Part I: “The Spark”
Katniss Everdeen sits, stiff and full of dread, in the cold woods outside District 12’s fence just before dawn. She’s supposed to be hunting but instead is thinking that Effie Trinket and the camera crew are due at the Victor’s Village at noon. Today, she and co-victor PeetaMellark begin their Victory Tour through the districts. Katniss would rather forget the Games, but the cruelty of the Capitol is that the districts not only must never forget “the iron grip of the Capitol’s power” over them but must also celebrate it.
Katniss no longer needs to hunt to supply her mother and sister with game; they are well fed because she is a victor. She hunts for Gale’s family now that Gale works six days a week in the mines. Katniss remembers touring the mines on a school field trip. She can hardly bear their closeness since her father died in a mine accident, and she knows that Gale, who loves the open skies and woods, endures them for his family.Katniss checks Gale’s skillful snares, collecting eleven small animals, and slips through the rarely-electrified fence to take them to Hazelle, Gale’s mother. On the way, she stops by the small, old house that belongs to her mother, empty now that the family lives in the Victor’s Village, to change out of her hunting clothes and greet her sister’s ill-mannered, ragged tomcat, Buttercup. After visiting with Hazelle, Katniss heads to the Hob, the black market, where she spends coins freely and widely among the stalls, grateful for the merchants’ support. She makes a point to buy white liquor, stocking up so that Haymitch, her mentor, won’t have to endure withdrawal again.
Snow falls as she walks the half mile to the Victor’s Village, where twelve grand homes stand on well-cared-for grounds. Here, she, Haymitch, and Peeta, District 12’s Victors, live without want. Katniss goes to wake Haymitch up as he asked her to do, enduring the stench of vomit, liquor, unwashed clothes, and rodent droppings that is constantly present in his house. Haymitch, asleep in a stupor at his filthy kitchen table, is hard to wake. She pours icy water on him and brews coffee to sober him up. Peeta enters as Haymitch leaps up, cursing, but Peeta and Katniss ignore his complaints. She and Peetaspeak awkwardly, knowing they will soon have to play the “pair of lovebirds” again. Peeta has brought fresh bread, and Katniss comments, “I hunt. Peeta bakes. [Haymitch] drinks,” each trying not to think about the Games. She leaves, telling Haymitch to bathe.
Katniss’s mother greets her at the door of their house with an “odd, breathy laugh” and the hope that she enjoyed her “walk.” This puzzles Katniss till she sees a suited man, clearly from the Capitol, standing behind her mother. She plays along as the man escorts her into the study. Immediately, she smells “the conflicting scents of roses and blood” and knows that their guest is the terrifying President Snow.
The novel’s opening chapter refreshes readers’ memories about the power structures in Panem and the stressful, risky lives of District 12’s residents. In addition, it reestablishes Katniss’s relationships with main characters while also showing how these bonds have been strained by her experience in the Games. Her close bond with Gale, for instance, now has formal stiffness, whether because she is set apart as a Victor or because she and Peeta are assumed to be in love. People in other districts believe that Gale is Katniss’s cousin—the story given out to cover her obvious affection for him. Likewise, her feelings for Peeta, without whom she might not have survived the arena, are “a knot of . . . guilt, sadness, and fear. And longing.”These and other changes trouble Katniss, but “there’s no going back,” she knows, to the young woman she was before the trauma of the arena.
Katniss knows that President Snow rarely leaves the Capitol and infers that she is “in serious trouble,” as are her mother and Prim, her sister. Katniss “outsmarted” Snow’s “sadistic Hunger Games,” threatening his authority, but to her, “Any act of rebellion was purely coincidental.” She just wanted to live and to keep Peeta alive. Now, facing Snow, Katniss wonders how she could flee. Snow suggests that honesty will keep their interview short. He hopes that she will behave herself perfectly on the Victory Tour and suggests that any rebellious act will endanger her mother, Prim, and “all those . . . cousins,” implying that he knows the truth about Gale. Snow’s problem, he says, began when Katniss and Peeta threatened to eat the poisonousnightlock berries, leaving the arena with no victor. He blames Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane’s “unfortunate sentimental streak” for the decision to let both tributes live. Snow would have killed them both, and he insinuates that Seneca Crane paid for his decision with his life. Now, Snow says, some districts, inspired by Katniss’s “trick with the berries,” are considering uprisings and other acts of defiance, which could lead to rebellion, which would result in many deaths and in suffering for survivors. Katniss suppresses her anger that Snow pretends to care about the districts’ citizens, “when nothing could be further from the truth,” and silently doubtsPanem’s stability if “a handful of berries can bring it down.”
Katniss’s mother brings in tea and cookies thatPeeta has decorated, and Snow thanks her charmingly. As Snow pours the tea, Katniss says that she didn’t intend to inspire uprisings, and Snow believes this—but clearly, people across Panem do not. What to do? He can’t have Katniss killed; that would arouse suspicion. Snow asks when Peeta became aware of “the exact degree” of Katniss’s lack of love and points out that the “accidental” death of Gale could be arranged. Chilled, Katniss realizes that Snow knows about her Sundays outside the fence with Gale and, possibly, about the things they’ve said about the Capitol—and, worse, about the time Gale kissed her after the homecoming celebrations ended. In other words, Snow knows that Katniss’s actions in the arena were motivated more by defiance than by love. She begs Snow not to harm Gale and promises to persuade the people on the Victory Tour that she loves Peeta. Snow explains that Katniss must aim higher than that: “Convince me,” he says as he leaves, confirming on his way out that he does know about Gale’s kiss.
The tension in this chapter arises from the contrast of the actions and the words. President Snow is nothing but polite, formal, and gentlemanly in his actions. No physical threat to Katniss or her family occurs; Snow’s aide is likewise entirely civil. Tea is served at the lovely polished desk, daintily frosted cookies are eaten, and Snow compliments Mrs. Everdeen, saying, “[T]his could not be more perfect.” Never does he raise his voice, and Katniss herself is all childlike accommodation, as if she were not a savvy hunter or a survivor of the terrible games. To outward appearance, the meeting looks pleasant. Yet under these actions flows the river of Snow’s threatening words, and Katniss can’t stop smelling blood. In addition, this meeting causes Katniss to realize that nothing she thought private was in fact private. Snow has eyes everywhere. He knows her feigning, and he knows who matters most to her.