Upon finishing reading The Hunger Games, I was about as reluctant to continue reading the series as I was to start the series, for mostly the same reasons. The dystopian setting. Kids killing kids. The hopelessness of their existence. And yet, this afternoon, I was struck with a sudden resolve to read Catching Fire, the second novel in The Hunger Games series, cover to cover. Slowly, the reluctance left me, and in its place, a “hunger” to continue reading, not only to find out what happens—there is no denying that the author, Suzanne Collins, has a gift for weaving a plot—but also for other reasons.
You may want to proceed through the following “reasons” with caution. If you haven’t read Catching Fire, there are spoilers.
The characters. Particularly Katniss.
Despite the setting that I despise from the depth of my being, I am so emotionally invested in the characters. Katniss, as the main character and narrator, has an incredible voice. It’s impossible not to like her. Even when she finds it impossible to decide who to love—Peeta, Gale, or no one at all—a seemingly constant conversation within her thoughts, I still feel for her. I feel for her, because despite her indecision at times, the choice should still be hers, and it isn’t. Not unless The Capitol has anything to say about it, which it does. That’s exactly why the revolution needs to happen, so that the citizens of Panem can make choices for their own lives and have freedoms that they’ve never had. She considers fleeing with her family rather than standing and facing the revolution, and from a literary standpoint, I want to yell at her for not wanting to fight, but from a human standpoint, I understand her fear.
I can also understand her constant and vivid nightmares. She did, after all, live through quite the ordeal during the 74th Hunger Games.
The symbolism. The spark. The mockingjay.
Another reason I consider Suzanne Collins a brilliant author is her sense of symbolism and metaphor. District Twelve is the producer of coal. Fire is an integral part of their existence. Katniss becomes known as the “girl on fire”, due to the fiery dresses that Cinna created for her. And yet, it’s more than a symbol for her district. It’s a symbol for the impending revolution. It only takes a spark to get a fire going. Katniss is that spark. Katniss is the symbol for the rebellion. Katniss wore a Mockingjay pin in the Games. At first it was merely a token to help keep her alive, but then it became more than that—it became a fashion accessory in The Capitol, sure, but it became a symbol for the revolution as well. A symbol of hope. Hope—I’m getting to that.
The hatred. For the Capitol. For President Snow.
While reading Harry Potter, I didn’t think I could hate a character more than Voldemort for killing Harry’s parents and so many others. Then, I didn’t think I could hate Bellatrix more for torturing Neville’s parents to insanity. Then, I didn’t think I could hate Umbridge more for… well, for being everything that she is. Honestly, I don’t think I could hate President Snow more in this moment, now that I’ve finished reading Catching Fire. I was right with Katniss in her daydreams, fantasizing about assassinating him. I hope beyond hope that there is a final confrontation between Katniss and Snow and that she has the opportunity to go through with the deed. And yet, I’m more than a little uncomfortable with what reading The Hunger Games series is doing to my psyche. The Hunger Games are popular in The Capitol, because the residents there, whose immediate family members don’t participate in the Games, have no emotional attachment to the tributes. They enjoy watching a bloodbath. And here I am, hoping for a bloody end to President Snow’s life. No, not an accidental bloody end, but an end at the hands of Katniss herself. She’s already committed murder, and here I am, wanting her to commit more.
Suzanne Collins’ portrayal of The Capitol is a social commentary to an exaggerated extreme. Even in our own present society, we love seeing violence on the screen, and in some cases, we become the characters who engage in that same violence through video games. Those who play bloody video games equate winning with “number of successful ‘kills'”. It’s not real, but as technology and computer graphics improve, it sure feels like practice for real life. And as for the disparity between those who have so much and those who have so little? Seeing the citizens of The Capitol gorging themselves on food, then purge themselves of it, simply to continue gorging themselves is disgusting, especially as Peeta and Katniss remind us through their dialogue during that scene that so many in the outlying districts live in desperate malnourishment. In a way, I see it as a direct commentary towards those in our own present society who have so much and are yet unwilling to share with those who have none. It’s no wonder I’m eager to see The Capitol overthrown.
The hope. For the revolution. For a happy ending.
In the last pages of Catching Fire, we can see that there is hope. A rebellion already underway. Plutarch acting on the side of the rebellion but undercover, as the Gamemaker who replaced Seneca Crane. Haymich, despite his constant drunken “act”, with an incredible grasp of the plans and what comes ahead. Districts all over trying to lead revolutions of their own. An existent District Thirteen and a hope for a secure base camp there. I can’t wait to continue reading the third and final book in the series, Mockingjay, to see how this revolution comes to its inevitable (hopefully happy) conclusion.
The cliffhangers. “Katniss, there is no District Twelve.”
Suzanne Collins has an impeccable sense of organization and structure when she writes. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the two novels that I have read so far, are set up in three parts. Each part has a title, but the nine chapters within each part do not. Almost every chapter and particularly every part has a cliffhanger at the end. Each cliffhanger forces you to continue, to the next chapter, to the next part, to the next book. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the last line of Catching Fire: “Katniss, there is no District Twelve.” This element, probably more than any other, keeps me reading.
Because, just as if I am watching The Hunger Games live for myself, I am on the edge of my seat, desperate to know what happens next.