"I mourn my old life here. We barely scraped by, but I knew where I fit in, I knew what my place was in the tightly interwoven fabric that was our life. I wish I could go back to it because, in retrospect, it seems so secure compared with now, when I am so rich and so famous and so hated by the authorities in the Capitol."
Catching Fire, among other things, is a coming-of-age tale. Now 17 and hardened by her experiences in the Hunger Games, Katniss longs for the "simpler" times of her old life even though it was defined by tragedy and poverty. Though Catching Fire is a fantasy novel and Katniss's childhood is marked by extremes, Young Adult readers can surely sympathize with the way that Katniss feels out of place, especially as they shed their own childhoods on the road to becoming adults. This quote is also significant as it spells out Katniss's position at the beginning of the novel. Despite the obvious tangible benefits of winning, all Katniss wants to do is put the Games behind her and resume her life in District 12, even if that means dealing with rampant poverty, because she felt comfortable in that life. She knew how to manage that life. As the novel progresses and the conditions in her district get worse, Katniss realizes that she can no longer be complacent and assumes her role in the rebellion.
"'And if a girl from District Twelve of all places can defy the Capitol and walk away unharmed, what is to stop them from doing the same?...What is to prevent, say, an uprising?'"
By daring the Gamemakers to declare her and Peeta dual victors or watch them both die, Katniss unwittingly becomes the face of rebellion in Panem. Even though she was not thinking about the consequences of her actions during the Games, Katniss's behavior is a clear threat to the authority of a country that depends on the cooperation of its Districts. Katniss challenges the President, saying that if the Capitol could be brought down by one girl, then it is not as strong as he thinks. This conversation reveals both the state of Panem and the motivations and feelings of each character. Snow is ruthless and calculating, willing to hurt the beloved victor of the Hunger Games in order to remain in power. But Katniss also strikes a nerve - Panem is in a more precarious situation than Snow likes to admit. Katniss is defiant and detests the man and his corruption but she ultimately chooses to do her best to protect her family. She will keep up appearances to quell the uprising, but she cannot deny that rebellion is boiling up under her stoic exterior.
The full impact of what I've done hits me. It was not intentional - I only meant to express my thanks - but I have elicited something dangerous. An act of dissent from the people of District 11. This is exactly the thing I am supposed to be defusing!"
Katniss impulsively gives public thanks to Rue in District 11 despite being warned against making a stand of any kind. Even though she wants to protect her family by giving in to Snow's demands of disassociating herself from the rebellions, her sense of personal duty overrides her promise. Throughout The Hunger Games and at this point in Catching Fire, Katniss acts according to her gut with little premeditation or care for how her actions are going to be perceived. Now that she is a year older and a year wiser, she begins to show agency. As the reality of life in the Districts is revealed to her during the Victory Tour, Katniss finds she can no longer ignore the plight of others. In this way, Catching Fire is a coming-of-age novel. Katniss finally begins to take responsibility for her actions and tap into her political spirit.
"A mockingjay is a creature the Capitol never intended to exist. They hadn't counted on the highly controlled jabberjay having the brains to adapt to the wild, to pass on its genetic code, to thrive in a new form. They hadn't anticipated its will to live."
Katniss is talking about the mockingjay, the iconic symbol of the rebellion, but she may as well be talking about herself. The spirit of resistance and rebellion is alive in Katniss, though she doesn't yet realize it. She survived her first Hunger Games despite being from the poorest District with, historically, the least-prepared tributes. Like the mockingjay, no one expected her to survive, but she was able to adapt to survival. The tributes themselves are symbols of a war fought 75 years ago, and their deaths serve as a reminder of the power the Capitol wields. However, the Capitol underestimated Katniss's own will to live, as well as her defiance. Katniss is more than a symbol - she is a human being. She has grown up under the Capitol's rules, and now they are forced to contend with her.
"No wonder I won the Games. No decent person ever does."
Katniss is largely critical of herself and what she perceives is indecision and moral failing. Though she is dealing with very difficult dilemmas, she is constantly reminded that the Games has made her a calculating, somewhat selfish person. Katniss thinks this line when Gale lies injured in her kitchen, beaten by a Peacekeeper after their meeting in the woods. Katniss had refused Gale's plan to join the resistance after he rejected her plan to run. For the first time, Katniss puts herself in Gale's shoes and considers what it would have been like to watch him suffer through the Hunger Games and become attached to a strange girl. She realizes that she has been unforgiving of Gale's pain, which spurs a romantic moment between the two. At this point, Katniss also reconsiders her plan to run. She realizes that the decent thing to do is to not abandon a cause - or an ally - she might mean the world to.
"I can't let the Capitol hurt Prim. And then it hits me. They already have. They have killed her father in those wretched mines. They have sat by as she almost starved to death. They have chosen her as a tribute, then made her watch her sister fight to the death in the Games. She has been hurt far worse than I had at the age of twelve. And even that pales in comparison with Rue's life."
The thrust of Catching Fire before the Quarter Quell centers on Katniss's mounting self-awareness and motivation to act beyond her own self-interest. Her thought process matures as she is increasingly able to step outside of her own perspective and be critical of the world around her. Here, she realizes that her primary motivation - keep Prim alive - has blinded her to the broader abuses the state has levied against her family. What kind of life has she been keeping Prim alive for? She realizes that beyond the daily struggles of existence on the Seam, a larger mechanism is in place to oppress the people of Panem. Now that she has risen above the starvation she lived through as a young girl, she is able to truly see the system that caused that poverty and celebrates in the death of children. This is a turning point for Katniss, as her political sense awakens.
"Yes, victors are our strongest. They're the ones who survived the arena and slipped the noose of poverty that strangles the rest of us. They, or should I say we, are the very embodiment of hope where there is no hope. And now twenty-three of us will be killed to show how even that hope was an illusion."
The Quarter Quell, a special Hunger Games performed every 25 years, commemorates the Capitol's victory in the war by punishing the Districts especially brutally. For the first Quarter Quell, the Districts were forced to choose their own tributes. The second Quarter Quell reaped a total of 48 tributes, four from each District. Though the rules for each Quell were supposedly devised before the very first Games, the reaping for the 75th Games is particularly well-timed given the political climate. The tributes are among the most celebrated citizens, prized for the strength and skill, and they remain a source of pride for the Districts for years after their victories. Winning the Games also has a significant benefit - the victors and their families get to move to a better part of town and will never want for food or money. For many citizens, winning the Games is the only way to elevate one's social standing. Forcing the tributes into the arena again strips away this one embodiment of hope. The Capitol seeks to prove that no one is in control of his or her destiny, not even those who have played their game and won.
"It was a big leap to take without my okay, but I'm just as glad I didn't know, didn't have time to second-guess him, to let any guilt over Gale detract from how I really feel about what Peeta did. Which is empowered."
There is a clarity to Katniss's thinking in the Games. When placed in survival mode, she is capable of adapting to the situation and acting quickly. Outside of the arena, however, she is easily aggravated by a lack of agency. Though she despises being left out of the decision-making process, here she illustrates a sense of growth through her reaction to Peeta's lie about their secret marriage and baby. In the past, she would have recognized the need for the lie but still been upset at being kept in the dark. Here, she understands that Peeta's lie was a masterful manipulation of the Capitol's emotions. She can no longer weigh the reactions of her family and friends or her own distaste. Katniss's new primary objective is to hurt the system. Instead of fuming about the lie, she and the other tributes make a stand at the interview and hold hands, presenting a united front. She knows that they have won this round against the Capitol, and she feels empowered because of it.
"Yes, it's great to have allies as long as you can ignore the thought that you'll have to kill them."
One of the more devious methods of punishment employed by the Gamemakers is psychological torture. The Games itself is a mode of psychological torture, in that children are forced to kill one another or be killed. The Quarter Quell takes this to a new level, however, as victors who have cultivated friendships for years are forced to fight to the death. Katniss has always been reluctant to make alliances. Her stoicism protects her from the emotional toll of the Games and life in Panem. But in the Quarter Quell, she realizes she must work with others in order to increase the odds of Peeta winning. Perhaps it is this less selfish motivation that relaxes her defenses and allows her to join forces with Finnick and Mags. Still, Katniss is painfully aware that in order for Peeta to live, her newfound friends must die.
"Then we are both screaming terrible, terrible things at each other, and Finnick is trying to drag me out, and I know it's all Haymitch can do not to rip me apart, but I'm the mockingjay. I'm the mockingjay and it's too hard keeping me alive as it is."
The Hunger Games trilogy is a particularly violent Young Adult novel. Twice pushed into a kill-or-be-killed game of survival and deceived by those closest to her, Katniss's instinct is to retaliate with everything she has, down to her fingernails. When she learns that Peeta has been captured by the Capitol following the rebels' destruction of the Quarter Quell, Katniss is inconsolable. Her motivation going into the arena was to keep Peeta alive in order to repay him for doing the same for her in their first Games. But the rebels had another plan - to bring down the Games and to save Katniss at all costs, including sacrificing Peeta if necessary. Katniss reacts the way she normally reacts, with unthinking brutality, but she understands that she is now unequivocally the face of the rebellion. Haymitch cannot afford to hurt the mockingjay. It takes a long time for Katniss to fully accept her role in the uprising, but Haymitch's betrayal makes it clear how important she is to the revolution.
Catching Fire Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Catching Fire is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Bonnie nods. “We took what we could, but food's been so scarce. That's been gone for a while.” The quaver in her voice melts my remaining defenses. She is just a malnourished, injured girl fleeing the Capitol.