Part I: “The Tributes”
Katniss’s prep team—the outlandishly dyed and made-up trio of Venia, Octavia, and Flavius—get her ready for her stylist. They exfoliate her skin, wax nearly every inch of her body, and shape and polish her nails, all the while talking nonstop in the clipped, up-inflected Capitol dialect. They leave the beautiful braids her mother wove alone. Katniss outdoes Haymitch’s advice not to resist, smiling and thanking them, which “wins them over completely.” Then she meets her stylist, Cinna, who is new to the Games and requested District 12. As they talk over lunch, Katniss marvels at how readily food is available and wonders what people do all day, since they don’t have to work for their food. As if he’s read her thoughts, Cinna remarks, “How despicable we must seem to you.” He outlines the plan he and Portia, Peeta’s stylist, have made. Rather than dressing them as miners or going with a coal-gray theme, as former District 12 stylists have done, Cinna and Portia have created black unitards with capes made of flame colors and matching headpieces. They’ve impregnated the capes with synthetic fire to make “the most sensational or the deadliest costume” in the history of the Games. Katniss wonders whether Cinna is “a complete madman” but decides to trust him.
Downstairs, they prepare to enter the opening ceremonies, in which a team of four trained horses pulls a chariot for each pair of tributes around the City Circle while the audience, live and remote, gets its first impression of the tributes. District 1’s tributes lead, “so beautiful, spray-painted silver, in tasteful tunics glittering with jewels,” since that district makes luxury items for the Capitol. The black horses that pull Katniss’s and Peeta’s chariot near the door, and Cinna sets their headdresses ablaze. The synthetic flame works. He gestures a final suggestion: Hold hands. The crowd reacts with wild approval to the costumes, throwing flowers and shouting Katniss’s and Peeta’s names; and Katniss sees on the large screens what a stunning sight she and Peeta are. She plays the role, waving, blowing kisses—anything to attract sponsors. Through it all, she feels odd that Cinna has presented them as a team, since eventually, one of them might have to kill the other.
The chariots pause before President Snow’s mansion, and the small, elderly man gives the official welcome. As evening darkens, Cinna’s flames seem brighter; the cameras give more time to Katniss and Peeta than to the other tributes. The chariots roll back into the Training Center, the “home/prison” of tributes from now till they enter the arena, and Cinna and Portia douse the flames as other tributes, angry at the attention District 12 got, glare. With a sweet smile, Peeta tells Katniss that she “should wear flames more often,” and she feels her heart respond but reminds herself that Peeta wants her to relax around him so that she’ll be easier to kill. She thinks that “two can play this game” and gives him a kiss on his cheek—“Right on his bruise.”
This chapter establishes a motif that carries through all three novels in the trilogy: “Katniss, the girl who was on fire.” A motif is something—an image, a sound, anything—that is repeated, sometimes with variation, throughout a literary work and that contributes to the development of the work’s theme. Fire figures in the title of the second novel, Catching Fire, where the motif will be more fully developed; but early on, Katniss is tightly associated with flames and with incendiary ideas (from the Capitol’s point of view). Thoughtful readers must wonder why Cinna chose to dress his tributes in flames—merely for the effect, or for his own advancement as a stylist? Or is he making a larger statement about Panem’s status quo?
The Training Center tower has luxurious apartments on each floor, one floor per district, and Katniss is amazed by the elevator, with its glass walls, as she ascends to the twelfth floor. Effie gushes—never before have her tributes garnered such attention, and she’s openly proud of her pair. She’s been talking to potential sponsors, talking about how Katniss volunteered and how they’ve “successfully struggled to overcome the barbarism” of District 12. Katniss finds this statement ironic since Effie is part of the great machinery bent on killing tributes.
Katniss’s rooms are large and lavish, with every amenity. The shower has so many controls and options that she can’t figure out how to use it at first; food is available at any moment; and the closet is programmable. At dinner, Peeta and the stylists view the city streets from a balcony, and “a silent young man dressed in a white tunic” waits on them—one of several Capitol servants dressed the same and equally silent. Haymitch appears, groomed and more sober than she’s ever seen him, and they eat a delicious and bountiful meal. A red-haired server brings in a cake and lights it on fire, in honor of Katniss’s and Peeta’s success. Katniss thinks that she recognizes the young woman and suddenly feels an unexplained “anxiety and guilt.” All four adults stare at her till Effie says that Katniss could never have met an Avox—“The very thought!” An Avox is a criminal, possibly a traitor, against the Capitol, punished by having his or her tongue cut out. Capitol citizens speak to an Avox only to give an order. Peeta covers for Katniss, explaining that he, too, thought he knew the Avox because she looks like Delly Cartwright, a District 12 girl. The adults relax their guard, and everyone eats cake while watching the recap of the ceremonies. Haymitch praises Cinna’s idea that Katniss and Peeta hold hands: “Just the perfect touch of rebellion.”
On their way to their rooms, Peeta asks Katniss what really happened with the Avox. They go to the rooftop garden where wind and hundreds of wind chimes mask their voices, since cameras are ever-present, and she explains that she and Gale were hunting one day when the birds suddenly stopped singing, and then one gave what sounded like a warning call. They saw the Avox and a boy, exhausted, in torn clothes, clearly on the run. Gale and Katniss hid under a rock shelf, but the girl saw them and called for help—though Katniss does not share this detail with Peeta; they did not move. A hovercraft appeared as if out of nowhere, and a spear hurtled down to kill the boy, while a net scooped up the girl. The craft disappeared, with the body and the girl. Why, she wonders, would citizens of the Capitol leave their lavish, easy lives? “I’d leave here,” Peeta says—and then remembers the cameras and adds, jokingly, that he’s homesick, but he’d sure miss the food. Peeta asks about Gale, and Katniss evades the question but tells Peeta that his father came to bid her farewell and to give her cookies. Peeta says that his father and Katniss’s mother knew each other as children.
They part to go to their rooms, and the red-haired Avox is tidying the room. Katniss wants to apologize, but the cameras are watching. She’s ashamed that she didn’t try to help the girl but merely watched the boy die and the girl be captured—“Just like I was watching the Games”—and thinks that the Avox will be glad to see her die in the arena.
Peeta reveals himself, as the novel continues, to be a perceptive and thoughtful young man. He quickly reads a room and grasps people’s motivations, and he monitors his language and behavior. The lie he tells to cover for Katniss—Delly Cartwright “looks about as much like our server as a beetle does a butterfly”—not only gets her out of trouble but introduces a touch of humor that only he and Katniss get. Peeta knows what questions to ask and when to back off; he knows when to offer a word of praise or encouragement. At this point, however, his interpersonal talents provoke an ambiguous response in Katniss. She assumes that his genuine sensitivity is an act to give him an edge in the arena.