Part III: “The Victor”
The anthem plays, Caesar Flickerman greets the audience, and the prep teams, stylists, Effie, and Haymitch—who kept two tributes alive—are presented to cheers before Katniss and Peeta take the stage. Peeta looks so healthy and strong that Katniss, relieved, runs to him, and they kiss as the crowd roars. Their reunion runs on for ten minutes, with the crowd going “berserk” when Peeta pushes Caesar, who tries to interrupt, away. Finally they sit on a plush red love seat, and Katniss sees that Cinna and Portia have protected her by putting her in the soft, girlish dress while giving Peeta a manly, protective look. Katniss sits nearly in Peeta’s lap with her head on his shoulder, and they face three hours of Games highlights on the big screens. Katniss wonders how single victors have, over the decades, borne such horrors. Some have seemed victorious, but many have seemed “stunned.” Katniss sees what she didn’t witness in the arena, including how Peeta protected her. She suffers through Rue’s death again; her lullaby made the cut, but not the flowers—too clearly a sign of defiance. The final scene shows Katniss beating the glass door that separates her from Peeta on the hovercraft. Then President Snow takes the stage to present the victor’s crown, a clever design that twists apart into two crowns. As he places Katniss’s on her head, “his eyes . . . are as unforgiving as a snake’s.” He knows that she, not Peeta, is “the instigator.”
After the ceremony comes the Victory banquet at Snow’s mansion. By the time Katniss and Peeta go back to their rooms, she’s exhausted. Haymitch won’t let her speak with Peeta and send her to bed. Katniss can’t sleep, but the door to her room is locked from the outside, so she pretends to sleep (always the cameras are on) till Effie comes to wake her for another “big, big, big day!”—the day of the final interview. Cinna has a demure dress for her of a delicate white fabric. The interview is in the studio, and Caesar hugs her before they begin and tells her not to be nervous. Yet she wonders if even at that moment Snow is “arranging some sort of ‘accident’” for her. Peeta looks good in red and white, and they cuddle on the love seat. Katniss lets Peeta handle the most of the talking, tucking her feet up on the couch and acting shy. Caesar seems to be taken in by the act and guides Katniss through questions about when her love for Peeta. She’s doing well; she hears Haymitch, off stage, give “a sort of huff of relief.” Caesar asks Peeta how his new leg is doing, and Katniss realizes that he did lose the leg and now has a prosthetic. The tourniquet cost him the leg, she admits. He brushes her regret away; the tourniquet saved his life. Katniss doesn’t have to feign the tears in her eyes and turns her face to Peeta’s shirt to hide them from the cameras.
Then Caesar asks the question she dreads: What was she thinking when she took out the berries? She pauses, then whispers that she “couldn’t bear the thought of . . . being without him.” So they survive the interview.
Katniss takes home to District 12 only the mockingjay pin, which someone left in her room, and interview dress. On the train, she and Peeta have lunch with Effie and Haymitch. Then she goes to her room to change into regular clothes, scrub off the makeup, and braid her hair as usual. She wants to become herself again, to “try to remember who I am and who I am not.” What she knows is that she’s not comfortable with Peeta’s arm around her shoulders. The train stops for fuel, and she and Peeta walk along the tracks for fresh air. He picks wildflowers to give her, and she pretends to like them—but they make her think of Gale, and thinking of Gale ties her stomach in knots. Haymitch catches up with them to remind them that they must keep up the act until the camera crews leave District 12. Katniss must explain to the confused Peeta that they are in trouble because the plan to eat the berries “seemed too rebellious.” Peeta realizes suddenly that she doesn’t love him. Everything in the arena was an act. “Not all of it,” Katniss objects. But she’s confused. The closer they get to home, the less sure she is of what she feels. She hears the pain in his voice as he says, “Well, let me know when you work it out.” He avoids her till they reach District 12 and must step out of the train looking like a couple. He doesn’t seem angry as her takes her hand, just “hollow,” and she dreads the moment when she’ll have to let go of his hand and watch the boy with the bread slip away from her.
Readers may expect the novel to end with the joyous reunion of Katniss with Prim and their mother and perhaps Gale. A celebration would be held in District 12; not only did both tributes return, but their victory means more food and even luxuries like sugar for everyone during the next year. But the novel ends not in joy or even relief but in dread and remorse. It’s as if the novelistic frame tightens to just Katniss and Peeta; not even the effusive Effie or the dour Haymitch appears in the last few pages. The last scene happens on the train as it pulls into “our grimy little station.” The only reunion readers see is a false one as Peeta holds out his hand and says in his “hollow” voice, “One more time? For the audience?” He has reconciled himself, apparently, to the act, which now seems to be an act for him as well as for Katniss.