Part III: “The Victor”
A pack of wolf-like muttations pursues Cato, Katniss, and Peeta across the plain toward the Cornucopia. Huge, able to stand on their hind legs, and sporting long, sharp claws, the mutts appear to be communicating somehow, coordinating their attack. The only safe (somewhat) place is on top of the Cornucopia now, but Katniss sees that Peeta, with his wounded leg, can’t outrun the mutts. He yells at Katniss to go on, but she hesitates. Cato has already scrambled up the Cornucopia, and she strings an arrow to take a clear shot at him but must expend it on a mutt that is about to grab Peeta.
In the nick of time, Katniss reaches the Cornucopia and hauls Peeta up. Now they face Cato as the mutts leap in frustration against the sides of the Cornucopia. Katniss sees that each mutt is different and realizes, sickened, that each has traits of a fallen tribute. One has blonde fur and green eyes, like Glimmer; all the tributes are represented, even Rue. Do the mutts have the memories of the tributes, too? Perhaps the Gamemakers programmed them to “hate our face particularly because we have survived,” she thinks, or to avenge their deaths. A mutt leaps and grabs Peeta, nearly pulling him down as he stabs at it. A mutt that might be Thresh leaps high, and Katniss spends a precious arrow killing it. As she turns, she sees that Cato has Peeta in a headlock and is strangling him; Peeta’s bleeding fast, too, from a gash in his leg. Only Cato’s head is unprotected by the armor, so Katniss aims one of the last two arrows at his face. Cato laughs: “Shoot me and he goes down with me.” Katniss strains to decide what to do as Peeta’s lips begin to turn blue and Cato stands there with “a triumphant smile.” Peeta manages to lift a bloody hand and draw, in blood, an X on Cato’s hand, and Katniss acts in the instant before Cato grasps the signal. The arrow hits Cato’s hand, and he releases Peeta who, dizzy, falls into Cato, knocking them both toward the edge of the Cornucopia. Katniss catches Peeta’s hand just as Cato slips in the blood and falls into the mutt pack.
Peeta and Katniss cling to each other and wait for the cannon shot, but it doesn’t come. Cato won’t go down without a fight, and he kills some of the mutts with a knife as he tries to get back to the tail of the Cornucopia and climb back up. But he’s outnumbered and exhausted. After about an hour of fighting, he collapses, and the mutts drag him into the Cornucopia—but there’s still no cannon. The body armor that seemed like a gift from the Capitol now prolongs his death terribly. Night falls as Peeta and Katniss listen to Cato’s moans and endure the frigid air. Katniss uses her jacket and the last arrow to make a tourniquet so that Peeta won’t bleed to death, knowing that she may cost him his leg, if they live. The hours of that night are the worst Katniss has ever faced as she and Peeta huddle on the icy Cornucopia and listen to Cato’s gradually weakening cries till, Katniss thinks, there will “never be anything but cold and fear and the agonized sounds of the boy dying in the horn.” She shakes and yells at Peeta to help him stay awake. Finally, dawn comes, and Peeta suggests a new use for the last arrow. She removes it from the tourniquet and, with Peeta holding her so that she won’t fall, peers under the edge of the Cornucopia. “Make it count,” Peeta says as Katniss locates, in the dusk of the enclosure, “the raw hunk of meat that used to be my enemy” and that seems to be saying please. She dispatches Cato, and the cannon fires. The mutts retreat through a hole in the plain, and Peeta and Katniss limp toward the lake so that the hovercraft can recover Cato’s body. They expect to hear the trumpets that announce victory. They want so badly to leave the arena and go home. Instead, they hear Claudius Templesmith’s voice greeting them and announcing that the “earlier revision” of the rules “has been revoked.” Only one victor will be allowed.
Peeta is not surprised. This was the Gamemakers’ plan all along, to make the “star-crossed lovers” face each other in final combat if possible. He pulls his knife from his belt, and Katniss instantly has the bow ready, her final arrow aimed at his heart. Peeta drops his knife in the lake; he never intended to harm Katniss and tells her to kill him, before the mutts come back. Face afire with shame, she drops her weapons, too. She won’t and can’t kill him; she tells him to shoot her. He refuses and pulls the bandage from his wound to bleed to death, but she kneels and tries to reapply the bandage. She prefers to die, she realizes, than to go home without Peeta. He pleads with her, “We both know they have to have a victor. It can only be one of us. Please, take it. For me.”
Katniss suddenly knows how to end the terrible stalemate. If they both die, “the whole thing would blow up in the Gamemakers’ faces.” Their failure might even be cause for public execution. She takes nightlock berries from the leather pouch and gives some to Peeta. He kisses her, and they hold them out for the cameras. On the count of three, they agree, they will eat them and die, unless the Gamemakers intervene. Just as they are about to eat the berries, they hear the “frantic voice” of Claudius Templesmith announcing their co-victory.
The utter cruelty of the Capitol is on full display in this chapter and comes near to breaking Katniss. As she listens to Cato’s suffering, she doesn’t “care who he is or what he’s done” but only wants him not to suffer anymore. She knows why his suffering goes on and on: “No viewer could turn away from the show now. From the Gamemakers’ point of view, this is the final word in entertainment.” And after the announcement, Katniss knows that the so-called rule change, too, was a ploy, “devised by the Gamemakers to guarantee the most dramatic showdown in history.” But the Gamemakers underestimate the defiant spirit that the Games have awakened in Katniss and likely cannot fathomPeeta’s willingness to die for her.
Katniss and Peeta wash their mouths out with lake water as the audience cheers for them, and a hovercraft retrieves them from the arena. Inside the craft, Peeta passes out, and doctors go to work on him immediately. Still primed for the arena, Katniss perceives them as a threat and throws herself against the glass door of the operating room. An attendant brings her orange juice, but the sight of the clean, cool glass in her bloody hands causes her to set the glass aside. She watches the doctors through the glass, “their brows creased in concentration,” as they fight to keep Peeta alive, then startles when she thinks someone is looking back at her. She realizes that it’s her reflection—starved face, traumatized gaze, tangled hair.
The hovercraft reaches the Training Center, and Peeta is transported to a hospital while Katniss is left behind, screaming and throwing herself against the glass, till someone sedates her. She wakes some time later in a hospital bed, with tubes in her arm. She looks at her hand and sees that it’s not only been scrubbed but the nails and scars have been repaired. And she can hear out of her left ear again. She tries to sit up and finds that she’s restrained. The red-haired Avox girl comes in with a tray and confirms with a nod that Peeta is alive. As she puts a spoon in Katniss’s hand, Katniss feels “the pressure of friendship” and knows that the girl never wanted her dead. Katniss notes “grouchily” that she’s allowed only broth, applesauce, and water but finds that she can barely manage that much food. Days must have passed for her stomach to have shrunk so much. She’s entered the period when the Capitol doctors “put the starving, wounded, mess of a person” back together before the celebrations begin. For who knows how many days, Katniss sleeps, wakes to find her skin clearer, eats a bit, and is again sedated. Finally, she wakens to find that she’s no longer restrained and, despite the bedrest, fairly strong. She’s reunited with Effie, Cinna, and Haymitch, flinging herself into their arms despite the cameras. Portia is with Peeta, whom Katniss will first see at the ceremony. Cinna puts his arm around her and takes her to the twelfth floor to get ready for the ceremony. As they ride the elevator past the other districts’ floors, she thinks of each tribute and feels “a heavy, tight place” in her chest.
The prep team gushes over her, and she’s happy to see them, too, thinking of them as somewhat like “an affectionate trio of pets.” They eat lunch—real food, but small portions, so that Katniss won’t be sick on stage. Octavia slips her a roll under the table.
As the team makes her up, Katniss looks at herself in the mirror. Flawless skin covers a starved frame. The trio talks nonstop, “rattling on about the Games,” where they were and how they reacted to events, as if the Games were all about them and “not the dying boys and girls in the arena.” In the districts, people endure and then try to forgetthe mandatory viewing. “To keep from hating the prep team,” Katniss tries not to hear them. Then Cinna brings in a dress that has padding on the breasts and hips to hide her starved body. Katniss objects, but Cinna explains that this was a compromise. The Gamemakers pushed to alter her body surgically, and Haymitch stopped them.
The yellow dress seems to glow with a gentle fire, creating “the illusion of wearing candlelight.” Her hair and makeup are simple, and the whole ensemble seems designed to make her look young, innocent—“Harmless.” Cinna says that he thought Peeta would like the dress, but Katniss knows there’s more to this “calculated look” and senses that somehow “the Games are not quite finished.”
Beneath the ceremony stage, Haymitch looks Katniss over and “seems to make a decision.” He hugs her and warns her in a whisper that the Capitol is “furious” about her plan to eat the berries, which has made them “the joke of Panem.” She must explain that the madness of love drove them to behave irrationally. Peeta doesn’t need this warning, she infers from Haymitch. For him, the love is real and did in fact drive his actions. Katniss trembles as the platform holding her and the prep team rises to the stage. She’s out of the arena, yet the danger is greater than ever. All of District 12 could suffer for her rebellious act, she knows, unless she can make the Gamemakers look good during this interview. She’s troubled, too, by Haymitch’s claim that Peeta does love her, that it wasn’t an act for him. But she’ll have to puzzle these questions out when she’s home, not during the ceremony with “every eye upon me.”
This Capitol’s oppression of the districts takes the form of overt threats and of subtle duplicities. This chapter describes how a Games victor is prepared for formal presentation—scars removed, famished bodies hidden, coiffed and groomed and dressed up as if to say, “See, they’re fine, it’s just a game,” when the unspoken reality of the slaughtered tributes lies just behind the careful picture. This is the threat that Katniss feels; her performance is not done and is in fact now more crucial than ever. She must collude with the Capitol in its deceit to protect Peeta, her family, and her district. Peeta himself is nearly absent from this chapter, since Katniss, the first-person narrator, is apart from him. But more than that, Peeta is absent because he is not, and never has been, performing. His role as the young man who loves Katniss more than his own life is genuine, and it was not his plan to eat the berries, though he quickly agreed to it. He is, in fact, still himself. It’s Katniss who is being warped, gradually and against her will, by the Games.