Catching Fire, the second book of the acclaimed YA dystopian trilogy The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, turned ten years old today. Catching Fire is unique in its function as a sequel, with regards to Katniss’s overall character arc. It decisively overcomes the dreaded “second book slump” that plagues many trilogies.
I love Catching Fire. I’ve read the entire series multiple times, but Catching Fire is the book I’ve read the most (I mean, come on, it has Finnick Odair and lots of Katniss and Peeta moments *swoon*). I remember the first time I saw Catching Fire in theaters. It was the week of Thanksgiving in 2013. My family and I decided to spend the holiday camping at Zion National Park in Utah. On a lazy afternoon, we happened to pass by the park’s theater (the place where they show documentaries about the history of the park) and noticed that they were showing Catching Fire on its multi story sized movie screen. Needless to say, we ended up seeing every single pore on Jennifer Lawerence’s beautiful face while experiencing the best movie and book of the franchise. Let’s take a look at what makes Catching Fire an intriguing second book for this iconic series.
Taking place after the 74th Hunger Games that Katniss and Peeta barely survived, Catching Fire deals with the aftermath of their supposed “victory.” Katniss and Peeta are no longer nobodies from the impoverished District 12 but are national celebrities. Privacy and self-autonomy are a thing of the past as cameras and public events dictate their choices from what they wear to their love life. And things only get worse when it is revealed that for the 75th Hunger Games all prior winners are required to compete again and Peeta and Katniss are sent back into the hellish game they barely managed to escape the first time. Except this time, the seeds of rebellion have been planted in the hearts of the people, threatening the Capitol’s control, and instead of fighting wide-eyed children who had yet to experience the terrors of war and murder, Katniss and Peeta are pitted against seasoned killers.
Catching Fire’s narrative is surprising for a sequel as its main purpose is to further our fearless protagonist’s character development. The threat has already been extinguished (or so we think). The protagonist is not in the middle of some long journey or preparing to wage war against the enemy. Katniss doesn’t want more conflict. She’s just trying to pick up the pieces of her life after being forced to abandon them. She’s not wanting to lead any rebellions or rock any boats. Here we are in book number two, and the girl just wants a quiet life with her family. “The Hero’s Journey” has not been (knowingly) accepted. Katniss is no Frodo Baggins. If given the Ring of Power, I’m pretty sure Katniss would have just hucked it into a bush somewhere or tried to sell it. Even when Katniss discovers that people are revolting and that President Snow has threatened her family’s life, all she wants is to take everyone she loves into the wilderness and hide. End of story. No viva la revolución for this girl. Then, once back in the arena, Katniss’ only goal is to make sure Peeta stays alive. She hates the Capitol, but it’s not her prerogative. Honestly, this is why I love Katniss. She is so human in her actions and desires. Katniss is not some altruistic heroine that just decides to overthrow an entire government on some whim (I’m looking at you, Tris from Divergent). She is self-focused by only focusing on herself and her loved ones’ safety. Nothing else matters to her. It’s not until book three (Mockingjay) that Katniss unenthusiastically becomes the face of the rebellion and begins to see herself as a part of something bigger (but even then the decision to join came from a desire to protect her family and save Peeta). Thus, Catching Fire serves almost as a “part two” of the first book rather than a sequel in regards to character development.
Now the reason this seemingly “stagnant” character development works well is that Catching Fire illustrates a realistic portrait of humanity when faced with trauma, war, and government oppression. Katniss is truly relatable. We understand her decisions (like trying to sell her “fake love” with Peeta to the world in order to keep her family safe or wanting to run away into the woods, abandoning the districts to the impending chaos). Not everyone is going to be Captain America in their ideals. Even though some of the districts and the Capitol think she is a rebel, Katniss just wants safety and comfort, and every decision she makes is an attempt to secure those things (the duplicity of appearance is a major theme in this novel). She just happens to become a part of something bigger than herself by making those decisions. Also, it takes her a really long time to change. We don’t see true change until the third book (sure she is more traumatized in the second book than the first, but her core ideals are the same). This book serves as an excellent reminder to examine what motivates us–what ideals cause us to make the decisions that we do and discover if we are living self-focused lives.
Undoubtedly, Catching Fire is thought-provoking and a crucial piece of The Hunger Games’ narrative. Despite being 10 years old, the realistic portrayal of human motivations and character development stand the test of time. It is my hope to see this series become a classic piece of literature, and I truly believe it will. So while we wait for that day, examine yourself and your motivations. What makes you do what you do? Are your actions affecting those around you?
May the odds be ever in your favor.