The Hunger Games (Series) | Study Guide

Suzanne Collins

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The Hunger Games (Series) | Catching Fire | Summary


About the Title

The title Catching Fire compares the spread of the rebellion through the districts to the way fire begins as a small spark and spreads. President Snow first uses the metaphor in Chapter 2 when he tells Katniss Everdeen, "You have provided a spark that, left unattended, may grow to an inferno that destroys Panem."


Part I: The Spark (Chapters 1–9)

Roughly six months after Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark were declared dual victors in the 74th Hunger Games, the two winners are living with their families in Victor's Village. Katniss is trying to forget what happened and return to some semblance of her old life, but nightmares plague her, and the notoriety of the Games sets her apart from the others in her village. In addition, Peeta treats her coolly, still stung by her ambivalent feelings for him. Their complicated "romance," televised around Panem, has also soured Katniss's relationship with her best friend, Gale Hawthorne.

The real barrier to putting the Games behind her, however, is the Victory Tour of the 12 districts, due to begin within a few days. Held midway between Games, it is the Capitol's way of "keeping the horror fresh and immediate" for its citizens, and of reminding them that the government always holds them in an iron grip. Katniss is mentally preparing herself for the ordeal when she receives an unexpected visit from President Snow.

Snow tells Katniss he was not fooled by her display of love for Peeta, knowing she put it on for the cameras. He also informs her that many viewers in the districts were not fooled, either, seeing it instead as an act of defiance. He asks her if a girl from her district can "defy the Capitol and walk away ... what is to prevent them from doing the same?" He warns Katniss that she had better use the Tour to "turn things around," and prevent potential uprisings, or he will not hesitate to kill the ones she loves.

With Snow's threat hanging over her head, Katniss goes on tour. The visits begin with an elaborate celebration in the Capitol. At a celebratory feast, Katniss meets Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Head Gamemaker—the old one was executed after the fiasco of the 74th Games. He shows her his watch and rubs the face. A mockingjay like the one on the pin she wears appears and quickly vanishes. He leaves her, saying cryptically, "It starts at midnight."

The Victory Tour next heads to District 11, the home of Rue, Katniss's young ally in the Games. When Rue was killed, Katniss mourned her death and decorated her body to show the world the girl was more than just a piece in a game. The ceremony in District 11 is an emotional one, but Katniss hears Snow's voice in her head. She remains quiet, afraid of saying anything that might stir up the crowd. Peeta, however, makes a simple but passionate speech, telling the district that Rue and her fellow tribute, Thresh, had saved his and Katniss's lives. He offers to donate one month's salaries from both his and Katniss's winnings to each tribute's family for the rest of their lives.

Overwhelmed, Katniss can no longer stay silent. She praises Thresh's "refusal to play the games on anyone's terms but his own," and says of Rue, "Everything beautiful brings her to mind." As she finishes, an old man in the crowd whistles a four-note melody that Rue had always used to signal safety. At the sound, every person in the crowd presses the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and extends them toward Katniss. It is the District 12 sign of respect, and a carefully planned salute to the girl who defied the Capitol. Katniss and Peeta are ushered off stage, but moments later shots ring out in the crowd. The old man and two others have been killed, and the crowd is beaten into submission.

Despite the brief uprising, the Victory Tour continues. District 11's act of defiance was not televised, but Katniss senses a similar fury in the citizens of several of the other districts they visit. When the Peacekeepers—the Capitol's security force tasked with maintaining order in the districts—push forward to control them, they push back. When they chant Katniss's name, she hears in their voices a cry for vengeance. Desperate to extinguish these sparks of defiance and protect her family, Katniss suggests to her handlers that she and Peeta distract the crowds by becoming engaged. They go through with the plan, but President Snow lets her know she has still not done enough.

The touring group heads back to District 12. Shortly after their return, Katniss learns that a riot has broken out in District 8, and that Peacekeepers have been shooting into the crowds. Horrified, Katniss's first instinct is to escape the violence and protect her sister and mother at all costs. She approaches Gale about running away with their families. At first he seems willing, but when Katniss tells him about the District 8 uprising, Gale is electrified by the news. He sees it as a sign that people are finally willing to rebel against the Capitol, and wants to be part of the fight. He urges Katniss to join him for the sake of all those who aren't free to run away. When she hesitates, he pushes her away in disgust.

Katniss then appeals to Peeta, whom she hopes will listen to reason. But he, too, realizes there is more at stake than their own safety. Suddenly, they hear a noise from the village. Racing toward the town square, they are horrified when they see Gale chained to a post, being whipped by a Peacemaker as punishment for poaching. Katniss screams and throws herself in front of Gale. The whip slashes across her face and Haymitch Abernathy intercedes. But they find out that the man with the whip, a cruel, violent man named Romulus Thread, is the new Head Peacekeeper.

Within days, the town is transformed. The old Peacekeepers are replaced with more brutal ones, machine gun nests line the roofs, and stockades and gallows are set up in the square. People are brutally punished for the smallest of infractions. The black market is burned to the ground, wages and rations are cut in half, and the district begins to starve. Katniss realizes the decision about what to do next has been made for her. What the government is doing to them "is so wrong, so beyond justification, so evil that there is no choice." Somehow, she will begin to fight back.

Part II: The Quell (Chapters 10–18)

Once Katniss Everdeen has decided she will take a stand against the Capitol, she slips outside the border fence to retrieve her bow and enjoy a few last moments of peace and hunting. There, she encounters two women, Bonnie and Twill, who show her the symbol of the mockingjay and tell her they are fleeing District 8, where they were among the rebels. They explain that they are now on their way to District 13, supposedly obliterated 75 years before during the rebellion, but thought by many to be the base of a powerful resistance movement. And because the district used to supply nuclear power for Panem, there is also the possibility the people there still have powerful weapons. They tell Katniss how proud they are to have met her, and at that moment, Katniss realizes she has unwittingly become the face of the rebellion, and that her mockingjay has become its symbol.

Several weeks later, the Capitol announces there is mandatory programming that night, a preview of the next "Quarter Quell." These special Games, held every 25 years, have always had some kind of hideous twist. The first one eliminated the reaping lottery, and forced the citizens of each district to vote for the children who would be sent as tributes. The second had required that double the usual number of tributes be sent. President Snow himself reveals the plan for these Games—the third Quarter Quell. As a reminder to the rebels that "even the strongest among them cannot overcome the power of the Capitol," the tributes will be reaped from their existing pool of victors. As her mother shrieks, Katniss realizes that as the only female victor from District 12, she is headed back to the arena.

The news sends shock waves throughout the districts of Panem. The victors, who have survived against impossible odds, have always been symbols of hope to the people of the 12 districts. Now, even that illusion has been stripped away. As for the victors themselves, many have become friends over the years but will now be pitted against each other, or serve as mentors to doomed friends. The rest will be left behind and forced to watch those they care about be slaughtered.

In District 12 there is no question which of the two tributes will go to the Games. Because Katniss is the only girl, Peeta Mellark will not allow her to reenter the arena without him along to protect her. Haymitch Abernathy will once again be their mentor. They are whisked off to the Capitol, and the familiar ritual begins. Days are spent in training, but this time, Haymitch tells Katniss and Peeta to look for allies to work with during the early parts of the game. Katniss is reluctant to do so, but eventually chooses Wiress and Beetee, smart but physically weak tributes from District 3, and Mags, an 80-year-old woman from District 4. She takes an instant dislike, though, to two others: Finnick Odair, the handsome victor from District 4, known for enjoying the wealth and women his victories have afforded him, and Johanna Mason from District 7, who is rough and openly hostile.

The night before the Games begin, Caesar Flickerman holds pre-Game interviews with the tributes. Many of them speak directly to the unfairness of the Quarter Quell, and others appeal to a crowd that now knows them as individuals, not nameless tributes. Katniss appears, wearing a wedding dress at the request of President Snow. But Cinna has made some adjustments. When she twirls for the camera, the wedding dress burns away, becoming a dark flowing costume covered in tiny wings the color of coal. Katniss has been transformed into a mockingjay. The symbolism is lost on the Capitol crowds, but not to the districts or to the government itself.

It is Peeta who ends up shocking the crowd the most. He tells Caesar that he and Katniss were secretly married, and that Katniss is pregnant. None of this is true, but his words have their desired effect. Even the Games-loving crowd in the Capitol is suddenly aware of how barbaric the games are. And in an unplanned moment of unity, all 24 tributes grasp hands and hold them high. Emotions begin to boil over, and the broadcast is cut off.

The next morning, the tributes are ushered to their launch pads beneath the arena. Cinna accompanies Katniss to dress her for competition. She thanks him for the mockingjay dress, and he tells her, "I'm still betting on you." Katniss's launch cylinder rises up around her. At that moment, Peacekeepers burst through the door, cuff Cinna, beat him, and drag his limp body from the room. Screaming, Katniss is raised to the surface. The Games have begun.

Part III: The Enemy (Chapters 19–27)

Still reeling from what happened to Cinna, Katniss Everdeen finds herself on a small platform surrounded by water. The Cornucopia is on an island in the middle of a lake, accessible by spokes of land leading from it to the circular beach that surrounds the lake. Beyond the beach is a jungle. Katniss think it all looks like a giant wheel, with the Cornucopia at the hub.

She dives into the water, swims to the land strip, and races to the Cornucopia. She and Finnick Odair are the first to arrive. He shows her a bangle that belongs to Haymitch Abernathy. Katniss realizes Haymitch wants them to be allies, and Finnick immediately proves she can trust him by killing another tribute who is about to attack her. They head back down the spokes to the beach, and Finnick dives into the water to get Peeta Mellark, who is unable to swim.

On the beach they meet up with Mags. The four of them head into the jungle, trying to get as far from the beach as possible. Suddenly, Peeta runs into a force field, the shock of which stops his heart. Finnick works frantically to rescue him—something Katniss doesn't quite understand because Peeta's death would mean one less competitor—and Peeta recovers.

The group realizes that the jungle does not go far. It is bordered by the force field that extends up over the arena like an invisible dome, keeping the tributes within a clearly defined location. Then the horror of the new arena begins to reveal itself. A poisoned fog creeps toward them, infused with deadly nerve gas. The four allies run, but their limbs begin to seize up, and Finnick desperately tries to save both Peeta and Mags. Mags, once Finnick's mentor and now his "family," sacrifices herself. She walks back into the fog, allowing Finnick to save Peeta. Shortly afterward, the fog recedes.

The next horror is an attack by carnivorous monkeys. Already weakened by the fog, the three remaining allies do what they can to defend themselves, but a monkey leaps toward Peeta. Another tribute, a morphling from District 6, appears out of nowhere and jumps in front of Peeta; the monkey buries its fangs in her chest. The rest of the animals retreat, and Peeta soothes the girl as she dies. But Katniss is even more bewildered, wondering why Finnick, Mags, and so many others seem to be trying to save her ally.

Soon the group meets up with Johanna Mason, who has Wiress and Beetee in tow. Johanna tells Katniss that she has saved the other two "for her," although Katniss is not sure why, or even what she means. Johanna also mentions that Wiress keeps frantically saying "tick-tock," as though she has lost her mind. Katniss suddenly realizes the arena is set up like a giant clock with 12 sections, each with its own attack system triggered at a set time. She recalls Plutarch Heavensbee showing her his watch—the one with a vanishing mockingjay symbol—and hinting it had something to do with the arena.

Katniss shares with the others what she has realized. The attack systems built into the arena are diabolical. In addition to the fog and the monkeys, there is a blood rain, a violent lightning storm, and a tsunami-like wave that floods a particular area of the island. The most devastating attack, however, is an emotional one, where jabberjays mimic the voices of the tributes' loved ones, all screaming as though being tortured. Katniss hears Primrose Everdeen, her mother, and Gale Hawthorne. Finnick hears a girl named Annie whom he loved, and who was driven mad when she participated in the Games. They are reassured by the others that even those sounds have been engineered, but they remain shaken to their core.

The elaborate system, in which the arena itself has become the enemy, means that tributes are dying much more quickly than usual. Soon, only their group and a few others remain, except for Wiress, who was killed shortly after figuring out the arena. Peeta shows Katniss a locket containing pictures of Primrose, her mother, and Gale. He wants her to do what she can to live for them. But she suddenly feels a rush of love for Peeta, instead.

The next morning, Beetee reveals he has a plan for eliminating the remaining contestants. It involves a special wire that, for some reason, had been included at the Cornucopia. He says they should attach it to what they have called the lightning tree—hit by a powerful bolt of lightning every 12 hours—and extend it down to the water. When the lightning strikes, it will electrify the water and the damp sand surrounding it. Anyone standing on or near the beach will be killed. They begin to rig the trap, with Johanna and Katniss laying out the wire and heading toward the beach.

Suddenly, the wire snaps and they realize they are being attacked. Without warning, Johanna hits Katniss over the head, nearly knocking her unconscious, and jumps on top of her, hissing at her to stay down. She then disappears as two of the remaining enemy tributes pass by, leaving Katniss for dead. Katniss stumbles to her feet and sprints back to where she thinks Peeta is. Finnick races past, calling for her and Johanna, but she no longer trusts him and hides. Eventually, she finds Beetee unconscious, and hears Peeta howling for her.

Finnick appears again with one of the other remaining tributes, a girl named Enobaria. Katniss thinks she and Beetee are doomed, but hopes to still save Peeta. Suddenly, Katniss sees that Beetee has also rigged some of the remaining wire so that one end, if wound around an arrow, could be shot up into the force field where they had earlier identified a gap. Katniss suddenly remembers who the real enemy is, attaches the wire to one of her arrows, and aims it up at the force field. When the lighting strikes, the dome explodes in a shower of light, and the arena begins to fall apart.

A hovercraft suddenly appears, and a claw drops and drags Katniss up inside the machine. To her horror, she sees the face of Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker, whose "beautiful" arena she has just destroyed. She slips into unconsciousness. When she recovers, she finds herself unrestrained, and sees Beetee hooked up to machines. She grabs a syringe and goes to look for Peeta, thinking it would be better to kill him and die herself than leave them both at the mercy of the Capitol. She hears voices in a room, and is shocked to recognize Haymitch Abernathy, Plutarch, and Finnick Odair.

They tell her that they and some of the tributes, such as Finnick, Johanna, and Beetee, are all part of a rebellion against the Capitol, and had been part of a plan to free Katniss and Peeta from the arena. That's why Beetee had his special wire, ready to destroy the force field. The hovercraft is now on its way to District 13, the center of the resistance, and most of the districts are in full rebellion. When Katniss asks why she and Peeta seem so central to all this, Plutarch tells her she is the face of the rebellion—the mockingjay—and that the revolution lives as long as she does. They protect Peeta because they know Katniss would not join the rebels if he died.

But then Plutarch tells Katniss that Peeta, Johanna, and Enobaria were all picked up by the Capitol, and their fates are unknown. Katniss goes insane, leaping at Haymitch, whom she feels betrayed them. But the worst news is yet to come. Gale Hawthorne appears, now a member of the resistance, and tells her the Capitol bombed District 12 after the Games. Gale got Primrose Everdeen and Katniss's mother out, but District 12 no longer exists.


Reluctant Rebel

In Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen defied the Capitol throughout the 74th Hunger Games. She now wishes she could erase every moment of those days from her memory. As someone who felt she literally had nothing to lose, because her life was already forfeit, Katniss had refused to play the game on any terms but her own. When Rue died, she covered the girl's body in flowers "to shame them, to make them accountable." And when she came up with the idea of the suicide pact, she was doing so with the sure knowledge she was beating the Capitol at its own game, whatever the outcome.

Now the horror of the Games has left Katniss emotionally broken and somewhat in shock. She is only too aware of what she had to do in the arena to survive, and how close she came to death. She has no interest in being remembered as a hero, a survivor, or a rebel. She tells herself that her actions during the Games were just things she did to keep herself and Peeta Mellark alive, and that "any act of rebellion was purely coincidental."

Katniss is somewhat surprised, then, when President Snow comes to see her before the Victory Tour. He threatens to harm her family and Gale Hawthorne's unless she extinguishes the sparks of rebellion he says she has lit in the districts. Katniss realizes she once more has something to lose. To protect those she loves, she earnestly promises to do what Snow asks of her.

Her resolve is short-lived. When visiting District 11, the home of Rue and Thresh, Katniss can't stop herself from speaking of the beautiful girl who was Rue, and of Thresh, whom she admired "for his refusal to play the Games on anyone's terms but his own." After the speech, she feels "broken and small," but her comments lead to an astonishing display of respect from the people of District 11, which Katniss knows Snow will see as a very public salute to the girl who defied the Capitol. Moments later, Peacekeepers kill several of those involved in the display, solidifying Katniss's fears.

Following this event, Katniss sees signs of unrest in other districts on the tour, and realizes she may have put something of great consequence into motion. Still trying to mollify Snow, though, she comes up with the idea of announcing her engagement to Peeta, which she hopes will distract the crowds. When her ploy is still not enough for Snow, she feels an odd sense of relief. She can stop playing his game because she is not going to succeed.

Even so, she is still not ready to fight back. After seeing the murders in District 11 and hearing about Peacekeepers shooting into a crowd after an uprising in District 8, she becomes only more fearful of the Capitol's merciless responses to rebellion. She decides that because desperate times call for desperate measures, she can act as desperately as she wishes. She can run away and take her loved ones with her.

Before she can put her plans into action, however, Katniss witnesses Gale being whipped, and she automatically throws herself between the Peacekeeper and Gale's bleeding wounds. It is another spontaneous act of defiance. She finally sees her earlier desire to run away as cowardice, showing her to be the kind of girl who would "run to stay alive and leave those who couldn't follow to suffer and die."

Katniss also decides that life in District 12 isn't really so different from life in the arena, and reminds herself, "You have to stop running and turn around and face whatever wants you dead." She realizes she is already part of these larger Games, already an enemy of Snow, and already a target. More importantly, what the government has already done to those she loves "is so wrong, so beyond justification, so evil" that she is left with no choice but to fight back.

She tells Haymitch Abernathy, "I want to start an uprising," and with those words, a rebel is born.

Gale versus Peeta

Throughout the first two books of The Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss Everdeen is torn between Gale Hawthorne and Peeta Mellark. They represent two aspects of what both she and the people of Panem need. Gale is strong, a born fighter. Peeta is gentle, kind, and compassionate. Even their names reflect their personalities. A "gale" is a storm or powerful wind—a force of nature that can cause great damage. Peeta's name, on the other hand, is a homonym for the word "pita," a type of bread, and suggests warmth and comfort.

Gale, Katniss's lifelong friend, is probably most like her in personality and background. Both are poor, and both are the main supporters in their families. They are skilled hunters, and both have not been afraid to break the law in order to provide for those they love. They also can both be hotheaded and rash. Gale uses their hunting trips into the woods to rail against the Capitol and its treatment of the districts, which Katniss allows only because there is no one there to hear.

Peeta, on the other hand, has never wanted for food. He is not particularly athletic, and his skills tend toward the artistic. But he is, at his core, compassionate and kind, a man of peace with a strong sense of justice. He is also eloquent. He comforts the people of District 12, bringing them to tears on the Victory Tour. He awakens the Capitol crowd to compassion and empathy with his emotional speech about his love for Katniss and their "baby." And when he comforts a dying morphling in the Quarter Quell, he describes the beauty around them but says he hasn't "figured out a rainbow yet. They come so quickly and leave so soon."

In Katniss's mind, though, Peeta represents something else: the government's attempts to control her. Because of the Capitol, she must playact romance she isn't sure she feels, and may be forced to marry a boy she is not yet sure she loves. It's hard for her to see that Peeta, like Gale, is also a rebel—and questions whether they should be subduing the resistance they've seen on the Victory Tour. More importantly, people embrace everything he says. Katniss realizes he could move a crowd to action, and that his ability with words is a weapon as powerful as any gun or dagger.

One additional similarity between Gale and Peeta is that both are in love with Katniss. Gale doesn't express his love until forced to, but Peeta doesn't hide his feelings and would willingly sacrifice himself for her. He makes this clear throughout the 74th Games, and willingly goes back with her into the arena for the Quarter Quell to protect her and make sure she gets out alive. Katniss herself has yet to decide if Peeta's goodness or Gale's fire is what she truly wants.

Unraveling a Dictatorship

Book 2 begins to show a gradual breakdown of the absolute power the Capitol has held over Panem for 75 years. Katniss Everdeen's actions in the arena of the 74th Games, along with the defiant act that allowed Peeta and her to stay alive, have ignited a spark of hope in Panem and created a thirst for rebellion.

The government's power likely began after the great war alluded to in Book 1, where survivors of a series of natural disasters almost destroyed one another as they fought over the remaining resources. It is likely that the totalitarian government that now rules Panem was put in place to bring order to the chaos and reestablish some sort of working society. It set itself up as the Capitol of Panem, and the 13 districts were established to provide goods and services based on the resources available in their areas.

The new society worked, but absolute power can corrupt those who wield it. The Capitol began to take on aspects of ancient Rome, as the government cleverly manipulating the system so its own citizens became the main recipients of the resources provided by the districts. Removed from the fear of deprivation or the need to work, those in the Capitol lived lives of luxury, happy to turn a blind eye to whatever the government did in exchange for their comfortable lives. The districts themselves became slave states, kept docile by the existence of Peacekeepers.

The first attempt at rebellion by the districts during the "Dark Days" was quickly quelled by the government, and resulted in the supposed destruction of District 13. The Capitol then began the Hunger Games to remind the districts of the government's absolute power. When Katniss wins the 74th Hunger Games, however, she inadvertently creates the first crack in this carefully constructed dictatorship. President Snow, a perfect symbol of this twisted government, tries to prevent further damage by threatening her family. But the crack has already begun to grow and fracture.

On the Victory Tour, Katniss sees anger and rebellion beginning to boil over in many of the districts. The government lashes back, and its facade of "the shining Capitol" begins to crumble and reveals the police state it really is. Peacekeepers shoot into crowds in Districts 11 and 8. In District 12, gallows and stockades are put in place, machine guns line the rooftops, wages and resources are cut, and people are punished for minor offenses. But the government is already too late.

Unknown to the Capitol, a powerful resistance movement is already underway, orchestrated by District 13, which was never completely obliterated. The district has been planning a second rebellion for decades, even as it recovered from the Dark Days. The Quarter Quell itself is rigged, and a plan to extract Katniss and Peeta is in place. Several victors/tributes are involved in the plans, as are Gale Hawthorne and Haymitch Abernathy. Even the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, is part of the resistance, and feeding information about the new arena to the rebels, showing that the government itself has its rebels.

The Capitol even begins to see a loss of control among its own citizens. During the interviews for the Quarter Quell, impassioned speeches by the victors—all known to the audience—brings home the realization that the contestants are people. Cries to rethink the rules or end the games begin to ring out from the crowds. Panem et circenses is no longer enough to completely extinguish the humanity within them.

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