Katniss has been confined to the hospital following Peeta’s sudden, unexpected attempt to strangle her. It was Boggs, Katniss thinks, who saved her life by knocking Peeta out before he could do any permanent damage. As a result, Katniss suffers from a sore throat, but no damage to her voice.
Katniss gets closer to Boggs, since he essentially saves her life by knocking out Peeta. We’ve been thinking that Katniss and Peeta are meant for one another, since they’ve endured the same hardships, but now Collins throws in another painful complication.
While Katniss lies in the hospital, Beetee approaches her, apologizing for her near brush with death. He explains that Peeta has been subjected to a horrible form of torture in which he’s been conditioned to fear the things he loves most—above all, Katniss. Katniss frantically asks Beetee if there’s a way to reverse the effects of this torture. Plutarch answers that there is no precedent for doing so.
In this expository section, Collins outlines the basic problem with Peeta, which Katniss will struggle with for the rest of the novel: Peeta has been trained to hate the things he loves most, and especially Katniss. While Peeta debuted in the Hunger Games as a strong and charismatic competitor, he’s since become increasingly weak: first he lost a limb, and now he’s losing his sense of reality.
For the next several days, Prim and Katniss’s mother take care of her in the hospital, feeding her soft foods and talking with her. Beetee and Gale visit her, showing them weapons that they’ve been collaborating on. One weapon appeals to a basic human weakness: compassion. It consists of two bombs: when the first bomb goes off, people rush in to help wounded—and then the second, more powerful bomb detonates. Katniss is discharged from the hospital with instructions to speak as little as possible, as she needs to rest her voice.
It’s unnerving to see Beetee and Gale manipulating human compassion so soon after Collins has revealed that Peeta has been conditioned to hate the things he loves. Like the Capitol’s torturers, the scientists of District 13 are manipulating the human “weakness” of compassion. This reiterates the “fight fire with fire” approach that District 13 has adopted for itself: for every injustice from the Capitol, the rebels fire back with one of their own.
Shortly after Katniss is discharged from the hospital, Haymitch visits her in her home, and suggests that they use a novel strategy to communicate with Peeta. There is a young woman named Delly, a childhood friend of both Katniss and Peeta, who managed to escape from District 12 before it was bombed. If Delly talks to Peeta, Haymitch suggests, Peeta won’t be afraid of her—there’s no way the government will have bothered to condition him against her. Katniss agrees to try Haymitch’s idea. They summon Delly, who’s extremely kind and pleasant to talk to, and ask her to try talking to Peeta.
It is Haymitch, not Coin, who suggests that the rebels respond to Peeta by trying to cure him, rather than by building another weapon to unleash upon the Capitol. This is the case partly because Haymitch loves and respects Peeta (more than he does Katniss), but it’s also because Haymitch is something of an outsider in the rebel alliance. He doesn’t always obey Coin’s orders, and even questions them when they’re too harsh.
Delly goes to the hospital, where Peeta is staying, while Haymitch and Katniss watch from behind an observation window where they can’t be seen. Delly greets Peeta warmly, and for a time, they talk with each other pleasantly, reminiscing about old times. Suddenly, Peeta shouts that District 12 burned down because of Katniss. Delly begins to cry, and she tries to explain that Katniss isn’t to blame at all. Peeta yells that Katniss is a dangerous woman and a “stinking mutt.” Delly leaves the hospital in tears.
Collins illustrates the full extent of the problem—not only does Peeta feel a physical desire to attack Katniss, but in his mind he truly believes that Katniss is to blame for all the evils of Panem. As in Peeta’s interviews with Flickerman, there is a disturbingly truthful side to the government propaganda Peeta has been conditioned to repeat—in a way, Katniss is responsible for a lot of pain and trouble.
Having heard Peeta scream about her, Katniss feels both furious and guilty. While she realizes that Peeta has been cruelly turned against her, she also wonders if she is partly to blame for the destruction of her home. She turns to Haymitch and begs him to send her to the Capitol to confront President Snow. When Haymitch refuses on the grounds that the Capitol is far too dangerous, Katniss asks to be sent to District 2.
In this section, Collins sets up the basic plot outline for the rest of the novel. Katniss will physically get closer and closer to the Capitol: first the outer districts, then District 2, then the Capitol itself. The novel now seems to be building up to a personal confrontation between Katniss and President Snow.