Katniss leaves a marker in the woods for Gale to follow and thinks back to what happened after she saw the uprising on television. She found Madge and they talked about Katniss’s mockingjay pin. Katniss thought how the mockingjays were a mistake, a hybrid of mockingbirds and a species created by the Capitol as a weapon that backfired against it. In the woods, Katniss arrives at an abandoned house, and before long Gale arrives. She tells him about President Snow’s threats against him, her family, and possibly even his family. She says they should run away, and to her surprise, Gale is thrilled. He tells her he loves her, but Katniss only replies that she knows. She says she can’t think of anyone that way right now. They argue briefly after Katniss says Haymitch and Peeta would have to come with them, and then Katniss mentions the uprising. Gale is shocked but elated. He says District 12 should take up the fight, too, and that he won’t run away. He tells her it’s no longer just about them and their families anymore and leaves.
On her way home Katniss finds Peeta and tells him they need to run away. He agrees to go, and as they approach the town’s main square they notice something is going on. A crowd is assembled. Katniss begins pushing through until she sees Gale bloody and slumped to his knees, the turkey he killed hunting nailed to the post he’s tied to, and an unfamiliar new Head Peacekeeper with a whip.
Katniss covers Gale with her body as the whip comes down across her face. Before the Peacekeeper can strike again Haymitch shouts for him to stop. He yells at the Peacekeeper, saying Katniss’s face won’t be ready for her photo shoot the next week, and it’s enough to get the Peacekeeper to worry. One of the usual Peacekeepers of the district says Gale has received the punishment required by protocol, so the new Head Peacekeeper leaves. They rush Gale to Katniss’s mother, who often treats injuries, and along the way Katniss learns that the former Head Peacekeeper of their district is now gone. Katniss’s mother treats Gale, and Haymitch and Peeta take Katniss out of the room. When her mother comes in she asks Haymitch if it’s starting again, and Katniss wonders what she means.
Madge arrives to bring Gale painkillers, which makes Katniss jealous. She spends time sitting next to Gale, touching his face, and imagines what it would have been like had their roles been reversed. She realizes she loves Gale. She feels selfish and cowardly, and reflecting back on the moment when she and Peeta threatened to eat the poisonous berries at the end of the Games, she thinks she doesn’t really know what her motivation was. It may, in fact, have been an act of defiance. She kisses Gale and as he awakens briefly, she says she’s not going anywhere. She’s going to stay and cause all sorts of trouble.
Katniss goes to lie down and has a nightmare about being back in the Games. She wakes to find there’s a blizzard going on outside, which should give her some time with Peeta, Haymitch, and Gale to think and plan. Her concern in fighting the Capitol isn’t her safety but her family’s, until she realizes they’ve already suffered a great deal at the hands of the Capitol. The thought that no one has the right to treat them as they’ve been treated motivates her. Days pass as the storm clears and the snow is removed, and finally Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch take a walk outside where they can’t be overheard. Katniss comes right out and says she wants to start an uprising. Haymitch dismisses the idea, and coming up to the town center they see everything has changed. Peacekeepers are everywhere, there are now machine gun nests on the rooftops, and whipping posts and a gallows have been set up. In the distance the Hob is burning. Katniss and Peeta check on Hazelle, Gale’s mother, and learn that the mines are closed until further notice.
Weeks pass and the mines haven’t reopened. Food shortages spread and people are beginning to starve. The Peacekeepers are also cracking down harshly on every offense, no matter how minor. One morning, after having received a crate of wedding dresses approved by President Snow himself, Katniss goes into the woods despite the risk. She finds her bow and hikes to the old house where she met Gale, too distracted to notice someone inside. When she finally does, she hears the click of a weapon behind her. Turning with an arrow drawn, she sees a woman staring back who drops the gun to the ground. In her outstretched hand is a small cracker with a mockingjay stamped in the center.
The Capitol’s oppression of District 12 escalates throughout this section until finally it resembles the police state Katniss saw in District 11. Until this point, the Capitol’s policing of District 12 was extremely lax. Though its existence was illegal, the Hob seemed more a regular market than a black market. It was held openly, and everyone, even the Peacekeepers, shopped there. The Peacekeepers themselves were generally cordial and ignored offenses like hunting that the poor relied on to survive. Earlier in the novel Katniss noted one named Darius who would joke with her on occasion. But the policing of District 12 changes rapidly with the arrival of the new Head Peacekeeper, Romulus Thread. He savagely whips Gale in public simply for catching Gale with a turkey he killed, and Katniss learns that Thread attacked Darius when he tried to stop the beating. Soon after the town’s main square resembles a prison more than a public space. Katniss sees Peacekeepers, all of whom are unfamiliar, swarming the area. Machine gun nests now occupy the rooftops, and a stockade, whipping posts, and gallows have been erected to publicly punish crimes. The threat isn’t idle. As time passes, Katniss notes that the Peacekeepers have been cracking down on every offense they spot, even ones that were previously overlooked.
Katniss’s relationship with Gale takes on a new clarity in this section, even if it remains complicated overall. Previously it’s been difficult to determine what either one wants the relationship to be. Katniss has always had strong feelings for Gale, but it wasn’t certain whether she felt a romantic attraction. Gale kissed Katniss once, but remained aloof afterward, making his feelings uncertain as well. When Katniss suggests they run away, however, Gale makes it very clear that he’s in love with Katniss. Katniss’s feelings take a bit longer to come into focus, but they do. Madge’s delivery of the painkillers to Gale, or more specifically the relationship between her and Gale that her concern suggests, sparks jealousy in Katniss. As Katniss thinks later of what it would have been like had their roles been reversed, she finds herself again feeling jealous at the girl she imagined who in her fantasy would be Gale’s counterpart to Peeta. She realizes then that she loves Gale, and though she hedges later, thinking she isn’t sure exactly how she loves him, she leaves no doubt that she feels a romantic attraction to him. It’s not one she’s ready to act on for various reasons, notably her feelings for and engagement to Peeta, but now she is at least fully aware of it. Finally, in choosing to stay and fight with Gale rather than run away, she in some sense chooses Gale over Peeta, who was still willing to run.
Among the most notable events of the section is Katniss’s decision to actively fight the Capitol. Katniss has been slowly working toward her own outright rebellion against the Capitol for some time. Initially she just flouted the laws by doing things like sneaking outside the fence and hunting, and while she hated the Capitol, she wouldn’t have dared to openly fight it. Neither did she really have the desire to. It’s after Gale is whipped, though, that she has the realization that makes her want to fight. Katniss’s desire to run away with her family and loved ones stemmed from a desire to keep them safe from harm, but when she considers the lives they’ve lived under the Capitol, she recognizes the harm they’ve already suffered. She and her family lost their father, struggled constantly with poverty and hunger, and lived with the fear each year that Katniss, Prim, or some friend or neighbor would be chosen to fight in the Hunger Games, which of course came to pass when Prim was selected and Katniss took her place. In other words, Katniss realizes that she and her family, as well as all the families in the other districts, were already the targets of the Capitol’s violence. No matter what the risk to herself, she decides that she can’t let her family be treated that way, and so she resolves to fight the Capitol directly.
The section gives some additional detail on the meaning of the mockingjay and basically confirms that it’s being used as a code, but what it signifies has yet to be fully revealed. The woman Katniss encounters at the end of the section seems to be some kind of outlaw. First off, she’s outside the boundaries of District 12, or any district for that matter, and she has a gun, which is prohibited. Katniss notices the mockingjay in the cracker she holds isn’t just any image of a mockingjay, but the same one on her pin, which suggests it was possibly modeled on her pin deliberately. All these signs, in addition to the furtive way Plutarch Heavensbee showed Katniss his mockingjay watch, imply that the image is some sort of signal, and while no definitive meaning is yet clear, it appears to be the signal of a secretive order that is perhaps sympathetic to Katniss. Symbolically the meaning of the mockingjay fits. It’s become associated with Katniss, who wore the pin throughout the Games. But as Katniss explains, the bird itself is also a symbol of the Capitol’s failure. The Capitol bred it to use as a weapon against the first rebellion, but it was turned back against the Capitol. What the novel suggests is that it’s become the symbol of a new rebellion.