Part III: “The Victor”
Katniss camouflages the cave entrance and prepares her gear as she waits for the bitterly cold night to pass. She knows that Cato, Clove, and Thresh will come to the feast but suspects that Foxface will hang back and wait to pick through the leftovers. She thinks with regret that her mother and Prim are likely being forced to watch the Games in their entirety, rather than merely highlights, at this stage. Perhaps the District 12 people are excited by the prospect of having a victor. Certainly, Gale is watching her in the role of lover.
Before dawn, Katniss dresses and gives Peeta a long kiss, pretending to wipe away tears, before setting out through the dark woods. She reaches the plain where, at dawn, the ground opens in front of the Cornucopia, and a table rises. On it are four backpacks of varying sizes, marked with district numbers. District 12’s is tiny and orange. Katniss is surprised to see Foxface dash out of the Cornucopia, where she’d cleverly hidden during the cold night, grab her pack and flee. Katniss knows she must sprint to her pack fast, or the Careers will take it. As she runs, she deflects a knife strike with her bow and, turning, shoots Clove in the arm. Katniss reaches the table and gets the little pack, but Clove’s next throw strikes her in the forehead. As blood blurs Katniss’s vision, Clove slams her to the ground and straddles her. Katniss hopes Clove will act quickly, for Prim’s sake, but Clove can’t resist the chance to taunt her opponent. She promised Cato that, if he let her kill Katniss, she would “give the audience a good show.” Clove opens her pack of knives and chooses one, insulting Rue as Katniss’s “pathetic little ally” and describing how she plans to cut Katniss’s face before killing her. Katniss spits in Clove’s face. Just before Clove begins to cut Katniss’s mouth, a force lifts her off Katniss. Thresh has her in a deadly embrace and crushes her before flinging her to the ground and shouting, “What’d you do to that little girl?” Clove says, “It wasn’t me” as she tries to crawl away and then screams for Cato before Thresh crushes her skull with a stone. Katniss’s bow is empty, and she assumes that Thresh will kill her next, but he asks her whether she was in fact allied with Rue. Quickly, Katniss tells Thresh what happened and asks him to make her death quick. But he spares him—this time—because of Rue. They hear Cato approaching, calling Clove’s name, and flee in opposite directions. Thresh has his backpack and Cato’s, and Cato kneels by Clove, pleading uselessly with her not to die, not to leave him alone. The cannon sounds, releasing Cato to chase either Katniss or Thresh; she gambles that he will go after the backpack, since he needs it desperately, and makes her way back to the cave. In the pack is a single hypodermic needle. She injects Peeta and collapses, bloody, into sleep, though she remembers as she drifts off seeing “an exquisitely beautiful green-and-silver moth landing on the curve” of her wrist.
After a quiet chapter of cooking and conversation (against the backdrop of Peeta’s dire illness), this chapter ratchets up the action. “Feasts always result in fatalities,” Katniss knows. They’re essentially acts of coercion: The Gamemakers trade a chance at what the tributes must have for high entertainment values for the audience. Feasts are usually called after lulls in the Games—days when no one kills anyone, no one dies in some terrible way. Gamemakers can’t afford to let the drama abate. Foxface’s wily success, Katniss’s desperate bid for the backpack, Clove’s malicious delight in the thought of cutting Katniss’s face into shreds, Thresh’s act of mercy, and Cato’s despair pull readers from one emotion to another. In a somewhat disturbing way, readers are thrust into the position of the Capitol audience, suspended between disgust at the Capitol’s abuse of the tributes and engagement in the quickly unfolding action. The imagistic moment when Katniss, covered in blood, sees the lovely moth brings the chapter’s intensity to a quiet and ironic close.
Katniss wakes to the sound of rain and, for a moment, thinks she’s home. Peeta’s voice brings her back to the cave. He woke to find her “in a very scary pool of blood.” The medicine has worked, and now Peeta takes his turn caring for Katniss. He’s “all gentleness,” though she had expected implacable anger, as he feeds her, tucks her in, and listens to her tell what happened at the feast. They bicker briefly over whether Peeta can understand the difficulty of owing a debt, and she speaks at last of the bread he gave her years ago, saying that “it’s always the first gift that’s the hardest to pay back.” They muse about Thresh and hope that Cato kills him so that they don’t have to. Katniss cries, wishing that no one else, not even Cato, would die. Like a child, she cries to go home, now. She and Peeta eat, rest, and listen to the rain. No faces appear against the stormy sky, so Cato and Thresh are still alive. Peeta says that Thresh is hiding in a field full of grains—not unlike the fields in District 11, probably—but that he avoided the field because it has a “sinister feeling,” as if anything could be hiding there. None of the Careers wanted to pursue Thresh into the field, either.
They can’t hunt, and nothing will be in Katniss’s snares, because of the rain, and Peeta wishes Haymitch would send bread. Katniss says nothing about her “one kiss, one pot of broth” connection for fear of tipping off the audience. Peeta brings up her trick with the berries and orders her, “Don’t die for me.” She can’t think what to say and realizes that she is growing fond of him and that she does not “want to lose the boy with the bread.” They kiss—a real kiss—but break off when her forehead begins to bleed again. They bundle up against the damp cold, and Katniss feels safe in Peeta’s arms, hoping to hunt and get back into the trees tomorrow.
But tomorrow brings more rain, and no food drifts down by parachute, perhaps because sponsors are losing interest in their story. Katniss admits that they’re “not exactly riveting today. Starving, weak from injuries, trying not to reopen wounds . . . . The most exciting thing either of us does is nap,” and that’s no way to gain audience sympathy. So Katniss asks Peeta to tell her about his crush on her, which he mentioned in the interview.
He recalls their first day of school, when they were five. Peeta’s father pointed Katniss out and said that he’d wanted to marry Katniss’s mother, but she left her merchant family to marry a man from the Seam because “when he sings . . . even the birds stop to listen.” Katniss confirms that her father’s voice was indeed remarkable and is moved. She tells Peeta about his father’s visit to her in the Justice Building. He must still have these feelings, he thinks.
In class that day, the teacher asked who could sing the valley song, and Katniss volunteered. She sang it, and “every bird outside the windows fell silent,” Peeta says. He fell for her that moment but never, over the years, dared to speak to her. “So, in a way,” he concludes, “my name being drawn in the reaping was a real piece of luck.” Katniss feels a happy confusion as she sees how the details fall into place, right down to the gift of the bread, given at the price of a beating. As they kiss, they hear a sound. A parachute has landed a basket full of food, including the lamb stew that Katniss told Caesar Flickerman she liked. But Katniss can nearly hear Haymitch’s “smug, if slightly exasperated” voice telling her that she finally got it right.
This chapter marks a shift in Katniss’s confused feelings about Peeta. He escapes death from infection, and she realizes that she wants him to live—not because of the sponsors she’d lose if he died, not because of what people in the district would think if she came home without him, and not because she fears being alone again in the arena. When he tells her how long he’s loved her, she allows herself to wonder, “[C]ould it all be true?” The downpour gives Katniss and Peetatime—televised, unfortunately—to test the nature of their relationship, and the chapter provides breathing space before the next scene of slaughter.