Summary and Analysis
Part 1: "The Ashes":
Katniss worries that Gale knows about Peeta’s latest broadcast and is keeping it from her. She thinks that she has failed to protect Peeta from the Capitol, especially now that she has assumed the role of the Mockingjay. Eventually Gale admits that he has viewed the broadcast but that he and the rebels, including Coin, wanted to protect her from it, which infuriates Katniss and makes her question how close Gale and Coin are becoming.
Katniss, Gale, and the film crew travel to District 12 to shoot a propo. In various locations, both she and Gale film their reactions about their memories of how the district used to be and how emotionally impacted they are by what the district has now become. During the lunch break, Pollux, one of the film crew, spots a mockingjay; Katniss whistles and then sings a song that her father taught her about a hanging man. Suddenly, Katniss realizes the camera crew has been filming her singing. She quiets and lets the birds finish the tune.
Gale and Katniss talk about their past, which helps alleviate the tension between them. Katniss heads back to her house in the Victor’s Village to pack up some medical goods for her mother, and Gale follows her. Mentioning the kiss that Katniss previously gave him after he’d been lashed, his eyes begin to fill with tears, and Katniss moves to him, kissing him again.
Back in District 13 the next day, Katniss views a live propo in which President Snow addresses Panem. Peeta is part of the broadcast; his condition has deteriorated even more. Beetee is able to break into the Capitol’s broadcast with an image of Katniss. He peppers the Capitol’s programming with selected rebel segments as the Capitol techs fight back trying to drive him out. Katniss knows, though, that with every rebel success, Peeta will pay a price at the Capitol’s hands.
Snow returns on screen and asks Peeta if he has any parting words for Katniss. Peeta tells her that no one is safe and that she will be dead in District 13 by morning. Beetee is able to break in one more time, flashing shots of Katniss. Peeta continues to try to speak but is beaten as he does so, his blood splattering on the floor.
A strong clash between the past and present is evident as Gale and Katniss return to District 12 and revisit their homes, as well as their hunting meeting spot. Tension remains high between them, intensified by Gale hiding the truth about Peeta from Katniss. Gale is one of the few people whom Katniss believes she can trust, but when he doesn’t tell her about Peeta, she feels betrayed. She is tired of everyone trying to protect her by lying to her. Additionally, she doesn’t like how Gale seems to be one of Coin’s insiders; she definitely continues to distrust Coin.
Watching Gale in pain as he wades through the destruction of their former district, Katniss experiences fresh waves of grief. As they visit the lake and then later their old hunting meet-up spot, Katniss thinks about how her life would have been different had she run away with Gale long ago. The Capitol would probably still be in control, but perhaps she would be happier — and many people whom she loved would still be alive. Katniss is trying to make sense of the path she has chosen and the person she has become. These moments play a role in helping Katniss to develop her identity and to decide how she feels about being the Mockingjay, as well as how she feels about Gale and Peeta.
Katniss’ singing to the mockingjays and their falling silent recalls how Katniss’ father’s rich voice used to have the same effect on the birds. Katniss rarely sings because it reminds her of her father, but she now remembers a morbid song that her father taught her: “The Hanging Tree.” This moment in the story is significant in multiple ways. First, we see Katniss as the Mockingjay singing with her mockingjay counterparts: Finding her voice is part of her development as the Mockingjay. Second, Katniss initially sings Rue’s song, again blending parts of Katniss’ somber past with the battle she and the rebels wage today; there is sadness, but also renewed strength and meaning behind the cause. And finally, Katniss thinks about how her perspective on “The Hanging Tree” song has changed. She used to think it was scary how in the song the man was calling for his lover to come to the tree and die beside him. But after being in two Hunger Games, Katniss understands this man. When she thinks of Peeta in the hands of the Capitol, she realizes that she would consider killing him rather than letting him exist amongst so much pain and torture. This realization on her part is yet again an instance of one more way she believes she could protect him.
This chapter also demonstrates a turning point between Gale and Katniss, with the ruined district representing Katniss and Gale’s past. But now, so much has changed. This past to which Katniss — and many others — cannot return is a recurring theme in the novel. The past that Gale and Katniss had has been destroyed, turned to ashes in much the same way that District 12 has. Katniss recognizes the distance between Gale and her and extends a peace offering to Gale in the form of a blackberry. He accepts it, but even though their district should bring them closer together, the young children they once were together are no more.
Gale and Katniss’ kiss is representative of the ongoing struggle between them, including their trying to reconcile their past with their present. Gale remembers that the last time Katniss kissed him was after he’d been lashed by a Peacekeeper. When Gale is most in pain is when Katniss kisses him, and this is true again as we see her answer Gale’s pain with a kiss. She wants to give Gale what he wants, but she can’t yet completely commit to him, as she must think of her family and Peeta and being the Mockingjay for the revolution.
Another source of conflict in this chapter is in the relationship between the rebels’ success and how that means more torture for Peeta. Katniss imagines how abandoned Peeta must feel now that Katniss has taken on the role of the Mockingjay. What is she doing to save him? How can she just leave him with the enemy? Beetee’s breaking into the Capitol’s broadcast feed causes Katniss both joy and fear. She understands that with the revolution’s growing momentum comes more pain and torture for Peeta. At the end of the chapter, we see that Peeta has obviously said something he wasn’t supposed to as he is beaten and the broadcast feed is cut.