Summary of Suzanne Meyer’s Catching Fire
Catching Fire is a novel centered on a mature fifteen-year-old girl living in a tyrannical future in an undisclosed, seemingly realistic but fictional location. This book is the second of a three part series, so many elements of the characters unfold throughout the novel. The story follows Katniss, her friends, and her family through a brutal, inhumane nation-wide event in which Katniss is now facing a nearly inevitable death yet again. This event, referred to as The Hunger Games, is at the center of the plot and acts as a foundation for the setting and action of the story.
The Hunger Games, for which the series is named, is a yearly event in this futuristic nation in which randomly chosen citizens from every district, one male and one female between the ages 12 and 18, are forced to enter a realistic but completely artificial “arena” in which they must fight each other to the death. Any animals, vegetation, and water seen in the arena are most likely concoctions of the capital, and most likely poisonous. Although the event brings tragedy to districts and families every single year, the citizens of The Capital watch the games, which are broadcast across the nation, as though they were watching a reality television show.
Katniss, our young hero, is only a teenager but is completely capable of surviving in the woods on her own. She is strong willed and determined although, like most teenagers, she frequently finds herself second guessing her decisions. In Katniss’ world, freedom to life cannot be taken for granted, and this reality makes Katniss capable of caring about her friends, family, community, and even strangers more than her own life. She provides for her family and often times provides for her close friends, as well. To acquaintances she is brave and courageous, and to many more she is a symbol of strength, hope, and justice.
As a citizen of Katniss’ district, District 12, and a fellow former victor of The Games, Haymitch lives in the Victors Village near Katniss. He is older, having won 24 years before Katniss. He is dependent on liquor despite laws banning alcohol. Although Haymitch has been worn by years of exposure to The Games, he remains psychologically, emotionally, and physically strong and supports Katniss in a myriad of invaluable ways. Unlike Katniss, however, Haymitch is not a symbol of hope; rather, Haymitch symbolizes the bitter and damaged past. Haymitch’s mysterious history and familiarity with death represent those who have been tragically lost to tyranny and social inequality. Fortunately for Katniss, she has a more positive friend and partner in battle on whom she can go to for guidance and strength.
Peeta is a friend of Katniss and a co-survivor of The Games (this was the first time there had ever been more than one survivor in this annual event).The two, who are now forced by the nation’s President to act as lovers, have a fragile and often tense relationship. Unlike Katniss, Peeta has a very calm temperament. Peeta remains collected and articulate when faced with the pressures of the mass media and The Capital. Even when Katniss blatantly fails to return his undying love for her, Peeta remains strong and unwavering. Although Katniss knows of Peeta’s love and finds comfort in their deeply-rooted friendship, she has good reasons for keeping the relationship platonic. Her romantic interests are undoubtedly devoted to a boy named Gale.
Unlike the previous characters, Gale has not been in the games. His bond to Katniss stems from their childhood, since when they’ve been illegally entering the wild woods surrounding their district. As the narrator describes, Gale is “only really alive in the woods” (Collins, 5). Gale, representative of the pureness, abundance, and wild nature of the woods, has been systematically forced to work in the dark, dangerous coal mines of the district. Gale’s forced servitude is one of many allusions to the repression and destruction of nature. Another symbolic aspect of Gale is his taste for rebellion. Katniss knows that The Capital did not want Gale in the public eye because he was “not the least bit willing to smile and play nice for the cameras” (Collins, 14). This element mimics the resilience of nature and its inability to be controlled by humans, despite our unyielding efforts.
If Gale represents the wilder aspects of nature, Katniss’ mother represents the more forgiving side. Katniss’ mother is an excellent representation of a caregiver archetype. After Katniss’ father’s death in a mining accident, her mother was left to raise Katniss and her younger sister, Prim. Katniss’ inclination to help others comes in part from her mother, who is known as a healer throughout the district. She relies on natural remedies rather than scientifically conducted drugs provided by the government, therefore can provide life-saving cures without being dependent on The Capital and their rations. In this way, Katniss’ mother’s influence on her daughter is undeniable; however, she is not the only one who shaped Katniss’ love for the wilderness.
Katniss’ father is invaluable to the story because he taught Katniss about the wild and hunting. Katniss’ amazing skills save her own life and the lives of her family when her father is gone. In a way, he can be seen as a symbol of the death of the purest forms of nature. For students with any historical or cultural connection to coal mining and similar jobs, it would not be far-fetched to infer the suggestion of coal mines’ negative effects on the most beloved elements of nature.
While the relationship between Katniss’ father and nature is nearly undeniable, there is one member of the family whose symbolic significance is slightly more interpretive. Prim, Katniss’ little sister, is not nearly as connected to nature as the others. Although Prim was also left without a father, she does not hunt with Katniss. As her name suggests, Prim is represented as polite and well-natured. She often helps her mother with healing the sick and wounded and brings comfort to Katniss in times of unease. It seems as though Prim is a significant symbol of the innocent population, those who are not able to fight for themselves. This concept is exemplified when Katniss explains that it was Prim whose name was called to enter the games, and Katniss took her place. Katniss’ act of sacrificing herself so Prim didn’t have to go to The Hunger Games is a prime example of the brave and strong defending those less able to do so. In this particular instance, the evil from which Katniss is protecting her sister is President Snow and the capital.
Immediately, President Snow’s name has a negative connotation. The cold, harsh conditions of winter have always posed a threat to the well-being of humankind, and the same is true for President Snow. As Katniss commentates, President Snow never leaves The Capitol, the center of wealth and freedom in the nation. He controls the media, the rationing of food, the leaders and law enforcement, and of course The Hunger Games. The President is dangerously charming when he wants to be and is always intimidating.
The novel introduces the protagonist in the cold crisp morning in the woods. Katniss is in the woods as a break from the annoyance of cameras and glamour resulting from her victory in The Hunger Games and knows that in her village, her undesirable fate awaits. When she returns home, however, she does not find the make-up crew and bright lights she is expecting, but rather President Snow himself. He has visited to warn her about the harm her actions have caused; how her defiance in the arena had sparked some rebellious sentiments throughout the districts. To alleviate the tension, he tells her, she must convince not only the population but the president himself of her love for Peeta and assure everyone that her defiance was in fact only an act of passionate love.
As victors of the games, Katniss and Peeta now have to go on a victory tour to visit every district. This journey is the ideal opportunity for the two to convince the nation of their romance as well as to see the other districts and any signs of uprisings. After encounters with the crowds from other districts, it is apparent that Katniss does represent hope for many people. It also becomes apparent that rebels will not be tolerated by the capital.
Upon her return home, Katniss finds out that the Quarter Quell, the special name for every 25th Hunger Games, is going to be different this year: The participants will be chosen from past victors, and the only living victors in District 12 are Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch. Since Haymitch has already been a mentor for both Peeta and Katniss, it is decided that he will play that role again. This position allows him to join them in training, discuss strategies, and send them gifts while in the arena. The one bit of advice Katniss has a difficult time accepting from Haymitch is his insistence on becoming allies with other people in the arena. She doubts their reliability and fears that she and Peeta will be betrayed, but Haymitch assures her that the most important thing is to “remember who the real enemy is” (456).
When Katniss and the others enter the arena, it is immediately evident that it is not like previous arenas. They find themselves standing on podiums surrounded by water. Based on first impressions, Katniss quickly notices that “this is no place for a girl on fire” (317). Although Katniss is a comepetent swimmer, Peeta is not and only gets off of the podium because a competitor named Finnick goes out to help him. Although Katniss was originally suspicious of Finnick, Haymitch had insisted he was a legitimate ally so she made an attempt to cast away her doubts. With Finnick’s help, later accompanied by the help of Mags, Johanna, Beetee, and Wiress, Katniss and Peeta survive the arena’s deadly traps and the other participants desperate to kill for their own survival. Despite run-ins with the arena’s electrically charged boundaries, poisonous fog, genetically altered apes, and mentally torturous jabberjays, Peeta and Katniss outlive a majority of the participants and have created alliances with most of the survivors. One member of the alliance, Beetee, who has an impressive knowledge of electronics thanks to his district’s industry being technology, creates a plan that seems perfect for destroying the rest of the competition. He tells his team of a plan to tie electrical wire around a tree that is known to get struck by lightning every night and run the wire down to the only source of water. He explains that anybody in the water or on the beach will be killed instantly. Although the plan seems simple, it is during the implementation of this plan that chaos strikes more than it has yet.
Although Katniss is not particularly fond of Johanna, the two of them are nominated to run the wire from the tree, through the woods, down into the water. As they are moving toward the beach, it becomes apparent that someone has cut the wire and it wraps up and constricts Katniss. Suddenly it seems something has hit Katniss on the head, sending her into a blurred state of consciousness. She sees Johanna above her and feels a horrible pain in her arm before Johanna disappears. Two surviving players spot Katniss and declare her “good as dead.” As Katniss attempts to put the occurrences together, it becomes apparent to her that Johanna and Finnick have forsaken the alliance. Katniss musters all her strength and runs through the woods toward the lightening tree to find Peeta. She returns to find Beetee injured, unconscious, and lying near a knife with his gold wire attached. Katniss thinks back to Haymitch’s advice, “just remember who the real enemy is,” (456) and she suddenly realizes what Beetee’s intentions were: to send the electrical current through the arena’s electric barrier. Just moments before the lightning strikes, Katniss takes the wire from the knife and attaches it to an arrow and shoots it through one of the many small square patches in the barrier, which had previously been referred to as “the chink in the armor” (457). Suddenly, the sky lights up and Katniss’ memory fades.
The scene moves to an unknown location; Katniss moves in and out of consciousness and is convinced she is in some sort of capital-owned building. Once she regains consciousness, she searches the area and discovers that she is not in capital custody, but rather in a flying vehicle. Haymitch and Plutarch, a citizen of the Capital who had been secretly for the uprising of the nation, are there to explain to Katniss what the plan had been all along. They explained how everyone wanted to save Katniss because she was the symbol of the revolution, and Peeta because he was the only reason Katniss was determined to stay alive. They explain how Katniss’ allies were also allies in the fight against the government. When Johanna was digging into Katniss’ arm, it was to remove the capital’s tracking device. Unfortunately, Johanna and Peeta were both picked up by the capital, and their whereabouts are unknown. The book ends when Gale, typically a comfort for Katniss, informs her that there is no more District 12: the revolution has begun.
Personal Response to Suzanne Meyer’s Catching Fire
Catching Fire by Suzanne Meyer is a complex young adult novel incorporating relevant teen concerns, sophisticated literary elements, and social themes to stimulate student interest, engagement, and reflection. Collins combines these various elements in a way that caters to young adults while addressing heavy themes and symbolism. This creates an environment in which students can and want to engage in texts in personal and intellectual ways. By combining relatable concerns with more abstract and long term concepts, Catching Fire becomes an excellent vehicle for literary, cultural, and personal analysis and inquiry.
Young adult literature is focused on if not defined by student interest. Therefore one crucial element of young adult literature is the acknowledgement and exploration of teenage concerns. In this sense, Catching Fire is a perfect example of the genre. Although the main character leads a life significantly different than those in any American classroom, the protagonist, Katniss, still must deal with the struggles of romance, complicated friendships, and a lack of certainty. Katniss also must manage her own identity within the contexts of familiar and unfamiliar cultural environments. The references to alcohol, eating disorders, and fitting in may be very relatable to some students and may be strong points for student discussion or reflection. Although I may roll my eyes when the protagonist is concerned with romance while being shipped to her death, I quickly remember the importance I placed on romance when I was fifteen. While this may be my biggest critique of young adult literature as a whole, the emphasis of what I now deem trivial dilemmas such as first kisses or fitting in, I realize that these elements are what attract many young adults to reading. Based on developmental theories highly regarded in modern education, these elements are what students know and care about, therefore are crucial in learning and literary engagement.
The complexity of this novel is developed by the placement of these teenage themes into a very symbolic and romantic literary structure. Not only are there romantic themes in this novel, but the novel itself is heavily influenced by traditional Romantic Era writing. This element of the novel offers a vehicle through which students can explore romantic writing and its characteristic. Themes of pure nature, an inevitably independent hero, introspection, strong emotional connections, and social critique are examples of Romantic literary elements students can find in this novel and even compare to classic literature such as Shelley’s Frankenstein or Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly. Another important literary tool in the novel is symbolism. From the history of the mockingjay to President Snow, Catching Fire allows students to discuss and explore the author’s use of symbols and tropes. Analyzing the author’s intentions may also lead students to begin making inferences as to what the novel means in the context of our history and current world.
Yet another quality of this novel that adds to its dynamic nature is the large focus on social inequality and rebellion. These themes can easily be related to past and current world events. One significant and relatable reference to me was district 12’s industry: coal mining. Coming from Southeastern Ohio, coal mining is already a symbol of oppression, inequality, and danger. It was therefore easier for me to compare District 12 to conditions in which my distant relatives lived, creating a strong personal connection. Also, while this novel seems to be set in the future, it refers a lot to the past. This quality allows students to feel more connected as the book becomes a daunting possibility for future generations. With so many social references, students from various backgrounds and with different interests (history, world politics, culture, etc.) can find connections between the novel, themselves, and world issues. Not only is this ideal for comprehension, but it may be a significant opportunity for research and an increased concern for society as a whole.
Upon examining Catching Fire, it is not difficult to understand its popularity throughout middle and high schools. Its relevance, style, and themes create a novel that is meaningful to students’ personal, academic, and social well-being. This novel would not only be ideal for independent reading, but would make an excellent addition to any Language Arts curriculum. With support and scaffolding from the teacher, students can use this novel to explore personal, social, historical, and literary interests.
Creative Response to Catching Fire
Layering a Character through Poetry
Adapted from Layering a Character from What was it Like?
The air is numbing
Fox ears peak above the fog
I shoot an arrow
Everything we need
To make a perfect world
Springs up from the earth
Leaves crunch below me
The autumn sun warms my skin
I should not be here
The birds are singing
Your lips are soft against mine
This moment is ours
I have to be strong
Their warm embraces help me
They soothe me to sleep
I will protect you
Sacrifice my life for yours
I am here for you
The beaming faces
To them I am a hero
A symbol of hope
Creative Response to Catching Fire
Layering a Character through Poetry
Adapted from Layering a Character from What was it Like?
The purpose of this piece was to explore the many different roles of Katniss. She is a daughter, sister, friend, but also a hunter and nationwide symbol of hope. By representing the variety of ways in which Katniss is seen
Quotes from Catching Fire
“You just remember who the enemy is”—Haymitch
This quote represents the importance of unity. Haymitch says it to Katniss before entering the arena. Although she spent a lot of time trying to figure out to whom he was referring, Katniss realizes just in time that the true enemy is the government. Analytically, this quote could be incorporated into a Marxist analysis. Paulo Freire, a famous theoriest, political rebel, and Marxist, often refers to governmentally influenced debates that divide citizens so that they will fight each other rather than the larger power. This sentiment is echoed throughout the book, but this quote encompasses the importance of coming together to fight the truly oppressive power.