by Suzanne Collins
Katniss' Identity Crisis
When Catching Fire starts, our heroine Katniss is just trying to get her life back to normal. But people of District 12 look at her differently now, and she's always on the radar in the Capitol. Barely into the first chapter of the book, she says:
I mourn my old life here. We barely scraped by, but I knew where I fit in, I knew what my place was in the tightly interwoven fabric that was our life. I wish I could go back to it because, in retrospect, it seems so secure compared with now, when I am so rich and so famous and so hated by the authorities in the Capitol. (1.10)
Now that she's won the Hunger Games, Katniss' family gets to live in a nice house and will never go hungry. Her role as the family's breadwinner is no longer needed. The others in her district also get more food and will be better off for at least a year, thanks to Katniss and Peeta's win in the arena. To them, she's a hero, but to herself, she's anything but.
Mostly, Katniss doesn't know who she is anymore. A hero? A monster? A liar? All of the above? She's definitely a killer and a hunter. In Catching Fire, Katniss finds herself in a weird in-between state, where her skills are no longer needed and she is no longer free.
While Katniss knows what happened in the arena, she still doesn't know how she feels about it. At the end of the Games, she and Peeta survived, thanks to her clever berry trick. Katniss decides that her action at that moment reveals who she is and how she should fit into this new, post-Games world:
The berries. I realize the answer to who I am lies in that handful of poisonous fruit. If I held them out to save Peeta because I knew I would be shunned if I came back without him, then I am despicable. If I held them out because I loved him, I am still self-centered, although forgivable. But if I held them out to defy the Capitol, I am someone of worth.
The trouble is, I don't know exactly what was going on inside me at that moment. (8.87)
It seems pretty obvious what the most dangerous option of these is. It's harder to tell what was really going on in her mind, though. What do you think?
Most of the time, Katniss is full of self-loathing, especially when she must decide whether to run away or stick it out in District 12 and try to fight the Capitol:
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. [...] No wonder I won the Games. No decent person ever does. (8.82-83)
Is Katniss being too hard on herself? Aren't most people "selfish" and "coward[ly]" from time to time? (Well, maybe not Peeta.) Katniss can also be brave and selfless. Soon after hearing about the Quarter Quell, she determines to save Peeta's life, though it will cost her own. She doesn't give in to her gut feelings to look out for herself alone; she stays at his side and fights.
Leaning Toward Peetniss or Kale?
Speaking of Peeta, we bet you were hoping that Catching Fire would offer a bit of clarity on Katniss' feelings for Peeta and Gale, weren't you? Well, tough luck. If anything, this love triangle gets even more obtuse. (Sorry. We just couldn't resist a corny geometry pun.) Katniss' feelings are totally tangled, and to make matters worse, our feelings are increasingly complicated, too. In the first book, we saw a lot of Peeta, and he's easy to like. Now, in Catching Fire, we're getting to know Gale better, and he seems pretty awesome. Suzanne Collins, you are not making this easy for us.
Enough of our conflicted feelings, though. Let's get back to Katniss.
At the beginning of Catching Fire, we'd say she is leaning toward Gale. Early on in the book she considers that if she'd never headed to the arena, she might have gotten together with him. Why? Because they have a lot in common, they're both hunters, and they have good chemistry. And when they kiss? Well, it's pretty sexy:
I hadn't imagined how warm they [Gale's lips] would feel pressed against my own. Or how those hands, which could set the most intricate of snares, could as easily entrap me. (2.55)
Katniss and Gale's kiss gives her a chance to experience what it would be like to be a regular girl from District 12. But, Katniss reminds herself, that kind of wishful thinking "was before the Games. Before my fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark, announced he was madly in love with me. Our romance became a key strategy for our survival in the arena. Only it wasn't just a strategy for Peeta. I'm not sure what it was for me" (1.17). Katniss can't separate what, if anything, she feels for Peeta from what they did in the arena. Is she hesitant with Peeta because she doesn't love him? Or is it simply that Katniss hates to feel forced into anything, even if it's marrying a great guy?
But going into the arena once changed Katniss, and having to go back again changes her even more. Gale doesn't know what it's like to be a tribute, so he can't comfort her. But Peeta can. The closer they get to the next Games, the more Katniss turns to Peeta for comfort:
When Peeta holds out his arms, I walk straight into them [...] he pulls me in close and buries his face in my hair. Warmth radiates from the spot where his lips just touch my neck, slowly spreading through the rest of me. It feels so good, so impossibly good, that I know I will not be the first to let go. (14.30)
Their preparations for the Quarter Quell bring them closer and closer. Plus, it would be hard for Katniss not to feel a special intimacy with Peeta once she's made up her mind to save his life. After just a few days in the arena, Katniss is kissing Peeta, and having all kinds of warm fuzzies:
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. I kissed Peeta about a thousand times during those Games and after. But there was only one kiss that made me feel something stir deep inside. Only one that made me want more. (24.85)
What would happen if Katniss and Peeta were to explore their feelings and see where they might lead? Who knows, because they don't get the chance. Abruptly at the end of the book, Katniss is ripped away from Peeta, only to find herself thrown together with Gale again. Gale offers her comfort and knowledge, while the memory of Peeta fills her with despair. What's a girl to do?
Concentrate on other things, maybe. Like a full-scale rebellion.
"The face of the hoped-for rebellion"
Whether she likes it or not, Katniss has become a major symbol in Panem. She's known as the Mockingjay because of the mockingjay pin she wore during her first trip to the Hunger Games. Outside the arena the mockingjay symbol has taken on a life of its own. For example, when Katniss meets the strangers Bonnie and Twill in the woods, they show her the image of a mockingjay to prove they are a part of the rebellion.
Katniss resists the idea that she's incited rebellion, later saying, "I have people on my side? What side? Am I unwittingly the face of the hoped-for rebellion? Has the mockingjay on my pin become a symbol of resistance?" (10.76). Well, yes, Katniss, it has. Oops. Katniss doesn't want to admit that she's being given so much responsibility and credit for the rebellion – especially after her visit from the creeptastic President Snow.
At the very end of the book Katniss learns that she is the face of the rebellion in Panem, whether she likes it or not. Plutarch and his allies saved her from the arena because "while [Katniss] lives, the revolution lives" (27.40).
Man, that's a lot of responsibility for one person, and it seems like Katniss may not be able to handle it. How many deaths can she take responsibility for? How much mayhem is she willing to cause? And is she willing to put her loved ones at risk for the sake of everyone in Panem?
The big question is, will Katniss step up and lead the rebellion? Well, you'll just have to read Mockingjay to find out.