Katniss is standing in the Hunger Games arena. The voice of Claudius Templesmith, the official announcer, declares the beginning of the 75th Hunger Games. Katniss can only think about the sight of Cinna, lying beaten on the floor. Clearly, Katniss is being punished for inspiring protests and uprisings.
Clearly the government has gotten its message across: Katniss once again has to “behave,” or she’ll run the risk of putting her friends and loved ones in further danger.
Slowly, Katniss takes in her surroundings. She is standing is a massive circular arena, with a small island at the center. This island is the Cornucopia, which contains useful supplies and weapons. The island is connected to the circumference of the arena by twelve enormous spokes, each of which supports two tributes. Beneath the spokes there is only water.
Because the physical space of the Games is confusing and constantly changing, it’s important for Collins to lay out the landscape of the environment in this early section.
A gong sounds, and almost without thinking, Katniss jumps into the water under the spokes and begins to swim toward the Cornucopia. Katniss has little trouble swimming. When she arrives at the Cornucopia, she finds among the supplies a bow and arrows. She hears a noise and sees Finnick standing close to her, carrying a trident and a net. Katniss thinks to herself that the arena was designed to give swimmers a huge advantage—thus, Finnick, from District 4, is the clear favorite.
It seems that the Games have been designed to give specific competitors—in this case, Finnick—huge advantages. It’s unclear why he is the favorite at this point, but at the end of the book we learn that Plutarch (the Head Gamemaker) and Finnick have been working together this whole time.
Finnick grins and tells Katniss that they’re allies. He shows her a gold bangle—the same bangle Haymitch was wearing the day Katniss arrived at the Training Center. Katniss realizes that Haymitch must have given Finnick the bangle, signaling Katniss to trust him. Suddenly, Finnick tells Katniss to duck—she does so, and Finnick throws his trident into the male tribute from District 5. At this, Katniss decides to ally with Finnick. They each patrol one side of the massive pile of supplies.
It’s surprising that Finnick immediately saves Katniss’s life, and this act adds to the sense of confusion and mystery that we get as Katniss enters the arena. It seems that many things are happening beyond Katniss’s control or knowledge, and she must try to adapt to them quickly in order to survive.
Patrolling the pile of supplies, Katniss and Finnick find weapons, but no food. Katniss sees other tributes approaching the Cornucopia, and shoots arrows at them. One of her arrows misses, but the other hits a tribute named Gloss in the calf. Katniss takes two long knives for herself. She sees Brutus running toward them, and shoots an arrow at him, which he blocks. Katniss and Finnick see that Brutus, Gloss, Enobaria, and Cashmere—four famous Careers who have fought in many Games—are approaching the Cornucopia. Katniss and Finnick decide to leave as quickly as they can. Suddenly, they see Peeta swimming toward the Cornucopia. Finnick offers to help him onto shore, noting that Katniss—whom he thinks is pregnant—shouldn’t exert herself too much.
We’re reminded that there are certain victors who volunteer for the Games, year after year, in the hopes of eliminating weak players and winning fame and riches. It’s also interesting that Finnick mentions Katniss’s pregnancy—it’s unclear if he’s being sincere or sarcastic. Indeed, we’re reminded of the way President Snow referred to Gale as Katniss’s “cousin,” even though he knew full well that they weren’t related by blood in any way. As with Snow and Haymitch, there’s more to Finnick than meets the eye.
Finnick dives into the water to fetch Peeta. Meanwhile, Katniss notices an old woman from District 4, Mags, and the group of four careers. Finnick brings Peeta to the Cornucopia, and Peeta greets Katniss. Katniss suggests that they team up with Mags, and Finnick and Peeta agree. Finnick notes that Mags is one of the other tributes who likes him, and adds that her fishhooks will help them eat. Katniss sees Wiress and Beetee approaching, and is tempted to suggest that they team up, but realizes that Finnick might kill them immediately. She suggests that they move on.
Finnick is given more sympathetic qualities in this scene—he has, or seems to have, love and sympathy for some of the other competitors, such as Mags. Finnick is also resourceful enough to recognize that they’ll need to eat as well as kill—in other words, that there’s value in the old, physically weak competitors as well as the young, strong ones. Yet Katniss doesn’t entirely trust Finnick, so she tries to protect Wiress and Beetee from him.
The group of four gathers weapons—knives, bows, arrows, etc.—and moves away from the Cornucopia. As they walk away from it, into the island, the terrain becomes unfamiliar. Katniss realizes that they are entering a “jungle”—a kind of place utterly alien to Panem.
The arena of the Hunger Games is designed to be exotic and mysterious to the people of Panem, who, it’s implied, have never seen a jungle before. This could be because Panem is based on a future North America with no contact with the outside world, or because some apocalyptic event has destroyed much of the world’s foliage.
As the group of four walks through the jungle, Katniss wonders if she shouldn’t just shoot Finnick immediately. It would be “despicable,” but she still doesn’t fully trust him, and she’ll have to kill him eventually in any case. Finnick seems to sense what she’s thinking—he turns, raising his trident, and points out that every victor was chosen for his or her talents for killing. As Katniss and Finnick stare at each other, Peeta stands between them and suggests that they find drinkable water. Katniss agrees, reasoning that she can always kill Finnick in his sleep.
Ironically, Katniss seems to be guilty of much worse than Finnick—we’ve been given no real indications that Finnick intends to hurt or betray anyone, and yet Katniss is seriously considering killing Finnick in cold blood. The fact that she ultimately doesn’t do so is, in part, a measure of her compassion, but mostly an indication of her rationality—she thinks there will be a better time to kill Finnick later on.
The group walks forward, and notices a strange “square” hanging above the trees. Peeta climbs the tree and tries to use his knife to probe the area. Katniss notices a “ripple” in the air, and recognizes that this is a force field of the kind that Beetee pointed out in the training area. Just as she starts to say something, there is a sudden “zap,” and Peeta falls to the ground. Katniss frantically calls Peeta’s name and feels for a heartbeat, but she doesn’t hear one.
The chapter ends on another cliffhanger. That we’ve now encountered force fields twice in less than fifty pages suggests that they’ll be important to the remaining plot of the novel, though exactly how remains to be seen.