After Katniss Everdeen‘s safe return from the 74th annual hunger games with Peeta Mellark, both of them tributes from District 12, the Capitol is in turmoil. Never before have two tributes returned with their lives from the arena. and as Catching Fire–book two of the Hunger Games series–opens, Katniss is preparing for her victory tour of the twelve districts, a traditional ceremony for the single victor who has slaughtered the tributes from the other districts (or who somehow has managed to avoid traps set by the Capitol, which have killed the other tributes) and escape with her life. Because Katniss will not be touring alone, and the annual hunger games did not end as the Capitol planned, whispers of greater defiance and resistance are spreading throughout the districts. Something has begun to catch fire. What follows next is a compelling read, and a more-than-worthy follow-up to The Hunger Games.
Catching Fire – Punishment and a Revolutionary Swell
For those not in the know, the hunger games of this trilogy by author Suzanne Collins is an annual “entertainment” staged by the Capitol whereby two child tributes from twelve districts outside the Capitol are placed in an enclosed arena that resembles a forest, a desert or some other landscape. Nearly 75 years ago, the districts rose up against the government and, as punishment, the Capitol now annually demands two individuals of each district for the hunger games as a remembrance and punishment for insurrection. The “hunger” of the hunger games refers to the dire levels of poverty implemented within the districts at the will of the Capitol, including near starvation for all.
A love triangle of sorts has emerged for Katniss, however. Peeta confessed his love for her before the hunger games, a sentiment which endears them both and adds to the spice of the entertainment for those in the Capitol, for whom life is good, and who revel in the “fun” of the games. It is Katniss’ ability to pretend throughout the hunger games that helps lead to their mutual survival in the arena, and which earns the ire of the Capitol’s President Snow, who appears in District 12 after the games, demanding that she continue the act of loving Peeta for the sake of keeping peace within the districts. Everyone loves Katniss and Peeta, she has become a symbol not only of victory but of hope for the oppressed districts, and her revelation that her love for Peeta was acting would equally reveal the false fun of the hunger games, and destabilize the horrible underbelly of the Capitol’s entertainment–the death of twenty-three children every year.
Catching Fire: Keep it Real
Katniss’ long-time friend and hunting partner Gale Hawthorne from District 12 is her real love, and the primary tension in Catching Fire, aside from the Capitol’s ruthlessness, stems from the falseness of Katniss’s acting during her victory tour through the districts and the Capitol, and her sanctuary when she returns home to her family and Gale. But Katniss is too honest to give into the false veneer of the tour, and the celebrity-building nonsense spewed by the Capitol to keep the masses from thinking about the nation’s real problems. As she presents herself to the districts, she witnesses the population preparing to resist. Ultimately, as Katniss grows as a symbol of revolution, President Snow makes sure both she and Peeta return to the arena for the next hunger games, with all the previous victors.
Catching Fire deftly highlights the falseness of glamour, the darkness underlying glitzy-seeming entertainment and the manipulation imposed by governments to keep their people from thinking of those institutions’ horrible acts. It recalls periods of war and torture from world history, celebrity magazines that raise the profiles of shimmering beauties until the flaws in their personal lives make them equally transparent fodder for public consumption, and the difficulty of finding real meaning–as Katniss struggles to do with Gale–in the midst of so much politics, public demands and oppression.
When Tributes Rewrite the Hunger Games
The latest hunger games, the one in which President Snow expects Katniss will be destroyed, is different. Though the fierceness of the tributes as they train is as powerful as before, they are also caught up in the rising tide against the Capitol. Just before they are to be sent into the arena, and in front of the adoring crowds of the Capitol who worship these tribute victories from past hunger games, the tributes all link hands in a sign of solidarity. Many won’t hold together in the arena, and will savagely attempt to kill each other as the Capitol wishes for entertainment purposes. But some are truly on board for a greater revolutionary cause, which dramatically plays out in the arena to an unexpected end.
What saves Katniss during this hunger games won’t be a false demonstration of love for Peeta Mellark who, despite his declaration of love, has become equally caught up in the horror of the games and the rising revolutionary tide, and who has become a genuine ally for whom Katniss deeply cares. What saves Katniss will be what her mentor Haymitch Abernathy tells her as she prepares to enter the arena again: “You just remember who the enemy is.”