Part II: “The Games”
Katniss struggles out of the belt and bag, grabs what she can, and flees behind the animals whose footfalls woke her. The flames are oddly uniform, “machine-made”—a ploy of the Gamemakers to keep the action lively and drive the tributes into proximity. Katniss’s jacket catches fire; she pulls it off and stamps out the fire. Coughing, her lungs seared, she vomits up the water and rabbit and rests under a ledge for a moment to plan her next move. She knows that the attack won’t last long—the audience bores easily—and that it’s likely confined to this area of the arena, so she tries to double back to the pond. But a compact fireball hits and explodes, driving her out, and then another, like a perverse game of dodgeball: “Where there’s a hiss, I act or die,” she thinks—and knows that the Capitol audience must be enjoying this little game. Finally, the attack lets up, and Katniss relaxes a bit—but a final fireball strikes, catching her pants leg on fire and burning her badly. Her braid and hands are burned, too. She thinks of Cinna saying, “Katniss, the girl who was on fire,” and wonders whether the Gamemakers designed the attack for her and are laughing. But for now, she’s alive; rarely do the Gamemakers kill a tribute because “the real sport” of the Games is tributes killing each other. This suggests that another tribute is nearby, so Katniss limps away to the pool, gagging on smoke, to wash her wounds. She can hardly bear to examine the burn on her leg and nearly faints, but she gets through it.
She cuts away the charred cloth and soaks the burn in the cool water while she assesses her damaged gear and eats and drinks a little. Toward evening, she hears the Career pack nearby and forces herself to climb high into a tree, despite the pain. They survey each other, Katniss in the tree and Peeta and the five Careers, “grinning and snarling at me, a sure kill,” on the ground. But the Careers are strong, muscled, heavy—the tree’s branches won’t support them. Katniss calls down, asking how they are, and Cato, the District 2 boy, responds, “Well enough . . . . Yourself?”The District 1 girl, Glimmer, has Katniss’s bow and arrows, but she can’t use them well enough to hit Katniss, 80 feet off the ground. Kat grabs the arrow Glimmer shot into the tree and waves it at her; the audience will love this action. Now the Careers are irritated; they’ve been made to look foolish. Peeta tells them that night is coming and that they can stay put and deal with Katniss in the morning. High in the tree, Katniss prepares her “bed” but can’t sleep for the pain of the burns. In the darkness, she sees someone looking at her—it’s Rue, in a neighboring tree. Rue silently points just above Katniss’s head.
Gamemakers’ methods are revealed in this chapter and serve as further proof of the Capitol’s cruelty. When Katniss imagines a Gamemaker in an air-conditioned room lobbing fireballs, readers may be reminded of a gamer playing a favorite video game, and the Gamemakers seem to feel as little remorse for their victims as a gamer would for the enemies his or her avatar destroyed. Gamemakers design the dangerous arena; intentionally inflict torments on frightened, hungry tributes; engineer trouble to keep bet-placing Capitol viewers amused; and—as readers will learn—think up psychological trials beyond those imposed by the nature of the Games. Katniss, despite her disgust at the Games, does indeed play them. She smiles for the camera; she banters with the Careers to please viewers; she modifies her actions in various ways to suit the Gamemakers. All the while, she is painfully aware that her actions are viewed differently in District 12, and in the back of her mind are Peeta’s words about not letting the Games make him someone he’s not.
Katniss looks above her and freezes. A large wasp nest hangs there, perhaps home to ordinary wasps, but more likely—this is the arena, after all—full of tracker jackers. Tracker jackers are mutated wasps created by the Capitol to use against the districts during the uprising of the Dark Days. They hunt anyone who disturbs them, and their stings raise large, painful lumps. Their venom causes hallucinations and madness, and multiple stings can kill. Wounded, weak, and treed, Katniss was out of options. But now—if she’s willing to risk her life—she could saw through the branch holding the nest and drop both on the Careers. She’ll have to saw carefully, quietly; otherwise, both the Careers and the wasps will figure out what she’s doing. The smoke seems to have calmed the tracker jackers somewhat—for now. Katniss waits for the anthem to play, to cover the sound, and then works as quickly as her burned hands allow but doesn’t quite get through the branch before the music is over. She decides to wait till dawn to finish and climbs down to her bag, where a silver parachute has landed. A sponsor has sent expensive medicine for her burns. Whispering thanks to Haymitch, she spreads the balm on her hands and leg; the relief is immediate. She stores the little pot carefully and sleeps till dawn.
The Careers are still asleep, sure she can’t harm them, when Katniss climbs up to cut the branch. She whispers Rue’s name and explains her plan in gestures. Rue rustles easily away through the treetops, and Kat sees that a tracker jacker is on the outside of the nest. She must work fast, or she’ll be stung. She saws hard, feels stings on her knee, cheek, and neck, but succeeds. The nest crashes down, and tracker jackers swarm Glimmer and the District 4 girl, who runs, screaming. The other Careers and Peeta flee toward the lake, with wasps in pursuit, and Kat must get down fast now, before they return for her. She stumbles to the pond but remembers that Glimmer had the bow, and no cannon shot has occurred. Glimmer—dying, likely—and the bow are still under the three. Katniss, beginning to hallucinate, staggers back to the tree and reaches Glimmer just as she dies. Glimmer’s body appears to be oozing green stuff and swelling, and Katniss must break the girl’s fingers to get the bow from her hand. The arrows are under Glimmer’s body, so Katniss pulls an arm to turn the girl over, and the arm comes off. Or does it? Katniss can’t tell what’s real. She hears another cannon—the District 4 girl, probably—and the silence that presages the hovercraft’s arrival. It retrieves the girl from District 4, leaving Katniss a few moments to get the sheath of arrows. As she pulls it free, she sees Peeta rushing up, spear in hand, yelling at her—to run. He seems to be sparkling. Cato, also sparkling, runs toward her, and she flees, clutching the precious weapons.As the woods bend around her, she sees trees changing into pillars of blood and ants crawling out of her burn blisters; she hears terrible screaming that might be her. Yet through the hallucinations, Katniss is vaguely aware that Peeta just saved her life.
For sheer descriptive detail, this is the most detailed chapter yet. Tactile details—as when Katniss breaks “what used to be Glimmer’s fingers” and when she forces herself to grab Glimmer’s exposed rib cage and flip her body over—abound, as do visual details describing the effects of the tracker jacker venom. Glimmer, who at her interview shimmered in a “see-through gold gown” and had “flowing blonde hair, emerald green eyes,” and a “tall and lush” body, is reduced to a putrid, rapidly decomposing mass. Sound and smell are not neglected, either. The sound of the wasps, the screams of Glimmer and the other girl, and the repulsive “stench from the stings”also bring the terrible scene to life.