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The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins

Chapters 16–18

Summary Chapters 16–18


The inequality between Panem’s rich and poor, which had previously been an advantage to the Careers, ironically becomes a vulnerability for Katniss to exploit in this section. The Careers, because they grew up wealthy, have no experience hunting or foraging in the wild, and Katniss thinks the Careers will have a very difficult time feeding themselves without their supplies. Moreover, Katniss thinks their not being accustomed to hunger as she and Rue are will also work against them. She notes that the times in the past when non-Career Tributes have won the Games have generally been those in which the Careers didn’t have a stockpile of supplies to rely on, suggesting that destroying their supplies could provide the advantage Katniss needs to eventually win. The Careers, of course, are aware of how critical their supplies are and defend them. They set mines all around the supply pyramid, but in yet another irony, it is these mines that offer Katniss a means of destroying the pyramid quickly and completely. Had the supplies not been surrounded by mines, Katniss likely would have found it much more difficult, perhaps impossible, to eliminate everything in a single attack.

Rue’s death in this section brings to an end the brief sense of security Katniss had begun to feel, leading Katniss to a complete emotional upheaval. With Rue as a companion, Katniss doesn’t feel isolated, and for the first time since the Games began she has started to feel relaxed and content. As Katniss and Rue become closer, Katniss starts to treat Rue as a substitute for Prim, her little sister. When Rue wonders how they’ll destroy the careers supplies, for instance, Katniss pokes her in the belly and jokes that maybe they’ll eat it, thinking as she does so that she behaves that way with Prim. Katniss abruptly loses this security when Rue dies, and Katniss feels devastated as a result. What little serenity she felt turns immediately to rage, leading her to disregard her own safety as she recklessly goes in search of the Careers (this disregard doesn’t have any negative consequences since Katniss doesn’t encounter anyone). It then turns to despair and depression, and Katniss feels so depressed the next morning that she can hardly force herself to get up and make an effort to survive.

The main force driving Katniss after Rue’s death is actually the knowledge that Prim is watching her on television, and indeed through the section Katniss never forgets that the cameras are on her at all times. Even in extraordinarily stressful situations, such as when she’s blown up after detonating the mines around the Careers’ supplies, Katniss remembers she is being watched and makes it a point not to show fear. Katniss says explicitly that she hides her fear for Prim’s sake. She doesn’t want her little sister worrying about her so she tries to remain composed. But she has also suggested earlier in the novel that she considers how the audience and potential sponsors see her as well. In the past, tributes who have appeared weak have been unpopular and have not earned many benefactors, and Katniss realizes letting her emotions show might cost her sponsors whose gifts could mean the difference between life and death for her. Thus Katniss’s awareness of the cameras and her unshakable composure act as part of her survival strategy.

Katniss’s decorating Rue’s body is an act of defiance against the Capitol, and it recalls Peeta’s desire to show the Capitol he’s not just a pawn in their game. The Hunger Games, by their nature, dehumanize the tributes. They essentially objectify them, turning them into commodities rather than recognizing them as people, so that the audience at home feels entertained by their deaths rather than horrified. In the lead up to the Games, for instance, the tributes are expected to be cheerful and not to show how fearful and anxious they may be. As a result, the audience never experiences them as real people, but more like characters playing roles. (The talkshow-like treatment of each tribute’s backstory leading up to the Games similarly treats them more as characters than real people and increases their entertainment value.) The tributes are, of course, aware of how they’re being objectified. But when Katniss decorates Rue’s body and openly grieves for her, it forces the audience to remember Rue and realize how painful her death is for everyone involved. By doing so, Katniss humanizes Rue and does for her what Peeta had hoped to do for himself.

In this section, Katniss deliberately kills someone for the first time in the Hunger Games and suffers the emotional consequences that result. The two prior deaths that resulted from Katniss’s actions, those of Glimmer and another girl when Katniss dropped the tracker jacker nest, were not entirely intended. Katniss’s foremost concern was escaping, and dropping the nest on the tributes below was the best means she had of doing that. She also didn’t kill them directly. But when Katniss kills the boy who stabs Rue, Katniss intends to kill him and is directly responsible for his death. Consequently, she also feels more responsible. Though she is still mourning Rue, she finds herself thinking about the boy, wondering about his family’s grief, his friends’ anger, and if he had a girlfriend who was hoping he would return home. Though Katniss is an experienced hunter, she clearly feels uncomfortable at the thought of having killed him. This discomfort lasts only briefly, however, as Katniss remembers Rue’s death and pushes the boy out of her mind, suggesting she feels justified in having killed him.

By this point in the book, mockingjays have become a prominent motif, and in this section they take on their most notable role yet. The birds have been repeatedly mentioned throughout the novel but have thus far remained mostly in the background. But the mockingjay motif becomes more significant as Katniss allies with Rue. The bird, as Katniss explains earlier, is a subtle symbol of rebellion since it represents a failure by the Capitol. But after Rue explains how she and the other workers in District 11 use the mockingjays to communicate, the mockingjay takes on an additional role. Katniss and Rue decide to use the birds as a way to communicate with one another. That role lasts only briefly as Rue is killed, but Katniss hears the mockingjays still singing Rue’s song, and the birds essentially become a reminder of Rue as well.