Part I: “The Ashes”
As she soaks in soapy water, Katniss thinks through all the powerful people and groups who have forced her to subject her will to theirs: the Capitol and Snow, the Gamemakers, the rebels, and now Coin. She has “an agenda of my own,” and Coin reveals that she understands Katniss’s agenda by being “the first to publicly brand me as a threat.”
The prep team has been busy getting Katniss to “Beauty Base Zero” so that Fulvia can make her up for the first propo. As Octavia dries her off, Katniss accustoms herself to Octavia’s real hair color and un-made-up face. She realizes that Octavia is only in her early twenties and wishes she could promise to protect her from Coin, to stop her hands from shaking. Flavius and Venia look different, too, as their dyed hair grows out. Venia takes the towel from Octavia and assures her that “Katniss is not going to hurt us” and didn’t even know they were in the district, yet Octavia still cannot meet Katniss’s eyes.
There’s no covering up the “lumpy, jagged scar” where Johanna cut the tracker out of Katniss’s arm. “It’s positively repulsive,” Fulvia insists, but Plutarch isn’t bothered and suggests an arm band. Their bickering disgusts Katniss, who heads to lunch, leading her frightened prep team through the staring crowd. Katniss sits with District 12 friends, including Leevy and Hazelle, who are kinder to the team. Posy, Gale’s five-year-old sister, asks Octavia, “You’re green. Are you sick?” Fighting tears, Octavia says, “It’s meant to be pretty,” and Posy declares that Octavia would be “pretty in any color.” They eat, and Gale is uncharacteristically conversational to ease the mood.
After lunch, as they go to Special Defense they revisit their disagreement, and Katniss realizes that she can trust Gale precisely because he’s willing to speak his mind. Special Defense, deep underground, is “a beehive of rooms full of computers, labs, research equipment, and testing ranges.” Inside, the air is cool and alive with sound of insect wings and the activity of hummingbirds. Beetee, wheelchair bound and still in recovery from his near-death in the arena, greets them and explains the “fluke” of the meadow: Engineers have been studying hummingbird flight for years to apply it to their own vehicles. They talk about whether Katniss could bring one down with an arrow, but Gale suggests fine mesh spread over an area baited with nectar.
Katniss suddenly recalls watching a tape of Beetee’s Games. He electrocuted two tributes who were hunting him, and Katniss can see the boys’ “convulsing bodies” and “grotesque expressions.” Beetee watched them die. “Not his fault,” she reminds herself. “We were all acting only in self-defense.” She wants to leave the meadow quickly, “before somebody starts setting up a snare.”
Beetee pilots his wheelchair to his lab. He asks how Finnick is and, when Katniss says he’s having “concentration problems,” says that given what Finnick has endured, that he is “still with us at all” is amazing. He asks Katniss to tell Finnick that he’s working on a new trident for him. Guards outside a hall marked “Special Weaponry” check their fingerprints, DNA, and retinal scans and then allow them to pass. Clearly, the district is concerned about threats. The arsenal is impressive: “Row upon row” of guns, explosives, and armored vehicles. Gale tries out a bow equipped with scopes as Beetee goes into a restricted room to get something. Katniss asks Gale whether he could kill someone with the bow, and he says yes—if he could protect his people with it.
Beetee returns with a tall, black case, which Katniss opens to find a “stunning black bow.” She lifts it to examine the designand realizes that the bow is “alive” and that it hums when she speaks to it. Beetee explains that he was told to make a bow “based purely on looks” to go with her costume, but he thought, “What a waste.” So he made it both functional and beautiful and programmed it to respond to Katniss’s voice. They gather the equally amazing arrows and head to the range, where Katniss finds that she can shoot accurately over a hundred yards.
Katniss returns to the prep team for make-up and costuming; a bloody bandage covers the scar on her arm, suggesting “recent combat.” Venia adds the Mockingjay pin over Katniss’s heart, and she takes up her new bow and regular arrows to pose. Then the team reviews the recordings, and Katniss does not recognize herself, a woman “larger in stature, more imposing” than she is, “face smudged but sexy,” clothes smoking as if about to catch fire.
The team discusses the slogan that will accompany the image: “People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!” It’s clear that Plutarch and Fulvia have worked long and hard on this line, and they’re proud of it. But Katniss finds it “a mouthful” and “stiff,” something she’d never actually say. Obligingly, she holds up her bow on the set and yells the slogan “with all the anger I can muster.” The reaction is “dead silence” that lingers till she hears Haymitch’s “acerbic laugh” over the intercom: “And that, my friends, is how a revolution dies.”
Conflicting, contradictory images and events make this chapter deeply uncomfortable. Beautiful things—Posy’s sweet inquiries, the meadow with its hummingbirds, Beetee’s astonishing bow—contrast with Fulvia’s revulsion over Katniss’s scar, Katniss’s recurring thoughts about death and gore in the arena, and Gale and Beetee’s unnerving conversation about how to snare hummingbirds. Readers may be reminded of Peeta’s paintings, so beautifully executed but portraying horrors. Readers may sense in Katniss a deep desire, a yearning, for beauty and peace, for what she had in the woods with Gale before Prim’s first reaping. But such desires are reduced to distractions by the pressing needs of the rebels.
Katniss stormed out of the studio after hearing Haymitch’s voice; he is, to her surprise, out of detox and, to her rage, again has “some measure of control” over her life. But she knows he’s right about her performance. She can’t do what Plutarch wants—simply stand in the studio, wearing her costume, and be the Mockingjay—at least, not without Peeta beside her. Now, Katniss joins an odd assortment of people at the table in the Command room. Coin and her people, Plutarch and his, Finnick and Beetee, Dalton, Greasy Sae, and Leevy are among them, all invited by Haymitch to form a sort of focus group.
Haymitch shows the footage from the day before, in which Katniss looks like “a puppet being manipulated by unseen forces,” and then asks everyone to recall a time when Katniss did something that “genuinely moved” them. Leevy recalls the moment Katniss volunteered for Prim, knowing she was volunteering to die. Boggs describes watching as Katniss sang to Rue as she died. Octavia “blurts out” that she cried when Katniss drugged Peeta in the 74th Games so that she could get his medicine. Others recount many other incidents that reveal her love for Peeta, her defiance of the Capitol, her tough spirit. All these incidents have one thing in common: Katniss acted in her own will, or, as Gale puts it, “No one told her what to say and do.” This “unscripted” Katniss is lost in the propos. Haymitch suggests getting Katniss out into the field, into actual combat, and letting her be herself. Plutarch will broadcast that Katniss lost the baby when she was shocked in the arena, but even so, Haymitch’s plan is “controversial.” As people argue the pros and cons, Katniss interrupts: “I want to go.”
Coin agrees to try the strategy in “the least dangerous situation that can evoke some spontaneity” in Katniss. They decide to fly to District 8, where a raid has just occurred, but Dalton adds one more thought: “Wash her face. . . . She’s still a girl, and you made her look thirty-five.” This is what the Capitol would do. Everyone but Katniss and Haymitch leaves the room to prepare, but Haymitch tells Katniss that they need to talk. All she can say is “I can’t believe you didn’t rescue Peeta.” He knows but doesn’t apologize, and she doesn’t expect him to. They had a deal, but “in my heart of hearts, I know we both failed.” They both tried; they both failed; they are both suffering, andthey try to believe that they’re “still in the game” and that they can still rescue Peeta. Haymitch jokes feebly that he’s still Katniss’s mentor, and she says, “We’ll see.”
In the Remake Room, Katniss scrubs away the make-up and takes the fake bandage of her scar. Beetee helps her put on the armor Cinna designed and explains when to use the gas mask and how the arrows are arranged. Boggs comes to escort her to Airborne, but Finnick, bare-legged and in his hospital gown, catches them, begging to be allowed at least to ride in the hovercraft. Quickly, Katniss tells him about the trident Beetee is making and suggests that Finnick head down to see it—after he gets some pants on.
The elevator moves laterally—to Katniss’s surprise—as it carries them to the Hangar. When she sees the many rows of hovercraft, she feels a flash of “hatred” for 13’s remaining hidden and passive while the other districts suffered, but Boggs defends the district’s patient preparations for war.
The team is already aboard; filming equipment is crammed in every corner. Fulvia is exasperated that Katniss won’t wear make-up; few people, she says, have “camera-ready faces”—but Gale is one, she admits. Gale does look good in his uniform, but Boggs retorts, “Well, don’t expect us to be too impressed. We just saw FinnickOdair in his underwear.”
The hovercraft navigates tunnels to an elevator that carries it into the open, and Katniss realizes that she’s uninformed about how the war is going and about the conflict in District 8. Plutarch explains that only District 2, which has always had close ties with the Capitol, is not part of the rebellion. Though District 2 had always been presented as an enormous quarry, it in fact had long been the center of defense, weapons manufacture, and Peacekeeper training. This surprises Katniss because the Capitol’s misinformation teaches that Peacekeepers are Capitol citizens. In fact, few Capitol residents would sign up for “a dull life of deprivation in the districts.” The term of service is twenty years—with no marriage, no children allowed. But people who volunteered could get their debts forgiven, escape the quarries, or even trade service for punishment for a crime.
The rebels are securing the districts, one at a time, leaving 2 for last. Then they will attack the Capitol itself and form a republic so that each district elects representatives to govern. Katniss is suspicious of such a system, but Plutarch says, “if our ancestors could do it, then we can, too,” although Katniss is doubtful.What, Katniss asks, if the rebellion fails? “Then I would expect next year’s Hunger Games to be quite unforgettable,” Plutarch says—and offers her a small purple capsule. Called nightlock in her honor, the pill causes a fast, painless death. No rebel can afford to be captured.
Because Katniss is the novel’s first-person narrator, readers most easily see character development and growth in her. Katniss is just sixteen when she volunteers for Prim and just seventeen when she agrees to become the Mockingjay. Part of her maturation into a young adult is the development of empathy, of the ability to take another’s perspective. This chapter provides two examples. When Boggs recalls watching Katniss sing to Rue, Katniss’s view of him shifts from “a muscular robot that does Coin’s bidding” to that of a father, “with a young boy perched up on his hip,” whom Katniss glimpsed in the dining hall. She is able to detach him from Coin and from his duties and see him as a person. Later, in the elevator, she looks at Boggs—really looks—and sees a man in his forties, “blue eyes,” gray hair, and “[i]ncredible posture”—not a robot, not Coin’s lackey, but a friend. Readers also see this maturation in Katniss’s first one-on-one conversation with Haymitch shows that she is able to recognize her anger, her sense that Haymitch betrayed her, for what it really is: her own deep regret about failing to save Peeta. She is then able to see that Haymitch shares her remorse; it’s eating at him just as it eats at her. When she takes Haymitch’s perspective, she can let go of anger she had incorrectly directed at him. She remembers, as he advised her to do before she entered the Quarter Quell arena, who the enemy really is.