Part II: “The Assault”
Mountainous District 2 is large, made up of quarries, villages, and a central town; but its prize installation is a facility the rebels call “the Nut,” because it’s “tough to crack”: a “virtually impenetrable mountain that houses the heart of the Capitol’s military.” The leaders of District 2’s rebels are “weary and discouraged.” District 2 produces the most aggressive tributes, usually volunteers and Careers, and trains the Peacekeepers, and the Nut houses the latter. After losing the sophisticated bunkers in District 13, the Capitol built the Nut in a former quarry that already had a rail system. The built-out facility has computer control rooms, bunkers, hangars, arsenals—the tools of the Capitol’s enforcement. District 2’s citizens are “decently fed and cared for” as children to work in the mines, train for the Games, or become Peacekeepers, many are loyal to the Capitol. Yet others, especially the miners, know that they are “still slaves.” So District 2 is split: The rebels control the villages, but the main town’s loyalties are divided, and the Nut is “as untouchable as ever.”
Katniss helps however she’s asked to, visiting wounded, taping propos, and hunting during the day to gain strength. Yet she can never forget Peeta’s condition. Boggs tells her that the rescue mission succeeded too easily; clearly, Snow wanted Peeta to reach Katniss and murder her. His hijacked state contrasts so sharply with his actual nature that Katniss appreciates his steadiness and compassion. She often holds his pearl and remembers him, but without hope. Plutarch reports progress, but Haymitch honestly assesses Prim’s plan to “hijack him back.” It’s succeeding only “if extreme confusion is an improvement over extreme terror.”
Beetee, Gale, and other tacticians arrive. Gale seeks Katniss out and helps her pluck geese. He saw Peeta in rehab before leaving 13 and thought “something selfish”—that he can’t compete with the kind of pain Peeta is in. If Peeta never recovers, Katniss, he knows, will “always feel wrong about being with” Gale. Katniss replies that this feeling goes both ways. She feels wrong with either Peeta or Gale because of the other. Later, they kiss, and she feels her loneliness in her response. He tells her about the day he knew he loved her, when Darius was flirting with her in the Hob and Gale found that he “minded.”
The next day, the “brains” meet to discuss the Nut. Lyme, commander of the rebels in 2, is a tall, muscular woman who won her Games a generation ago. Plans are offered, rejected, rehashed, and the experienced rebels in 2 become frustrated when the tacticians from 13 suggest storming the entrance, a plan that has repeatedly failed. Gale sits at the window, gazing at the mountain and listening. He asks why the rebels need to take the Nut and suggests that what they really need is to “disable” it. He compares the people in the Nut to wild dogs: “Trap the dogs inside or flush them out,” he says. Gale points out avalanche paths that trace the mountain’s slopes. If the rebels are willing to give up the Nut’s resources, they can block all exits and then trigger avalanches. The debris will block the “rudimentary” ventilation system, the trapped people will suffocate, and the Nut will die. Beetee points out that the people could still escape by taking the train that runs to the town’s main square. “Not if we blow it up,” Gale says.
Repeatedly in the trilogy, Gale’s and Katniss’s paths veer apart, sometimes by choice and sometimes by force, and come together again. Each time is an opportunity for their relationship to flourish, but as the rebellion continues, they find more often that proximity defines them as people who cannot be in love. Katniss cannot love Gale because of Peeta’s presence in her heart, and Gale needs to know that he won’t have to share her affection. Personal issues aside, however, Gale and Katniss are developing quite different views of the rebellion, the enemy, and tactics. His plan for the Nut shows that he has “no interest in preserving the lives of those in the Nut. No interest in caging the prey for later use.” Katniss’s empathy extends to victims of the Capitol, even to those who live in the Capitol itself. She hates what her prep team suffers, for example. Her aversion to death is increasing while Gale’s willingness to embrace it, to cross a line she can’t, and, as he says, to follow Snow’s playbook, increases.
Reactions to Gale’s proposal range “from pleasure to distress, from sorrow to satisfaction.” Lyme argues that the many District 2 residents who work in the Nut should be given the opportunity to surrender, but Gale snaps that District 12 residents never had that chance. Katniss understands his fury, but she can’t accept his plan. She reminds him that the plan would be like “causing a massive coal mining accident” of the sort that killed their fathers. She argues that some people are forced to work in the Nut and that rebels spies are there, too. These must be sacrificed, Gale says, just as he would be willing to die in the Nut. Katniss knows that he means it, but it seems “cold-hearted” of him to decide for others.
Boggs suggests a compromise: They can leave the train tunnel to the town square open and station rebels to capture any who leave the Nut. Coin’s permission is required for the plan, and Gale and Katniss go hunt during the recess. That evening, Katniss suits up in case an opportunity to film a promo occurs during the attack, and the camera crew stands atop the Justice Building to watch the attack. Rebel hoverplanesdeliver their bombs, and by the time the avalanches begin, it’s too late for the Nut to respond. The sides of the mountain collapse over the Nut, “waves of stone” blocking entrances and air shafts so that the Nut becomes a “tomb.”
Memories of the mining accident that killed her father sweep over Katniss: hearing the sirens, waiting as the wounded survivors were brought up, the finality she felt at the “grieved expression” of the mine captain. Orders to evacuate the roof, in case the Capitol attempts to counterstrike with “what’s left” of their hovercraft, call her back to the moment. They walk through the marble hall, and she sits by a column facing the square, watching the rebels who wait at the mouth of the tunnel for survivors to surrender—or not.
Haymitch tells her that they played a tape of her singing “The Hanging Tree,” which never aired in the Capitol, for Peeta. He remembered Mr. Everdeen singing the song when he came into the bakery. Peeta, then about seven, listened to see whether the birds would hush. The memory didn’t cause him to melt down—a tiny victory, and one that causes Katniss to miss her father even more.
Gunfire breaks out as Peacekeepers try to take back the square, and Katniss sees Gale rush by, “eagerly headed to battle.” She knows that Peeta—if he were well—could “articulate why it is so wrong to be exchanging fire when people, any people, are trying to claw their way out” of danger. Yet this is war, and they are the enemy. As night falls, still no people have emerged. Cressida brings Katniss a microphone so that she can speak the lines Haymitch feeds her to announce that the Nut has fallen, that the Capitol’s power has been driven out of District 2, and that the remaining people in the Nut should surrender. Katniss hopes the announcement will save lives, but just as she begins to speak, two trains roll into the square. Armed people start firing at the rebels. Wounded people are aboard, too. The rebels, around the square and in machine gun nests on the roofs, are ready but hold their fire as a young man, burned and wounded, staggers forward, dragging a weapon. Katniss sees “just another burn victim from a mine accident” and goes toward him, moved by pity. On his knees, he takes aim, and she holds out her bow to indicate that she is no threat. A wound in his cheek distorts his words: “Give me one reason I shouldn’t shoot you.” She admits that she can’t. The Capitol has district residents fighting each other, but she’s “done killing their slaves for them.” She slides her bow across the ground to him. The wounded man declares, “I’m not their slave,” but Katniss says she is. She killed Cato, who killed Thresh, who killed Clove, and “it just goes around and around” because they are pieces in Games that only the Capitol wins.
Haymitch urges her to keep talking. She drops to her knees to plead with the man, to make clear who the real enemy is—not other District 2 residents, not Lyme, who was their victor, and not other districts—only the Capitol. As the cameras zoom in, on the big screens around the square she sees herself get shot.
Since the first novel in the trilogy, readers have watched the development of the odd and fragile love triangle that Katniss, Peeta, and Gale experience. In Mockingjay, it becomes increasingly clear that Gale and Peeta are not merely two young men who love Katniss but also representatives of two ways of thinking. She is torn not just between them but between their contrasting approaches to the rebellion. Gale is ready—and has been ready since he was young—to deal whatever destruction it will take to bring down the Capitol. And sometimes, Katniss is with him; but in practice, her vengeful thoughts are centered on Snow alone. Peeta, before his hijacking, kept his compassion alive and inspired Katniss to do the same. He could express what she can’t about the entombment of the Nut. He will understand, she knows, why she’s willing to set down her bow and plead with a man ready to kill her. Katniss is swayed by events toward Gale’s view (for example, when she thinks of 12’s destruction) and to Peeta’s, and the contest between the two young men is not only for her love but also for her beliefs about humanity.