Tag Archives: Catching Fire

Catching Fire: About That Consent Thing

Cover of Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins

Publication Date: 2009

LC Call Number: PZ7.C683

Here I am with another “one more thing” post, because after I wrote my earlier post, I found myself thinking further about Katniss and things that happen to her, and the things that I hadn’t written about. So here it is. (yes, this one has spoilers too)

Many of the scenes that I didn’t write about but that nevertheless caught my attention had in common Katniss’s body, and as I considered it further I began to notice all the ways in which control over her body has been wrested from her. This seems like a strange thing to suddenly bring up in a story which has mostly involved her being forced to battle other teenagers to the death, but there are specific gendered and sexual losses of control that happen above and beyond that which seem to be particular to her.

The scene that made this clear to me was the one in Catching Fire in which she is reunited with her fashion team, and she notes that there are no secrets between her and these people when it comes to her body. She’s already said that she will be unrecognizable when they are finished with her, which seems to indicate a certain separation from her body as presented to the public. They construct her in the mode of an idealized femininity, which is absolutely not under her control and is not at all what she would choose. It has a certain appeal to her, just as it does to the crowds–she expresses admiration of Cinna’s work in particular–but her appearance is very far removed from her identity.

But her lack of control over her gendered appearance is only the first step. There is also a fairly comprehensive co-opting of her sexuality. Of course, that really started with The Hunger Games, with Peeta’s declaration of love and Haymitch’s support of this as a plan, and the need to act this out in order to survive and so on. But in Catching Fire, this gets worse. She isn’t just required to perform her way through extreme circumstances with the hope of surviving and going home. Now, there is no going home, because she is asked to make her entire life conform to this story. The pregnancy story is an interesting one, because like so many things in Catching Fire, it directly parallels something in The Hunger Games, the declaration mentioned above, but unlike that, it turns out to be unnecessary. It’s hardly played up at all and it doesn’t really seem to make much difference to the story, which brings us once back to the question of how well justified this behavior was. It seemed justified in the first book because it worked, but here, where it doesn’t… maybe less so. We’re forced to revisit this question even if we (like Katniss?) had reconciled ourselves to it before. This is a way of using her presumed sexuality for show, and both times, it’s nonconsensual. It doesn’t really touch her body, but it controls how her body is understood, perhaps even affecting how she understands it herself.

So Katniss doesn’t control how her body is maintained, nor how it is seen. And then, of course, she also doesn’t control how she gets to use it. She sees that she will be forced into marriage and strongly suspects that her childbearing capabilities will be harnessed by the state to create new, exciting tributes. In other words, she will be forced to conceive children with Peeta (and, obviously, this is rape, even if we concede it isn’t Peeta’s fault and assume he doesn’t want this), and undergo forced childbirth. She has already been more or less forced to carry out a physical relationship with him, though it hasn’t come down to actual rape yet. Given where this seems to be going, though, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a rape in Mockingjay.

All of this stuff is so obvious that it’s hard to see why I would bother making a post about it, but there are two things that I wanted to say about it. First, I wanted to put all these violations of Katniss’s bodily autonomy together to show how they’re related to each other (and Peeta’s comments to her throughout the book, which I mentioned in the other post, seem to contribute to this, as he is making assumptions about what he gets to say to her without regard for her feelings). Second, it’s interesting that Katniss identifies marriage as a right that the District Twelve people have been able to rely on, which is now being taken away from her, directly as a result of her willingness to challenge these power structures. Using sexuality to control rebellious women, hmm, there is a political statement in there somewhere.

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Catching Fire: This Again, From a New Point of View

Cover of Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire

Author: Suzanne Collins

Publication Date: 2009

LC Call Number: PZ7.C683

I was a little concerned about reading Catching Fire because I’d heard it wasn’t as good as The Hunger Games.  This is true—but then, The Hunger Games was really good. Catching Fire is definitely another page turner, and it made me want to read Mockingjay right away—but I’ll wait, nevertheless. I don’t know how much I really have to say about this book, but here are some things I noticed…

Oh, and this post is full of spoilery spoilers. Beware.

The scope of Catching Fire is a little broader than the scope of The Hunger Games, which was really about Katniss and the injustice of the world in which she lives—and how she could see through it.  Catching Fire is more about figuring out what the rules really are, how much freedom one has within them and where they can be bent or pushed.  In pursuit of this goal, the novel finds itself interested not only in Katniss but in other characters as well.  In The Hunger Games, other people were seen mostly in terms of their effect on Katniss; Catching Fire makes more of an attempt to understand who they are and why they do what they do.  This may be partly because Katniss has matured a little; it also seems to be because Collins is setting up some things that will happen in Mockingjay. The most interesting character development in the book is, surprisingly, Haymitch’s.

In the first book, Haymitch is, to Katniss, part of the Games.  She’s very upset that he is the only person she can turn to for help, and she is disgusted by both his alcoholism and his cynicism.  Throughout the first book, though, she learns that she can communicate with him on a strategic level and, in a way, they understand each other. It’s not that we like him, since he is essentially pushing her into a nonconsensual relationship with Peeta, but we see how he is useful.  Now that she is a survivor of the Games, he’s a little more humanized in her eyes, and, ultimately, in ours too. He laughs at the idea of an uprising, not because he is naturally cynical, but because he has spent his entire life being beaten down by the Capitol. It’s almost as if he has seen something like this before. In any case, we feel much more sympathy for him as we begin to see what the aftermath of the Games is like and the way that it leads to a life of being tightly controlled and constantly retraumatized.  The Games aren’t over when they’re over, and although we kind of knew this, Catching Fire really drives it home.

It’s hard to imagine Katniss having any interest in Haymitch’s experience in the arena in the first book—but in the second book, she does, and so do we.    I said above that this book is really about finding out where the boundaries of freedom are in this world and how they can be pushed, and it was only as I typed that that I realized that Haymitch does this very literally when he seeks out the bounds of the arena and ultimately uses them to his advantage.  The new arena also literalizes this; it’s all about finding that invisible wall and making sure that you don’t run into it and get killed. Getting near it is dangerous, since they don’t know exactly where it is, but also important, because the available area is quite small, and because they need to be near it in the puzzle-solving moment at the end.  So it’s not that different from giving speeches in District Eleven, where Katniss needs to express her gratitude and condolences to Rue’s and Thresh’s family and friends, but also needs to avoid activating the wrath of the state.  She runs into the wall in this case. She’s still learning, but it tells us that she’s willing, at least sometimes, not to err on the side of caution.  She’s still a rebel. Naturally, the Capitol is also playing this game—trying to figure out how far they can push people before they have a problem—but their motivations are a little less clear.

In any case, Katniss’s commitment to behaving like decent human being as much as possible within the constraints imposed upon her isn’t consistent throughout the book.  Her behavior in District Eleven is in contrast to what she tells President Snow when he turns up at her house.  It’s not surprising that she would make different choices at different times, of course, but in general she seems to be a little more willing to rebel on someone else’s behalf than her own. I’m not sure what this means exactly.  If it’s intended to make her more sympathetic to the reader, then I have a problem with it, because it plays up some cultural ideas about self-sacrificing women that are dangerous in any case but especially in a context like the one Collins has set up here.  I don’t think that’s it, though, if only because there is a moment in which Katniss questions her own motivations and tries to figure out what she thinks of herself because of them.  I think, more than that, it’s about how necessary solidarity is.  Katniss certainly can’t bear the entire weight of the revolution on her shoulders, but in the prisoner’s dilemma of life, she can be the loyal partner.  This was true in the first book with the berries; this book doesn’t have such a clear parallel but it does show how the Capitol wants to divide and conquer, how eager it is to set up distinctions among people in order to prevent them from cooperating with each other.

It’s also interesting that not all of Katniss’s problems derive from the malice of the Capitol. Her anger at the very end of the book, when she discovers that the revolution has been going on without her and she’s been made an unwitting symbol of it, is very important.  Control isn’t only the privilege of despotic governments; it’s also present among the people who should be her friends.  Their motives aren’t that dissimilar, either.  They want a good show, just as the Capitol does, though for different reasons. It’s not just at the end that Katniss’s friends seem to have turned against her, though. Peeta really began creeping me out in this book.  He keeps making these comments that might be appropriate if he and Katniss were actually in a romantic relationship, but are kind of gross given that she’s already told him that she doesn’t really want that with him, or at least, not at this time—and it’s even worse under extreme circumstances where they are thrown together in a hostile environment and also likely to die.  Surely this is stressful enough already?

A couple words about the plot—I was really skeptical about the decision to put Katniss and Peeta back in the arena again. Haven’t we done this already? It turned out that there were pretty important differences between the way the arena worked in the first book and the way it worked in this one, in terms of both plot and characterization. It’s very different with the new cast of characters (and Mags, my god).  Still, I thought this would be very repetitious unless it was somehow interrupted—and it was, so I guess I have the choice between thinking that it was predictable and just saying I called it. Either way, I guess I’m surprised Collins didn’t think of a new horrible thing to have happen.

So that’s where I am with this.  I’m excited about reading Mockingjay and will when I get a chance. I’m pretty concerned about Cinna.

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