In the fourth chapter of The Hunger Games, Katniss begins to emotionally separate herself from Peeta Mallark in order to gain an advantage over him, and in the process, possibly makes a new friend in Haymitch. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Hunger Games.
Let’s talk about Haymitch, shall we?
I’ve been ignoring him because up until this chapter, I felt I had no real reason to pay attention to him. In my mind, he was just a past winner and now he was a drunk. He seemed to act as a foil to Effie Trinket and, by extension, everything the Capitol seems to represent. It wasn’t until chapter four that I started to feel him come into his own.
But first, we deal with Katniss’s separation from Peeta. As Peeta prepares to take care of the viciously drunk Haymitch, she wonders why he’s being so nice and it it’s just in his nature to be kind, like he was to her so many years before. But she realizes this is probably not the case.
The idea pulls me up short. A kind Peeta Mellark is far more dangerous to me than an unkind one. Kind people have a way of working their way inside me and rooting there. And I can’t let Peeta do this. Not where we’re going. So I decide, from this moment on, to have as little as possible to do with the baker’s son.
It’ll be interesting to see if this theme of paranoia plays out in the rest of the novel. Katniss is about to enter a situation in which she’ll have no control and trusting someone might get her killed.
When I get back to my room, the train is pausing at a platform to refuel. I quickly open the window, toss the cookies Peeta’s father game me out of the train, and slam the glass shut. No more. No more of either of them.
I understand the symbolism here, and how this signifies Katniss’s rejection of any sort of relationship with the contestant around her, but the thought of cookies being thrown out of a window is pretty ridiculous. I’m just saying.
Unfortunately, the packet of cookies hits the ground and bursts open in a patch of dandelions by the track. I only see the image for a moment, because the train is off again, but it’s enough. Enough to remind me of that other dandelion in the school yard years ago…
Let me guess. Those ellipses mean we’re heading into a flash back. Well, saw that one coming. Thanks for the subtlety, Collins.
We learn of the importance of the dandelion to Katniss: it’s what triggered and motivated her to begin to hunt and gather outside the gates of District 12. In fact, the first time she ventured beyond that fence was the same day Peeta gave her those two loaves of bread. In a way, the Meadow revitalizes Katniss’s life, since she learns that she is able to take life into her own hands:
The woods became our savior, and each day I went a bit farther into its arms. It was slow-going at first, but I was determined to feed us. I stole eggs from nests, caught fish in nets, sometimes managed to shoot a squirrel or rabbit for stew, and gathered the various plants that sprung up beneath my feet.
I know I’m repeating myself, but I do love that Katniss seems to be doing what our society might consider “masculine” things (which is bullshit, by the way) and doesn’t ever seem to make her out to be less of a woman. It’s just who she is.
We do find out where Katniss got her name too:
In late summer, I was washing up in a pond when I noticed the plants growing around me. Tall with leaves like arrowheads. Blossoms with three white petals. I knelt down in the water, my fingers digging into the soft mud, and I pulled up handfuls of the roots. Small, bluish tubers that don’t look like much but boiled or baked are as good as any potato. “Katniss,” I said aloud. It was the plant I was named for. And I heard my father’s voice joking, “As long as you can find yourself, you’ll never starve.” I spent hours stirring up the pond with my toes and a stick, gather the tubers that floated to the top. That night, we feasted on fish and katniss roots until we were all, for the first time in months, full.
It’s a pretty neat story, despite that Katniss’s father is still portrayed as a saint. Is that strange to anyone else? He can gather birds around him by just singing and he’s the very best hunter and he knew to instill his daughter with clues to keep his family alive and…
It’s a overtly positive mythology. I wonder if it’s all so perfect.
Want to read a particularly awkward sentence?
Probably the drawers hold any number of nightgowns, but I just strip off my shirt and pants and climb into bed in my underwear.
I don’t know which is more awkward: the beginning of this sentence or that, “Also like a hospital” line in Breaking Dawn.
Actually….I take it back. Few things are worse than “Also like a hospital.” Sorry.
The next morning, Peeta, Haymitch, and Katniss are served an enormous breakfast meal, one that rivals the dinner they had the night before. Katniss has her first cup of hot chocolate ever and I don’t care how bizarre this writing is, THAT IS A WONDERFUL, BEAUTIFUL MOMENT. And I’m writing this at the dinner table just after Thanksgiving feast times and I AM DESIRING A HOT CHOCOLATE. Damn.
So, let’s get back to Haymitch. The man is already drinking during breakfast and Katniss explains why she hates him so much:
No wonder the District 12 tributes never stand a chance. It isn’t just that we’ve been underfed and lack training. Some of our tributes have still been strong enough to make a go for it. But we rarely get sponsors and he’s a big part of the reason why. The rich people who back tributes—either because they’re betting on them or simply for the bragging rights of picking a winner—expect someone classier than Haymitch to deal with.
Here’s what I don’t get: how does that effect the “chances” of someone winning? So far, it seems to me that money still stays outside the actual game itself. It doesn’t seem to cause certain tributes to get better weapons or more education on how to fight, so I’m wondering what this is all about. I’ve yet to figure out any reason for this.
It’s supposed to be tradition for previous winners from a specific district to give advice to the current tributes. Haymitch, predictably, has nothing insightful at all to offer.
“That’s very funny,” says Peeta. Suddenly he lashes out at the glass in Haymitch’s hand. It shatters on the floor, sending the bloodred liquid running toward the back of the train. “Only not to us.”
Haymitch considers this a moment, then punches Peeta in the jaw, knocking him from his chair. When he turns back to reach for the spirits, I drive my knife into the table between his hand and the bottle, barely missing his fingers. I brace myself to deflect his hit, but it doesn’t come. Instead he sits back and squints at us.
“Well, what’s this?” says Haymitch. “Did I actually get a pair of fighters this year?”
It’s an immediate change of tone for all three characters, but mostly Haymitch. We don’t learn precisely how Haymitch managed to win all those years ago, but this scene insinuates pretty heavily that every tribute from District 12 since that year he won has been pretty dismal. There’s an awkward moment where Katniss throws a knife at the wall (not at an object?) to show him her skills and then Haymitch sort of…examines the two of them? I mean…it’s a really dumb scene. It serves a purpose, I get that, but it’s dumb.
In exchange for not interfering with his drinking, Haymitch agrees to help the two of them. Unfortunately, he only gets to tell them to obey the stylists’ orders before the car is plunged into darkness: they’ve entered the tunnel that leads up to the Capitol.
I will say that Collins’s description of the Capitol is pretty fantastic and one of the better passages I’ve read in the book:
The train finally begins to slow and suddenly bright light floods the compartment. We can’t help it. Both Peeta and I run to the window to see what we’ve only seen on television, the Capitol, the ruling city of Panem. The cameras haven’t lied about its grandeur. If anything, they have not quite captured the magnificence of the glistening buildings in a rainbow of hues that tower into the air, the shiny cars that roll down the wide paved streets, the oddly dressed people with bizarre hair and painted faces who have never missed a meal. All the colors seem artificial, the pinks too deep, the greens too bright, the yellows painful to the eyes, like flat round disks of hard candy we can never afford to buy at the tiny sweet shop in District 12.
I know that Riverside, California is not THAT small or distant of a city, but I remember the first time I rode into San Francisco or got off the Metro in New York City and was utterly overwhelmed by these exact same things, most especially how vibrant and colorful these places where, so unlike everything I’d seen. And this is unlike anything Peeta or Katniss have ever seen either.
I have misjudged him. I think of his actions since the reaping began. The friendly squeeze of my hand. His father showing up with the cookies and promising to feed Prim….did Peeta put him up to that? His tears at the station. Volunteering to wash Haymitch but then challenging him this morning when apparently the nice-guy approach had failed. And now waving at the window, already trying to win the crowd.
All of the pieces are still fitting together, but I sense he has a plan forming. He hasn’t accepted his death. He is already fighting hard to stay alive. Which also means that kind Peeta Mellark, the boy who gave me the bread, is fighting hard to kill me.
It’s finally starting. The games are about to begin. I’m actually kind of excited to see how these turn out, so that I can at least stop referencing Battle Royale. Onwards!