In the twenty-fourth chapter of Catching Fire, the Gamemakers remind us that they have an unlimited imagination for things to truly ruin everything. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Catching Fire.
I can’t believe it. They brought Prim into the arena? Gamemakers, I give up. I mean, I wouldn’t have survived the first set of Hunger Games, but I would surely take the bait and fall right into your trap and die. That’s also assuming I would have made it this far and we all know that would never happen.
“Prim!” I rip through a wall of green into a small clearing and the sound repeats directly above me. Above me? My head whips back. Do they have her up in the trees? I desperately search the branches but see nothing. “Prim?” I say pleadingly. I hear her but can’t see her. Her next wail rings out, clear as a bell, and there’s no mistaking the source. It’s coming from the mouth of a small, crested black bird perched on a branc about ten feet over my head. And then I understand.
It’s a jabberjay.
WHAT????????????????? Wait. So Prim isn’t actually in the arena? ONE OF THE SECTIONS IS JABBERJAYS? Ok, I don’t actually understand this one.
Katniss kills the jabberjay with an arrow because WHY WOULDN’T YOU and tells herself that it’s not real, that it’s a trick to make her think that her younger sister is in the arena. But what for?
Finnick arrives suddenly and it’s only seconds later that another scream fills the jungle; he doesn’t hesitate to take off in pursuit of the voice and Katniss assumes correctly that it’s the voice of someone he recognizes. She chases off after him, trying to tell him not to believe the jabberjay. But when she does, he makes a point that turns the jabberjays into something far more terrifying.
“No, it’s not Annie. But the voice was hers. Jabberjays mimic what they hear. Where did they get those screams, Katniss?”
I can feel my own cheeks grow pale as I understand his meaning. “Oh, Finnick, you don’t think they….”
“Yes. I do. That’s exactly what I think,” he says.
It’s awful. This is so awful. If jabberjays mimic what they hear, then that means someone did something to Prim and Annie to make them scream. That means that they probably tortured them, and I can’t help but think this was designed specifically by President Snow. Then, to make matters worse, Katniss hears the voice of Gale, full of pain, and it takes Finnick everything he has to get her to leave.
I catch sight of Peeta and Johanna standing at the tree line and I’m filled with a mixture of anger and relief and anger. Why didn’t Peeta come to help me? Why did no one come after us? Even now he hangs back, his hands raised, palms toward us, lips moving but no words reaching us. Why?
I believed at first that they weren’t far enough into the jungle to hear the jabberjays. Yep, I was wrong.
The wall is so transparent, Finnick and I run smack into it and bounce back onto the jungle floor. I’m lucky. My shoulder took the worst of the impact, whereas Finnick hit face-first and now his nose is gushing blood. This is why Peeta and Johanna and even Beetee, who I see sadly shaking his head behind them, have not come to our aid. And invisible barrier blocks the area in front of us. It’s not a force field. You can touch the hard, smooth surface all you like. But Peeta’s knife and Johanna’s ax can’t make a dent in it. I know, without checking more than a few feet to one side, that it encloses the entire four-to-five-o’clock wedge. That we will be trapped like rats until the hour passes.
And now the true meaning of the four o’clock wedge comes to light: they are trapped in a section with jabberjays that play the voices of their loved ones being tortured. Obviously, this isn’t something that can kill them directly, but it’s a technique intended to unravel the tributes, ostensibly to drive them to be easily distracted or, even worse, merely for the expressed entertainment of President Snow and members of the Capitol.
When the hour is up and Peeta consoles Katniss, he actually makes a good point about the jabberjays that sets my mind at ease:
“Katniss, Prim isn’t dead. How could they kill Prim? We’re almost down to the final eight of us. And what happens then?” Peeta says.
“Seven more of us die,” I say hopelessly.
Sorry. I laughed. Anyway:
“No, back home. What happens when they reach the final eight tributes in the Games?” He lifts my chin so I have to look at him. Forces me to make eye contact. “What happens? At the final eight?”
I know he’s trying to help me, so I make myself think. “At the final eight? I repeat. “They interview your family and friends back home.”
“That’s right,” says Peeta. “They interview your family and friends. And can they do that if they’ve killed them all?”
Not a bad point, Peeta. I’m still curious as to how they got their voices for the jabberjays, but for now, I think I’m sticking with Peeta’s reasoning. I mean, I know this set of Games is non-traditional, but they can’t possibly mess with the structure of it that much. Right? Right? Guys, someone hold me while I shake with dread.
Beetee makes me feel better by pointing out it’s entirely possible to manipulate a person’s voice to sound like they’re being hurt and even Johanna chimes in to remind Katniss that there would be no better way to guarantee an uprising than to kill Prim, who the whole country loves.
I know I shouldn’t get attached to anyone here, but I’m growing to really like the five of them as a group. Obviously, I am already platonically in love with Finnick and Beetee, but even Johanna has warmed up to me as well. It sucks, because I keep feeling every moment is a chance for yet another person to die and for me to turn my head to the sky and scream WWWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYY. And then when Johanna says that the jabberjays can’t affect her because, “There’s no one left I love,” I’m ready to bury my face in a pillow forever.
WAIT NOT YET. Because then we learn who Annie is:
“Must be Annie Cresta,” he says.
“Who?” I ask.
“Annie Cresta. She was the girl Mags volunteered for. She won about five years ago,” says Peeta.
Oh, Mags. I already miss you.
“I don’t remember those Games much,” I say. “Was that the earthquake year?”
“Yeah. Annies the one who went mad when her district partner got beheaded. Ran off by herself and hid. But an earthquake broke a dam and most of the arena got flooded. She won because she was the best swimmer,” says Peeta.
Yeah, that’s who Finnick is in love with. Are you crushed yet.
A cannon blast brings us all together on the beach. A hovercraft appears in what we estimate to be the six-to-seven-o’clock zone. We watch as the claw dips down five different times to retrieve the pieces of one body, torn apart. It’s impossible to tell who it was. Whatever happens at six o’clock, I never want to know.
HOW DOES THIS BOOK KEEP GETTING WORSE AND WORSE. We have less than fifty pages to go with no solution even remotely in sight. Every single page is bleak and filled with dread and I cannot figure out what Collins has planned for me and it is just starting to hurt to read this.
(I do have to admit that this is so much fun and I do like this book more than the first, FYI.)
We’re about to settle down to our meal of raw fish when the anthem begins. And then the faces…
Cashmere. Gloss. Wiress. Mags. The woman from District 5. The morphling who gave her life for Peeta. Blight. The man from 10.
Eight dead. Plus eight from the first night. Two-thirds of us gone in a day and a half. That must be some kind of record.
It also must be something designed to show me that I AM NOT EVEN REMOTELY PREPARED FOR THE END OF THIS BOOK. Can I expect nearly everyone else to be killed off in forty pages or so? Goddamn it, I AM HURTING INSIDE.
There’s a brief respite from the terror of the situation as a parachute from District Three, where Beetee is from, arrives: it’s a pile of twenty-four bite-sized rolls. They divide them up with three per person and save the other nine for the morning, to be split amongst those who survive the night.
They wait until the wave crashes at the ten o’clock wedge to make camp at that section of the beach. We learn that whatever is in the eleven o’clock section clicks very loudly and I’m just going to say I don’t want to discover what it is. I can’t deal with insects and certainly not mutated ones.
We haven’t had much Katpee drama or character development because OH MY GOD EVERYTHING IS AWFUL, so it was about time they addressed something really, painfully obvious: Haymitch appears to have made a deal to keep the other person alive with BOTH Katniss and Peeta, and neither one knows if he is actually fulfilling their own deal.
“Because I don’t want you forgetting how different our circumstances are. If you die, and I live, there’s no life for me at all back in District Twelve. You’re my whole life,” he says. “I would never be happy again.”I start to object but he puts a finger to my lips. “It’s different for you. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be hard. But there are other people who’d make your life worth living.”
Remember early in this book when Peeta would drop one of these nuggets of depression and it was so goddamn irritating? Yeah, not so much anymore. I guess that, in my head, the Katpee shipping finally makes complete sense. I suppose that I always shipped Gale and Katniss because they seemed more compatible, but Gale just isn’t around at all. And maybe it’s that. I can acknowledge that. But I can’t see Collins killing Peeta off after all of this and I really can’t picture Katniss with Gale anymore. JUST SOME THOUGHTS Y’ALL.
Peeta pulls the chain with the gold disk from around his neck. He holds it in the moonlight so I can clearly see the mockingjay. Then his thumb slides along a catch I didn’t notice before and the disk pops open. It’s not solid, as I had thought, but a locket. And within the locket are photos. One the right side, my mother and Prim, laughing. And on the left, Gale. Actually smiling.
Peeta, you win. You just win. You win everything. Jesus christ.
“No one really needs me,” he says, and there’s no self-pity in his voice. It’s true his family doesn’t need him. They will mourn him, as will a handful of friends. But they will get on. Even Haymitch, with the help of a lot of white liquor, will get on. I realize only one person will be damaged beyond repair if Peeta dies. Me.
OK COLLINS STOP IT THIS IS SIMPLY TOO SAD. Oh wait, you’re going to have them make out in a moment of genuine passion?
I feel that thing again. The thing I only felt once before. In the cave last year, when I was trying to get Haymitch to send us food.
And what, Katniss, might that thing be?
The sensation inside me grows warmer and spreads out from my chest, down through my body, out along my arms and legs, to the tips of my being. Instead of satisfying me, the kisses have the opposite effect, of making my need greater. I thought I was something of an expert on hunger, but this is an entirely new kind.
Writer High Five Moment, amirite? Man, that last sentence takes me entirely out of the moment. It’s almost too clever for this passage and it distracts me.
Still, I have to admit that it’s no longer an issue for me that Katniss and Peeta seem to be well-suited for each other. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I have to say that I suppose I “buy” their relationship now. And that’s a big moment for me as a reader of this fine book.
That said, it’s still not a completely clear-cut relationship, and the final lines of this chapter highlight that while Katniss is sure that Peeta feels right, she’s still not sure about what the future holds. This is all about urgency and how she feels in the moment.
But as I stretch out on the sand I wonder, could it be more? Like a reminder to me that I could still one day have kids with Gale? Well, if that was it, it was a mistake. Because for one thing, that’s never been part of my plan. And for another, if only one of us can be a parent, anyone can see it should be Peeta.
As I drift off, I try to imagine the world, somewhere in the future, with no Games, no Capitol. A place like the meadow in the song I sang to Rue as she died. Where Peeta’s child could be safe.
I’m hoping this is the cataclysm for a larger discussion in the future about their relationship and not foreshadowing for Katniss being pregnant. But it’s also nice that we don’t have a chapter ending in unbearable cliffhangers, so I’ll just leave it here.
There’s something I wanted to bring up and I was reluctant to do so because I wanted to do it in a way that didn’t center myself when it was inappropriate to do so. I’m unsure if suffering from depression for years or having weird body issues entitles me to be the proper person to speak candidly about ableism and I’m trying to do my best to only center my voice in matters I think I am qualified to talk about. (OBVIOUSLY, THAT IS THE ARENA OF GIFS. DUH.) It’s something I’ve been trying to do right recently instead of making it all ME ME ME when that’s a pretty fucked up thing to do.
So, this is a bit of an experiment and I’ll err on the side of caution just to be safe. I’ve noticed that Collins, particularly in this book, uses quite a bit of ableist language, and I was trying to find a tasteful way to call that out. One of the things I’m working on doing now is building a network of writers, authors, and social justice-y folk to contribute guest posts to Mark Reads and Mark Watches to speak on things I don’t think I should talk about in a centering way. In the meantime, I wanted to bring this up and instead direct you to some fantastic, eye-opening resources from folks over at Feminists With Disabilities (or FWD for short) for this series they’ve been creating about ableist language. (Unfortunately, the site is no longer updating as of the New Year.)
Collins uses “insane,” “crazy,” and “mad,” the first two with an unnerving frequency in Catching Fire and it’s gotten to a point where I feel like I’m actually doing a disservice by not pointing it out. So I feel that directing to people I know are qualified to talk about ableism and being disabled is probably the best option.
I’m curious if anyone else felt these words were distracting or damaging. Feel free to talk about it in the comments after checking out the profiles on some of these words! I’ll do my best to wade through them and interact, since I brought this up.