Katniss, the story's narrator and heroine, is 16 years old and has straight black hair, gray eyes, and olive skin. Her father died in a mine explosion when she is 11. Since then, to keep her family from starving in the Seam, she has had to provide for her mother and sister, using the hunting and gathering knowledge that her father taught her. Her best friend and hunting partner is Gale, and, while they spend a great deal of time together, Katniss is sure that she doesn't see him in a romantic light, something that comes into deep question when she is District 12's Hunger Games tribute and must work hard to maintain a star-crossed-lovers façade with Peeta Mellark. Throughout the novel, she remains a hunter and a survivor, "the girl on fire," but she is also a girl who is very confused about her emotions concerning Peeta and Gale. Katniss must also remember to hide her true emotions about the Capitol: She loathes the Capitol and its tyrannical rule, but to rebel openly is to ask for punishment, oftentimes death. She is brave and daring and returns home from the Games a beloved star to her district but a menace, and perhaps a liability, to the Capitol dictators in charge of Panem.
Character List and Analysis Peeta Mellark Bookmark this page Peeta, the son of a baker, is the boy tribute from District 12 who claims to have been in love with Katniss since they were 5 years old. Even though they don't speak and Katniss doesn't consider Peeta a friend, he saves her life when they are 11 and she is starving behind the bakery. He gives her a loaf of bread, one that he burned on purpose, and ever since that moment Katniss has felt like she owes Peeta. During his interview before the start of the Games, Peeta professes his love for Katniss, which angers her since she believes that Peeta's comments make her look weak when, in fact, they make her even more desirable. While Peeta doesn't have much faith that he can win, he does tell Katniss that he wants to make sure that when he's in the arena, he remains true to himself, that he doesn't let the Games change him. Peeta causes Katniss to question her own identity and think about making a difference in the Games, wondering how she can be more than just a piece in the Capitol's Games. From the start, Peeta does everything he can to help Katniss survive. He joins the Careers in order to lead them away from her and even fights off Cato, who wounds him badly. To survive, Peeta uses his exceptional camouflaging skills to hide until Katniss finds him and nurses him back to health. While Katniss doubts Peeta's love for her, thinking that he is only keeping up the "lover boy" act, he seems genuine throughout the novel and feels betrayed in the end when he discovers that Katniss has not been as sincere as he has.
Gale, Katniss' 18-year-old hunting partner, is well-liked by many girls in the District 12. When he first meets Katniss in the woods, he believes that her name is Catnip, and so this becomes his permanent nickname for her. Gale's father died in the same mine explosion as Katniss' father and, like Katniss, is very poor and struggles to survive in the Seam. He must take care of two little brothers, his little sister, and his mother, but has told Katniss that he wishes the two of them could run away together in the woods, that they'd have no problem surviving out there. When they hunt, Gale is very vocal about his hatred for the Capitol; only later, in the Games, do his words take true root in Katniss' mind. She thinks of Gale often during the Games, how she is completely at ease with him and tells him everything, and how she wishes he could be there to help her, though she falls short of admitting that she loves him.
Katniss wakes up on the morning of the reaping, which will be at 2:00 that afternoon in the square. Prim has left her a gift of goat cheese from her goat, Lady, wrapped in basil leaves on the table. Katniss makes her way to the Meadow, then through the fence that is meant to keep the people of the impoverished District 12 inside. Though it's forbidden, Katniss hunts and gathers food in the woods using the skills her father, who died in a mine explosion when she was 11, taught her. Her father had been a skilled hunter and could have made good money from selling the bows and arrows he made, but the Peacekeepers, the city officials, wouldn't have allowed it, fearing that he was arming the downtrodden people of the Seam.
With her friend and hunting companion Gale, Katniss shares a meal of bread, goat cheese, and berries. She knows that he is good-looking and will have no trouble finding a wife, but insists that she sees him as only a hunting partner. While eating, Gale mentions that the two of them could run away from the district and live in the woods. He makes a joke about how it might work if they didn't have so many kids. In a way, it's true that they have kids. Katniss has Prim and her mother to take care of, and he has two little brothers, a sister, and his mother. Katniss never wants to have children of her own, not in District 12.
After more fishing and gathering, they take their goods to the Hob — the black market that has taken over an abandoned warehouse — to trade. They stop by the mayor's house because he has a soft spot for strawberries and will pay their asking price. His daughter, Madge, answers the door. She is wearing a pretty white dress — her reaping outfit — with a gold pin. Gale is bitter about how few times her name is entered in the drawing for the reaping. Children become eligible for the reaping the day they turn 12, their name entered once that year, twice the year after that, with an additional entry each year thereafter until they turn 18, the last year they are eligible for the reaping. They can, however, choose to have their name added more times in exchange for a tessera, a year's supply of grain and oil for one person, and can do this for each family member in their household, with the entries being cumulative. This year, Katniss' name has been entered 20 times, and Gale's has been entered 42 times. Katniss has not allowed Prim to take out any tesserae.
She returns home to wash and dress for the reaping, which takes place in the square in front of the Justice Building. Her mother lets her wear one of her light blue dresses, a dress from her apothecary days before she moved to the Seam with Katniss' father. At the reaping, the children stand in rows, from oldest to youngest, and all 8,000 citizens of District 12 are required to attend. Camera crews are there, as they are in every district, to record the events.
At 2:00, Mayor Undersee tells the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of what was once called North America, and how this country survived droughts, disasters, and storms. He recalls the shining Capitol ringed by thirteen districts, and how the Dark Days came, a time when the districts rose up against the Capitol; twelve districts were defeated, and the thirteenth was completely destroyed. From those Dark Days came the Treaty of Treason, meant to guarantee that the Dark Days would never return. It also set the Hunger Games in place, a punishment for the uprising. In the Hunger Games, two tributes from each district are selected from a lottery and then sent to an arena where they kill one another. The last tribute living is the winner, and that tribute's district is showered with gifts, mostly food.
Haymitch Abernathy, District 12's only living Hunger Games winner, arrives late, staggers drunk onto the stage, and gives Effie Trinket a hug. She shakes him off, and it's time for the drawing. Effie reaches into a glass bowl full of slips of paper and pulls out the name of the female tribute: Primrose Everdeen.
Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place as tribute, thinking about how the odds had been in Prim's favor, that her name was one in a thousand and never should have been drawn in the first place. Prim protests, but Gale carries her off. Effie Trinket tries to make Katniss' volunteering sound exciting, asking the audience for applause, but the audience, to its credit, remains silent. Their silence sends a message of dissent to the Capitol and the ways of the Hunger Games. As a tribute to Katniss, the audience members hold their three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and then hold them out to Katniss, a District 12 gesture that shows admiration, thanks, and goodbye to someone they love. Katniss comes close to crying, something she knows she mustn't do because it would indicate weakness to the other tributes and make her look vulnerable; thankfully, Haymitch distracts the crowd and the cameras by stumbling off stage.
Peeta Mellark is chosen as District 12's boy tribute, which makes Katniss feel as if the odds truly are against her. She is not friends with Peeta, but she recalls how they first met. It was years ago when Katniss was 11 and her father had recently died. Her mother was in such a deep depression that she couldn't work or provide for Katniss or Prim, and the three of them nearly starved. On an cold, rainy afternoon, Katniss did anything she could to get money or food. She gave up trying to sell Prim's baby clothes after dropping them in a mud puddle. She considers stealing, but in District 12, such an offense is punishable by death. She checks trash bins and is at the baker's when the baker's wife, Peeta's mother, shouts at her and runs her off. That's when she sees Peeta watching her. Katniss collapses and decides she is ready to die right there when she hears a commotion from inside the bakery, the baker's wife shouting at Peeta to give the bread to the hogs, calling him a "stupid creature." When Peeta's mother isn't looking, he tosses the bread to Katniss, who notices a red welt on his cheek where his mother has hit him. The bread looks as if it's been dropped in the fire, its crust burned black, but this bread saves Katniss and her family and renews her hope for survival.
The next day, she thinks that maybe Peeta burned the bread on purpose so that she could have it, but can't imagine why he would do that since they are strangers and he is a town boy and she's from the Seam. One day, though, she notices him staring at her from across the school yard, and she averts her eyes, embarrassed, focusing on a dandelion, which causes her to remember a lesson her father taught her in the woods about using dandelions as a food source. The bread, the dandelion, and Peeta are all connected. They all contribute to her survival, which makes her feel that she owes Peeta something, and she hates feeling like she owes anyone anything, particularly when she's expected to kill that person.
Lair dissent, as well. By maintaining silence when Effie Trinket asks them to applaud and by saluting Katniss, they are doing all that they safely can to protest the Capitol's dictatorship. Katniss wonders, too, if Haymitch's drunken shouts about people not having enough spunk are directed at the District 12 audience or if he's directly taunting the Capitol officials.