Part II: “The Assault”
Back in District 13’s hospital, Katniss chases Peeta through morphling dreams, hearing him say, “Always,” as he did when she took sleep syrup to dull the pain of her injured heel before the second reaping. She wakes to find that her left side hurts. Johanna plops down on Katniss’s bed and siphons off some of her morphling, since her dose has been cut back. She speaks dismissively of her “head doctor,” who keeps assuring her that she’s “totally safe,” which Katniss understand is a “truly stupid thing” to say to a survivor of the Games. Katniss has bruised ribs, and her spleen ruptured and had to be removed, but the body armor in Cinna’s costume kept her from real harm. Besides, if she had needed a spleen, she’d have had—it’s “everybody’s job,” Johanna sneers, to keep the Mockingjay alive. Katniss asks whether that’s the source of Johanna’s hatred for her, and Johanna admits to a little jealousy, but it’s more that the cynical Johanna finds Katniss “a little hard to swallow”—the romance, the sympathy for enemies. Johanna may be strong, but only Katniss is feared in the Capitol, she says, and leaves after flirting with Gale.
Gale teases Katniss about her tendency to run “straight into trouble.” Gale wants to know whether Katniss thinks he’s “heartless,” and she denies this while maintaining that the avalanche plan was wrong. Irritated, he asks why “crushing our enemy in a mine” is wrong but shooting down a hoverplane in District 8 isn’t. Katniss objects that in District 8, they were under attack and had to retaliate, but Gale points out that by destroying the Nut, the rebels ensured that no further bombings could occur. This approach can rationalize anything, Katniss realizes, even forcing children to kill each other.
When Katniss is stronger, she helps make a propo to show that the Mockingjay is alive and to warn the Capitol “to expect us soon.” Rebels in the districts pause to regroup and resupply while Capitol citizens, cut off from the flow of goods and food from the districts, threaten nuclear retaliation. The Capitol, accustomed to ruling and receiving tribute, is “not in a position to reinvent itself.” Plutarch explains that while the Capitol has emergency stockpiles, its citizens are not used to “hardship,” as are the districts, but to “Panem et Circensus.” He explains the phrase to Katniss—“bread and circuses” signifies that the people gave up power in exchange for “full bellies and entertainment.” Now the Capitol can’t provide enough of either to keep the citizens happy.
Plutarch scares Katniss by mentioning that he’s planning a wedding and then explains that Finnick and Annie, not Katniss and Peeta, are the celebrants. Coin has to be prodded—a wedding and dance are a profligate use of resources, by 13’s standards—but everyone wants to help. Katniss takes Annie by hovercraft to her house in 12 so that they can choose a dress from Cinna’s Victory Tour designs. The prep team comes to help.
The wedding is a marvelous success. Dalton conducts the ceremony, then a fiddler from District 12 plays, and they dance. Katniss dances with Prim—the Mockingjay, thought to have been killed, taking the “satisfaction of having Snow watch” the celebration. Then Plutarch reveals a surprise: a wedding cake so large that four people have to push it into the room.
Later that night, under the watchful eyes of the doctors and guards, Katniss goes into Peeta’s room. Under three restraints and the threat of being rendered unconscious by medication, Peeta regards Katniss warily. She hears an “edge of suspicion and reproach” when he tells her that she’s “not very big . . . or particularly pretty” and “not even remotely nice.” She feels defensive—and guilty, given what Peeta has been through—and tries to leave. But Peeta says, “I remember about the bread.” He describes the events around the bread, even to the “dandelion” that Katniss picked the next day, and says, “I must have loved you a lot.” He asks about their kisses in the arena, whether they were real, and what she feels for Gale. When she informs him that she didn’t need “permission” from either Gale or Peeta to kiss the other, he laughs coldly. She leaves and hides in the laundry room, thinking hatefully that now Peeta knows who she really is: “Violent. Distrustful.Manipulative. Deadly.”
From joy to despair, from the “virtual impossibility” of Finnick and Annie’s marriage to the angry breaks between Katniss and Gale, and later Katniss and Peeta, this chapter deals with fraught emotions. Johanna’s admission that she both envies and despises Katniss’s influence, the grief of the memory of Cinna as conveyed through his dresses, the celebratory events of the wedding, and the humiliation and hatred that follow Katniss’s conversation with Peeta—Katniss is tugged and pulled through this chapter fromone emotion to its contrast. Readers of the three novels have likely noticed that each book is laid out in thirds, and each third ends on an intense moment. The ratcheting up of emotions and conflicts is clear as Part II approaches its finale. But thoughtful readers will also have learned that Katniss—who is still, despite all she’s been through, very young—sometimes overreacts and overgeneralizes. Her feelings at the end of the chapter are bleak. She’s already make it clear to Gale that she can’t approach the war as heartlessly as he does, yet here she describes herself as quite heartless and mourns what she perceives as the death of Peeta’s former love for the Katniss he thought he knew. Hiding behind warm pipes in the laundry room, Katniss has no one near to listen to her fears and to interpret her pain in a less categorically damning way.
Katniss reacts in anger when Coin informs her that the Mockingjay has done her job and will not be participating in the assault on the Capitol. Boggs explains that now is the time for soldiers, and unlike Gale, Katniss has not attended her assigned training sessions. Katniss realizes that, in Boggs’s eyes, she is a seventeen-year-old girl who must be looked after. He’s right, and she did skip training. Coin agrees to let her train for three weeks and then decide. Johanna, too, has been excluded and is “spitting mad,” so the two vow to train together. Katniss thinks that, while she and Johanna are not friends, they are at least allies. They train at first with beginners. When Katniss isn’t able to complete the five-mile run because of her bruised ribs, her trainer, Soldier York, recommends a painful but fast healing treatment. The treatment burns so much that Katniss is sure she can “smell the ring of flesh around my chest burning,” and Johanna is in morphling withdrawal, but they persevere.
The next day, they train in the rain, and Johanna is shaking so badly that Katniss stealthily helps her when they assemble weapons. That evening, they get permission to share a compartment and leave the hospital, as long as Katniss keeps an eye on Johanna and Prim keeps an eye on both of them. Johanna accidentally opens the drawer with Katniss’s few precious possessions and then apologizes, but Katniss realizes that Johanna has not one personal possession and encourages her to look at and touch the wedding picture, the spile, and the pearl. They talk about Peeta and how they have all changed so terribly.
By the end of the first week of training, both are holding their own. In the cafeteria, they sit with Annie and Finnick, who has transformed from a “broken young man” to someone who “radiates life.” Delly and Gale are there, too; Delly is still working with Peeta, defending Katniss when he goes off on her. They laugh, talk, and eat—then stop when Peeta, handcuffed and guarded, walks over and asks to sit down. Johanna says that they are “old friends” who shared a wall in the Capitol and are “familiar with each other’s screams.” Annie, as she does when memories surface, “covers her ears and exits reality,” and Finnick comforts her and glares at Johanna. They “pretend to eat” in silence till Delly eases the moment by telling Annie that Peeta created the icing sea scape on her wedding cake. As Finnick gathers their trays (one-handed) and leads Annie off for a walk, Peeta warns him to “be nice” to Annie, or “I might try and take her away from you.”
Delly scolds Peeta, but Peeta claims that Finnick saved his life only for the rebellion: “I don’t owe him anything.” Peeta brings up his confusing memories of “nights on the train” and then asks Gale and Katniss whether they are “officially a couple now” or whether Plutarch is still “dragging out that star-crossed lover thing.” “Still dragging,” Johanna reports, and Peeta’s fists clench. Johanna jokes that Peeta has been replaced by “the evil-mutt version” of himself, and Gale and Katniss take their trays and leave. Gale is surprised, not by Peeta’s hatred of Katniss, but by how “familiar” the hatred is—he felt it himself, when he had to watch Katniss kiss Peeta during the Games. Katniss says that Peeta just sees her as she is, but Gale objects. As her “oldest friend,” he can assure her that Peeta isn’t seeing her as she really is. He kisses her cheek and leaves. Katniss sits on her bed, studying tactics. Johanna arrives and reports that Delly scolded Peeta in a “squeaky” voice, at which Peeta began to argue with himself as if he were two people and had to be taken back to the hospital. That night, in the dark, Katniss asks whether Johanna really could hear Peeta screaming. “That was part of it . . . . Like the jabberjays in the arena. Only it was real.”
One idea that emerges in Mockingjay is that there are no real victors in the arena. The victor may get a nice house and more food rations, may bring more food into his or her district, and may receive glory; but the physical and mental damage of the arena are profound, even for victors who manage to escape Snow’s abuses of their bodies or retaliations against their loved ones. After Katniss’s first Games, she likely thinks that Snow’s visit to her home and threats against her family are uncharacteristically abusive, but in fact, it becomes clear that many victors suffer deeply, even after having survived the arena. Haymitch is a good example; Johanna is another, and her reactions to rain and avoidance of showers hint at some specific trauma. Annie is terribly fragile; Finnick is saved from his own brokenness only by his desire to shelter her. Peeta’s torture results in an utter warping of his nature; Katniss, too, has one emotional crisis after another and is plagued by nightmares. In this chapter, five survivors of the arena sit down at a cafeteria table, and their awkward conversation serves to display the long-term depredations of the Capitol’s abuse.