Summary and Analysis
Katniss realizes that Rue is pointing to a wasp nest above her and wonders if these are true wasps or if they are one of the Capitol's muttations, a type of wasp called the tracker jacker. Tracker jackers are larger than wasps, have a gold body, leave stings that swell up as big as an orange, chase their victims, and possess venom that causes hallucinations and is so strong that only a few stings can kill a person. Katniss realizes that the nest is her only hope of escape, so she climbs up to the branch from which it hangs and begins sawing the branch free, the blisters on her hands bursting from the friction of the knife. She saws until the anthem ends so that the Careers and Peeta below her won't know what she's up to. The rest of her work will have to be saved until dawn. When she climbs back down to her sleeping bag, she finds her first gift from her sponsors. It is ointment for her burns that delivers relief as soon as she rubs it onto her calf and hands.
The next morning, she sees a single tracker jacker outside of the nest and knows that they've been subdued thus far by the smoke, but they will begin to emerge soon. She warns Rue, who takes off through the trees, and finishes sawing the branch. She is stung three times before the branch falls, the nest exploding on the ground and the tracker jackers chasing the Careers and Peeta back to the lake. Glimmer and the girl from District 4 don't make it far. Katniss scrambles past them to her pool just in case the trackers come back to their nest. She is woozy from the stings, but then remembers Glimmer's bow and arrows. Katniss runs back to Glimmer's body, working through gruesome hallucinations to pull the weapon from her oozing and disintegrating body.
Katniss can't separate reality from her horrific hallucinations. She works hard to keep herself from becoming sick and is able to get the bow and arrows free, but then she hears footsteps and knows that the Careers are coming back for her. She can't work the bow, and soon Peeta is upon her with a spear raised. When he sees it's her, though, he lowers his arm and tells her to run.
Katniss takes off through the woods, her hallucinations becoming increasingly disorienting and horrific, until she can run no more. She curls up in a pit and thinks about how Peeta Mellark has just saved her life.
The tracker jackers represent yet another way that the Capitol continues to manipulate the people in the districts. Katniss recalls how, after the war, the Capitol got rid of all of the nests near the city, but left the ones surrounding the districts in order to remind them of their weakness. When Katniss uses the tracker jackers against the Careers, "the Capitol's lapdogs," she is, in effect, taking action against the Capitol with their own weapons in the same way the mockingjays were used against the Capitol during the war.
Katniss solidifies her alliance with Rue in this chapter by giving Rue enough warning to get away before she sends the nest to the floor. Rue tips Katniss off to the nest, and Katniss returns the favor, foreshadowing more teamwork in their future.
Katniss' retrieval of the bow and arrows, along with the gift of the ointment, illustrates that the tables are turning for Katniss. The bow and arrows, meant for her from the beginning, particularly signal her shift from hunted to hunter; she now has a major advantage over the other tributes in the Games.
The gift of ointment also restores her faith in Haymitch. She no longer feels alone in the Games. Similarly, when Peeta saves Katniss' life, we see that Peeta is still on her side, that he is taking care of her in much the same way that he did when he gave her the bread as a child. It is significant that this moment occurs during a time when Katniss is hallucinating and is struggling to distinguish reality from her delusions. Throughout the novel, Katniss has found it challenging to decide what is real and what has been disguised. She has examined her appearance and the manipulated appearances of people living in the Capitol; she has masked her emotions and questioned the behavior of those around her, trying to decide whether they have ulterior motives. She has especially struggled to distinguish the real Peeta from the fake one, and it is during this time of hallucinating that Katniss states as truth, "Peeta Mellark just saved my life." It is the one thought she takes with her as she falls into a venom-induced sleep.