Katniss sits in the train, watching District 12 recede from view. Peeta, who is sitting next to her, assures Katniss that they’ll write letters to their loved ones. Katniss thinks to herself that she’ll never write a single letter, as she can’t summon the concentration to put her thoughts into words. Her goal for the Games is simple: keep Peeta alive.
It’s interesting that Collins repeatedly describes Katniss as being inarticulate, considering that her novel is delivered from Katniss’s point of view. This is often a rhetorical strategy, however, as Collins sometimes makes Katniss’s inner dialogue seem overly naïve or confused in order to build up suspense or make a dramatic twist more surprising.
Katniss and Peeta eat dinner with Haymitch and Effie in the train. Effie mentions that she’ll be wearing dresses to match Katniss’s mockingjay pin. Katniss realizes that most people in the Capitol have no idea that, for the rebels, the mockingjay symbolizes uprising. As they finish their meal, Effie suggests that they discuss the other competitors in the upcoming Games. They range in age from 14 to 80. Some previously won their Hunger Games with brutality, while others won with shrewdness, or even by pretending to be disabled. Two of the competitors are brother and sister, and some of them volunteered to fight again, although most were drafted against their will. Haymitch remembers many of the competitors, including an old friend of his named Chaff.
In this section, Collins conveys a sense of vast confusion, part of which is confusion about how symbols work and what they mean. As we’ve already seen, the mockingjay can mean almost anything to anyone: it can be a symbol of conformity and fashion, as it is to the people of the Capitol, but it can also be a symbol of defiance and rebellion against the Capitol. Similarly, to be a victor in the Hunger Games can mean almost anything: one can win by being strong, clever, resourceful, lucky, or any combination of factors.
Katniss tries to sleep, but can’t stop thinking about her competitors in the upcoming Games. She goes to talk to Haymitch, thinking that he must be awake, too. In the compartment next to hers, she finds Peeta, watching old footage of Hunger Games starring Brutus, a middle-aged competitor who has volunteered to fight again. Peeta asks Katniss if she’s doing all right, and if she needs to talk about her feelings. Katniss only shakes her head. But Peeta embraces Katniss, and she is surprised to feel a sudden sense of peacefulness.
Peeta seems more willing to “study” for the Hunger Games than Katniss is. Perhaps this is meant to suggest that he’s less scarred by the past Games than Katniss is, or else that he’s better at dealing with his trauma. The love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale persists—it seems like Katniss is more attracted to whichever young man she’s with right now.
Katniss and Peeta watch the tapes of previous Games together. In one clip, government officials in District 12 call out the names of the two tributes for that year, and Katniss catches a glimpse of her own mother as a young woman—Katniss thinks that she’s very beautiful. In the clip, Haymitch’s name is called, along with that of a teenager named Maysilee, who, Katniss recognizes, was an old friend of her mother’s and died in the Games. She wonders aloud if Haymitch was the one to kill Maysilee.
Collins keeps on giving us hints that the Hunger Games aren’t just a sadistic exercise: they’re a harsh medicine that forces Katniss to “grow up.” Here, she glimpses her mother as a young woman. Katniss has been discovering new sides of her mother’s personality in the last few chapters, and this is no exception. In a twisted, roundabout way, the Games bring her closer to her family.
The clips of the Games continue. In one, Haymitch is about to participate in his second Hunger Games, as a part of the second Quarter Quell. As the games for that year go on, tributes brutally murder one another. One “Career” pack of tributes bands together to kill as many victims as possible. “Careers” train for the Hunger Games all year, then volunteer for it. On the third day, Haymitch is almost killed, but Maysilee saves his life, shooting his attacker with an arrow. Afterwards, Haymitch and Maysilee form an alliance.
Collins reminds us that there are some competitors in the Hunger Games who volunteer for the position, aiming to kill as many people as possible. Considering the brutality and tyranny inherent in the Hunger Games, it’s particularly shocking that some people train for them. To be a Career means to actively support the Capitol’s oppression, and also to want to kill children for the sake of wealth and fame.
Peeta and Katniss watch as the Games in their clip draw to a close. Haymitch and Maysilee break off their alliance, recognizing that it’s better to part ways in peace rather than betray one another. Almost as soon as they part, Maysilee is killed by a group of genetically engineered birds. As she watches, Katniss is reminded of her failure to save Rue. The Games end with Haymitch narrowly defeating a woman from District 1. Haymitch discovers a strange gorge that “throws back” anything one throws into it. (Katniss realizes that the gorge must have been designed to prevent competitors from killing themselves.) In his confrontation with his opponent, she drops an axe into the gorge—unaware what the gorge can do, she stands in place, long enough for her own weapon to jump back and kill her. In the process, Haymitch sustains a near-deadly chest wound.
It’s important to note that Haymitch never faces any real moral dilemmas during his Hunger Games: he’s never put in the position of having to murder a friend, or betray someone who’s saved his life. Even in the final confrontation with the woman from District 1, Haymitch never kills her directly; instead, he turns her own weaponry (and the Capitol’s own technology) against her. This adds yet another dimension to Haymitch’s character, making him seem even more admirable and sympathetic despite the current state of his life.
Katniss notes, admiringly, that Haymitch managed to win his second Games without actually murdering his final opponent. This action undoubtedly displeased the government, since he used its own technology against it. Katniss hears a noise, and finds Haymitch standing behind her, drinking a bottle of wine. Katniss is annoyed that Haymitch has taken up alcohol again, but her annoyance is drowned out by the sense that she’s only just begun to understand what kind of person Haymitch is. She and Haymitch have both been disobedient to the Capitol—thus, they’ll have to work together to help Peeta survive.
Here Katniss makes explicit what Collins has been suggesting for the last 150 pages: there’s more to Haymitch than meets the eye. He’s strong, resourceful, and possessed of the same rebellious streak that Katniss exemplifies. The fact that he’s able to sneak up on Peeta and Katniss (presumably, two people who are good at noticing when they’re being ambushed) further stresses his talents for deception.