Katniss remembers a time when she fell asleep while waiting in a tree for game to wander by. She fell ten feet to the ground and had the wind knocked out of her, and she struggled to breathe for several moments afterwards. She feels the same way now, shocked that Prim’s name has been called for the reaping, even though she only had one entry in the bowl. The crowd murmurs unhappily as Prim steps up towards the stage, and the sight of her little sister brings Katniss back to her senses.
When Prim’s name is called, Katniss is shocked—it’s literally her worst nightmare come true. However, her love for Prim allows her to summon the strength to come back to her senses.
Katniss runs to Prim just as she is about to mount the steps and shouts that she will volunteer as tribute instead. There is a rule that once a tribute’s name has been pulled from the ball, another eligible child of the same gender can volunteer to take his or her place. In some districts, where winning is common and a great honor, volunteering is common, but in District 12, there hasn’t been a volunteer in decades. Being selected for the Hunger Games is almost the equivalent of receiving a death sentence in Katniss’s district.
Katniss’s love for Prim gives her the strength to volunteer for what most would consider to be a death sentence. In a district where more people are struggling and looking out for their own survival, this kind of sacrifice makes a huge impression, and suddenly thrusting Katniss forward as an example of the way that people can be united by loyalty and love despite the Capitol's efforts to divide.
Prim begins screaming hysterically, and Katniss gruffly tells her to let go—Katniss doesn’t want to reveal any weaknesses before the camera. Gale lifts Prim away, and Katniss climbs the steps. Effie announces Katniss and asks for a big round of applause, but not one person in the district claps. Their silence is the boldest form of dissent they can manage, until a few people—and then the entire crowd—touch three fingers of their left hands to their mouths and hold them up in a gesture that means farewell.
Katniss immediately adjusts her appearance to be stoic so that she doesn’t reveal any weakness in front of the cameras. She understands how important it can be to maintain a strong face in order to protect herself. Katniss also sees that her act of love has elicited the compassion of everyone in her district, even those who are normally beyond caring about the reaping.
At this moment, Haymitch staggers across the stage to congratulate Katniss. He gets out only a few words before he loses his balance and plummets off the stage, knocking himself unconscious. As Haymitch is wheeled away on a stretcher, Effie continues on to select the boy tribute. His name, Peeta Mellark, is familiar to Katniss.
Haymitch cultivates his own appearance for the cameras—although it’s true that he does have an alcohol problem, it seems that part of his appearance is calculated to entertain. He and Katniss share the knowledge that appearances can be important.
Although Katniss has never directly spoken to Peeta, he’s had a profound impact on her life. Three months after Katniss’s father was killed in the mining accident, Katniss was struggling to support her sister and mother. Her mother had become unresponsive, sitting and staring into space instead of getting a job that could support the family. Katniss kept their predicament a secret because she didn’t want to be placed in a community home, but the money had run out, and they were slowly starving to death—not an uncommon fate in District 12.
The fact that many people starve to death in District 12 highlights the social differences in Panem. Some people have more than enough to eat, while others can’t even count on having enough to stay alive.
On the day of Katniss’s encounter with Peeta Mellark, she had been searching in the trash bins behind the shops, looking for scraps to bring home to her family, who had been surviving on mint tea for the past three days. Unfortunately, the bins had just been emptied. When Katniss passed the baker’s and checked the trash bin, the baker’s wife came out and began screaming at her. As she yelled, Katniss could see the baker’s son, Peeta, watching her—they knew each other from school but had never spoken.
Peeta’s mother has no sympathy for beggars, showing that she doesn’t understand the plight of those who have less than she does. She’s unwilling, even, to relinquish scraps to Katniss.
Katniss walked away from the encounter and collapsed at the roots of a nearby apple tree, feeling too tired and sick and weak to go on. She heard a clatter in the bakery and then the sound of a blow, and soon there were footsteps heading towards her. Katniss looked up to see the boy—Peeta—with a red welt on his cheek and carrying two loaves of burnt bread. His mother yelled at him to feed the bread to the pigs, and he began to tear off chunks from the burned parts to toss into the trough. When his mother disappeared to help a customer, Peeta threw the bread loaves to Katniss.
Peeta receives a punishment from his mother in order to toss bread loaves to Katniss. It’s an act of self-sacrifice and compassion that Katniss will always remember because it’s so rare throughout the district. She also comes to feel like she owes a debt to Peeta (a feeling that she, who prides herself on self-sufficiency, hates).
Katniss quickly shoved the loaves under her shirt and returned home, where Prim and her mother were. The three of them devoured an entire loaf with mint tea. The next day, the warm weather was finally setting in, and as Katniss and Prim headed home in the afternoon, Katniss spotted the first dandelion of the year. She remembered the hours spent in the woods with her father, and that’s when she realized how she was going to support her family.
Katniss perseveres even through the hardest times because she knows that she has to take care of her mother and Prim—she perseveres because of love and loyalty. Peeta’s act of kindness gave Katniss enough energy and hope to find a means of supporting her family on her own.
To this day, Katniss associates Peeta with the dandelion that gave her hope. She always meant to thank him, but now it won’t seem very sincere, since he will be one of her competitors in the arena. She decides that the odds are that someone else will kill him first—though the odds haven’t been very reliable lately.
Katniss still remembers that she owes her life to Peeta, but she knows that it will seem hypocritical to thank him now. They’ve been set against each other thanks to the setup of the Hunger Games, in which all tributes must be in it for themselves.