Part I: “The Tributes”
Katniss wakes from nightmares, flubs the shower controls, and finds a simple outfit waiting for her. She braids her hair and feels more like herself as she heads to breakfast. As she eats all she can of the delicious offerings, she thinks of her mother and Prim, eating their morning mush before work and school, and wonders what they made of the opening ceremonies during the required viewing. They might have taken hope from her “fiery debut,” or they might have seen the 24 tributes and realized that only one would go home.
When Haymitch and Peeta join her, Katniss is annoyed that Peeta’s outfit matches hers, worrying that the “twins act” will backfire. Yet Haymitch advised her to trust her stylist, so she does. Today begins three days of training, after which each tribute will give a private performance for the Gamemakers. Katniss and Peeta agree to train together, and Haymitch advises them to keep their strongest skills secret from the other tributes. Katniss is good with a bow, and Peeta is strong from lifting sacks of grain and from wrestling at school. Peeta assesses Katniss as the stronger competitor, saying matter-of-factly that when his mother said goodbye to him, she added, “as if to cheer me up,” that District 12 might finally have a winner—and she didn’t mean him. Katniss objects that, if “someone” hadn’t helped her when she was younger, she wouldn’t be here now. But Peeta understands that Katniss has an “effect” on people and will attract sponsors. Haymitch tells them to focus on skills new to them and to train as a pair. When they object, he hits the table and reminds them of their deal. Irritated, Katniss goes to her room to prepare for training and worries about the “joke” of pretending friendship with Peeta. Yet she can’t deny that Peeta seems to know and appreciate her as a friend.
The tributes, identified by district numbers, gather in the subterranean training rooms and listen as the head trainer, Atala, explains the schedule and reminds them that no “combative exercise” between tributes is allowed. Katniss assesses her opponents, many of whom are bigger and stronger than she is, though she can see their hunger “in their bones, their skin, the hollow look in their eyes.”The tributes from Districts 1, 2, and 4, on the other hand, “have been fed and trained their whole lives.” This is against the rules, but “Career Tributes,” as they’re called, appear every year and often win. These tributes “project arrogance and brutality” and make a point during training to show off their skills with deadly weapons to “the underfed, the incompetent,” who are trying to handle a weapon for the first time. Katniss and Peeta work on making snares, tying knots, and camouflaging themselves—Peeta’s a natural as this last skill, because he decorates cakes.
They practice building fires, making shelters—anything that doesn’t reveal their particular strengths. The Gamemakers watch, and alliances emerge as the Careers sit together to eat while the others sit alone, “like lost sheep,” and she and Peeta, following Haymitch’s orders, eat together, trying to talk about things that are not painful. On the second day, Peeta points out that they have “a shadow,” the petite girl from District 11. Like Prim, she is young and named for a flower, Rue. She’s good with a slingshot and can climb, but “what is a slingshot against a 220-pound male with a sword?” Katniss asks.
Back on the twelfth floor, Haymitch and Effie relentlessly work to get their charges into shape, and Katniss becomes frustrated. She decides that she and Peeta shouldn’t pretend to be friends—or talk more than they must—when they’re not on display, and he agrees, “tiredly.” Finally, the day of private sessions arrives, and Katniss is 23rd to display her skills, since the districts go in order. Katniss has taken a bow from the weapons available and is trying to show her prowess, but the Gamemakers are bored and distracted by lunch, including an enormous roasted pig. Angry, Katniss realizes that she’s “being upstaged by a dead pig” and fires an arrow at the table. The arrow snatches the apple from the pig’s mouth and pins it to the wall. The Gamemakers stare, and Katniss gives a slight bow as she leaves.
This chapter subtly prepares readers for the coming brutality of the arena and for the almost creepy, certainly inhuman ability of the Gamemakers to distance themselves from the humanity of the children they are assessing as they make final plans for the arena. Readers may notice the routine nature of the training days. The tributes—like everyone in Panem—have watched the Games their whole lives. They know what’s expected, and they deliver—as when Prim, on hearing her name called, walked almost automatically toward the stage. The tributes seem to have surrendered any thought of free will, and thus far, readers have seen no hint that their parents in the districts are willing to cross the Capitol. Seventy-four years of Games seem to have rendered the process unquestionable, inviolable.To the Gamemakers, to the Capitol audience, and perhaps to the Careers, the Hunger Games are in fact games—not slavery, not child abuse, not tyrannical oppression, but entertainment that people look forward to each year. How such a state of affairs came to exist, and what might be done about it, are questions that undergird the suspense in the novel.
Katniss flees to her room to cry on her bed, assuming that she will be punished for firing the arrow toward the Gamemakers—perhaps executed, perhaps made into an Avox. She wishes she had apologized or made a joke and worries about whether her family will be punished, too. But no one comes to arrest her. The Gamemakers give each tribute a score, from 12 (“unattainably high”) to 1, based on their private performance, and scores influence sponsors. Katniss is sure that her angry actions will earn a low score. She goes to supper—why not, since all is lost?—and learns from Peeta, the last to perform, that the Gamemakers hardly looked at him and were busy singing a drinking song. Katniss reveals what she did, and Haymitch says, “Well, that’s that,” and goes back to eating. He’s not worried about Mrs. Everdeen and Prim because the Capitol can’t punish them without revealing what goes on in the training center, and that is kept secret. Katniss feels oddly cheered by their non-reaction—in fact, they find her description of the Gamemakers’ reactions funny (one fell backwards into a punch bowl), and Effie takes insult on her behalf: “just because you come from District 12 is no excuse to ignore you.” She seems shocked by her own words. After supper, they watch the scores. Rue, to their surprise, earned a 7, and Peeta got a respectable 8. But the Gamemakers give the highest score, an 11, to Kat. That night, exhausted, she sleeps hard.
Katniss wakes before dawn; it’s Sunday. Usually, she and Gale would be out hunting, and she thinks back to how their friendship began and how each helped the other learn to exploit the woods for food. When she hunted with Gale, she felt—as she did nowhere else—“actually happy.” Katniss realizes that her friendship with Gale had been moving toward something deeper, that she “never questions Gale’s motives while I do nothing but doubt” Peeta’s. Effie’s voice at the door reminding Katniss that today is a “big, big, big day!” interrupts her thoughts. She showers and goes to breakfast. She’s well into a plate of lamb stew on wild rice—a favorite—when she realizes that the room is tense. Haymitch announces that Peeta has decided to be coached separately.
This chapter reveals the strengths and drawbacks of Katniss’s fiery nature, a trait that readers will learn defines her and that develops the fire motif in the trilogy. When she fired the arrow at the apple, she could “feel her face burning,” and when she emerges from her room from dinner, her face is still “red and splotchy” from tears of anger at herself and fear for her family. When her score of 11 is announced, Haymitch says that the Gamemakers “need some players with some heat,” and Cinna reminds her that she is “Katniss, the girl who was on fire.” But Katniss took a big risk with her hot-tempered action, and she knows it. She may pay for her anger in the arena, and her impetuous nature may be behind Peeta’s decision to train alone.