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Catching Fire

Suzanne Collins

Chapters 1-3

Themes, Motifs & Symbols

Chapters 4-6

Summary: Chapter 1

Katniss Everdeen sits in the woods at dawn, dreading the notion of returning home, where she knows camera crews will be arriving. It’s the day the Victory Tour begins. Katniss checks the snare line she set. Her family can afford to buy meat since Katniss won the last Hunger Games. But the family of her best friend, Gale Hawthorne, relies on the meat for food, and Gale doesn’t have time to hunt anymore since he now works in the coalmines. Katniss imagines Gale descending into the mines in an elevator and thinks of how her father was killed in a mine blast.

On her way to her family’s new home she stops at Gale’s house and delivers the animals she caught to Hazelle, Gale’s mother. She then goes to the Hob, which is District 12’s blackmarket. She chats with a peacekeeper and then a vendor named Greasy Sae, who jokes about the lie that was spread that Gale is Katniss’s cousin. The lie came about because Gale didn’t fit into the narrative of Katniss being in love with Peeta that helped them survive the Hunger Games. From the Hob she goes to the Victor’s Village, where only she, Haymitch, and Peeta live. At Haymitch’s house, Haymitch, who is an alcoholic, is barely coherent. Peeta is there, and he and Katniss exchange a few strained words. Haymitch says they have to warm up to each other before the cameras show up. When Katniss gets home, she finds President Snow waiting for her.

Summary: Chapter 2

President Snow explains that some people in the districts saw through Katniss’s and Peeta’s threat of suicide at the end of the Hunger Games. While the audience in the Capitol genuinely believed Katniss and Peeta couldn’t live without each other, many in the districts understood the threat as an act of defiance. He worries that it could encourage people to revolt. President Snow says he knows how Katniss really feels about Peeta, and that she sneaks into the woods on Sundays with Gale. It reminds her that one Sunday, after the Hunger Games, when the media attention finally faded, she went into the woods and saw Gale there. He kissed her. It only happened once, and afterward Gale acted as if it hadn’t happened. President Snow says Katniss needs to convince everyone that she still loves Peeta during the tour, otherwise Gale’s life might be at risk.

Summary: Chapter 3

Katniss reflects on everything that’s happened as she takes a bath. Eventually the prep team arrives that will get her ready to be on camera. They talk excitedly as they clean Katniss up and do her makeup, and one mentions that it’s the year of a Quarter Quell. Every 25 years there is a more elaborate and brutal version of the Games, and this year is the 75th anniversary. When Katniss is ready she goes downstairs and meets Cinna, her stylist and a close friend. She has been talking to Cinna on the phone to work on her talent, something every victor is supposed to develop. Cinna and Katniss worked out an agreement where she says her talent is clothing design and he does all the work. He’s brought with him some clothes, fabrics, and sketchbooks to complete the illusion.

The camera crew films Katniss showing off the clothing, and Effie Trinket, who is District 12’s tour manager, arrives. It’s time for Katniss and Peeta to be filmed meeting as they embark on the tour. Despite the tension between them, Katniss and Peeta act as if they’re truly in love. They fall into the snow and kiss. Then they, along with Haymitch, Effie, and the cameras, go to the train station and begin their tour. Eventually Katniss tells Haymitch she needs to talk, and when they find a safe place, she reveals everything that happened with President Snow. Haymitch says she has no choice but to act as if she and Peeta are truly in love, and not just for the length of the tour: They have to continue the act indefinitely and ultimately get married.

Analysis

The first chapter of the novel essentially serves to catch readers up on how Katniss’s life has changed since winning the Hunger Games. Many of the changes have been significant. Among the most notable is that Katniss and her family are now rich, whereas before the Games they were so poor they didn’t always have enough to eat. They live in a new house in a different part of town reserved for winners of the Hunger Games. Katniss even has new clothing. Meanwhile, the rest of the town is the same as it always was. Katniss consequently feels a distinct gulf between herself and the people around her, since her life has improved while theirs haven’t, and it causes her to feel guilty. As she walks through the Hob, she notes how she tries to spread out her purchases, indicating that she’s making a deliberate effort to take care of as many people as possible.

We also learn the status of Katniss’s relationships with Peeta and Gale in this section. To survive the Hunger Games in the previous novel, Katniss had to pretend to be in love with Peeta in order to win viewers’ sympathy and earn gifts that would help her win. Peeta, who was actually in love with Katniss, discovered that Katniss’s feelings weren’t entirely genuine, and now we see the strain that has caused between them. For their own safety, they have to keep up the act, at least in public. But at the same time, Katniss’s relationship with Gale has turned somewhat more romantic. From the way Katniss thinks of Gale, it’s obvious she has strong feelings for him, though she isn’t entirely sure if she thinks of him as more of a brother, a friend, or someone she’s in love with. To complicate matters, Gale kissed Katniss but then continued to act as if it never happened. Now she isn’t sure how he feels about her. What she does know is that she cares for and likes both of them, even if she isn’t sure how she likes them. She also knows she doesn’t want to hurt one or the other, and she wouldn’t be allowed to pursue a relationship with Gale anyway because of the political implications. As a result she finds herself in a kind of romantic limbo.

From President Snow’s visit, the political consequences of not only Katniss’s and Peeta’s actions at the end of the Hunger Games but also of their current and future behavior become clear. As Katniss learns, many considered her and Peeta’s threat of suicide an act of defiance, and what President Snow suggests is that any further gestures in that vein could potentially spark uprisings in the districts. This fear makes it clear that Katniss is viewed as a symbol by the districts. Her actions therefore take on a symbolic importance beyond their immediate intent. If Katniss were to publicly reveal that she isn’t in love with Peeta, for instance, the districts would recognize that the inseparable-lovers act in the Hunger Games was a sham. It would mean that Katniss was able to trick the Capitol and get away with it, which in itself would encourage the districts to risk rebelling. Katniss and those who are aware of her situation realize that anything which might be perceived as an act of defiance, whether it actually is or not, could have the same effect. Katniss has to be extraordinarily careful about everything she says and does publicly as a result, because as President Snow makes clear, he can’t kill her, but he can punish her by harming those around her, like Gale.

One of the book’s major themes, the importance of appearances, starts taking shape already in this first section. The situation Katniss finds herself in, having to keep up the appearance of being in love with Peeta, expresses the theme most directly. As President Snow makes clear, it doesn’t matter how Katniss actually feels about Peeta. What matters is that she appear to act as if she’s in love, and perhaps more crucially, that she convince the public they are. The possibility of the districts revolting hinge on keeping up this appearance. The theme comes across in other ways, too. The way she’s dressed as well as her hair and makeup convey a deliberate image, one Katniss’s stylist, Cinna, works very carefully to craft. Katniss notes as her prep team gets her ready that the look they seem to be going for is “girlish, not sexy,” which suggests that her appearance will signal innocence, not provocation, to the audience. It’s also necessary for Katniss to appear to have a special talent, even if she doesn’t, at least none she can share publicly since her hunting is illegal. In each case we see that Katniss must maintain a public façade that doesn’t match her private life.

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