Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1808
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins, is the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy. The Hunger Games novels tell the story of Katniss Everdeen (Kat), a young woman from a poor, coal-mining district (District 12) in Panem. The trilogy is set in a dystopian future in which America has been split into districts that are ruled by the Capitol. Decades ago, the thirteen districts of Panem rebelled against the Capitol and lost. District 13 was destroyed. Since then, the Capitol has run an annual event, the Hunger Games, in which each district sends two “tributes”—children—to fight in an arena battle to the death. The Hunger Games are a powerful political force in Panem. They are televised throughout Panem and serve as a constant reminder of the power of the Capitol over its districts.
In the previous novel, Katniss takes her sister’s place to fight in the seventy-fourth annual Hunger Games. After enduring thirst and starvation, walls of fire, and hallucinogenic bee stings, Katniss faces a pack of genetically altered wolves. Kat and her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta, survive and are informed that they will have to fight to the death, however much in love they claim to be. Instead, Kat and Peeta agree to commit suicide by eating poisonous berries at the same time. The Gamemakers relent, and for the first time ever two people win the games.
While in the games, Katniss and Peeta formed an ambiguous relationship, which complicates things for Kat back home, especially with her best friend, Gale. For the first time, Kat is wealthy, but Gale is not. Too proud to take charity, Gale is now working in the mines to feed his family; this is a dangerous job that killed both Kat’s father and Gale’s. Kat does her best to share her wealth. She continues hunting to help feed Gale’s family and she tries to buy products from all of her friends before she is forced to go on the Victory Tour. Kat is a talented hunter and feels more at home in the forest than on camera.
Before Katniss leaves on the Victory Tour, President Snow visits her and shares that some districts are close to rebelling against the Capitol. Some people have interpreted Katniss and Peeta’s shared victory as a subversive act—and they find it inspiring. The Gamemaker who allowed them to defy the Capitol, Seneca Crane, has been executed. The power of the Hunger Games, which has always been symbolic of the Capitol’s power, has been undermined by Katniss and Peeta’s victory. Now, President Snow informs her, Katniss will have to convince everyone that her stunt with the poisonous berries was the act of a young woman in love rather an incendiary message from a political dissident. The lives of her family and friends are riding on her performance. President Snow does not need to tell Peeta to act because he has been secretly in love with Katniss for years, and he has a natural way with the camera. Katniss, on the other hand, struggles to understand her feelings and to express them. Worse, she is confused about how she truly feels about both Peeta and Gale. When she informs her mentor, Haymitch, of her situation, Haymitch explains that the situation is not temporary: Katniss will be a victor for life, and the Capitol will demand that she eventually marry Peeta.
The Victory Tour has a rough start. Kat struggles with her makeup and clothing team, who are from the Capitol and view the Games as entertainment. When they arrive in District 11, in which Kat’s fallen ally, Rue, grew up before she was sent to the Games, Kat publicly thanks the people of District 11 for their support. In response, they salute Katniss and an old man whistles a tune in honor of Rue. Kat and Peeta are rushed from the stage as the old man and others are executed. Peeta demands to know what is going on and makes Haymitch and Kat promise not to keep any more secrets from him. Peeta is shocked at the politics that surround him, but the people in the Capitol are oblivious. The end the Victory Tour in the Capitol with a big party, at which all the guests induce vomiting so they can continue to gorge themselves after they have eaten their fill. People in the outlying districts are starving, and Katniss and Peeta are appalled at the greed of the Capitol.
One of the symbols of the rebellion is the mockingjay, and Kat wore a mockingjay pin during the seventy-fourth Hunger Games. The mockingjay is a hybrid of the mockingbird and the genetically designed jabberjay. The Capitol created the jabberjay during the first rebellion to collect information, but the rebels learned to use the jabberjays to pass on false information. Although the Capitol decided to leave the jabberjays to die in the wild, the birds crossbred with mockingbirds and produced mockingjays. Katniss reflects that the mockingjay is not just a songbird. Rather, it 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.
At the party, the Head Gamemaker for the seventy-fifth annual Hunger Games flashes a mockingjay at Katniss from his watch.
When she returns home, Katniss discovers that the people of District 8 have risen up in rebellion. She goes hunting one day and comes across refugees from District 8. They claim to be headed to District 13, which the Capitol claims is nothing but a ruin. They point out that the television footage of District 13 has been the same for as long as anyone can remember; a mockingjay can be seen flying across the corner of every broadcast. Because District 13 was responsible for producing nuclear materials, they surmise that the Capitol would rather not fight it if there are indeed any survivors waiting there.
This year is special because it is the seventy-fifth Hunger Games, a Quarter Quell. This year’s Quell has been designed “as a reminder to the rebels that even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol.” The Capitol decides that each District will send two of its victors to the games. Katniss quickly realizes that as she is the only female victor in District 12, she will be forced to return to the arena. Peeta returns so that he can protect Katniss, and he makes Haymitch promise to help him keep Kat alive. Kat makes Haymitch promise to help her keep Peeta alive; she believes that Peeta is a good person, worthy of saving, and also that he has a way with words that would make him an ideal spokesperson for a rebellion. Kat and Peeta and Haymitch all train together in preparation for the Games.
Peeta and Katniss also study previous games to learn about the other victors they will be facing. They discover that Haymitch won the previous Quarter Quell by turning the force field at the edge of the arena into a weapon. When the last combatant threw a weapon at Haymitch, he ducked, and the weapon bounced off the force field and killed his opponent.
When they arrive in the Capitol for the Games, Haymitch insists that Katniss and Peeta get to know the other victors and begin to form alliances. In her first Hunger Games, Katniss was not sought out for alliances, and only the Careers teamed up. This year, Kat pays attention to the others but hates nearly every one of them: Finnick is a shallow flirt; Johanna is promiscuous; others are Career killers. The allies Kat finds are not necessarily the ones Haymitch might have intended. She chooses Beetee and Wiress, who are inventors from District 3, though they are not physically intimidating. In fact, Wiress appears to be mentally unstable. Kat and Peeta then demonstrate their skills before a panel of Gamemakers. Peeta paints a portrait of Rue to hold the Gamemakers accountable; Katniss hangs Seneca Crane, the previous year’s executed Gamemaker, in effigy.
Once again, Katniss and Peeta are stylized, paraded, and interviewed before the Hunger Games. This year when interviewed by Caesar Flickerman, Peeta tells Panem that he and Katniss have eloped and that Katniss is pregnant. During Kat’s interview, her dress bursts into flames and burns black until she looks like a mockingjay. Later, immediately before Kat enters the arena, her stylist, Cinna, is viciously beaten in front of her as punishment.
The arena is designed like a giant wheel; the Cornucopia is in the center of a lake, with spokes of land connecting it to the shore. Katniss spots a bow and races to obtain it. At the Cornucopia, she faces off against Finnick, who is from District 4 (the fishing district) and is armed with a trident and net. He reveals that Haymitch arranged an alliance between them behind her back. They fight to defend each other, Peeta, and the other victor from District 4, then they escape the killing at the Cornucopia and begin their search for water and survival. Peeta suffers a severe shock from the force field surrounding the arena. The group of allies is joined by Johanna, Beetee, and Wiress. Wiress works out that the arena, which is circular, works like a clock. There are twelve sections, and the sections each offer a unique hazard at hourly intervals throughout the day.
The group has been living at the lakeside, where they can gather food, but they plan to move to the forest and leave the lake unguarded. Beetee wants to send a wire from a tall tree that is struck by lightning each day down to the water; in so doing, he will electrocute the lake and their opponents, whom they hope will be foraging in the lake. When Katniss and Johanna take the wire to the water, the wire is cut, then Johanna attacks Kat’s arm and disappears. Kat heads back to the tree and tries to draw attackers to herself and away from Peeta. She finds the tree wired but unprotected. She recalls Haymitch’s advice to remember who the enemies are, and she decides to attack the arena. She wraps the wire from the tree around an arrow, and as lightning strikes the tree, she shoots the arrow into a chink in the force field surrounding the arena.
The explosion destroys the force field and injures Kat. She is immediately rescued by a group of rebels, including the Gamemaker who showed her the symbol of the mockingjay. Haymitch and Gale are there as well, but Peeta and Johanna are captured by the Capitol. Gale informs Kat that the districts are in open rebellion and that District 12 has been destroyed.
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