Catching Attention with Catching Fire: A Critical Review
Suzanne Collins wrote a wonderfully compelling book about a girl who has unintentionally fueled and become the symbol of a rebellion she isn’t sure she should stop. Readers are immediately drawn into Catching Fire from page one because Collins raises questions while providing answers through details. The very first paragraph in Catching Fire opens with Katniss Everdeen sitting in the woods:
I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air. My muscles are clenched tight against the cold. If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor. I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs. But instead I sit, as motionless, as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods. I can’t fight the sun. I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months. (1)
Collin’s descriptions and word choices build tension. Clasp is indicative of a tight grip on an object. The word “clasp” frequently has connotations of being in distress. This gives us a hint as to the narrator’s emotional state, which makes readers ask the question, “What is wrong? Why is she upset?”
Since flasks are usually insulated and the tea is cold, readers can infer that she has been out for a long time, since the once warm tea is now cold. Readers also know that the weather is freezing. So they begin to wonder new things: Where is she? Why is she outside? Along with the original question: What has her distressed? These questions only become more demanding, with the next sentence, “My muscles are clenched tight against the cold,” while re-affirming what readers have already guessed: it’s cold and the character is miserable. Readers know their inference that it is cold was correct. The word clenched also suggests Katniss is uncomfortable, possibly in pain.
The next sentence, “If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor” brings new details to the readers attention and new questions. Readers know wild dogs are native where she is and they are a threat to human life.
Readers immediately wonder, where exactly is she? Is she in the mountains? Are there no domestic dogs? When this sentence is compounded by the fact she thinks “I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs” , readers suspect she may have had to climb trees before for to escape wild dogs before. This suggests the threat, the possibility of attack, is familiar to her. And readers must wonder: why is it familiar? And is it the same for everyone where she’s at? Or is she upset because she’s in a dangerous place where that’s a possibility?
Collins follows up with the mention for Katniss’ need to move with, “But instead I sit, as motionless, as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods.” This statement lets readers know several things. Due to an internal conflict or problem, not because she was hurt, Katniss is incapable of moving. She’s sitting on a rock and watching the sunrise, which seems like a mundane thing to do. However Collins has already set up that Katniss is upset about something. When we loop back to the implication that Katniss has been out for an extended period, readers know that she’s been outside for several hours before dawn. Again, readers wonder, “Why?”
The statement “I can’t fight the sun,” lets readers know that she doesn’t want the sun to rise, hinting at the reason for her distrust. But the next statement provides clarity: “I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months.” Readers know for certain that something is going to happen today that Katniss dreads. Again, readers wonder, why? What is going to happen today that is so bad? Fortunately, Suzanne Collins knows that she can’t keep that information from readers much longer and the next paragraph, she starts explaining what has distressed Katniss: the beginning of the victory tour.
Suzanne Collins then slowly reveals what bothers Katniss through the same technique of revealing and withholding information. This structure keeps readers engrossed in the world Collins has developed, as they seek answers to the questions Collins has raised through details, and word choice.