In the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy, Katniss Everdeen endures an extraordinary amount of pain. She faces death many times during her competition in the Hunger Games, and at several points has to kill other competitors. In Catching Fire, it’s clear from the beginning that these changes have had a major impact on Katniss’s character. She struggles with the trauma of her time in the Hunger Games, often having nightmares about Rue, her friend and fellow competitor, who was killed during the competition. In addition to the more obvious conflicts with President Snow and the government, one of the most important narratives in Catching Fire concerns how Katniss deals—or fails to deal—with her own pain and trauma.
While Catching Fire doesn’t resolve Katniss’s problems with pain and trauma (there’s a whole other book in the series, after all), it contains important examples of how not to deal with pain. When her friend Gale is injured, Katniss begs her mother to use a powerful painkiller, morphling, to relieve her friend’s suffering. Katniss’s mother refuses, on the grounds that morphling will weaken Gale in the long term. By forcing him to confront his own pain in the short term, Katniss’s mother allows Gale’s wounds to heal.
Later, Collins reveals that many other Hunger Games victors have turned to drugs—such as morphling—to hide their pain. When these victors are required to compete in the Games a second time, Katniss sees, terrified, that many of them are addicted to painkillers, and can barely tell where they are. The message is clear: Katniss can’t “drown out” her pain (or, for that matter, the pain of her loved ones) with instant gratification or distraction. While this method may be rewarding in the short term, it does nothing to fight the source of the pain itself, and thus makes the victim weaker. There is, in fact, no easy solution to Katniss’s pain. Nevertheless, it’s clear that she needs to exercise self-control and discipline to avoid making the mistakes of her fellow Hunger Games champions.
Peeta, Katniss’s co-champion in the Hunger Games, represents another important facet of her quest to resolve her pain and trauma. Because Peeta was also a competitor, he understands Katniss’s feelings, and on several occasions they sleep next to each other to avoid getting nightmares. Friendship, understanding, and even love help Katniss to fight pain by passing it on to others.
By the end of Catching Fire, Katniss is caught in an “in-between” stage. She’s experienced a great deal of pain, learned how not to deal with it, and also found some methods for coping with her pain in a healthy, productive way. The last line of the book, in which she learns that her home, District 12, has been destroyed by the government, then poses an implicit challenge: will she learn from her pain, or will this new tragedy prove too much for her?
Pain, Pleasure, and Self-Control ThemeTracker
Pain, Pleasure, and Self-Control Quotes in Catching Fire
If it were up to me, I would try to forget the Hunger Games entirely. Never speak of them. Pretend they were nothing but a bad dream. But the Victory Tour makes that impossible. Strategically placed almost midway between the annual Games, it is the Capitol’s way of keeping the horror fresh and immediate. Not only are we in the districts forced to remember the iron grip of the Capitol’s power each year, we are forced to celebrate it.
My time in the arena made me realize how I needed to stop punishing [my mother] for something she couldn’t help, specifically the crushing depression she fell into after my father’s death. Because sometimes things happen to people and they’re not equipped to deal with them.
I think of Haymitch, unmarried, no family, blotting out the world with drink. He could have had his choice of any woman in the district. And he chose solitude.
My mother has to save the strongest for the worst pain, but what is the worst pain? To me, it’s always the pain that is present. If I were in charge, those painkillers would be gone in a day because I have so little ability to watch suffering. My mother tries to save them for those who are actually in the process of dying, to ease them out of the world.
I’m glad I won only last year. Otherwise I’d know all the other victors, not just because I see them on television but because they’re guests at every Games. Even if they’re not mentoring like Haymitch always has to, most return to the Capitol each year for the event. I think a lot of them are friends. Whereas the only friend I’ll have to worry about killing will be either Peeta or Haymitch.
Kids in costumes are silly, but aging victors, it turns out, are pitiful. A few who are on the younger side, like Johanna and Finnick, or whose bodies haven’t fallen into disrepair, like Seeder and Brutus, can still manage to maintain a little dignity. But the majority, who are in the clutches of drink or morphling or illness, look grotesque in their costumes.
“I like the District Three victors,” I say. “Wiress and Beetee.”
“Really?” he asks. “They’re something of a joke to the others.”
“Why does that not surprise me?” I say. I think of how Peeta was always surrounded at school by a crowd of friends.
All right, maybe killing Finnick would be a little premature. He’s been helpful so far. He does have Haymitch’s stamp of approval. And who knows what the night will hold?
One way or the other, I have a very valuable piece of information. And if they know I have it, they might do something to alter the force field so I can’t see the aberration anymore. So I lie.
My mouth drops open in shock. No one, ever, says anything like this in the Games. Absolutely, they’ve cut away from Johanna, are editing her out. But I have heard her and can never think about her again in the same way. She’ll never win any awards for kindness, but she certainly is gutsy. Or crazy.
But will Peeta know that or will he keep fighting? He’s so strong and such a good liar. Does he think he has a chance of surviving? Does he even care if he does? He wasn’t planning on it, anyway. He had already signed off on life. Maybe, if he knows I was rescued, he’s even happy. Feels he fulfilled his mission to keep me alive. I think I hate him even more than I do Haymitch.