In the eighth chapter of Catching Fire, the community of District 12 comes together to help Gale. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Catching Fire.
Obviously, things might change, since I’ve got nineteen chapters to go in this book, but this will probably be my favorite chapter in Catching Fire. If you’ll allow me to relate this to film for a moment, I’m a big fan of ensemble casts. It’s why I was drawn to shows like LOST and The Wire; I love the idea of a large number of characters interacting with each other, of the narrative being able to focus on separate people without ever returning to the first for a long while. There’s something special about a story that can pull off such a thing. I don’t necessarily think Catching Fire does that as a whole, but this chapter utilizes almost every character we’ve been introduced to, showing the roots of what will inevitably become District 12’s attempt at rebellion. It’s great how silent and subtle most of the actions are in this chapter because it’s not characters screaming, “FUCK THE CAPITOL” and ranting about. They are moving about through this horrifying situation with the thought moving out of the back of their minds. It’s as if the collective subconscious of this community has been rapidly and inexplicably ignited. Their actions from here on out are motivated by that spark, even if they aren’t saying anything.
Katniss, naturally, begins the chapter by jumping in to stop the Peacemaker from whipping Gale. Despite what he just said to her and how he treated her, she is still his friend. She demonstrates this by taking one to the cheek and risking further strikes from Gale’s punisher.
It’s here when the other people in District 12 begin to step in.
“Hold it!” a voice barks. Haymitch appears and trips over a Peacekeeper lying on the ground. It’s Darius. A huge purple lump pushes through the red hair on his forehead. He’s knocked out but still breathing. What happened? Did he try to come to Gale’s aid before I got here?
Either that or someone from another district was sent in to do this to Gale. I can’t help but feel this is entirely intentional, that President Snow ordered this on purpose. So…does that mean they were being watched? Or was it coincidental and Snow had been planning this all along?
The man rests the whip on his hip. “She interrupted the punishment of a confessed criminal.”
Everything about this man, his commanding voice, his odd accent, warns of an unknown and dangerous threat. Where has he come from? District 11? 3? From the Capitol itself?
My guess? The Capitol.
Reading Haymitch and Peeta stand up for both Katniss and Gale is a huge moment for this story and for the community they live in:
Maybe we’re it. The only three people in the district who could make a stand like this. Although it’s sure to be temporary. There will be repercussions. But at the moment, all I care about is keeping Gale alive. The new Head Peacekeeper glances over at his backup squad. With relief, I see familiar faces, old friends from the Hob. You can tell by their expressions that they’re not enjoying the show.
Intentional or not, what Haymitch, Katniss, and Peeta have done affects those around them. Someone from the Hob steps forward to bullshit some rule about how Gale’s punishment is over. It’s a small action, but to Katniss, it means everything. She spared Gale any more pain. She stood up to the Capitol, even if it was a tiny act.
That’s what this chapter is comprised of. Anyone helping Gale is doing so under the subtext of rebellion, which is something entirely new for the reader. They take Gale to Katniss’s mother, but not before an old woman sells them a board to carry Gale. Even this act is powerful and the woman is aware of it.
It’s interesting that this is the time Collins chooses to introduce us to so many new people as well. All of it is in the context of people deciding to help Gale as well, and it’s our first inkling that District 12 can use what skills they have to become a powerful, meaningful community outside of what the Capitol has made them.
We learn what happened from Bristel and Thom, who work with Gale.
Gale must’ve gone to Cray’s house, as he’s done a hundred times, knowing Cray always pays well for wild turkey. Instead he found the new Head Peacekeeper, a man they heard someone call Romulus Thread. No one knows what happened to Cray. He was buying white liquor in the Hob just this morning, apparently still in command of the district, but now he’s nowhere to be found. Thread put Gale under immediate arrest and, of course, since he was standing there holding a dead turkey, there was little Gale could say in his own defense. Word of his predicament spread quickly. He was brought to the square, forced to plead guilty to his crime, and sentenced to a whipping to be carried out immediately. By the time I showed up, he’d been lashed at least forty times. He passed out around thirty.
Holy fuck, that is terrible. I still think Snow orchestrated this, though now I believe they weren’t spied on out near the lake. I think Snow just set things up so that Gale could be caught.
At Katniss’s house, her mother immediately leaps into action. We’ve only read passages that were flashbacks about her mom doing what she does best, but here we see the determined efforts as they are happening. She largely ignores the world around her, even when Hazelle arrives to see her son.
Since Gale is regaining consciousness, they decide on an herbal concoction he can take by mouth. “That won’t be enough,” I say. There stare at me. “That won’t be enough, I know how it feels. That will barely knock out a headache.”
“We’ll combine it with sleep syrup, Katniss, and he’ll manage it. The herbs are more for the inflammation—“ my mother begins calmly.
“Just give him the medicine!” I scream at her. “Give it to him! Who are you, anyway, to decide how much pain he can stand?”
UM, WHAT. SHUSH, KATNISS. Let your mother do the job she knows how to do a million times more than you. She doesn’t, though, so Haymitch and Peeta have to carry her out of the room “while [she] shouts obscenities at her.” I get that you’re upset, Katniss, but siriusly, no. Just no. Don’t be rude!
After Katniss’s mom does all she can to help Gale, she comes into the room with Haymitch and her daughter and says something ominous after Haymitch fills her in on what happened.
“So it’s starting again?” she says. “Like before?”
I wonder if we’ll get any details about what happened during the last uprising. Instead, we do get details about the last Head Peacekeeper:
Cray would have been disliked, anyway, because of the uniform he wore, but it was his habit of luring starving young woman into his bed for money that made him an object of loathing in the district. In really bad times, the hungriest would gather at his door at nightfall, vying for the chance to earn a few coins to feed their families by selling their bodies.
Oh, gross. Fuck Cray for taking advantage of the impoverished.
They all receive a surprising visitor after this and it’s yet another sign of this community coming together.
When she opens it, there’s not a squad of Peacekeepers but a single, snow-caked figure. Madge. She holds out a small, damp cardboard box to me.
“Use these for your friend,” she says. I take the lid of the box, revealing half a dozen vials of clear liquid. “They’re my mother’s. She said I could take them. Use them, please.” She runs back into the storm before we can stop her.
Holy shit, Madge rules. Does that mean the Mayor also knows? Or did Madge and her mother do this without telling him?
Turns out that Madge brought them morphling, which I’ll guess as being a form of morphine to calm Gale’s pain. After injecting him with the stuff, everyone calms down and leaves to go off to their respective homes. Katniss gets to spend some time alone with Gale, though he’s completely knocked out by the drugs.
After a while, my fingers find his face. I touch parts of him I have never had cause to touch before. His heavy, dark eyebrows, the curve of his cheek, the line of his nose, the hollow at the base of his neck. I trace the outline of stubble on his jaw and finally work my way to his lips. Soft and full, slightly chapped. His breath warms my chilled skin.
I know this is supposed to be sweet and touching, but I have a black heart of hate and this is just creepy to me. He’s unconscious from drugs. This is seriously weird to me.
Katniss begins to doubt who she is because of what happened earlier that day and it leads to a particularly depressing passage:
Because I’m selfish. I’m a coward. I’m the kind of girl who, when she might actually be of use, would run to stay alive and leave those who couldn’t follow to suffer and die. This is the girl Gale met in the woods today.
No wonder I won the Games. No decent person ever does.
You saved Peeta, I think weakly.
But now I question even that. I knew good and well that my life back in District 12 would be unlivable if I let that boy die.
She’s being incredibly hard on herself here and it’s sad to see it. I think that conversation on the roof of the Training Center still haunts her; she’s tried to do what’s right and maintain her sense of identity, but she’s now conflicted by the thought of the Greater Good. Should she even care about herself when she can help save and free others?
It’s a fine line and I think a lot of us have had a moment like this. But I would argue that self-care and especially self-preservation aren’t bad things or bad concepts. It’s a complicated situation for Katniss right now, and I sympathize with the terror and disgust that she feels.
“I’m so sorry,” I whisper. I lean forward and kiss him.
His eyelashes flutter and he looks at me though a haze of opiates. “Hey, Catnip.”
“Hey, Gale,” I say.
“Thought you’d be gone by now,” he says.
My choices are simple. I can die like quarry in the woods or I can die here besides Gale. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to stay right here and cause all kinds of trouble.”
“Me too,” Gale says. He just manages a smile before the drugs pull him back under.
Even my black heart of hatred can admit this ending is scene is pretty awesome.
TEAM CINNA, MOTHERFUCKERS.