consequences of pollution, the impact of popular media, and the dangers of unchecked technological innovation without sounding boring. And, of course, it manages to do all of this while also deeply analyzing the human mind and human society at large.
What would you do to survive in a world that looks like this? What could you justify if your government told you it was the right thing to do? Is it more moral to rebel and potentially cause thousands of deaths, or to slowly watch the people around you suffer and die? Who decides what the right thing to do is? A teenage girl, marked for death by a corrupted, sadistic president?
However, these questions can be deep and dark. They’re hard to ask and the scenes that surround them can be even harder to process. Some of them are so gory that it almost surprised me that I first started this series at such a young age. I almost understand the groups of people who claim that The Hunger Games takes it too far. While I don’t necessarily agree with book bans, I can see why some schools have banned these books. They’re harsh. They can even be traumatizing for some people.
Yet, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire in no way, shape, or form romanticize the more violent disturbing aspects of the series. They call attention to violence, yes. But they never make it sound like a good idea. Instead, they explain, in explicit details, that violence is terrifying and hard to contain. It has consequences that ripple outwards in ways that no one can accurately foresee.
In my opinion, that is what makes reading books like these so vital. They’re a great way to teach students about larger social concepts. The content of the books will grab their attention and the subtext can be used to educate teenage students on subjects like social psychology, the side effects of trauma, memory, prejudice, governmental bodies, and even our own history. Plus, the writing is excellent and makes for a wonderful addition to any English curriculum. Provided these books are being taught in the right context, with plenty of discussion, they’re really beneficial in helping young people better understand the real world.
However, back to the book itself, the idea of a group of adults coming up with the plan of using the voices of loved ones against the tributes is absolutely brutal. It was completely devastating to imagine the pain Katniss felt at hearing Prim and her other loved ones scream for help. They were in agony. Katniss had no idea what was happening and no way to help them. Was Prim being tortured? Was she even alive? Finnick also had to listen to the screams of his loved one, Annie.
The fact that Beetee later explained that the jabberjays could be programmed to replicate the sound of screams they have never heard themselves has little effect on how horrifying this is. Prim was never tortured. Annie was fine. The mental consequences of spending an hour, trapped, listening to the sounds of their screams? Katniss and Finnick will never be the same, particularly because of how fiercely protective they are of their loved ones.
Considering their involvement in the games, I found myself wondering if both of them are so intensely protective because of the traumas they themselves have faced. They definitely don’t want others to experience what they have experienced, and they both have an understandably deep seeded distrust of Panem. The psychological toll of the games have probably intensified their desire to keep their loved ones safe. They know the dangers of the games.
It is also somewhat interesting that both Katniss and Finnick love people who, arguably, won the game because of sheer luck, not necessarily skill or aptitude. They don’t love vicious killers, but, instead, love people who come across as more innocent and pure than the other victors do. It would have been interesting to see how Finnick interacted with Annie on a regular basis. Did he try to shelter and protect her like Katniss does with Peeta? Did he make a deal with Mags for Mags to volunteer in Annie’s place? How alike are Katniss and Finnick truly?
And yet, even with all of this room for thought, I could never forget out why the Gamemakers felt like this sadistic form of mental torture was necessary to include in the Quarter Quell. Most games, even the previous Quarter Quell, seemed to focus more on physical forms of terror. You’re at risk of dying due to poison or fireballs or floods. Not necessarily so much as risk of going insane because the Gamemakers want to toy with your emotions. Even for them, the inclusion of the jabberjays seems overly sadistics.
For that reason, part of me thinks that the inclusion of the jabberjays and the screams of Katniss’s loved ones was a result of President Snow’s involvement in the games. He hates Katniss more than anybody. He wants her to suffer for the national chaos she “caused.” He also seems to have some understanding with Katniss, similar to the one she has with Haymitch. They don’t necessarily require words in order to understand each other. Perhaps President Snow knew that the sound of her family’s screams would make her weak and vulnerable. It would hurt her and maybe reduce the chance that she would win the games.
Following that horrifying scene, Peeta’s discussion with Katniss was positively heartbreaking. Listening to him try to convince her to live just shatters me. Promising her a life with her loved ones? It’s obviously something she wants very, very badly and it’s something he very much so wants her to have. Peeta would rather die in the games than have Katniss die, even if it means she’ll grow old and have a happy life with Gale instead of himself. The heroics of this are unimaginable. The romance of it all affects even me.
During the beginning of this chapter, it was almost strange to me that Katniss had never even considered the possibility of winning. Not even a little bit. Not even when Peeta was practically trying to force her to consider a life with Gale. No matter what, she couldn’t imagine living in a world without Peeta in it.
It might be romance at its finest, but usually I found thought processes like this more foolhardy than anything else. I’m not necessarily the self sacrificing type. I very much so want to live and have a hard time relating to characters who are willing to die for others. ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ for example, just felt silly. Why would you die for someone you barely know? It was made worse by the fact that both Romeo and Juliet were so young.
However, unlike my sentiments during most books, I don’t find Katniss’s desire to sacrifice herself for Peeta to be foolish. It isn’t silly for her to sacrifice herself for Peeta. Their love isn’t based off of misplaced teenage illusions of love, but, instead, is based off of mutual suffering, overcoming challenges together, and genuinely getting to know and love each other. Katniss doesn’t want to die because of some fairytale love affair she’s told herself. She doesn’t even want to die. She just wants to save Peeta.
And that’s romantic in a way that many other series have failed to capture for me. Sacrifice isn’t beautiful if you romanticize death. Instead, it’s disturbing. It’s the emotions behind self sacrifice that make it powerful. The explanation for the sacrifice is almost more important than the sacrifice itself, particularly in works of fiction.
Of course, many people consider ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to be a comedy, or satire, so I’m not necessarily alone in that sentiment. My teachers just never seemed to agree that Shakespeare was likely mocking the concept of true and immediate love. Anyways, before I go off onto a tangent about ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ let’s get back to Catching Fire.
When Katniss begins discussing how to kill Brutus and Enobaria with the rest of her alliance, Beetee brings up the Gamemakers’ intervention in their last clash. They had interrupted the epic battle scene in order to move the Cornucopia and reset the arena. From Beetee’s perspective, this may have clued Enobaria and Brutus into the fact that the arena is a clock, particularly when the timing of the regularly scheduled attacks changed.
What Beetee failed to mention, however, was the fact that the Gamemakers could be playing favorites. Interrupting the battle scene could have saved Brutus and Enobaria’s lives. They were severely outmatched. The Gamemakers might have just wanted a way to keep them alive and in the competition. Knowing that Katniss is so despised by the leaders of Panem, keeping her enemies in the games only makes sense. The more people in the games, the more likely Katniss is to die. In my opinion, that makes more sense than wanting to throw the games off kilter by changing the time table.
Considering that Beetee’s plans to possibly kill Enobaria and Brutus would disadvantage everyone, I’m not surprised that the Gamemakers didn’t try to foil it. Maybe they assumed a less easy food source would distract Katniss from protecting herself. However, considering their reaction to how Haymitch won his own game by using their devices against his competitors, I wonder if they saw Beetee’s move with the wire coming or if they were similarly enraged by it.
At the end of the chapter, we get back to the romance of Katniss and Peeta interacting. Unlike the first book, these moments are rare and in between. When she receives the pearl from Peeta, it gets my heart beating. Their relationship would make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, if not for the horrible conditions that they’re always in.
However, Peeta’s understanding of Katniss is almost uncanny at times. Somehow he knows that his conversation with her about her being the one to return to District 12, and letting him die in the games, had the opposite impact on her. More than ever, she wants him to live.
Collins really built up the romance these past few chapters just to horrify us by having them leave each other behind. Starting off this chapter by separating Katniss and Peeta was absolutely brutal. Why give me so much love just to turn around and drive me crazy with worry?
All complaints aside, it’s very good writing and I’m absolutely hooked – even considering the fact that I’ve read this series dozens of times. I’ve just never been able to fully get past the feeling of being absolutely terrified for Katniss and Peeta. How can they stay safe if they split up? The first time I read Catching Fire, I was on the edge of my seat, trying to read as quickly as humanly possible.
And that feeling is worsened by the fact that Johanna almost immediately turns around and attacks Katniss. Coming at her with a knife, digging it into Katniss’s flesh… It’s brutal. I remember being enraged by this the first time I read the series. How dare Johanna, the girl I admired for being so blunt and honest, be a traitor?
It was even worse that I could completely understand why Johanna would attack Katniss. It was the best possible time for her to do so. Katniss received a perfect twelve in the interviews, was possibly the youngest and healthiest out of all of the other competitors, and is positively deadly. Killing her almost guarantees there won’t be a winner from District 12, particularly if Finnick was in on it and took out Peeta and Beetee while Katniss was away. It would be a smart move.
That’s what makes it so confusing when Johanna doesn’t just kill Katniss outright. At least, of course, until you keep reading the book. If you’re reading along with these chapter-by-chapter analyses, keep reading!