The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Summary and Analysis of Chapters 2-4


As Katniss sees her sister moving in terror towards the stage, she leaps into the crowd and volunteers herself as replacement for Prim. While volunteers are rare, they are permitted, and so Katniss is ushered onstage, where she wonders whether the Mayor remembers the sad day long ago when he presented her with a medal to honor her father's demise. Gale steps forward to pull Prim away.

Though distraught, Katniss stoically keeps herself from crying, knowing that to do so would be to reveal weakness to the television viewers and, worse, to the foes she will face in the Hunger Games. Her awareness of the viewing population will be a recurring concern throughout her story.

Katniss is proud to see that none in the crowd applaud what has happened, and regard it as a small show of bravery against a Capitol that expects them to act as an excitable audience. What's more, they join together in a traditional gesture of support, by touching their fingers to their lips. She is almost brought to tears, but Haymitch's buffoonery keeps her solid when, on his way to congratulate her, he trips off the stage and is knocked unconscious.

As he is taken away, Effie reads the name of the male tribute: Peeta Mellark, the son of the baker. This name saddens Katniss, since Peeta once showed her a great act of kindness she has never forgotten. She explains how, in the period after her father's death when her mother was useless and she had not yet learned to hunt, she had been caught by Peeta's cruel mother while trying to steal some scraps from the baker's trash bin. She was standing out in the rain, still shocked from the reprimand, when she heard the mother curse and whip her son Peeta for burning two loafs of bread. When Peeta came out to throw the ruined bread away, he gave them to Kaniss instead, which not only fed her family for the day but also gave her a hope that sustained her for many years. When she saw him the next day at school, his eye blackened from his mother's beating, his presence led her to glance at a dandelion, which then reminded her that her father had taught her skills she could use to survive. Though they never spoke at school after that, Kaniss has harbored a belief that Peeta burnt the bread on purpose so he could give it to her, and remains thankful.

The thought of having to kill this boy to whom who she owes so much sickens her, and her only release is hoping one of the other twenty-two tributes will kill him first.


After the Panem anthem is played, the tributes are walked into the Justice Building and left in a room, which she calls the "richest place I've ever been" because of its luxury. She continues to battle her tears to maintain her image.

Her mother and sister are allowed to see her, and she quickly lectures them on all the responsibilities they must remember to fulfill so that they can not only survive but also prevent Prim from taking tessarae. She is particularly stern with her mother, demanding that the latter not fall back into the self-pity that had paralyzed her after her husband's death. Though she promises Prim she will win, Katniss is certain it's impossible, considering the bigger, well-nourished and better-trained kids from wealthier districts.

The Peacekeeper orders her family out and then admits Peeta's father, the baker. She knows him primarily through trade, and seems unsure why he's there. He gives her a bag with cookies, after which they sit in silence for a while. Before he is led out, he assures her he will keep Prim fed.

Next is another unexpected guest, Madge. She insists that Katniss wear the circular gold pin she noticed earlier – up close, Katniss can see it's a bird in flight (and the image from the book's front cover).

Finally comes Gale. She insists again that there is nothing romantic between them, but realizes how close he truly is to her. He reminds her to try and obtain or make her own bow if possible, and that she is a skilled hunter who knows how to kill, even if it's never been people.

Gale is forced to leave, and Katniss is brought by car (her first time in one!) to the train station, which is teaming with reporters. Her practiced stoicism helps her maintain a façade whereas Peeta's face is stained from tears. As travel is outlawed between districts, she has obviously never been on a train before either, and the new experience leads her to recall what she's learned about Panem's geography. She recalls that the Capitol was built in what was once the Rockies, and that District 12 sits in what was once Appalachia.

Her train compartment is yet another step up in luxury for her, with nice clothing and a hot shower easily accessible. She takes a closer look at the pin Madge gave her, and realizes the bird is a "mockingjay," a species of genetically altered bird that the Capitol had devised during the rebellion. Though bred to memorize and repeat human speech (so as to act as spies), the mutated birds proved ineffective and were let out to the wild, where they mated with common mockingbirds and maintained the ability to replicate human melodies. The image leads her to remember her father, who sung wonderfully and appreciated mockingjays.

Effie fetches Katniss to a succulent dinner with her and Peeta. She is shocked at having such a fine dinner, and the exquisite detail she uses to describe her meals becomes a repeated motif throughout the novel. When Effie expresses her pleasure at their use of utensils, lambasting previous District 12 tributes for their "savage" table manners, Katniss eats with her hands to express her disapproval of Effie's attitude.

She and Peeta are brought to watch the recap of the reapings throughout the districts, and they get their first glance at those who will be their opponents. Katniss is particularly affected to see a 12-year old from District 11, whose apparent frailty reminds her of Prim. After watching their own reaping repeated, Effie reminds the children that Haymitch's sobriety is of value to him, since, as their district sponsor, he is responsible for lining up sponsors who can pay to have gifts sent to them during the games, an important boon towards survival. Haymitch walks in at the end of this speech, so drunk that he vomits everywhere.


Peeta offers to help Haymitch clean himself up. The offer makes Katniss grateful but also reminds her not to be too affected by his kindness since they will soon be opponents. She remembers again her early days of learning to hunt and provide for her family. One skill she mastered was identifying which herbs, roots and plants were safe to eat or use. She recalls how her father once introduced her to her namesake, the edible root Katniss, and how he told her "As long as you can find yourself, you'll never starve." Her memories make her feel guilty for having been too stern with her mother, and sad about home. She goes to bed without wearing any of the fancy clothes they've offered her. She knows her look will soon be out of her control, defined by an appointed Games stylist.

Effie wakes and then chaperones her to an overflowing breakfast. Watching the drunk Haymitch at breakfast, she realizes she detests him and wonders whether previous District 12 tributes lost partially because he was too much of a clown to line up decent sponsors. When Haymitch makes a joke mocking their plight, Peeta retorts sarcastically and Haymitch punches him. Katniss drives her knife into the table near his hand, and he realizes that he might actually have fighters this year. After verbally assessing their skill-sets, he agrees to stay sober enough to help them.

His first command comes as they arrive at the station. He makes them promise to acquiesce to the demands of their stylists, no matter what they think. Meanwhile, Katniss is overwhelmed by the grandeur of the Capitol, which is much more fantastic in sight than it ever was on TV. She is surprised to see Peeta playing to the gathered crowd, until he reminds her that by attracting fans, they attract sponsors and improve their chances at survival. She realizes again that she must stay wary, for "the boy who gave [her] the bread" is also playing a shrewd game that will ultimately mean he has to kill her.


Katniss's stoicism provides great benefit almost right away. Though undoubtedly overcome by emotion, she forces herself to focus immediately on the Games to come, by refusing to cry and hence confess a weakness that might hurt her later. The conflict of passion vs. reason (reflected in her stoicism) kicks into full force now that the story has begun.

Throughout these chapters, she exhibits a great command over her emotions. First, she continues to hold back her tears, in stark contrast to Peeta, whose eyes are red and swollen by the time he leaves the Justice Building. Even when her family visits her, Katniss refuses to let herself give in to emotion, instead lashing out a bit harshly at her mother, demanding the latter protect the family and not lapse back into the self-pity Katniss so disdains. The choice to rationally lecture her mother rather than emotionally comfort her will be one Katniss later questions.

This conflict between reason and passion establishes another deep theme, that of personal identity. This is most apparent in these chapters through her response to Peeta, which provides a stark contrast to her stoic demeanor. Peeta once showed Katniss a great kindness by giving her bread when she needed it, and her recollection of the event illustrates how deeply she was affected by it. But Katniss can only consciously confront these memories as a debt owed. The idea of an unconditional kindness is not only hard for her to comprehend, but she also feels that to think in such broad emotional terms about Peeta could prove a liability. After all, she has to kill him if she is to win the Games. She only confronts her feelings for and about Peeta in terms of their functional value, which shows that she is unable to fully accept her identity as a full, caring human being. She will battle with this as the adventure continues.

There are three additional elements that illustrate this conflict. The first is Gale's visit to her in the Justice Center. She is able to show much more emotion for him than even for her family, suggesting that he symbolizes a different world for her than they do. Where her family requires her to focus on order – survival, civilization, reputation, class – Gale is a symbol to her of a wild and unfettered humanity. Through him can she begin to approach her true nature as a child with deep, powerful emotions. The emotions are still muted in the scene with Gale, but they're there nonetheless. The second element is the introduction of Rue via the television replays of the various reapings. By immediately associating Rue with Prim, who the reader knows is the personification of Katniss's innocence, she is opening herself to a potential conflict that will later force her to question her identity as a stoic hunter. The third element is one of the novel's most enduring metaphors: the mockingjay pin. Though its significance will only be made clear later, it sets up both that Katniss associates music (which mockingjays repeat) with her father. Already, the sense is given that this mockingjay will serve as symbol for Katniss's emotional growth.

The mockingjay pin also will symbolize another arc of the novel: Katniss's revolutionary awakening. From Chapter 1, the reader sees that the entire society is complicit through its silence in the horrors perpetuated by the Capitol. The Capitol's system – the Hunger Games, perpetual poverty, etc. – are meant to separate people and discourage any further revolution. In these chapters, Katniss gets her first sense of how community can stand together when the crowd refuses to applaud her selection as tribute, and in fact shares a small rebellious act by indicating their support. This introduces two other themes, community and rebellion. So accustomed to relying solely on herself, Katniss will have to learn to work within a community, and her nascent rebellions against Effie and Haymitch show us that it's not going to be an easy transition for her.

Lastly, these chapters indicate that the deprivations of poverty make Katniss immediately susceptible to the charms that fortify the spectacle. Her passionate descriptions of the food she eats – all so luxurious for so poor a girl – begin in these chapters and will continue throughout. The delicious food and luxurious accommodations are like the carrot to keep her moving forward, unaware that by accepting these gifts, she plays into their hands. This also associates with the ongoing theme throughout the series of the power of gifts and debt, and who is willing to accept gifts from whom.