SPOILERS FOR ALL THREE BOOKS IN THE TRILOGY
In preparation for the arrival of Mockingjay, I decided to reread the first two books of the series. I had forgotten some details, and also wanted to revisit the Team Gale versus Team Peeta question.
For me, rereading the books was a terrific idea. Since I already knew the outcome, I could pay more attention to other elements of the plot (although I raced through with only a bit less alacrity the second time!).
Note: page numbers are given for your reference; HG refers to Hunger Games; CF to Catching Fire, and MJ to Mockingjay.
The history of Panem seemed more relevant to me than ever, considering the current state of the real world:
“[The Mayor] tells of the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America. He lists the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land, the brutal war for what little sustenance remained.” [HG, 18]
[It isn’t until Mockingjay however that we learn the ironic meaning of “Panem.” I had thought the name was a variation of Pan-America, and maybe in one sense it is. As I had forgotten, District 12 was once Appalachia, and the Capitol was in the place “once called the Rockies.” [HG, 47] But we find in Mockingjay there is a more sinister association when Plutarch explains it to Katniss:]
“It’s a saying from thousands of years ago, written in a language called Latin about a place called Rome, he explains. “Panem et Circenses translates into ‘Bread and Circuses.’ The writer was saying that in return for full bellies and entertainment, his people had given up their political responsibilities and therefore their power.
I think about the Capitol. The excess of food. And the ultimate entertainment. The Hunger Games. “So that’s what the districts are for. To provide the bread and circuses.’
‘Yes. And as long as that kept rolling in, the Capitol could control its little empire.'” [MJ, 223]
There were many wonderful scenes in the early two books, the details of which I had forgotten, such as after Katniss (at age 16) takes her little sister’s place in the Hunger Games:
“At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me.” [HG, 24]
And then, the touching moment when Katniss gives the same send-off to her friend Rue after she dies…. [HG, 237]
Hunger Games also introduced us to the mockingjay, the mutation that came from the mating of the mockingbird with the “jabberjay.” Jabberjays were genetically altered creatures that could memorize and repeat whole human conversations. They were sent by the Capitol to spy on the rebels. But the jabberjays were caught by the rebels and turned against the Capitol when the rebels sent them back loaded with lies. [CF, 92] After the war, jabberjays were left to die out, but they mated with mockingbirds. Ironically, the Capitol had never anticipated their will to live. [CF, 92] Thus the mockingjay thus became “something of a slap in the face to the Capitol.” [HG, 42-3] Katniss wears a mockingjay pin in both games.
Katniss is unaware at first of the significance of the mockingjay. I had forgotten that when Katniss explains the origin of her name, which is the same as a plant with three white petals in the blossom, she recalls her father joking, “As long as you can find yourself, you’ll never starve.” [HG, 52] Finding herself turned out to be critical.
President Snow comes to see Katniss at her house and tells her: “Katniss Everdeen, the girl who was on fire, you have provided a spark that, left unattended, may grow to an inferno that destroys Panem.” [CF, 23] And indeed, before long, the first uprising starts in District 8 [CF, 88].
But Katniss is experiencing personal turmoil as well: evaluating what she had with Gale versus what she has with Peeta:
“He [Gale] became my confidant, someone with whom I could share thoughts I could never voice inside the fence. In exchange, he trusted me with his. Being out in the woods with Gale…sometimes I was actually happy.
I call him my friend, but in the last year it’s seemed too casual a word for what Gale is to me. …[HG, 112]”
And when Katniss returns to her home:
“Gale. The idea of seeing Gale in a matter of hours makes my stomach churn. But why? I can’t quite frame it in my mind. I only know that I feel like I’ve been lying to someone who trusts me. Or more accurately, to two people.” [HG, 371]
In Catching Fire and Mockingjay, Katniss is now seventeen.
In the beginning, Katniss acknowledges that her pretend romance with Peeta, as a key strategy for survival in the arena, “was nothing but painful for Gale.” [CF, 9]
And yet, Katniss feels conflicted over Peeta. She says, “Just the sound of his voice twists my stomach into a knot of unpleasant emotions like guilt, sadness, and fear. And longing. I might as well admit there’s some of that, too.” [CF, 14]
After the Hunger Games, Katniss waited in the woods for Gale. She waited at least two hours:
“I’d begun to think that he no longer cared about me. Hated me even. And the idea of losing him forever, my best friend, the only person I’d ever trusted with my secrets, was so painful I couldn’t stand it. Not on top of everything else that had happened. I could feel my eyes tearing up and my throat starting to close the way it does when I get upset.
Then I looked up and there he was, ten feet away, just watching me. Without even thinking, I jumped up and threw my arms around him, making some weird sound that combined laughing, choking, and crying. …” [CF, 26]
Before they parted that day, Gale did something else:
“Then suddenly, as I was suggesting I take over the daily snare run, he took my face in his hands and kissed me. … I hadn’t imagined how warm [his lips] would feel pressed against my own. Or how those hands, which could set the most intricate of snares, could as easily entrap me. …Then he let go and said, ‘I had to do that. At least once.’ And he was gone.” [CF, 27]
Haymitch makes clear however, that from now on, Katniss’s only life is with Peeta, because otherwise it means she has been trying to put one over on the Capitol. [CF, 44]
Gale tells Katniss he loves her. [CF, 96] She can’t answer.
Gale tells Katniss he won’t run away with her; he can’t run from other families that need help. [CF, 100] But Katniss still has not “found herself.”
When Gale is whipped within an inch of his life, Katniss realizes “Gale is mine. I am his.” [CF, 117]
“Of course, I love Gale. But what kind of love does she [her mother] mean? What do I mean when I say I love Gale? I don’t know. [CF, 125]
Katniss plans to tell Gale, when she says goodbye to him before the second Hunger Games, “To let Gale know how essential he’s been to me all these years. How much better my life has been for knowing him. For loving him, even if it’s only in the limited way that I can manage.” But she never gets the chance. [CF, 186] [And as far as we can tell, she never takes that step later, either.]
But Peeta is in the arena with Katniss, and Gale is far away.
Peeta knows how much Rue meant to Katniss, so when it is his turn to make a presentation to the Gamemakers, he paints a picture of Rue, “how she looked after Katniss had covered her in flowers.” It has the desired effect on Katniss. Manipulative? [CF, 248] Later,in Mockingjay, he plants primroses for Katniss in honor of Prim. Again, it seems as if it could be manipulative.
President Snow insists that Peeta and Katniss be married. Cinna creates a wedding dress for Katniss that changes into a mockingjay costume. [CF, 252] Before the second games start, Cinna is beaten in front of Katniss; presumably killed. [CF, 263] Just prior to this, Haymitch, the mentor of Katniss and Peeta said to Katniss: “you just remember who the enemy is.” [CF, 258]
After the aborted second Hunger Games, the survivors not captured by the Capitol are airlifted out. There really is a District 13!
“During the dark days, the rebels in 13 wrested control from the government forces, trained their nuclear missiles on the Capitol, and then struck a bargain: They would play dead in exchange for being left alone.” [MJ, 17]
The president of District 13 is now Alma Coin.
Most of the districts in Panem are now in full-scale rebellion.
Katniss discovers they all tried to keep her alive:
“‘We had to save you because you’re the mockingjay, Katniss,’ says Plutarch. ‘While you live, the revolution lives.’” [CF, 386]
“The others kept Peeta alive because if he died, we knew there’d be no keeping you in an alliance,” says Haymitch. [CF, 387]
Peeta and Johanna and Enobaria were picked up by the Capitol after the arena blew up. [CF, 387]
Gale comes in to see Katness. He is injured:
“Prim?” I gasp.
She’s alive. So is your mother. I got them out in time,” he says.
“They’re not in District Twelve?” I ask.
Gale tells her: “Katniss, there is no District Twelve.” [CF, 391]
District 12 has been destroyed!
As Mockingjay begins, Katniss is in post-game shock/PTSD. When headaches get unbearable, she recites her new mantra:
“My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me. Peeta was taken prisoner. He is thought to be dead. Most likely he is dead. It is probably best if he is dead…”
More than 90% of District 12 residents are dead. The remaining 800 or so are refugees in District 13…Gale saved these residents, including Katniss’s mother and Prim. He led them to the Meadow. He helped pull down the electrified fence and led the people into the woods.
Katniss finds she still has a role to play:
“…What they want is for me to truly take on the role they designed for me. The symbol of the revolution. The Mockingjay. … I must now become the actual leader, the face, the voice, the embodiment of the revolution….”
Katniss reviews a list of all the people dead because of her… [MJ, 12] Later she muses:
“…I’m on the verge of losing Gale as well. The glue of mutual need that bonded us so tightly together for all those years is melting away. Dark patches, not light, show in the spaces between us… [MJ, 126].”
Katniss is furious with Gale because he didn’t tell her about Peeta being on tv and looking bad. She says:
“Gale as good as lied to me. That was unacceptable, even if he was concerned about my well-being. [MJ, 128] “
She confronted Gale and he said:
“I’m sorry. All right? I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to tell you, but everyone was afraid that seeing Peeta’s propo [propaganda spot] would make you sick,” he says.
“They were right. It did. But not quite as sick as you lying to me for [District 13 President] Coin.” At that moment, his communicuff starts beeping. “There she is. Better run. You have things to tell her.”
“For a moment, real hurt registers on his face. Then cold anger replaces it. He turns on his heel and goes. Maybe I have been too spiteful, not given him enough time to explain. Maybe everyone is just trying to protect me by lying to me. I don’t care. I’m sick of people lying to me for my own good. Because really it’s mostly for their own good. Lie to Katniss about the rebellion so she doesn’t do anything crazy. Send her into the arena without a clue so we can fish her out. Don’t tell her about Peeta’s propo because it might make her sick, and it’s hard enough to get a decent performance out of her as it is. [MJ, 117-8]”
[Is this really fair to lay all this on Gale’s doorstep? Note she also seems to have forgotten that Gale saved her family. One would think the “crime” of not telling her Peeta was not doing well would be offset by a few other things.]
Later, they reconcile, but Peeta is still uppermost in Katniss’s mind. Gale to Katniss:
“I don’t stand a chance if he doesn’t get better. You’ll never be able to let him go. You’ll always feel wrong about being with me.”
“The way I always felt wrong kissing him because of you,” I say.
Gale holds my gaze. “If I thought that was true, I could almost live with the rest of it.”
“It is true,” I admit. “But so is what you said about Peeta.” [MJ, 197]
Then Katniss kisses Gale “because I’m so desperately lonely I can’t stand it.” [MJ, 198]
Gale knows her head is elsewhere and stops kissing her.
[It appears to be okay for Katniss to deceive Gale by kissing him while thinking about Peeta and only because she feels lonely, but not for Gale to “deceive” Katniss by protecting her from hearing hurtful information about Peeta.]
Peeta has been brainwashed by the Capitol and accuses Katniss of being a fraud. She thinks:
“All those months of taking it for granted that Peeta thought I was wonderful are over. Finally, he can see me for who I really am. Violent. Distrustful. Manipulative. Deadly. And I hate him for it.” [MJ, 232]
[This is key. And while Peeta apparently “recovers” and sees Katniss like he used to, Gale knows the truth about Katniss and she knows he knows. She would rather have the blind admiration and love of Peeta.]
Peeta and Gale discuss which one Katniss loves:
Peeta: “I wonder how she’ll make up her mind.”
Gale: “Oh, that I do know.” I can just catch Gale’s last words through the layer of fur. “Katniss will pick whoever she thinks she can’t survive without.” [MJ, 328-9]
[Katniss overhears this conversation. This seals Gale’s fate. He can see through her, but Peeta cannot.]
Katniss asks Greasy Sae:
“‘Where did Gale go?’
‘District Two. Got some fancy job there. I see him now and again on the television,’ she says.
‘I dig around inside myself, trying to register anger, hatred, longing. I find only relief.’ [MJ, 384]”
[Why is relief her only reaction? How unfair to Gale! And is no one a bit astounded at Gale’s new role?]
Katniss says she figured she would end up with Peeta:
“That what I need to survive is not Gale’s fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that. [MJ, 388]”
So after, when he whispers, ‘You love me. Real or not real?’ I tell him, ‘Real.’ [MJ, 388]”
As romantic and lovely as this ending is, it doesn’t do justice to Gale, except to prove that he knows Katniss better than anyone.
As you can see, I had some “issues” with Mockingjay, but I have to say, I loved the series overall, and thank the author for providing me with hours of enjoyment and emotional gratification.
Let me end by sharing with you one of the touching moments that affected me the most in the series, that happens to be from Mockingjay – the death of Finnick:
“It’s as if I’m Finnick, watching images of my life flash by. The mast of a boat, a silver parachute, Mags laughing, a pink sky, Beetee’s trident, Annie in her wedding dress, waves breaking over rocks. Then it’s over. [MJ, 312-2]”
The Hunger Games published by Scholastic Press, 2008
Catching Fire published by Scholastic Press, 2009
Mockingjay published by Scholastic Press, 2010