Sunday, May 6, 2012

Courage in CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins


Courage is a prominent theme in CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins. Here are some of the ways that we see courage in this second book of the Hunger Games Trilogy.


What does one choose when one's individual good and the common good are in conflict? An extremely individualistic culture like that of the United States would say to choose one's own good, but a more community-oriented culture would say to choose the common good.

Choosing the common good springs from the idea that no one is free unless everyone is free, and no one is safe unless everyone is safe. By safe, I mean safe from violence, such as harassment, attack, and robbery. The decision to keep oneself safe produces anxiety -- one must be always on alert to safeguard one's well-being. The decision to work for the safety of all produces more peace -- one is not alone but benefits from the support of others. 

In CATCHING FIRE, Katniss and the other tributes make decisions based on the common good.
  • DECISION TO STAY. Katniss is faced with the decision to run away from District 12 and save herself and her loved ones OR to stay and be part of the revolution against the Capitol. She chooses to stay.
  • PLEDGE TO DIE. Tributes from other districts, specifically Districts 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 11, have pledged to die in the arena if necessary to save Katniss, the symbol and igniting spark of the revolution. To save Katniss, Peeta must be saved, too. The elderly Mags of District 4 voluntarily walks to her death in the poisonous fog so that Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick can save themselves without having to carry her. The woman morphling addict from District 6 throws herself in front of Peeta to absorb the vicious monkey's deadly attack, saving Peeta but dying herself. These tributes are willing to die to support the districts' revolution and the common good it will bring.
As a caveat, I will add that choosing the common good can be overdone. Women have traditionally been subject to this with the idea that a woman's entire life must be sacrificed in servitude to her family. This is quite different from standing one's ground as a contributing member of society in situations when doing so calls for sacrifice.

Courage is most vibrant in the face of terror. Katniss' courage involves acting bravely while feeling terror, particularly when faced with the poisonous fog. The terror is there, but Katniss does not act on it. She feels the terror but chooses courage. Here is how Katniss' feelings and decision are described:

 A terrible impulse to flee, to abandon Peeta and save myself, shoots through me. It would be so simple, to run full out, perhaps to even climb a tree above the fog line, which seems to top out at about forty feet. I remember how I did just this when the muttations appeared in the last Games. Took off and only thought of Peeta when I'd reached the Cornucopia. But this time, I trap my terror, push it down, and stay by his side. (pages 298-299)


Haymitch was the victor of the second Quarter Quell (the fiftieth Hunger Games), in which there were twice as many tributes as usual. Katniss and Peeta, in preparation for the third Quarter Quell, watch videos of previous Hunger Games, including the one with Haymitch.

Haymitch forms an alliance with a girl tribute from District 12 named Maysilee Donner. When Maysilee is fatally injured by attacking birds, Haymitch stays with her and comforts her as she dies.

It takes courage to show compassion in the arena. It is so important to be thinking every moment of one's own safety. After all, there will be only one victor -- everyone else must die. How could it possibly help Haymitch to spend time comforting a dying tribute? Yet Haymitch chooses kindness and courage. He stays to ease Maysilee's passage out of this world.

OVERALL THOUGHT: Carefully consider the common good.

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