Chapter 1 

Coriolanus Snow prepares for the Reaping ceremony at the Academy, worrying about the state of his faded clothes and reflecting on his family’s fall from grace. For today, he’s particularly concerned about his shirt, which is old and dirty. He knows he won’t be able to conceal its decrepitude at the Panem Academy, where he’s about to be on display and under scrutiny. Luckily, his cousin Tigris arrives with a surprise: she has been able to repair it, making it look better than new. As he arrives at the academy, it's explained to the reader that Coriolanus will be mentoring one of the tributes for the upcoming Hunger Games. This gladiator-style competition is a public event in which randomly selected children from the twelve Districts of the country of Panem are forced to systematically kill each other until only one survives. It is intended to punish the rebels from the various different Districts which serve the Capitol, and to prevent any further rebellions. Coriolanus knows that if he is a successful mentor to one of these tributes, he'll receive a scholarship that will pay for his living expenses and for his tuition at the University. The stakes are extremely high, as it’s his only chance at social ascension and restoring his family’s name. However, when the names are called, he’s horrified to learn that he has been assigned to mentor the least appealing candidate: Lucy Gray Baird of the impoverished District 12.

Chapter 2 

Coriolanus is humiliated at being obliged to mentor the tribute from District 12. He feels like it's a slap in the face from the Academy’s principal, Dean Casca Highbottom. However, when he expresses his discontent to his friend Sejanus, Sejanus reminds him that he himself has come from one of the Districts, and that he could have been a tribute had he not been allowed to move to the Capitol. Coriolanus dismisses his concerns as Sejanus has been offered one of the better candidates to mentor. After President Ravinstill speaks, footage of District 12 begins to play on a screen. A video of Lucy being Reaped as tribute plays, including a shot of her misbehaving. Coriolanus is briefly hopeful that this means people will pay attention to her: any publicity is good publicity. A child's voice begins to sing from the courtyard, and as it does so, Lucy strides to the center of the stage and begins singing herself. No one tries to stop her until she’s finished, and Coriolanus realizes he might not be unlucky in his tribute after all. However, his optimism is quickly squashed when an interaction with Dean Highbottom at the party that follows makes him fearful for his future. Coriolanus believes he must succeed or die. 

Chapter 3 

Coriolanus waits at the train station with a white rose for Lucy Gray Baird. He’s preoccupied with the massive amount of taxes he’s recently learned that his family owes on their apartment, but tries to put thoughts of money out of his mind. He waits on the platform, also reflecting sadly on the fact that he’d learned about his father’s death in almost the same spot. The train arrives, but it’s not a train for people. The tributes have been stuffed into a cattle cart like animals and kept in it for days. Peacekeepers herd them onto the platform, yelling and prodding with guns. Coriolanus introduces himself to Lucy, but the tributes are quickly herded into another vehicle meant to transport animals and taken to their living quarters. Coriolanus sees that he must prove himself to Lucy, and so joins them in the truck. The tributes attack and threaten to kill him, but Lucy stops them. When the truck arrives, the tributes are forced out onto a cement chute, which deposits them all in the monkey cage at the Panem zoo. 


The beginning of the novel sets the stage for the many hungers Coriolanus Snow feels throughout The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: he is a person who wants enormously. This is made clear to us almost immediately. In the first scene, the reader meets him as he’s fighting against hunger and fatigue to get ready for a life-changing ceremony. His relationship with Tigris and affection for his grandmother are moments where a little bit of warmth creeps in. Tigris and his grandmother are also relying on him to survive; indeed, each of these women is starving themselves so he can eat. Tigris brushes Coriolanus aside when he insists that she share his soup, saying that the skins of the potatoes she’s scraped off and eaten “are where all the nutrition is anyway.” Coriolanus remembers the days when his family lived in opulence, bemoaning that they’re now forced to live among the ragged remains of that legacy. The sip of soup Tigris is able to provide for him pales in comparison to the extravagant feast that the students and other attendees are served after the Reaping Ceremony. He and his tiny family live on the precipice of failure every day, as he must convince his fellow students at the Academy that nothing has changed about their circumstances. His hunger is central to these chapters, both in terms of his grumbling stomach and his craving for the restoration of his family to their former splendor. 

The Capitol is supposed to be Panem’s center for luxurious ease and culture, but Coriolanus knows that many families are faking it, just like he is. Like many other things in this novel, the Capitol’s “wealth” is a polished mask covering a rotting face. Even in this first section, Collins is drawing a strong connection between violence and satisfaction in Panem. She foreshadows the brutal divide between the haves and have-nots, which the reader sees even more clearly when the arrivals from the Districts are forced out of cattle carts. The citizens of the Capitol don’t view the people of the Districts as humans like themselves. They treat them like animals, literally forcing them into a cattle car, a horse truck, and then finally the monkey cage at the zoo. Coriolanus is startled to observe the tributes are real people, “how grubby they were, their bloodshot eyes, their bruised limbs.” When he is treated the same way they are by the Peacekeepers, he feels a strong sense of injustice. We see the difficulty he is already having reconciling the brutal Games with the humanity of the tributes. However, because the Games are the only way he can get the life he wants, the fact that the tributes are children like him doesn’t affect Coriolanus' decision to exploit Lucy Gray Baird’s talent and charisma. The fact that she’s so captivating is excellent news for Coriolanus’s ambitious dreams. 

Lucy’s defiant act of singing at her own Reaping accomplishes two things. It shows the audience that she’s bold and talented, and it’s also a symbolic act of resistance against the Capitol's hunger for violence and control. Coriolanus is transfixed by her and can’t believe that nobody stops her from singing. Lucy is already a difficult character to follow by Chapter 3. It’s unclear whether she’s interested in Coriolanus as a person or whether it’s another startlingly convincing performance. She refuses to act scared or submissive, setting herself up as a character who the reader expects to defy the rules. Sejanus's subtle defiance—through his interest in forbidden books and his veiled criticism of the Games—also hints at a simmering resistance within the people of the Districts. When Sejanus reminds Coriolanus that he was a District child himself, we start to see the seeds of his rebellion being sown. Discontent and dissent are brewing below the surface all around Coriolanus, though at this point he’s too self-absorbed to see it clearly.