Part II: “The Games”
The tributes have sixty seconds to survey the Cornucopia, a giant golden horn full of precious supplies, and to look at each other in the circle around it. Other supplies are scattered about, the farther from the Cornucopia, the less valuable. Anyone who steps off the plate too soon will be blown up. As they wait for the gong, Katniss scans the environment—a lake to the right, pines to her left—and looks at the equipment in the Cornucopia. She sees a silver bow and a sheaf of arrows and knows the Gamemakers put them there for her. She could make it—she’s a fast sprinter. But she catches Peeta’s eye, and he shakes his head. As she tries to guess what that means, the gong rings, and her chance to prepare to dash toward the bow passes. Angry, she grabs a sheet of plastic, an orange backpack, and some bread. A boy grabs the pack, too, but falls, spitting blood, with a knife in his back. The girl from District 2 threw it and now takes aim at Katniss as she sprints for the woods. Katniss hears the knife whistle and raises her pack; the knife hits and sticks in the pack—another tool for Katniss to use.
A quick glance back shows her that several tributes are already dead and others are battling around the Cornucopia, while still others flee to cover. In the woods, she slows to a jog, looking for water, feeling alone but aware that the cameras are everywhere. She hears cannon fire and counts 11 shots—11 tributes, nearly half, are already dead. Perhaps Peeta is among them, and she won’t have to face the horror of having to kill him. She takes a break to go through the pack: iodine for treating water and a water bottle; crackers and dried beef; matches and wire; sunglasses; a sleeping bag. These are useful items, but without water, Katniss won’t last long, and she’s sure the Careers have already established a base by the lake. She sees small game, though, so water must be available in the area. She heads further into the valley, chewing pine bark to conserve her food, and sets some snares. Then she climbs a willow tree and lashes herself, in the sleeping bag, to a sturdy branch. As night falls, she hears the anthem play. In the sky, the faces of the slain tributes are projected: The four Careers from Districts 1 and 2 are still alive, but most districts have lost one tribute, and Districts 6, 7, and 10 have lost both—all within hours of gong. Peeta is alive, she’s glad to see. If one of them wins, District 12 will benefit from extra food and other “gifts” from the Capitol.
Katniss is nearly asleep when the sound of footsteps beneath the tree wakes her. Katniss is distressed when the tribute builds a fire that, in the night, will be a beacon for the Careers. And now she must watch rather than rest. As dawn approaches, a Career pack—a temporary alliance of Career tributes—attacks the girl, who has fallen asleep by the fire. They laugh and scavenge her suppliesbut realize as they leave that they didn’t hear a cannon shot. Someone must go back to finish her off, one says; another says she’ll die from blood loss. Finally, a voice says, “We’re wasting time! I’ll go finish her . . . .” It’s Peeta.
For first-time readers, this chapter teaches details about the Hunger Games: the nature of the arena, the function of the Cornucopia, the scrutiny of the cameras, the shifting alliances among tributes. It also suggests that some mentors are not as savvy as Haymitch is. Those who ran—logically, it might seem—to the supplies in the Cornucopia are slaughtered by Careers, and others—like the girl who camps under the willow tree—seem to lack basic comprehension of the situation. They are children, not warriors, and in some cases, the mentors are children as well. This chapter also reinforces Katniss’s naturally distrustful and solitary nature. She never considers an alliance; her goal is to stay as far from the other tributes as she can.
Had Katniss not belted herself into the tree, she might have fallen—she’s that shocked to hear Peeta’s voice. The District 2 boy tells “Lover Boy” to go on and check, and Katniss sees that Peeta is limping, bruised, and bloody, perhaps from a struggle at the Cornucopia. She understands why he might have ignored Haymitch’s advice but is incensed that he’s joined a Career pack. Careers are “the Capitol’s lapdogs,” brutal and proud. All other districts hate them.Peeta’s rooftop comments, she assumes, were more lies to throw her off, and she wishes him dead. But while Peeta is not with them, the Careers discuss whether to kill him now or use him to find “her”—that is, Katniss. They puzzle over how such a seemingly silly girl earned an 11 and whether the romance is real or a ploy. Peeta returns, the cannon fires, and the pack moves on. Katniss is torn—has Peeta turned against her? It seems so, yet he hasn’t revealed her skill with the bow. The birds fall silent, and one gives the “high-pitched warning call” that precedes the appearance of a hovercraft, which lowers a claw to retrieve the dead tribute. After it leave, Katniss packs up and goes to hunt for food and water, thinking that the audience “will be beside itself” after this exchange, knowing she was in the tree, watching everything. She tries to look competent, not perplexed, and even smiles for the cameras.
A snare has caught a rabbit, which Katniss cleans and cooks over the coals of the dying fire. She eats a bit as she walks, looking for water and wondering whether Peeta’s alliance will cost them sponsors. The day heats up, and she knows she’s getting dehydrated. She spots berries, which would at least be moist, but doesn’t recognize them and can’t risk eating them. Toward night, she straps herself into a tree and sees the face of the District 8 girl in the sky before she sleeps.
By morning, Katniss feels stiff in her body and foggy in her head. She considers options: Keep looking? Head for the lake—and the Careers? Hope for rain? She thinks of Haymitch and says, “Water,” loudly, but no silver parachute bearing water floats down. Haymitch might be punishing her or favoring Peeta, she guesses, but how could he go back to District 12 if he did? Katniss cuts a walking stick and moves out, hunting for water, aware that she is weak, easy prey, in her condition. Finally, she falls and decides not to get up—till she thinks of Prim watching. She lies still, resting, and suddenly smells lilies—and mud. Water is close! She can only crawl to the pond, but there she fills her bottle, waits for the iodine to treat the water, and drinks. She eats the rest of the rabbit, drinks and drinks, and then rests, content for now, in a tree, thinking that she’ll fish tomorrow. But her sleep is broken by a “stampede of feet” and an advancing wall of fire.
Katniss’s hunting and gathering experience, which she began with her father and continued with Gale, keeps her alive during the first days of the Games; but it is her love for Prim that keeps her from giving up. She’s painfully aware that Prim and their mother see everything she’s going through. As she staggers on, she thinks of “the years of watching tributes starve, freeze, bleed, and dehydrate to death” and knows that Prim will be forced to watch updates during lunchtime at school. The mandatory viewing of the slow deaths, the despair, and the gory combat is another form of punishment the districts must bear, but Katniss and every tributes does at least, after years of required viewing, know how the Games work.