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Catching Fire: The Power of Community and the Freedom of Selflessness

At the end of The Hunger Games, a conflicted Katniss, an angry Peeta, and a frustrated Haymitch disembark the Capitol train for District 12. Each character has a different anguish. Peeta knows Katniss’s feigned affections were merely an attempt to recast the apparent defiance of a threatened double suicide as the insane actions of two lovesick teenagers. Haymitch wishes Katniss a better actress in her attempts to diffuse rebellion and satisfy the Capitol. Katniss herself is far more preoccupied with the knowledge that she unwittingly sparked the flame of district rebellion.

And now all she knows and loves will likely die.

While reading the first half of this book, David told me several times, ‘Katniss has to use her fame to overthrow the Capitol.’

I told him that Suzanne Collins did something far more interesting than that.

Katniss spends most of her energy in the middle of the trilogy trying to quell the spark of rebellion.

But it was, in her words, ‘too little, too late.’

And when she realizes her failure – to both satisfy the pungent President Snow (I can NOT WAIT to see Donald Sutherland in this role) and to diffuse the district’s indignation with the Capitol – the real power of this middle novel, and the strength of its heroine, emerges.

Katniss, Peeta, and Gale are thrust into a new quest for survival. Through the lens of a Games Victor, Katniss does not hope – or wish – to survive. The rebellion has started, and she knows its best chance of success lies with charismatic, persuasive Peeta as its leader.

In the first book, her quest was to stay alive to take care of her sister, Prim.

In this second book, her quest is to keep Peeta alive, for the rebellion.

And it is this Katniss, the one who is no longer afraid of death or disapproval, the one relieved at her own failure to ‘play the Capitol’s game,’ who becomes the heroine we’ve been waiting for.

Her decision to protect someone she perceives superior to herself frees her to do things she would have been too afraid for otherwise. Her decisions are sharper, her judgment clearer, and her actions braver. She treats wounds with the same skill as her mother – prompting Peeta to dub her, ‘the Healer.’ She agrees to an alliance with the other Victors – because it was Peeta’s preference.

Her priority for another life above her own actually increases her own chance of survival, bringing credence to the idea that we do thrive better in community.

And, in her choice to serve another, she develops a ‘greatness of soul’ that supersedes her character of the first novel.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say that Katniss truly becomes the best version of herself when she expects to die. She becomes a leader worth following when she cares more for another person than herself.

She has yet to see it – and I won’t comment on the love triangle or its ending – but she does love the one she’s decided to save.

We often hear of three classes of love: friendship, romance, and a magnanimous form of charity sometimes called agape. We are usually told that agape is superior to the others because it is selfless.

But Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov would beg to differ.

In his thought-provoking The Meaning of Love, Solovyov purports romantic love – not agape –  the root of love’s highest character. Only when we are completely absorbed with the life of another, he argues, can we care enough to truly be selfless. Romantic love – where we truly esteem another human above ourselves – actually frees us to perform the greatest acts of selflessness and charity.

Though slightly unorthodox, I find his argument fascinating, and in many ways, true.

What do you think? Is Solovyov right? Or is he merely trying to justify our culture’s preoccupation with romance?

And for those of you who read Catching Fire, what do you think of where Suzanne Collins took the story? Were you surprised? Not surprised? Annoyed? Excited?

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Peter Green #

    True selflessness is when the ‘selves’ of two people are completely dissolved when they are together.The circumstances around their relationship determines whether it is called friendship, romance or agape (but agape, I suspect, is an attempt to deny or repress the romantic aspect).

    August 23, 2013

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