Katniss stands alone in her house. President Snow has just left, and Katniss is trying to make sense of everything he’s told her. Snow has threatened to kill Gale and Katniss’s family if she doesn’t comply with the Capitol during her Victory Tour. Her only way of protecting her love ones’ lives is to pretend to be in love with Peeta, thereby giving the reporters and audiences what they want.
In this opening section, Katniss lays out the basic challenge she’ll have to deal with in the book. Interestingly, it’s almost the reverse of her problem in the first novel: where before Katniss behaved normally, only “misbehaving” at the end of the Games, she must now behave under threat of death.
Katniss’s mother comes in and asks her if she’s all right, and Katniss pretends to be cheery. She lies and says that President Snow always visits victors before their tour. Katniss thinks about her relationship with her mother. Though she’s always blamed her mother for the way she fell into depression after her father’s death—irrationally, she admits—she is trying to be warmer with her now. Katniss thinks of a “wonderful thing” her mother did for her: when reporters asked her mother about Katniss’s “boyfriend,” Peeta, her mother replied that Katniss was too young to have a boyfriend at all.
Although Katniss’s problem is unfathomable to most of the readers of these young adult novels, Collins does an impressive job of rendering her conflicts comprehensible to teenagers (who hasn’t kept a secret from their mother?). Katniss’s relationship with her mother is uncertain, but there are plenty of signs that Katniss respects her mother, and recognizes that she’s an intelligent, thoughtful woman.
Katniss thinks that there are three people she could talk to about her conversation with Snow. One is her stylist, Cinna. He is a kind man, but Katniss fears that he’s at risk already—if she told him about Snow’s threat, he could be executed. Katniss could also talk to Peeta. Previously, she’s made it clear to him that she was only pretending to be in love with him, but now she’ll have to ask him to pretend to be in love with her. Finally, Katniss could talk to Haymitch, her mentor. The problem is that he might not understand, or care, about Katniss’s problem.
Katniss struggles to conceal the vast secret Snow has told her. We see, very clearly, the extent of the surveillance state. If Katniss tells Cinna about her problem, then there’s a serious risk that the government will find out, so talented has it become at spying on its own employees. For the time being, Katniss is forced to keep her secret, and this causes her a great deal of stress in the early chapters of the novel.
Katniss takes a bath in preparation for the beginning of her tour. In the middle of her bath, two of her “attendants,” Venia and Octavia, burst in without warning, saying that they need to apply Katniss’s makeup immediately. They scold Katniss for not taking better care of her looks in recent weeks. Together, Venia and Octavia paint Katniss’s nails, pencil her eyebrows, give her fake eyelashes, etc.
It’s darkly humorous that Venia and Octavia are so concerned with Katniss’s appearance, and have no idea of the moral dilemma she’s faced with. This reinforces the superficiality of the residents of the Capitol: people are so concerned with their appearances that they seem not to mind that the government wields a tyrannical amount of power over their lives.
As Venia and Octavia work, they mention the “Quarter Quell.” Every 25 years, the Capitol puts on the usual Hunger Games, along with other special celebrations and ceremonies, most of which are cruel and sadistic for the Districts. This year is the 75th year of the Hunger Games. Venia and Octavia mention that Haymitch may be required to compete in challenges, since he won the Games years ago. Katniss has never asked Haymitch about his victory, and he has never volunteered the information.
Although Haymitch has appeared to be just a lazy alcoholic so far, we sense that there’s another side to his personality. He’s lazy, but he also clearly possesses great strength and willpower—only people with these two qualities are capable of winning the Hunger Games. It’s also a sign of Haymitch’s secret maturity that he refuses to brag about the Games—he doesn’t have the same bloodthirsty love for the Games that others do.
Katniss’s mother enters Katniss’s room as Venia and Octavia are applying her makeup. She tells Katniss that Cinna, her stylist and close friend, has arrived. When Katniss’s makeup is done, she walks downstairs and greets Cinna. Katniss can’t help but tell Cinna what Snow has told her—she finds it very easy to talk to Cinna, and often talks with him on the phone in her new house.
It’s strange that Katniss is so open with Cinna right after worrying that she could be endangering other people’s lives with her information. Perhaps this is a sign that, in spite of her great maturity and integrity, Katniss still has a lot of growing to do. It’s also a suggestion that she struggles to keep the kinds of secrets that other people—Haymitch, for instance—conceal more effectively.
Cinna is sympathetic when Katniss tells him about Snow, but he urges her to get to work on her “talent.” Ever victor of the Games, traditionally, must have a talent—Peeta’s talent, for instance, is painting. Katniss thinks that she has no talent but hunting. Cinna suggests that she say her talent is designing clothing, and Katniss agrees, since this will allow her to spend more time with Cinna. Cinna gives her a sketchbook full of dresses that she has supposedly designed—in reality, Cinna himself designed them.
In this section, we can’t help but compare the Hunger Games with the Miss America pageant—in which the competitors must show a “talent”—singing, piano playing, etc. This seems to be precisely Collins’s point: she wants us to make the uncomfortable connection between the bland reality TV of our era and the bloodthirsty broadcasting of Panem.
Effie Trinket, the organizer of the Victory Tour, arrives at Katniss’s house. The sight of Effie reminds Katniss of the Games, and thus of Rue, the young girl who allied with Katniss during the Hunger Games. Katniss was forced to let Rue die. Even now, she can’t stop thinking about the sight of Rue lying on the ground with a spear through her stomach.
For Katniss, who has seen the bloody underbelly of the Hunger Games, the sight of this pomp and pageantry is cruelly ironic, and only makes her think of her guilt and acts of killing. Katniss’s guilt for Rue’s death is proof that she’s a better human being than the spectators who watch and enjoy the murders of the Games.
As Katniss prepares to leave for her tour, her mother gives her a pin shaped like a mockingjay. Effie shouts that it’s time for Katniss to leave. Katniss remembers her conversation with Snow, and her face breaks into a huge (and fake) smile.
Collins here introduces the mockingjay, a prominent symbol, to the novel. Still, it’s not yet clear what the pin symbolizes, either for Katniss or for us as readers.
Katniss walks toward the train station, surrounded by her entourage, and by reporters. She approaches Peeta and gives him a kiss—the first kiss she’s given him in months. Peeta is nervous and sad, since Katniss has already made it clear that she’s only pretending to love him, but he “plays along” and smiles for the camera. Katniss notices that his artificial leg—which he was forced to get after losing his real leg in the Games—is still giving him trouble.
Like Katniss, Peeta harbors “wounds” from the Games. Katniss must deal with her guilt and conflicting emotions, while Peeta also has physical wounds to recover from. We get a better sense of the agony of performing for the cameras at all times—Peeta can’t express his true feelings for Katniss.
Peeta and Katniss walk to the train station, where they’re ready to leave District 12, along with their stylists, Effie, and Haymitch. Once they’re on the train, Katniss insists that she has to talk to Haymitch immediately. Knowing that the train is probably bugged, she suggests that she and Haymitch talk outside when the train stops for fuel. Outside, she explains what Snow told her: if she rebels against the Capitol at all, her loved ones will die. Haymitch sighs and tells her the truth: every year when the Hunger Games begin, she and Peeta will be back in the news. Reporters will “check up” on their romance. Thus, the only way to keep her loved ones alive is to marry Peeta.
Despite his drunkenness, Haymitch proves himself to be an intelligent and thoughtful mentor. His advice that Katniss marry Peeta seems sensible, since it will put the reporters at ease. It’s not immediately clear how Haymitch regards the government of Panem. It seems likely that he hates it as much as Katniss does, since he was forced to compete in the Games, too. Yet it also seems that Haymitch has reached a cynical “truce” with the government—he’s not about to start any uprisings.