Part II: “The Assault”
Katniss tries to scream, but who would hear her over the shouting in the Command room? Haymitch manages to be heard: “It’s not some big mystery!” Peeta just warned them of an attack, at great cost. Some don’t want to trust Peeta, but Coin, though she knows the Capitol is reluctant to damage 13’s bases, which it hopes to control again someday, decides to heed the warning under the guise of a Level 5 security drill. She authorizes the lockdown, and District 13 residents respond immediately. An “eardrum-piercing, fear-inducing siren” prompts an orderly evacuation to the lower levels. Boggs guides Finnick and Katniss to stairs that go down to an enormous room, equipped for a long stay, built into the solid cave walls. On her way to her assigned twelve-by-twelve square of concrete, with bunks carved into the stone, Katniss sees Plutarch, in his usual good mood. He reminds her that people will be looking to the Mockingjay to see how she behaves and misses her sarcasm when she asks if she should act like cameras are rolling. “Yes! Perfect,” he says, because cameras inspire brave actions.
In her family’s area, Katniss reads the protocol, which tells her to check that everyone from her compartment is present. Mrs. Everdeen and Prim are helping evacuate the hospital, so Katniss is not concerned that they are absent. She follows the second instruction, to get a pack for each of them from the Supply Station, set up their area, and return the pack. She notices that as soon as she acts, others line up to get their packs, too. The final instruction is to wait for further instructions, so she sits down in their area. After a little while, Mrs. Everdeen joins her, expecting to find Prim. They realize that Prim has gone back up to the first underground floor to get Buttercup. Katniss and her mother push their way to the bunker doors, which the guards are closing, and Katniss wedges first her hand and then her shoulder into the crack to keep it open as she screams Prim’s name. She hears two sets of footsteps on the stairs and yells at the guards to wait. At the last second, Prim and Gale arrive, Gale yelling, “Hold the door!” For Soldier Hawthorne, the guards pause, and the two slip in. Katniss is annoyed with Prim but relents when Prim says that she left Buttercup behind when they fled the district—“Not twice,” she insists. Katniss understands but still must calm her irritation.
Gale has the box with the glassware and medicines from Katniss’s house in Victor’s Village in his arms and her game bag over his shoulder. “If Peeta’s right,” he says, “these didn’t stand a chance.” But Katniss knows that he really went to the compartment for Prim and is grateful. Hundreds watch her as she makes her way back to her area. She sees that Gale has brought their few precious personal possessions, including the pearl that she guards as if, by keeping it safe, she could protect Peeta.
Coin’s voice comes over the audio—the evacuation was “exemplary” but is not simply a drill. She has just finished explaining Peeta’s warning when the first bomb hits. Yet the deep bunker barely shudders. Generators keep low lights running as she, Prim, Mrs. Everdeen, and the unhappy cat huddle together. Prim tells Katniss about bunker busters, designed to detonate below ground, and says that the bombs are probably not nuclear. At the thought of being trapped underground, Katniss must fight the urge to “run madly for the door and demand” to be let out.
Mrs. Everdeen praisesPeetafor having the “wherewithal” to warn them, and Katniss muses on what “wherewithal” means—“the knowledge, the opportunity, the courage”—and what it will cost Peeta. He will be punished, but more than that, Katniss suspects that Peeta was “waging a sort of battle in his mind, fighting to get the message out.”
Coin’s voice rings through the cavern: District 13 owes Peeta “a debt of gratitude” for his timely warning. Mrs. Everdeen is called to the first aid station, and Katniss and Primwait out the attack. Oddly, Katniss feels grateful for time with Prim, and they talk of how they miss District 12, and Prim says that she’s been chosen to train as a doctor. “Prim a doctor,” Katniss thinks gladly. “She couldn’t even dream of it in 12.” These are the kinds of changes that the rebellion, if it succeeds, could bring.
Katniss tells Prim about Peeta’s worrisome deterioration and her fear that “they must be killing him at this very moment.” Her heart hurts so badly that she wonders if she’s having a heart attack. But Prim argues that Snow won’t kill Peeta because then “he won’t have any way to hurt you.”
Prim is right, she decides. Cinna is dead, and District 12 is destroyed. Gale, Prim, Mrs. Everdeen, and Haymitch are safe in the bunker. Snow can touch only Peeta. She asks Prim, “So, what do you think they’ll do to him?” Her little sister, wise in ways inappropriate to her age, replies, “Whatever it takes to break you.”
The tortured triangle of relationships among Katniss, Gale, and Peeta that shaped the action in the first two novels are still at work in the third. The tension between Katniss and Gale in the past few chapters causes her to think that she is losing him as a friend, and he has clearly realized that she responds with love only when he is in pain. Gale seems to be accepting that Katniss will never think of him as a lover or spouse; the question is how he will respond to a rejection that she has not yet even acknowledged or perhaps realized. Perhaps her experiences as a tribute have changed her so that it’s easier for her to understand Finnick and Peeta than to relate to Gale, and certainly, while Peeta is in jeopardy, she won’t even think of a future with Gale or anyone. Yet in the moment of crisis, Gale is still the constant friend that he has always been. At great personal risk, he climbs the stairs up to find Prim rather than down to safety, which Katniss realizes she should have done and counts against herself. And he thinks not only of Prim but also of bringing down (as is likely against the rules in District 13) the few remaining personal possessions, precious to the Everdeens—the wedding photo, the hand-lettered book of plants, Katniss’s father’s hunting jacket, the pearl. So little to tie them to their lives before disasters struck, one after another—Gale reveals a sensitive heart by delivering these items to Katniss and her family despite what is likely his own grief and perhaps anger over Katniss’s inability to love him as more than a friend.
The attack continues for three days. The bombs fall in an assault that seems calculated not to destroy District 13 but to “keep us in lockdown,” perhaps to keep the Mockingjay off the air for a while.No news gets through, so Katniss has nothing to distract her from the question that “devours” her days and haunts her dreams: “What will break me . . . so that I am beyond repair, beyond usefulness?” Structured but boring hours pass as everyone waits, and Buttercup achieves “celebrity status” when adults and children come to watch him play “Crazy Cat,” a game in which he chases a flashlight beam that Katniss shines.
That night Katniss feels as if she is breaking, “tiny fissures spreading” through her as if she could “shatter into strange, razor-sharp shreds.” She slips out of her area to find Finnick, endlessly knotting and unknotting his rope. She reveals her fear and they talk of Annie, whom he tried so hard to protect, and Finnick regrets not having warned Katniss sooner that Snow would do the same thing to Peeta. He didn’t know, till Peeta’s heart stopped in the arena, that she truly cared for him; but at that moment, Snow knew, too. That moment turned Peeta into a weapon to be used against her. She asks Finnick how he stands it, and he says that he doesn’t. Nightmares give way to day, but “there’s no relief in waking.” What he does know is that it’s better “not to give into it.” Distraction helps, so he gives her his rope and teaches her knots.
Back in her area, she practices the knots. In the morning, the lockdown is over, and District 13’s residents go back to their schedules. Boggs intercepts Katniss, Finnick, and Gale and leads them to Special Defense’s command room. The team is there, so tired that rare cups of coffee have been approved.Coin wants the crew on the surface to film so that word can go out to the rebels that the district is “not only functional but dominant” and the Mockingjay is alive. Finnick teasingly offers Katniss a sugar cube for her coffee, an allusion to the first time they met before the 74th Games, while Gale looks on suspiciously, perhaps because Katniss goes to Finnick, not Gale, for comfort. She shrugs off his disapproval; more important matters are at hand. They suit up and climb to the surface, emerging in the woods, where Katniss inhales fresh air deeply. The leaves are turning; it’s early September, which means that Peeta has been a captive for five or six weeks. Boggs says that the losses are manageable and that Peeta’s warning gave them an extra ten minutes—time that likely saved Gale’s and Prim’s life.
Cressida decides to film in front of the Justice Building, but as they approach, Katniss sees by the entrance two dozen pink and red roses, just like those on the set of the post-victory interview when she and Peeta presented themselves as lovers. Katniss understands Snow’s message clearly and tries to explain to the others why the roses are “[d]esigned to unhinge” her. She tries to collect her thoughts but can’t come up with lines; even when Cressida gently encourages and prompts her, and a crew carefully gathers and removes the roses, she smells them and begins to cry because it is “impossible” to do what she agreed to do—to be the Mockingjay—since every word she says or action she takes will “be directly taken out on Peeta.” He’ll suffer, but he won’t die—that would not serve Snow’s purposes. Finnick explains to the crew that Katniss “has figured out how Snow’s using Peeta,” and they sigh. She is “broken”—Haymitch holds her and calls her “sweetheart” as he once did, but she becomes hysterical and has to be sedated. She wakes the next day in “a world of dark, haunted places where I traveled alone,” to find Haymitch by her bed. He explains that Plutarch has allies in the Capitol, and a rescue mission has been planned. Katniss asks why the rescue wasn’t attempted before. “Because it’s costly,” Haymitch says. People will likely die. But the rebels need the Mockingjay, so Peeta must be saved—and Annie, too. Finnick also “lost it” and had to be sedated.
Katniss grows suspicious because Haymitch is joking, trying to cheer her up. He finally admits that the first person to volunteer for the mission was Gale.
The rebels’ priorities, which are in fact Coin’s priorities, come into sharper focus in this chapter. Readers become aware of the careful calculus that Coin, with Plutarch’s help, carries out. She may not care in particular about what happens to Katniss or Peeta, Finnick or Gale. Despite what they have endured, they are in fact still children, living in her district. But to her, they seem more like tools to be used, programs to be run. They require and deserve no more consideration than is necessary to keep them in service. What motivates Katniss and Finnick, and even Gale and Haymitch, is more human, perhaps because they are soldiers, not commanders. Katniss tries to protect Peeta not because she can use him in the rebel effort but because she cares for him and feels responsible for his capture. Finnick loves Annie with devotion. That these emotions are subsumed in the calculus of war is part of the novel’s critique of war.