Summary and Analysis
Part 3: “The Assassin”: Chapter 21
The squad refuses to kill Peeta, but Peeta argues that leaving him on his own in the Capitol would be worse because he would only end up in Snow’s hands for more torture. Katniss doesn’t want to kill him because she’s sure it’s exactly what President Snow would want.
Another broadcast from the Capitol comes on. Snow appears, congratulating the Peacekeepers on a job well done and predicting a turn in the war with the Mockingjay’s death.
In District 13, Beetee is able to break into the broadcast, and President Coin appears. She gives Katniss’ eulogy and praises the Mockingjay. Beetee gives the broadcast back to Snow, who says that tomorrow they will find out who the Mockingjay truly was when they pull her body from the ashes: a dead girl who couldn’t even save herself.
The squad decides it’s best to go underground rather than on the streets to reach the Capitol. Peeta goes with the squad but makes them keep his hands cuffed. Katniss keeps the key in her pocket.
Underground, the unit moves toward the Capitol. Needing to rest, they find a warm room and take turns standing guard. During Katniss’ turn to stand guard, she and Peeta share a moment between them. Katniss tells Peeta he should sleep. When Peeta lies down, Katniss slowly reaches out her hand to brush back his hair; it’s the first time she has voluntarily touched him since their last time in the arena.
Early in the morning, as everyone is waking and getting ready to press forward, Katniss hears something echoing through the underground tunnels. At first it sounds like a hissing, but then Katniss is able to make out her own name. Over and over, her name is repeated, echoing off the walls.
Peeta begging for his own death makes Katniss think, again, of “The Hanging Tree” song; she can understand how it might be better for Peeta to be dead. Death, in his case, might be better than the reality in which he now must exist. Katniss refuses to kill him and is determined to keep him alive, just like she was determined to do so in the arena. Still, Katniss worries that perhaps she’s using Peeta in a game of her own, keeping him alive only to beat Snow, who would love to turn Katniss into Peeta’s murderer, something that could break her completely.
Katniss continues to feel as if she is in the arena, with the growing death count and the psychological, manipulative games that the Capitol is playing. The war is even being broadcast in a manner similar to the Games. Just as the Panem seal would shine in the sky in the arena, followed by the faces of those killed, so too are the seal and faces broadcast on the television screens in the Capitol’s broadcast.
Snow’s saying that Katniss’ body will be pulled from the ashes alludes to the ashes seen in District 12 in Part I of the novel. It also emphasizes Katniss’ role as “the girl on fire,” with the ashes representing that she has finally been destroyed.
As the squad continues with its mission toward the heart of the Capitol, Peeta remains handcuffed. Katniss maintains control of the key, placing it in her pocket beside the pearl that she carries. Metaphorically, Katniss’ carrying the pearl with her represents how Katniss still carries the old Peeta with her. The key is a symbolic image of Katniss’ desire to free Peeta’s mind from his tangled memories.
The imagery of the winding underground tunnels serves as a parallel to Peeta’s twisted and tangled memories. In order to get to the Capitol’s heart, the squad must navigate through treacherous and disorienting tunnels. For Katniss to find and bring back the real Peeta, she must also navigate his similarly dangerous and confused mind. As they make progress underground, Katniss begins to make progress with Peeta, touching him voluntarily for the first time since she last saw him in the Quarter Quell arena. She also helps him start to sort out the real memories from the fake, shiny memories.
For Peeta, searching for his identity is a strong theme in this chapter. He starts by believing himself to be a mutt, just as Katniss once called him. Yet sporadically a small part of the old Peeta will surface, exemplified in the exchange between Peeta and Pollux, in which Peeta reassures an increasingly anxious Pollux that they will survive the tunnels. The real Peeta is within him somewhere; he just needs to find a way to control the manipulated memories so he won’t do any harm. When Katniss strokes his hair, he asks about the reality of Katniss’ protecting him, and she says, “Real.” They will always protect one another.
The hissing of Katniss’ name at the end of the chapter serves to emphasize Snow’s snakelike qualities. While he has some of the physical features of a snake, particularly his eyes, Snow also hunts and operates like a snake — devious and always playing games with his prey. The hissing foreshadows another aspect of his games to come.