Part I: “The Ashes”
Summary Katniss stands in the ashes of what was once her home in the Seam. Only a few moments after her arrow destroyed the Quarter Quell arena, the Capitol bombed and burned most of District 12 out of existence; only the Victors’ Village still stands, perhaps to house Capitol visitors and film crews. Katniss’s own visit is “a costly and pointless venture,” according to those in charge of District 13. Hoverplanesfloat above her in case of attack, and she walks alone through the ashes. She made the visit “a condition of my cooperating” with District 13’s plans for the resistance.Katniss is still dealing with pain and confusion—the latter a result of the concussion she suffered in the arena—and lists what she knows to be true as she crouches in the ashes. She waves off the worried Gale as she walks on toward the shops, stepping around burned and decomposing remains. The survivors are now refugees in District 13, and Katniss—one of them—feels not grateful but “homeless.” She’s angry at District 13’s leadership. Because they were in on the plan, they share the blame for these deaths.Katniss learned from Gale that just as the clock arena imploded and the Games fell apart, power went out in the district, and Capitol hoverplanes began to bomb. Gale led some 800 people to pull down the security fence and follow him through the meadow and to the lake, where they lived as best they could until District 13 sent hoverplanes to evacuate them three days later. Now,as all District 13 residents do, they live underground in tiny compartments, dress in uniforms, and eat bland food—but at least they have food. Dalton, a refugee from District 10, informs Katniss that some years back, District 13 endured an epidemic that killed many and left others infertile. As far as he’s concerned, the refugees are welcome because they’re “breeding stock.” Still, the children get to go to school, and the adults are in training to work or serve in the resistance. They are alive. Yet Katniss hates District 13: “But, of course, I hate almost everybody now. Myself more than anyone.”She views the destroyed shops. Peeta’s family is all dead. Terrible memories sweep over her, along with fears for what Peeta, now the Capitol’s captive, may be enduring there. She runs past the ruins of Madge’s house and wonders whether she and her family are alive, perhaps evacuated to the Capitol before the bombing began. By the time she reaches her house in the Victors’ Village, she feels that ashes are choking her.Katniss is exhausted by people “talking at” her, insisting that she play the role of the Mockingjay, “the role they designed for me,” without her consent. She is angry that everything she has endured so far is “not enough.” Now she must lead the resistance and “blaze the path to victory.” Plutarch Heavensbee has assembled a team to dress her, film her, write words for her to speak; but she can hardly bear their planning meetings and often flees.Beetee, she learns, is confined to a wheelchair after the injuries he sustained in the arena but is as inventive as ever. He now lends his talents to weapons development. Finnick, like Katniss, is recovering physically from the clock arena but is mentally and emotionally unstable. Desperate anxiety about his beloved Annie occupies his mind; he sleeps a lot and is not fit to play the heroic role in the resistance that Plutarch has in mind for him.In her Victor’s house, Katniss tries to decide what to do. Every time she acts, people suffer. She feels, as she often did before the 74thGames and the Quell, the desire to “disappear into the woods and never look back.” A hiss interrupts Katniss’s thoughts, and she sees Buttercup, Prim’s ill-mannered cat. She scoops him into her game bag.Katniss hears Gale’s voice in her headset telling her that they must return to District 13. She runs to get her father’s hunting jacket and feels suddenly, anxiously alert. She recognizes a familiar smell and sees, in the vase on her dresser, “a fresh white rose.” She backs out of the room, knowing that the rose is Snow’s way of telling her that he’s still watching her. She decides to tell no one about the rose because they’d likely think she imagined it or overreacted to it, but she knows that the white rose is “a promise of revenge.”Analysis The opening chapter of the third novel in The Hunger Games trilogy immerses readers quickly in Katniss’s grim, grieving state of mind and remind readers of circumstances at the end of Catching Fire.Readers alternate between scenes in the destroyed district and memories of past tragedies as Katniss struggles to make sense of the Capitol’s assaults on her and those she loves. Katniss’s experiences have changed her profoundly—so much has happened in not even two years, and most of it involves loss. She is jaded; she carries terrible guilt. Yet at her core, Katniss is still the uncertain young woman readers met in the first chapter of The Hunger Games. Fear still dominates her choices, and she struggles now as then against the urge to flee and hide. Worse, Katniss is painfully conflicted about her own role in the resistance and cannot yet, because of her own nature and the situation, ascertain who are her friends and allies. Plutarch and Haymitch saved her from the arena, but are they in fact on her side, or is she merely their pawn? Coin seems to despise her; Gale is now far more committed to the cause than to their friendship; Peeta is beyond her reach. Katniss is alone, again, at a time when she needs companionship and comfort.
Summary Katniss and Gale share their grief over District 12’s destruction during the trip back to District 13. As they fly over the woods, Katniss thinks about the day she met Bonnie and Twill by the lake; apparently, they died in the forest. They view 13 from the air; it looks nearly as destroyed as 12 does, but underground, building and maintenance have been ongoing for decades. Even before the disasters that put an end to the United States, a bunker existed in this location, perhaps a refuge for the old nation’s leaders or a failsafe for a handful of human survivors. District 13 had one site for the Capitol’s nuclear arsenal, and during the Dark Days, the district’s leadership aimed warheads at the Capitol and “struck a bargain”: District 13 would “play dead” if the Capitol would leave them alone. The Capitol knew that if it launched its own nuclear strike, District 13 would retaliate. They took the deal, hoping that 13 would die off over time.Life in the district is regimented. Residents live by the schedules tattooed each morning on their arms. Bells enforce the routine. Each family is assigned a small compartment. At first, Katniss is exempt from the schedule because she is recovering from the arena, but even after she goes on schedule, she often defies it, finding small spaces where she can hide, sleep, and observe. Resources are carefully allocated; “waste is practically a crime,” Katniss notes.The hoverplanes arrive at District 13, and Katniss, for once, is glad to go underground, where she can be safer from Snow. In her family’s compartment, she releases Buttercup, and Prim sits on the floor, holding her cat, and cries. Mrs. Everdeen is grateful to have her wedding photograph and the herbal book, and so Katniss avoids talking to them about what she saw. When the bell for dinner sounds, she and Gale head toward the dining hall but are interrupted by a message on Gale’s communicuff ordering them to the Command room, “the high-tech meeting/war council room.” A television on one wall airs Capitol propaganda constantly, and there the leaders of the conspiracy are gathered as Caesar Flickerman, “the eternal host of the Hunger Games,” prepares to interview someone. When Katniss sees Peeta, she gasps like a drowning person. She peers at the image—Peeta seems quite healthy, physically, even “composed,” not “the battered, bleeding boy” in Katniss’s nightmares.Caesar recaps: The audience knows that Peeta went in to the clock arena prepared to die to protect Katniss and the unborn baby—what happened next? Peeta tries to describe the last night in the arena, a challenging task for someone who has never been there, but Katniss has, and she begins to feel panicked. The arena made him feel like “an insect trapped under a bowl filled with steaming air” Knowing that he’s going to die, and knowing that he will have to kill others, “costs everything you are,” Peeta says. He becomes agitated as he recalls how he wanted to separate himself and Katniss from the others but was forced into an alliance. When he was told to stay by the lightning tree and guard Beetee, he wanted to go with Katniss—and then, when the force field “blew out,” he couldn’t get back to her. He witnessed Brutus kill Chaff and then had to kill Brutus himself.Then Caesar asks whether Haymitch was in the conspiracy. Peeta says that Haymitch never said anything but admits that he now wishes he hadn’t trusted his mentor. Katniss thinks about Haymitch, who is in seclusion as he undergoes withdrawal. District 13 forbids all alcohol, and Katniss knows he must be suffering, but she no longer feels sympathy for him because he deceived her and Peeta.Peeta looks spent, but Caesar asks one more question: What does he think about the war? Peeta speaks firmly. The war is futile, he says, and it should end before all humans die and the destroyed earth is left to another species. Then he asks to go back to his room, and a Capitol spokesperson begins to list shortages.Katniss is conflicted. She’s relieved that Peeta looks well and grateful to hear how he defended her in the last minutes of the Quell, but she admits his complicity with the Capitol when he calls for a cease-fire. She turns to leave, but Coin says, “You have not been dismissed, Soldier Everdeen,” and Boggs, a soldier, puts his hand on her arm. His action provokes Katniss to flight, and she hides in a supply closet, where Gale finds her. Katniss admits to feeling anger at District 13 for abandoning the other districts during the Dark Days and the many years of the Games, but Gale is pragmatic: They did what they had to do, against terrible odds. Katniss imagines what the early years must have been like and gives them “credit” for the first time: “Maybe they are militaristic, overly programmed, and somewhat lacking in a sense of humor. They’re here. And willing to take on the Capitol.”Gale reiterates that, for all the preparation District 13 has done, they need Katniss to motivate the rebels. They consider how much damage Peeta’s remarks have done to the cause and why he made them. Gale assumes that Peeta made a deal to protect Katniss so that, if the districts lose, “there’s still a chance of leniency for you. . . . he’s still trying to keep you alive.” Katniss realizes at that moment that the Games are “still on.” If the rebels lose, the Games will go on, and she might be allowed to live to watch them. Images of her experiences in the arenas, of the tributes’ deaths, of Gale’s flogging flood her mind, and she leaps up. “We can’t go back,” she says. If Peeta had seen what remains of District 12, he would agree. She decides, finally, “I’m going to be the Mockingjay.”Analysis Gale is an important character in the first two books of the trilogy, but he is off stage for most of the action. In Mockingjay, Collins begins to develop his character more fully. The first two chapters reveal that Gale thinks quickly in a crisis and is a trustworthy and charismatic leader. With Katniss, whom he still loves, he reveals his gentler side, listening to her secrets, getting her to laugh, and defending her in ways overt and subtle. With Peeta alive but a captive of the Capitol and the “star-crossed lovers” story still in effect, the love triangle in which Katniss has found herself, against her will, is still in place. Readers wonder: Will Katniss eventually love and perhaps marry Gale, or Peeta, or no one? At this point in Mockingjay, Gale appears to be a strong, noble young man, and Peeta appears to be a pawn of the Capitol. Both still want to protect Katniss, but Gale’s suspicion and jealousy of Peeta have apparently dissipated.