The crowd goes crazy over Peeta’s declaration of love for Katniss. When the interviews are over, Katniss encounters Peeta and shoves him, making him fall over an urn and cut his hands on the broken shards. Katniss says he had no right to share that about her. Effie, Haymitch, and some others arrive. Haymitch says Katniss shouldn’t be angry because Peeta made her look desirable, something she couldn’t achieve on her own. They didn’t tell Katniss because they wanted her reaction to be real. Katniss realizes Haymitch is right, she may gain an advantage with sponsors now, and she apologizes to Peeta.
Katniss and Peeta say their goodbyes to Haymitch and Effie. In the morning they will leave for the arena. Haymitch tells them that, when the gong sounds and the Games officially begin, they should run away. They aren’t prepared for the bloodbath at the Cornucopia. That night, Katniss has difficulty sleeping. She finds Peeta on the roof. He says he wants to die as himself, not as some kind of monster, and wishes he could think of a way to show the Capitol they don’t own him. In the morning, Katniss boards a hovercraft. She is injected with a tracker, and with Cinna, departs for the arena. When they arrive, she and Cinna go into an underground room. She dresses in the outfit given to all the tributes, then Cinna takes out the gold mockingjay pin and puts it on her. He reminds her of Haymitch’s advice: run, then find water. He says if he could bet, his money would be on her, and he wishes good luck to the girl who was on fire. Then she is raised up through a cylinder into the arena, and the seventy-fourth Hunger Games officially begin.
The tributes must wait sixty seconds before they are released. While she waits, Katniss surveys the field. Just in front of her is a small tarp. In the Cornucopia, a large structure literally shaped like a cornucopia, she sees a tent pack and a bow and arrows. She thinks she might be able to reach the bow before anyone else but remembers Haymitch’s instructions to get away and find water. She’s preparing to run when she notices Peeta. He is looking at her and shaking his head as if telling her “no.” The gong sounds, and because Katniss was distracted by Peeta, she misses her chance. She grabs the tarp and decides to sprint to an orange backpack further in. She gets there at the same time as another boy, and while they struggle for it, blood sprays Katniss’s face. The boy falls, and Katniss sees a knife in his back. She runs for the woods while putting the backpack on, and a knife hits the pack and lodges firmly in it. Briefly she looks back to see the tributes fighting. Several already lie dead on the ground. She continues into the woods and doesn’t stop for a long time while she looks for water.
During the Games, a cannon sounds to mark the death of a tribute, and once the main battle is over, Katniss hears eleven cannon shots. That means thirteen tributes remain. At night they’ll play the Capitol’s anthem and project the images of the dead into the sky for everyone to see. She wonders if Peeta is alive, then checks the contents of the backpack. It contains a sleeping bag, a little food, a bottle of iodine for purifying water, an empty bottle, and some other items. Katniss was hoping for water, and she knows she won’t last long without it. There was a lake by the Cornucopia, and she’s worried it may be the only water source in the arena since it’s sure to be guarded by Career Tributes. Eventually it gets dark, so Katniss makes her bed in a tree and uses her belt to secure herself to a branch. The faces of the dead tributes are projected one after another in the sky, and Katniss is relieved that Peeta is not among them.
Someone starts a fire nearby. Katniss lies in her sleeping bag, and when it’s almost dawn, she hears several people running toward the fire. A girl pleads and then screams, and Katniss realizes several tributes are hunting in a pack. They stop a few yards from her tree and discuss why the cannon hasn’t sounded to announce the girl’s death. The voices belong to some of the Career Tributes, but another voice says he’ll go back to make sure she’s dead. It belongs to Peeta.
Katniss is shocked that Peeta joined the Careers. She sees he is badly bruised and realizes he must have fought at the Cornucopia. While Peeta goes to check on the girl, the Career Tributes talk about killing. They wonder why Katniss scored an eleven in training, and as Peeta returns Katniss realizes he hasn’t told them about her skill with a bow. The cannon sounds and the Careers move off. Katniss climbs down and is on the move again. Checking the snares she set the day before, she finds a rabbit, which she cooks, then eats as she walks opposite the direction the Careers went. As she travels, she becomes increasingly exhausted and dehydrated. Waking the next morning, she has an awful headache and her joints hurt. Though severely fatigued, she continues searching for water. At one point she begins to curse Haymitch. She knows she must have a sponsor and Haymitch could easily send her water, but then she realizes he may not be doing so for a reason. Eventually she collapses and thinks she can’t go on, until she realizes she is lying in mud. Crawling through a tangle of plants, she finds a small pond. She rests there for several hours and rehydrates, then finds a tree to sleep in. In the middle of the night, she’s woken by a huge fire moving toward her.
Katniss’s relationship with Peeta changes substantially over the course of this section. Katniss has just learned that Peeta has romantic feelings for her, and initially she feels she is being used. She becomes angry with Peeta as a result, going so far as to shove him over an urn of flowers. Although Peeta doesn’t explicitly say so, he clearly feels hurt by this response because it shows that Katniss doesn’t reciprocate his feelings. Katniss eventually calms down and apologizes, but Peeta remains cold toward her, and whatever intimacy they had established is now gone. Katniss later begins to seriously distrust Peeta when she realizes that he’s teamed with the Career Tributes; that he stayed and fought at the Cornucopia, suggesting he had planned to do so all along; and that he may helping the Careers to find her. But Katniss also considers that Peeta shook his head at her at the Cornucopia, which may have been him watching out for her welfare, and that he didn’t tell the Careers about her skill with a bow, preserving her advantage should she find one. The result is that Katniss feels ambivalent and isn’t sure where she stands with Peeta.
Peeta’s actions in these chapters offer new insight into his character. Whereas previously Peeta seemed to be kind and even gentle, we now see he is capable of being savage if need be. When Katniss overhears the Careers talking, they note that Peeta is handy with a knife, and knowing that Peeta fought at the Cornucopia, it suggests Peeta may have killed one or more of the other tributes. Moreover, he finishes off the girl that his group attacked after they realize she hasn’t died. Peeta, however, seems to behave this way out of necessity only. Before he and Katniss entered the arena, he acknowledged that he would kill if he had to, but he also wanted to remain himself and not become a monster. He also still appears to feel a sense of loyalty to Katniss, which is evident in him not telling the Career Tributes about her ability with a bow. He seems to be doing what he feels is necessary to stay alive but does not want to betray Katniss, even if doing so would benefit him by eliminating her as a competitor.
Peeta’s comment on the night before leaving the Training Center, that he will kill just like everybody else but also wants to show the Capitol they don’t own him, brings up a paradox that affects most of the tribute and in fact many of the people in Panem’s districts. Most of the tributes are not Career Tributes, and if Katniss and Peeta are any indication, they are predominantly ordinary teenagers who are horrified at the idea of having to kill another person. The Capitol, however, has put them in a position where they must kill or possibly be killed themselves. Peeta says he wants to preserve his identity, but he acknowledges that he will essentially be doing what the Capitol wants him to. He wonders how he can preserve his identity in such a position, when he is no longer in full control of his fate, and at this point he has no clear answer. Though to a less severe degree, the people in Panem’s districts face a similar problem in that they live under a totalitarian government that doesn’t allow them to express their opinions or behave as they like. These people’s identities are similarly not entirely under their control.
The Hunger Games officially begin in this section with a quick flurry of brutality, but Katniss is notably not distraught at the deaths of the other tributes. Just after the Games begin, for instance, Katniss sees a boy die right in front of her and is splattered across the face with his blood, yet only a few moments later she grins and jokes to herself after a knife lodges in her backpack. This reaction demonstrates a sense of ease rather than terror or horror. Neither does the sight of several dead tributes at the Cornucopia seem to startle her, nor the death of the girl who starts the fire near her on the first night. As earlier chapters have hinted, Katniss appears to be generally desensitized to death. No reason is ever stated explicitly, but her upbringing offers clues. Katniss has been hunting for years, which not only entails killing animals, but cleaning and sometimes butchering them as well, meaning blood and open wounds wouldn’t be new to her. When she hunts, of course, it is for animals, but Katniss has also seen a great deal of human suffering. She’s noted that it is common for people to starve to death in District 12, and she has seen numerous people injured or maimed in mine accidents brought in to her mother for emergency care. As a result, these sights are not totally alien to her, and she regards them with little interest.
The skills and abilities Katniss learned from her sometimes impoverished upbringing come to use right away in the Games. Because of her experience hunting and foraging, Katniss is able to set a trap with the wire she finds in her backpack, catching her a rabbit that provides invaluable nutrition as she searches for water. She is also accustomed to walking long distances and going with little food, and she knows the woods. When she starts to feel hungry, she cuts some of the rough outer bark off a pine tree and scrapes up a bunch of the soft inner bark, allowing her to hold off hunger a little longer. These factors play directly into her ability to endure until she finds a source of water other than the lake, and they essentially keep her alive. While it is obvious that the other tributes pose a threat, it becomes clear that the greater, or at least more immediate, threat may simply be surviving in a foreign environment without any food or water readily available.