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Katniss and Gale are standing in their hovercraft, flying away from District 12, back to District 13. As Gale watches the expression in Katniss’s eyes, he tells her that he understands why she had to go back. They hold hands, and Katniss senses “a part of District 12” that the government was unable to destroy.
In the second book of the Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Katniss became much closer with Peeta because of their shared trauma in the Hunger Games. Here, she grows closer with Gale for markedly similar reasons: they share the trauma of the destruction of their lifelong home.
Over the course of the next hour, the hovercraft flies toward District 13. Katniss notes that District 13 is no livelier than 12 at first sight: there’s rubble everywhere. 75 years ago, there was a nuclear war between District 13 and the Capitol, which supposedly destroyed 13. In reality, the people of District 13 simply moved underground and continued to develop nuclear technology. District 13 and the Capitol reached an uneasy truce: 13 would “pretend” to have been destroyed, and in exchange the Capitol wouldn’t fire any more nuclear missiles at it.
Collins supplies us with some much-needed expository information about Districts 12 and 13. District 13’s compromise with the Capitol, according to which 13 would “play dead,” seems like an unusual way to end the war, particularly considering that District 13 had plenty of nuclear missiles of its own—unless both sides were trying to avoid “mutually assured destruction,” as in the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
In District 13, the citizens live underground and must adhere to a rigorous schedule that’s tattooed onto everyone’s arm at the beginning of each day. (At the end of each day, the tattoo is “washed” off.) Citizens must never waste food or time—Katniss once saw Fulvia crumble up a piece of paper and then endure harsh looks from everyone around her. Katniss notes with pleasure that rebels from the wealthy Capitol, Fulvia included, have a hard time fitting in in District 13.
We’re given a brief, informative picture of life in District 13. To begin with, it’s strictly, even dictatorially regimented. The tattooing of dates on people’s forearms recalls—perhaps explicitly—the imagery of the Holocaust, during which prisoners had numbers tattooed on their arms. Yet Katniss doesn’t seem to grasp how dangerous this kind of tyranny can be—in fact, she enjoys it, because it punishes the weak and lazy more than it punishes her.
Katniss and Gale return to District 13 and walk to visit Katniss’s mother and sister, who are stationed in their rooms for “reflection”—a half hour of free time for all citizens before dinner. Prim is delighted to see that Katniss has retrieved Buttercup from District 12. They are about to go to dinner when Gale receives a message on his “communicuff,” a special watch granted to important rebels. He and Katniss are being summoned to Command—the rebel meeting room.
The half hour of reflection the citizens of District 13 are granted every day only underscores how little freedom they really have: literally one forty-eighth of their das! Similarly, the communicuff that Gale wears, while useful and impressive, underscores the constant specter of surveillance in District 13, reminding us of the similar surveillance state of the Capitol.
Katniss and Gale walk to Command. There, Gale is prevented from walking any further. Katniss walks inside, and is surprised to find Plutarch, Coin, and the other leaders, staring at a television. The screen shows an interview between Peeta and Caesar Flickerman, the Capitol’s resident reporter and interviewer. Peeta informs Flickerman of his actions during the final day of the Hunger Games. As part of the Hunger Games, Peeta was forced to compete against representatives from other districts of Panem, as well as Katniss, his wife (in the media’s version of their lives, but not reality) and fellow representative from District 12. Knowing that there could be only one victor, Peeta endeavored to sacrifice himself for Katniss’s sake. As Katniss watches, she remembers Peeta last interview with Flickerman. Leading up to the Games, Peeta appeared with Flickerman and, in a bid to increase sympathy for Katniss and save her life, falsely claimed that Katniss was pregnant with his child.
Much of the impact of this scene is lost on readers if they haven’t read the previous two books of the Hunger Games (Collins tries to supply some background information, but it’s just not the same). Peeta was once a skillful politician who could chat and banter with Flickerman before the Hunger Games to get audiences on his side. It’s both heartbreaking and deeply confusing, then, to see him back on television. Since Peeta was always good-natured and could be friendly with people he despised (like Flickerman), it’s difficult to tell if he’s appearing now out of actual support for the government, or because he’s being coerced.
Peeta continues describing the final moments of the Hunger Games. Katniss fired an arrow at the force field trapping the competitors in the vast arena of the Games. Flickerman suggests to Peeta that Katniss was working with the rebels—a suggestion that Peeta angrily negates. He and Katniss, he insists, had no idea of the rebels’ plan to free Katniss from the area. (In actuality, he and Katniss had not been informed of the plan so that they would have plausible deniability if one of them was captured.) Caesar asks Peeta about Haymitch Abernathy, the former victor who mentored Katniss and Peeta. Peeta doesn’t say whether Haymitch was a part of the rebels’ plan or not. (Katniss has learned that Haymitch was, in fact, a rebel, though Peeta is legitimately unsure of this.) This reminds Katniss that Haymitch is currently going through alcohol withdrawal in District 13: he’s been quarantined until he’s beaten his addiction.
In the previous volume of the Hunger Games, Haymitch, one of the masterminds behind the rebel alliance, explained that neither Katniss nor Peeta could have knowledge of the rebels’ plan to free them from the Hunger Games, this would give them plausible deniability if they were captured by the Capitol. Here, we see that he was right not to tell them: Peeta can angrily deny that he and Katniss knew anything about the rebels, and his denial is taken seriously, both by Flickerman and, presumably, by the millions of people watching the interview. Haymitch remains a fascinating character—in spite of his enormous strength and intelligence, he struggles with one of the most common and debilitating human problems: alcohol addiction.
Flickerman’s interview with Peeta concludes with Peeta tiredly asking for a cease-fire between rebels and government troops, on the grounds that more war could result in the annihilation of all of Panem. With this, he’s taken back to his prison cell, and the regular television programming continues.
It’s doubly unclear how we should interpret Peeta’s conclusion. First, it’s not clear if his statement is wrong at all, as the rebels often seem just as bloodthirsty as the Capitol. Second, we don’t know if Peeta is saying these things of his own volition, or because he’s being pressured (or even tortured) into saying them.
Katniss is secretly overjoyed to know that Peeta is still alive—nevertheless, she senses that the rebel leaders regard Peeta as a traitor to the rebels for demanding a cease-fire. She leaves before the leaders can say anything about Peeta. In the hallway outside Command, she finds Gale, who’s been given a bloody nose for trying to come inside Command. Katniss is instantly grateful for Gale’s presence, which is comforting to her. When Katniss tells Gale that Peeta is alive, Gale suggests that Peeta has made a deal with the government: he’ll advocate a cease-fire, in return for which he’ll be allowed to present Katniss as innocent, rather than a rebel.
Gale’s bloody nose is another, albeit relatively mild, reminder that District 13 is a harsh, repressive society that doesn’t tolerate disobedience of any kind. It’s interesting to note that it’s Gale, not Katniss, who proposes that Peeta is trying to protect Katniss. Gale is clearly jealous of Katniss’s relationship with Peeta, but he’s also insightful and clear-headed enough to talk about it frankly, and draw the obvious conclusion that Peeta is trying to help Katniss—not the Capitol, which he hates.
Gale asks Katniss what she’s going to do. Katniss thinks of the destruction in District 12, and remembers shooting an arrow at the force field during the Hunger Games. She did so, she recalls, because she hated “the enemy”—the Gamemakers and Capitol officials who design the sadistic Games every year. As she thinks about all of this, she tells Gale, “I’m going to be the Mockingjay.”
Previously, Katniss was told to remember the “real enemy”—which at the time meant the Capitol, not the Hunger Games competitors. Yet now she should perhaps take that advice again, and look more closely at President Coin and the rebel alliance. For now, however, we have no real evidence of District 13 committing any atrocities, and Katniss knows that Snow’s is a tyrannical regime that must be overthrown—so she decides to help Coin.