The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Katniss wakes up on the morning of the reaping to find that her little sister, Prim, has moved to their mother’s bed in the middle of the night. Prim’s ugly cat, Buttercup, stands guard over her while she sleeps. Katniss recalls how she tried to drown the kitten years ago, when Prim first brought him home, because she didn’t want another mouth to feed. But Prim begged, and Katniss gave in—now Katniss is glad she kept Buttercup alive for the comfort the cat offers to Prim.
Katniss’s feelings towards Buttercup demonstrate both how much she loves Prim and how dire their family’s financial circumstances are. Katniss clearly struggles enough to support the human members of the family without the addition of a pet. However, she’s finally willing to include Buttercup for Prim’s sake.
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Katniss rises from bed and gets dressed. She grabs her forage bag and retrieves a piece of goat cheese that Prim has left for her under a bowl, and then Katniss steps outside. Katniss’s family lives in the part of District 12 known as the Seam. It’s usually swarming with people heading to work in the morning—however, today is reaping day, and the reaping itself doesn’t take place until two, so the streets are empty.
It’s already clear that Katniss’s family struggles to have enough to eat—so the fact that Prim saves a piece of goat cheese for Katniss shows how close they are. Both sisters are considerate of the other and care about the other’s happiness.
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Katniss’s home is almost at the edge of the Seam, and she heads towards the fence that surrounds District 12, separating the district from the woods outside. In theory, the fence is electrified 24/7 in order to deter predators, but because District 12 is lucky to have electricity even two to three hours a day, the fence is usually safe to touch. Katniss still listens for a telltale electric hum, however, before she crawls beneath a gap in the fence.
The fence is the first hint of the Capitol’s effort to keep the districts divided. In theory, it prevents people (and animals) from coming in and out. However, the electricity almost never works—another sign of the economic difficulties in District 12—so Katniss is able to crawl under.
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In the woods, Katniss retrieves a bow and a sheath of arrows from their hiding spot in a log. The weapons serve as protection from the predators in the woods, but they also allow those who know how to hunt to find food. Katniss’s father taught her how to use a bow before he died in a mining accident five years ago, when Katniss was eleven. She still has nightmares about her father’s death, however, and wakes up screaming for him to run.
The woods appear dangerous at first—and they are—but to those who know how to take a second look, they also present an opportunity for food. Surface appearances don’t reveal everything. Similarly, Katniss usually acts tough and stoic, but her nightmares about her father reveal how emotionally vulnerable she can be.
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Trespassing in the woods is illegal, and poaching is punishable by death, but most of the Peacekeepers turn a blind eye because they enjoy the fresh meat that comes out of hunting. More people would venture in the woods if they had proper weapons, but most have only a knife. Katniss’s father crafted her bow and arrows.
The Peacekeepers in District 12 are hypocritical—they’re willing to bend the rules if it benefits them.
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Katniss recalls that when she was younger, she would blurt out criticisms of the government, frightening her mother. As she grew older, however, Katniss learned that this would only cause more trouble, so now she avoids engaging in anything other than small talk. She even avoids discussing her opinions at home, where Prim might hear her and start repeating her words.
As Katniss grows older, she begins to understand the importance of keeping up appearances for the sake of protecting herself—a lesson that will come in handy during the Hunger Games. Her concern also stems from her care for Prim. Katniss might be more reckless with her words if she didn’t have people she loved who could get hurt.
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The only person Katniss feels that she can truly be free with is her hunting partner, Gale. Gale refers to her as Catnip because when the two first met, Katniss whispered her name so quietly that Gale had thought she said “Catnip.” Soon afterwards, a lynx had started following her, looking for handouts, and the nickname stuck.
As the chapter progresses, it becomes clear that Katniss—tough as she is—has formed bonds with many people in District 12. Her relationship with Gale, especially, is something of a slap in the face to the Capitol, since they met outside of legal bounds while hunting—a criminal activity.
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Gale has brought a loaf of real bakery bread to share on the morning of reaping day, and he and Katniss make a meal out of the bread, goat cheese, and blackberries from surrounding bushes. They mimic Effie Trinket’s affected Capitol accent and the catchphrase of the Hunger Games: “May the odds be ever in your favor!” They joke because the alternative is to be terrified about the possibility of being chosen for the Hunger Games on reaping day.
By giving their outing the appearance of a celebration, Gale and Katniss are protecting themselves from the reality that two people in District 12 will be sent to their probable deaths later that day. Their joke about Effie’s accent also demonstrates how separate the Capitol is from the districts. Even their manner of speaking is so different that it’s laughable. And yet their laughter is also the only rebellion they have against a Capitol that controls their fate.
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As Katniss watches Gale, she notes that their features are so similar, they might be related. Almost everyone in the Seam has straight black hair, olive skin, and gray eyes. Katniss’s mother and Prim, however, are exceptions, with light hair and blue eyes. This is because Katniss’s mother’s parents were part of a small merchant class that catered to officials and Peacekeepers, selling healing herbs at an apothecary shop.
Even within the district, different social classes are divided, and it seems that the classes are divided by ethnicity. Katniss’s mother’s lighter features belong to the higher merchant class, while the coal miners all have the same darker features. These divisions keep District 12 weak, ensuring it will never rebel against the Capitol.
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Katniss’s father would sometimes bring herbs that he had foraged in the woods to sell to the apothecary, and that’s how Katniss’s parents met. Katniss tries to remember that her mother must have really loved her father to leave her home to move to the Seam, but she still feels angry about the way her mother became unresponsive after the mining accident that killed Katniss’s father.
Katniss’s mother made a financial sacrifice when she decided to marry Katniss’s father—another sign that the classes are unequal even within the district. Katniss understands that her mother loved her father, and this love humanizes her mother somewhat—it’s the only way Katniss can view her mother’s absence after her father's death as anything but a betrayal.
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Gale prepares the food they’ve brought, and they sit back to enjoy the morning and the food, which would be a perfect combination if it weren’t for that fact that their holiday is a result of reaping day. Gale suddenly suggests that they run away to live in the woods, but quickly dismisses the idea when he remembers all their “kids.” By kids he means their younger siblings and mothers, who rely on the food Gale and Katniss bring home from their outings.
Gale demonstrates warring desires. He wants to run away and save himself from the possibility of being chosen on reaping day, but he can’t because he’s loyal to those who rely on him in District 12. His decision to stay and support his family instead of trying to save himself is a less dramatic version of Katniss’s later impulse to sacrifice herself for Prim.
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Katniss is confused by Gale’s outburst—there’s never been anything romantic between them. They met in the woods when Katniss was twelve and Gale was fourteen, and it took a long time before they trusted each other enough to start working as a team. Gale suggests that they fish at the lake and leave their poles while they gather greens and strawberries in the woods. The dinner after the reaping is supposed to be celebratory for everyone except the families of those whose children have been selected for the reaping.
Families in the districts are forced to act as if reaping day is a cause for celebration. The Capitol asserts its power by controlling even the appearance of a horrible ritual and making it seem commemorative.
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By the end of the morning, Gale and Katniss have a dozen fish, a bag of greens, and a gallon of strawberries. On the way home, they swing by the Hob, the black market that operates in an abandoned warehouse in the Seam. They trade some of their fish for bread and salt, and then they bring some strawberries to the mayor, who has a special fondness for them and can afford the price. The mayor’s daughter, Madge, opens the door, dressed in an expensive white dress. Gale comments on the dress, and Madge responds that she wants to look her best in case she gets picked at the reaping, and Gale reacts poorly, scoffing at Madge’s worries.
People wear their nicest clothes on reaping day because they know that they’ll be on camera if they’re picked. How strong and poised they appear during the reaping can affect how many sponsors they get during the Games.
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The reaping system is unfair, biased against the poor. Technically, the lottery is random, but after the age of twelve, children can opt to have their names entered into the lottery multiple times in exchange for tesserae, which can be used to purchase more grain and oil. As a result, the children of poor families tend to have more entries in the lottery than do the children of wealthier families who can survive without tesserae. Katniss now has twenty entries in the reaping, and Gale, who has been single-handedly feeding a family of five for seven years, has forty-two entries, which is why he scoffs at Madge’s fears—she likely only has four or five entries.
The lottery system is a prime example of social inequality. Even though it’s random, poor children are far more likely to get picked because of the tesserae system. This inequality also breeds resentment between classes, as Gale demonstrates—and this resentment is just one more way the Capitol keeps its people divided so that they won’t unite together and rebel.
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Gale and Katniss split up the food they’ve gathered and head to their respective homes. When Katniss arrives at her house, she finds that her mother and Prim are already ready, with Prim wearing Katniss’s first reaping outfit, a skirt and ruffled blouse. Katniss bathes and then puts on what her mother has laid out for her, which turns out to be one of her mother’s own dresses from her past—much nicer than anything Katniss herself owns. Her mother also braids Katniss’s hair on top of her head, and when she’s finished, Katniss can barely recognize herself.
Katniss’s mother still has some of her dresses from her days as part of the merchant class, and Katniss’s hesitation when putting on the dress shows just how rare it is to see such fine material in the Seam—another sign of social inequality. Katniss doesn’t recognize herself after she dresses up because she doesn’t usually do so. It’s to her advantage to appear tougher when she lives in the Seam.
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Katniss attempts to comfort Prim, who is attending her first reaping. Even though the odds are in Prim’s favor, she’s still terrified, and Katniss feels powerless to protect her as she usually does. They decide to save everything Katniss has brought home for dinner, and for lunch, the family eats rough bread made from tessera grain and drinks milk from Prim’s goat.
Katniss again shows how much she cares about Prim. Katniss adjusts her own appearance to seem calmer for Prim’s sake.
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At one o’clock, everyone heads to the square—attendance is mandatory for the reaping. Twelve- through eighteen-year-olds are roped off, and family members stand off to the sides. Everyone focuses on the temporary stage in front of the Justice Building. It holds three chairs, a podium, and two large glass balls filled with names, one for girls and one for boys. Two of the three chairs are filled with Madge’s dad, Mayor Undersee, and Effie Trinket, District 12’s escort from the Capitol.
In the square, children are roped off from their families, another division that would make it harder for a district to rise up and rebel during a reaping. The fact that the reaping takes place in front of the Justice Building is hypocritical, since the Hunger Games are anything but just—they favor wealthier districts and demonstrate how much control the Capitol has over the districts.
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As the clock strikes two, the mayor steps up to the podium and begins to read about the history of Panem, the country that rose out of the ashes of what once was North America. For a while, there was peace and prosperity for Panem, which consisted of a shining Capitol and thirteen surrounding districts. Afterwards, however, the districts rebelled against the Capitol, and twelve of the districts were defeated and one obliterated. The Hunger Games serve as a yearly reminder that the districts must never rebel again.
The Capitol maintains control by divvying up the country into twelve districts—and ensuring their dependence upon the government. Each of the districts specializes in producing only particular goods and are therefore not self-sufficient and must rely on centralized distribution in order to survive.
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The rules of the Hunger Games are that each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be trapped in a large outdoor arena that can hold anything from desert to rainforest while they fight to the death over a period of several weeks. The last tribute standing wins. The competition is the Capitol’s method of reminding the districts that they are completely at the Capitol’s mercy. The districts are also forced to treat the Games as a festivity. The winner receives a life of ease back home, and their district is showered with prizes, largely consisting of food.
The Hunger Games is one of the best methods that the Capitol has for ensuring that the districts remain divided. Tributes from different districts are pitted against each other for survival. When one wins, the entire district is showered with food and luxuries like sugar, further emphasizing the inequalities between different districts and different classes.
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In the past seventy-four years, District 12 has only had two victors, only one of which is still alive. As the mayor reads his name, Haymitch Abernathy drunkenly stumbles onto the stage and gives Effie an unwelcome hug. The mayor quickly wraps up his speech and introduces Effie, whose pink wig is slightly off-center after her encounter with Haymitch. Effie gives a short speech before it’s time to read the names. She begins with the girls’ names, and Katniss prays that she won’t be called. As it turns out, her name isn’t the one called—instead, it’s her sister, Prim.
One of the reasons that District 12 has only had two victors in the history of the Hunger Games is that it’s one of the poorer districts. Tributes aren’t as well fed and receive no training for the Games, so they’re unlikely to win. The disadvantages of being underprivileged follow them into the Hunger Games arena.
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