In the fourth chapter of Catching Fire, Katniss takes steps to apologize to two people she has wronged and her and Peeta make their first public appearance on the Victory Tour. There, in a moment of sympathy, Katniss does something that proves to us that we were never, ever prepared. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to read Catching Fire.
We were seriously never, ever prepared for where Collins takes this story.
But letâ€™s talk about the moments that lead up to the horrifying conclusion of this chapter. Dejected, she returns to her compartment and tries to process the implications of what Haymitch has just told her.
Of course, I could do a lot worse than Peeta. That isnâ€™t really the point, though, is it? One of the few freedoms we have in District 12 is the right to marry whow e want or not marry at all. And now even that has been taken away from me. I wonder if President Snow will insist we have children. If we do, theyâ€™ll have to face the reaping each year. And wouldnâ€™t it be something to see the child of not one but two victors chosen for the arena?
There are likeâ€¦a billion things about this that I hadnâ€™t considered until I read this section. This is truly oppressive bullshit, and it makes President Snow all the more creepy. I meanâ€¦forced to bear children???Â FUCKED UP, Yâ€™ALL.
Katniss realizes how much insight this might shed on Haymitch, who chose to go it alone and never marry. Did he do all of this on purpose? Seriously, MOAR HAYMITCH IMMEDIATELY.
Of course, I donâ€™t get this at all. Katniss awakes the next morning, which is a travel day, to learn she needs EVEN MORE PREPPING. Everything before this was basically preparation for the preparation. So weâ€™re faced with yet another scene with the trio of clueless prep team members; gone is the usual whimsy, though, which is due to Katnissâ€™s overwhelming and growing panic for her situation. I wasnâ€™t actually irritated by the way she reacted to her team because I understood that Collins was writing her in a way that was a lot more real than Iâ€™d come to expect. The news she just got from Haymitch the day before would be enough to unwind any of us, so to see her lash out (even if only internally most of the time) was satisfying.
Katniss finally does have a public outburst, caused by Effie.
At some point, the train stops. Our server reports it will not just be for a fuel stopâ€”some part has malfunctioned and must be replaced. It will require at least an hour. This sends Effie into a state. She pulls out her schedule and begins to work out how the delay will impact every event for the rest of our lives. Finally I just canâ€™t stand to listen to her anymore.
â€œNo one cares, Effie!â€ I snap. Everyone at the table stares at me, even Haymitch, who youâ€™d think would be on my side in this matter since Effie drives him nuts. Iâ€™m immediately put on the defensive. â€œWell, no one does!â€ I say, and get up and leave the dining car.
Well, ooops. I think if this had happened in the first book, I might have whined about Katniss being irritating, but I think Iâ€™m starting to sympathize a lot more easily with her predicament. I know that Iâ€™ve been hard on her (and I still stand by what Iâ€™ve said), but seriouslyâ€¦she participated in the Murder Games and survived after doing some terrible shit and everything is still awful for her.
Hereâ€™s where the chapter takes a turn for the interesting. (Iâ€™m complimenting this, FYI.) Peeta follows Katniss off the train and she worries heâ€™s there to lecture her. Nope!
He takes a deep breath. â€œLook, Katniss, Iâ€™ve been wanting to talk to you about the way I acted on the train. I mean, the last train. The one that brought us home. I knew you had something with Gale. I was jealous of him before I even officially met you. And it wasnâ€™t fair to hold you to anything that happened in the Games. Iâ€™m sorry.â€
WHOA. Am I going to have to become Team Peeta here?
His apology takes me by surprise.
You arenâ€™t alone, Katniss. Damn, WHAT JUST HAPPENED.
â€œThereâ€™s nothing for you to be sorry about. You were just keeping us alive. But I donâ€™t want to go on like this, ignoring each other in real life and falling into the snow every time thereâ€™s a camera around. So I thought if I stopped being so, you know, wounded, we could take a shot at just being friends,â€ he says.
THIS IS SO MATURE. WHAT IS HAPPENING. WHY DOES EVERYTHING FEEL OK ALL OF A SUDDEN. Oh, this isnâ€™t good, I thought to myself. Collins is clearly setting everything up for disaster.
I donâ€™t want to give Peeta all the credit. Katniss is basically growing up on the pages before us because she doesnâ€™t draw out the apology or try to make excuses for herself.Â Iâ€™m also glad we donâ€™t have to deal with the frustration of their relationship, at least for now. Instead, weâ€™ve got two people who appear to want to make a real attempt at being friends.
And this is the point where everything starts going downhill.
Not the writing or anything. But this is so fucked up. First, Katniss goes to see Peetaâ€™s paintings and is genuinely interested to see the results of his talent. What she is not prepared for is this:
I donâ€™t know what I expected. Larger versions of the flower cookies maybe. But this is something entirely different. Peeta has painted the Games.
Some you wouldnâ€™t get right away, if you hadnâ€™t been with him in the arena yourself. Water dripping through the cracks in our cave. The dry pond bed. A pair of hands, his own, digging for roots. Others any viewer would recognize. The golden horn called the Cornucopia. Clove arranging the knives inside her jacket. One of the mutts, unmistakably the blond, green-eyed one meant to be Glimmer, snarling as it makes its way towards us. And me. I am everywhere. High up in a tree. Beating a shirt against the stones in the stream. Lying unconscious in a pool of blood. And one I canâ€™t placeâ€”perhaps this is how I looked when his fever was highâ€”emerging from a silver gray mist that matches my eyes exactly.
WHAT THE FLYING FUCK. Different people find an outlet for their grief or trauma or terror and Peeta chose painting. HOW SAD IS THIS:
â€œAll I do is go around trying to forget the arena and youâ€™ve brought it back to life. How do you remember these things so exactly?â€
â€œI see them every night,â€ he says.
JESUS GOD UP IN HEAVEN. Well, now we know how Peeta is coping.
Can things get worse? MOST CERTAINLY. Iâ€™ve been curious to learn what the other districts are like and we get our first glimpse at District 11 here. From the description of the huge, open fields, I imagine District 11 is somewhere in the Midwest. What I could never imagine is what surrounds the district.
We slow slightly and I think we might be coming in for another stop, when a face rises up before us. Towering at least thirty-five feet in the air and topped with wicked coils of barbed wire, it makes ours back in District 12 look childish. My eyes quickly inspect the base, which is lined with enormous metal plates. There would be no burrowing under these, no escaping to hunt. Then I see the watchtowers, placed evenly apart, manned with armed guards, so out of place among the fields of wildflowers around them.
What on earth could District 11 need such security for? Why arenâ€™t all the districts this heavily guarded? THIS IS SO DEEPLY FUCKED UP, GUYS. I meanâ€¦what the hell?
Now the crops begin, stretched out as far as the eye can see. Men, women, and children wearing straw hats to keep off the sun straighten up, turn our way, take a moment to stretch their backs as they watch our train go by. I ca see orchards in the distance, and I wonder if thatâ€™s where Rue would have worked, collecting the fruit from the slimmest branches at the tops of the trees. Small communities of shacksâ€”by comparison the houses in the Seam are upscaleâ€”spring up here and there, but theyâ€™re all deserted. Every hand must be needed for the harvest.
Maybe this protection is there because the sheer size of this district. I mean, if you have a simple fence like the one in District 12, you could outnumber any guards and escape. This seems like a display of force intended to frighten people into submission.
The first public appearance will be held in the square outside the Justice Building. I expected more people to be there, but I guess they need as many people working in the fields as possible. Why is this all so disturbing to me?
Oh, right, because Threshâ€™s and Rueâ€™s families are SITTING BELOW THE STAGE.
On Threshâ€™s side, thereâ€™s only an old woman with a hunched back and a tall, muscular girl Iâ€™m guessing is his sister. On Rueâ€™sâ€¦Iâ€™m not prepared for Rueâ€™s family. Her parents, whose faces are still fresh with sorrow. Her five younger siblings, who resemble her so closely. The slight builds, the luminous brown eyes. They form a flock of small dark birds.
Crushing. What an unbelievably sad detail. A flock of small dark birds. Jesus Christ I HATE YOU CAPITOL.
Katniss just has to make it through this appearance and appear to be gracious and wildly in love with Peeta. She actually does well by not speaking unless she has to, which is probably a good thing. We all know she canâ€™t improv at all. Peeta, however, is quite good at it.
And then he hesitates before adding something that wasnâ€™t written on the card. Maybe he thought Effie might make him remove it. â€œIt can in no way replace your losses, but as a token of our thanks weâ€™d like for each of the tributesâ€™ families from District Eleven to receive one month of our winnings every year for the duration of our lives.â€
WHAT THE SHIT FUCK
Oh my god Peeta WHAT ARE YOU DOING. This is so noble and amazing and Iâ€™m seriously going to become Team Peeta but ISNâ€™T THIS LIKE THE WORST THING FOR YOU TO DO TO THE CAPITOL? Oh my god, Katniss was worrying about upsetting President Snow and PEETA UPSTAGES HER.
Shit is so fucked up right now.
I look at Peeta and he gives me a sad smile. I hear Haymitchâ€™s voice. â€œYou could do a lot worse.â€ At this moment, itâ€™s impossible to imagine how I could do any better. The giftâ€¦it is perfect. So when I rise up on tiptoe to kiss him, it doesnâ€™t seem forced at all.
This is cute but I donâ€™t expect it to last much longer thanâ€¦oh, about thirty seconds. This book seems not to be able to have nice things.
Before they leave the stage, Katniss catches one of Rueâ€™s sisters glaring at her menacingly. It doesnâ€™t take her but a few seconds to realize she hadnâ€™t thanked anyone, especially not Rueâ€™s family. In a moment of improvisation that is actually quite brilliant, she runs to microphone and says the first thing that comes to her mind.
â€œI want to give my thanks to the tributes of District Eleven,â€ I say. I look at the pair of women on Threshâ€™s side. â€œI only ever spoke to Thresh one time. Just long enough for him to spare my life. I didnâ€™t know him, but I always respected him. For his power. For his refusal to play the Games on anyoneâ€™s terms but his own. The Careers wanted him to team up with them from the beginning, but he wouldnâ€™t do it. I respected him for that.â€
OH NOETRY. THIS IS BEAUTIFUL, BUT GOOD LORD. WHAT ARE YOU DOING KATNISS
I turn to Rueâ€™s family. â€œBut I feel as if I did know Rue, and sheâ€™ll always be with me. Everything beautiful brings her to mind. I see her in the yellow flowers that grow in the Meadow by my house. I see her in the mockingjays that sing in the trees. But most of all, I see her in my sister, Prim.â€ My voice is undependable, but I am almost finished. â€œThank you for your children.â€ I raise my chin to address the crowd. â€œAnd thank you for all the bread.â€
I take it back. Katniss just displayed that her emotional range for sympathy and empathy is far greater than we had judged her for. This is simply fantastic. Really dumb and is going to end badly, but easily the best thing she has ever said.
Then, from somewhere in the crowd, someone whistles Rueâ€™s four-note mockingjay tune. The one that signaled the end of the workday in the orchards. The one that meant safety in the arena. By the end of the tune, I have found the whistler, a wizened old man in a faded red shirt and overalls. His eyes meet mine.
I can absolutely picture all of this in my head. This might be my favorite part of the whole book. CALLING IT NOW.
What happens next is not an accident. It is too well executed to be spontaneous, because it happens in complete unison. Every person in the crowd presses the three middle fingers of their left hand against their lips and extends them to me. Itâ€™s our sign from District 12, the last good-bye I gave Rue in the arena.
WELL. ITâ€™S A DISASTER NOW.
The full impact of what Iâ€™ve done hits me. It was not intentionalâ€”I only meant to express my thanksâ€”but I have elicited something dangerous. An act of dissent from the people of District 11. This is exactly the kind of thing I am supposed to be defusing!
I canâ€™t believe it took Katniss just one Victory Tour stop to mess up so righteously. And I have to state it as what it is: one of the most awesome displays of righteous bad-assery ever. Even if it wasnâ€™t intended to be. My respect for Katniss just grew volumes.
That doesnâ€™t mean what she does is celebrated. The power is cut on he mic and she and Peeta leave the stage. When Katniss realizes she left her flower bouquet behind, they both go back to retrieve them and witness the inconceivable:
A pair of Peacekeepers dragging the old man who whistled to the top of the steps. Forcing him to his knees before the crowd. And putting a bullet through his head.
ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS???? JUST LIKE THAT? You know whatâ€™s so frightening about this? The fact that the effects of Katnissâ€™s speech are felt so immediately. How did they get the order to do this so quickly? Who else is going to get shot? Oh my fucking god, this is so goddamn awful. FUCK.