Part II: “The Games”
Katniss suffers the nightmare hallucinations that tracker jacker venom produces, “so carefully created to target the place where fear lives in your brain.” Finally, these end, and she becomes aware that she’s in a shallow hole, hurting all over and with no idea of how much time has passed and who may be dead. She sips her water and droplets of honeysuckle nectar to kill the terrible taste in her mouth as she thinks of Gale’s suggestion that they flee District 12. She thinks of Peeta, too, and wonders why he saved her life—if that wasn’t a hallucination, too. To avoid further confusing thoughts, she examines the sturdy bow and arrows and knows that, if she can get well enough, she can now be a threat to the other tributes. Slowly, she leaves the hole to get water and hunt. She shoots a rabbit, bathes in the pond, treats her burns again, and eats. Following the stream that flows from the pond, she kills a game bird and risks a small cook fire. Rue approaches the fire, and the girls decide to form an alliance.
Rue has leaves that treat tracker jacker stings, a common problem in District 11, where agricultural workers are in the fields and orchards all day long. She chews the leaves and applies them to Katniss’s stings, and the relief is instant. Rue talks about working in the orchards, where she learned to climb trees so well, and Katniss treats Rue’s burns with the balm. Neither mentions that their alliance must be temporary as Katniss adds roots Rue has gathered to the groosling over the fire. They eat well; in fact, Rue sighs that she’s never had an entire drumstick to herself, and Katniss urges her to eat all she likes. Near-starvation is common in District 11; the people who grow the Capitol’s food are publically whipped if they eat the crops they harvest, Rue explains.
Katniss and Rue inventory their supplies. Rue has gathered plants, and she knows that the “sunglasses” in Katniss’s pack are in fact night-vision glasses. They make a nest in a tree and share the sleeping bag as Rue catches Katniss up on events. Ten tributes remain, and Peeta is no longer with the Career pack. The Careers have night-vision glasses, too, and are camped by the lake, with all the supplies from the Cornucopia. They have the advantage, but Katniss wonders—how would they fare if their food and supplies were suddenly gone?
The relationship between Katniss and Rue, who reminds Katniss so much of Prim, begins to develop in this chapter. Like Prim, Rue is young, small, bold, and clever. Katniss enjoys hearing about life in District 11 (and suspects that their conversation is not being broadcast, since the Capitol keeps each district ignorant about the others). Tucked into the tree with Rue, Katniss feels at home for the first time since the reaping. Their new friendship is bittersweet, because, readers know, only one of them will leave the arena, and perhaps neither will.
Rue sleeps deeply, touching Katniss with her trusting nature, while Katniss plans. Well-fed Career tributes are not accustomed to hunger, as she and Rue are, and likely wouldn’t handle going without food well. Katniss falls asleep with this thought in mind and wakes past dawn to cannon fire. Now nine tributes are left. She and Rue eat eggs Rue found, some berries, and a bit of rabbit as Rue explains that the Careers’ supplies are in a large pile, guarded by the District 3 boy. He has a spear, but he’s small and not much of a threat, leading Katniss to suspect a trap.
Rue and Katniss spend the morning hunting, gathering food, and talking of their lives. Rue is the oldest of six children and often feeds her little siblings some of her rations. She loves music and sings and whistles to the mockingjays, who pass her songs along. Katniss offers Rue her mockingjay pin, but Rue has her own district token, a necklace of woven grass and a wooden star shape.
Katniss explains her plan to Rue. They’ll build several fires, ready to light as bait for the Careers. Rue will light the fires, one at a time, while Katniss figures out how to destroy the supplies. They divide their supplies, and Rue teaches Katniss a whistled signal that the mockingjays around them pick up right away. They hug and part to carry out the plan. At the lake, Katniss observes the Career camp from dense brush. The District 3 boy, a skinny kid, is tinkering with a plastic box, and all four pack members are still suffering from painful stings. The supplies from the Cornucopia are piled in a pyramid a little ways from camp, and Katniss notes that a large net covers the pile, while other supplies are placed around the pyramid—it’s definitely a trap of some sort. In the woods, Rue lights the first fire, and the Careers argue about who should go kill the fire-builder. Katniss hears Cato say that he cut Peeta so badly that he’s likely incapacitated and bleeding to death—he’s no threat. All four Careers go as Cato reminds them, “When we find her, I kill her in my own way, and no one interferes.”
Katniss tries to grasp the nature of the trap. She could shoot a flaming arrow into the pile, but it might simply burn out—and then the pack would know she has the bow. She must get closer to the supplies to study them, but just as she’s about to move, she sees Foxface dash toward the pyramid and, as she gets close to it, move “with strange little hops, sometimes landing on one foot,” leaping over certain areas, clearly worried over each step. Foxface is “wily”; she’s figured out a safe path in, and she gleans just a few supplies from various containers, so that they won’t be missed, before fleeing to the safety of the woods again. Katniss realizes that Foxface moved as if “the very ground was going to explode.” The area is mined—no wonder the Careers are willing to leave it unguarded. She knows that District 3 makes electronics and explosives, but where would the District 3 boy have gotten his materials? She guesses that he disabled and then reactivated the land mines around the plates.
Rue has lit the second fire by now, so Katniss quickly decides to shoot at a burlap bag of apples, hoping that the avalanche of fruit will trigger a series of explosions. It works—perhaps too well. The explosion flings Katniss, deafened and stunned, into the air.
The destruction of the Careers’ supplies marks a turning point in the Hunger Games. Cocksure, well-trained, and unused to privation, the Careers rely too heavily on combat. Where tributes distinguish themselves, more often, is in cleverness. The District 3 boy’s use of the mines likely “came as a shock to the Gamemakers,” Katniss thinks. Foxface and Katniss both use their brains as weapons, as does Peeta. In one-to-one combat, of course, the brawnier Career tributes have an advantage, but the ability to outsmart opponents and even the Gamemakers is what impresses Katniss. Readers might want to keep her approval of Foxface and her dismissal of the Careers, whose arrogance allows her to bring disaster on them, in mind.