Part III: “The Victor”
Katniss realizes that she and Peeta can and must be allies now; his “star-crossed lovers” story must have influenced the Gamemakers. Clearly, he has the audience on his side, and just as clearly, he’s always been on her side. Katniss quickly assesses the remaining threats: Foxface’s strategy is to hide and evade conflict, in hopes of outlasting the others. Thresh is strong, but so far he’s kept to another area of the arena, and he’s too large to climb trees. Cato and the District 2 girl could also be co-victors; their alliance will be hard to disrupt now. Should she hunt them, or allow them to hunt her? She decides to sleep.
In the morning, Katniss starts looking for Peeta. He’s wounded and, she reasons, must be near water, but not the lake, where the District 2 Careers are camped. She starts a smoky fire to distract the Careers and follows the stream away from the plain. Blood on a boulder leads her to a trail of blood, which she follows, calling Peeta’s name quietly. She hears him say, “You here to finish me off, sweetheart?” and nearly steps on him because he has utterly camouflaged himself in the leaves, reeds, and mud by the stream. Though weak and gravely wounded, he can still joke when she comments that his cake decorating skills paid off: “Yes, frosting. The final defense of the dying.”
Peeta can’t even crawl to the stream, so she must roll him to it, causing him a lot of pain. She washes away the mud and treats his bruises, burns, and tracker jacker stings, but these are not the threat. He’s burning with fever from an infected wound in his thigh, and they have no medicine to treat it, though she does give him fever-reducing medicine from the District 1 boy’s pack. Then she examines the deep gash from Cato’s sword, which is so ghastly that Katniss wants to flee when she sees it. Peeta jokes that she’s “kind of squeamish for such a lethal person.” As she applies the tracker jacker poultice to try to draw out the pus, she realizes that the cut goes all the way to the bone. Slowly, they make their way toward a small cave where he can rest more safely. Peeta is pale and trembling, and they both fear he’ll die, but she keeps him from talking about the situation by kissing him on his fevered lips.
Katniss steps out of the cave for air and sees a silver parachute float down. She opens it, hoping for medicine against the infection, but finds a pot of broth, still hot. It’s a message from Haymitch, she knows—a kiss for some broth—and she could do better at giving the audience the romance they want. She goes back into the cave, kisses Peeta, waking him, and says, “Peeta, look what Haymitch sent you.”
This chapter reveals Peeta’s character more fully. Readers see that, though not trained to fight, his drive to live is strong, even when all he can do with his remaining strength is to paint himself into the muddy stream bank and hide. At times in the arena, Katniss has wanted to quit, to lie down and die, and has forced herself up for Prim’s sake. It’s possible that Peeta fights death for Katniss’s sake, but his jokes and self-deprecating humor throughout this scene demonstrate his naturally indomitable spirit. Even if he weren’t trying to protect Katniss, readers sense, Peeta would try everything to live. By contrast, Katniss’s motivations are, at this point in the novel, still mixed. She must trust Peeta now but can’t put aside entirely her suspicions. She wants to live and win because she promised Prim and then Rue that she would, so Peeta is a means to that end, since they can now be co-victors. Her alliance with Peeta is not quite a friendship, and the public displays of affection are clearly not, for her, genuine.
Katniss coaxes Peeta to sip as much of the soup as he can, and then they must sleep, though she regrets that they can’t be safe up in a tree. The nights are getting colder, so she must share the sleeping bag with the feverish Peeta, whose face she tries to cool with a damp cloth.
By morningthe fever has gone down a bit. Katniss leaves the cave to gather berries and make a mash to feed him, and when she returns, he’s awake and worried that Cato and Clove had found her. Clove, she assumes, is the District 2 girl. He catches her hand to his lips, but she insists, “No more kisses until you’ve eaten.” Peeta takes a turn watching while Katniss sleeps; he strokes her hair, which she finds “natural and comforting.” When she wakes, Peeta’s fever is raging again, so she gives him more medicine and insists that he drink two quarts of water. His stings and burns look better, but the leg wound is so much worse, and red streaks extend from the wound, indicating blood poisoning. They need anti-infection drugs—expensive drugs from the Capitol. Even if Haymitch gathered many donations from sponsors, he might not have enough to buy them.
Katniss tries to keep the truth from Peeta, but he knows. She goes to get more water and notices that, while the nights are getting colder, the days are becoming brutally hot, courtesy of the Gamemakers. Katniss can at least use the hot rocks by the stream to heat up some groosling-and-root soup for Peeta. She rigs some snares while it simmers. Then she tends to Peeta, talking to him about Prim’s goat to distract him from his misery.
She tells the story carefully, omitting details about illegal hunting. The real story is that the goat, which Prim named Lady, was injured, so the Goat Man intended to sell her cheap to the butcher, Rooba. That day, Katniss and Gale had been fortunate enough to kill a deer, which Rooba gladly bought from them, even giving them each some venison steaks. Neither Gale nor Katniss had ever had so much money, so they decided to surprise their families with steaks and small gifts. Katniss tells Peeta and the cameras, however, that she sold an old piece of jewelry to get the goat.
Goats are expensive in the Seam, but to have a goat is to be able to make and sell cheese, too—a huge advantage in the Seam and “not even against the law.” Lady had been mauled, perhaps by a dog, but Katniss thought that Prim, who nursed Buttercup to health, could do the same for the goat. Rooba came to buy the goat but saw that Katniss wanted her, so Rooba claimed that “half the carcass will be too rotten even for sausage” and left in a huff, as if the Goat Man were trying to rob her. The Goat Man was angry but finally agreed to sell Lady to Katniss. Gale carried the goat home, and Katniss tied a pink ribbon around its neck, to the delight of Prim, who nursed it so carefully that it “couldn’t have died if it tried.”
A trumpet fanfare interrupts their conversation, and Claudius Templesmith announces an invitation to a feast at the Cornucopia, but “not an ordinary feast. Each of you needs something desperately.” A backpack for each district will be there—the “last chance” to get what the tributes need. Peeta knows that feasts are a Gamemaker ploy to gather the tributes for a bloodbath and tells Katniss not to risk herself for what they know is in their backpack—the medicine. She agrees not to go, but he knows she’s lying and threatens to drag himself after her. So she agrees to go if he’ll eat the soup she made, and as he “rambles on” about how good the soup is, she realizes that he sounds like Haymitch on a drinking jag. The fever is getting worse. Katniss washes up in the stream, so wrapped in thoughts of how Peeta will die, she’ll be alone, and the audience will hate her that she almost misses the silver parachute when itdrifts by her. Excited, she thinks that Haymitch has “persuaded some gaggle of romantic fools to sell their jewels for medicine,” but in fact, he’s sent a cheap but strong sleeping syrup. At first, Katniss is angry, but then she understands: Haymitch is giving her time to go to the feast without worrying that Peeta will try to follow her. She mashes the syrup with berries and gets a dose into him before he realizes what he’s eating. Before he succumbs to the drug, she can “see in his eyes that what I’ve done is unforgivable.”
This chapter, with its long flashback to how Katniss got Lady for Prim, contains little action. Rather, it serves to develop the relationship between Peeta and Katniss. Peeta, who is from the merchant class in District 12, has loved Katniss since their early school years, but only at a distance. He knows little of her life or of life in the Seam in general. He grew up in a bakery, assured at least of enough food, and hehas never had to hunt, gather, and otherwise scrounge an existence. In addition, he knows little of Katniss’s family, though he knows she loves Prim. Sharing stories of childhood that reveal the self is often part of new relationships. Katniss’s reasons for sharing, however, are less pure. She wants to distract Peeta, not truly have him get to know her, and she doesn’t reveal the whole story. Notably, Gale is missing from most of it, as is their close friendship, developed by hunting illegally. When she claims that she bought Lady because she knew the goat “would be a little gold mine,” Peeta astutely corrects her. She did it for “the lasting joy you gave the sister you love so much you took her place in the reaping.” His observation irritates her. She simply cannot let herself become Peeta’s friend, much less his girlfriend.