The protagonist of the series, Katniss is a tough young woman who has a strong urge to always protect those weaker than herself. At the start of the novel, she craves little more than a simple, safe life for herself and her loved ones. The events of the previous novel, however, have put her in the middle of a few complicated situations, one of which threatens the wellbeing of her friends and family. Much of the novel follows Katniss as she navigates these situations. To begin with, Katniss finds herself having become a celebrity of sorts after winning the Hunger Games. She recognizes that her fame means people are watching everything she does and at times taking her words and actions to mean more than she intends. Over the course of the novel, for example, she comes to learn that she’s become a symbol of rebellion against the Capitol because she defied the Capitol’s rules and threatened suicide with Peeta at the end of the Hunger Games. But Katniss’s primary intent wasn’t to stage an act of rebellion, though she does recognize that there was some spirit of defiance in the gesture. Mostly she wanted to save Peeta and herself and she knew the Capitol wouldn’t let both of them die. Now, however, she finds herself cast as a rebel, and she struggles to navigate a path between defusing this persona and not being a puppet of the Capitol.
The second complex situation she faces is a direct result of her reputation as a rebel. She’s now a target of the Capitol, and to make sure she doesn’t act out and spark an uprising, the Capitol threatens to harm or kill Gale and possibly her family if she defies it in any way. To appease the Capitol, she has to act at all times as though she’s in love with Peeta, because doing so allows the Capitol to pretend her act at the end of the Hunger Games wasn’t a rebellion but a desperate attempt for her to save someone she loves. Maybe the greatest change Katniss undergoes over the course of the novel is from wanting to appease the Capitol to wanting to bring it down. In large part because of the Victory Tour she goes on as a winner of the Hunger Games, she begins to see how brutal the Capitol is to the people of Panem beyond District 12. After Gale is publicly whipped and District 12 is essentially turned into a military state, her desire becomes to punish the Capitol. As she begins to think of the idea more seriously, she worries that the Capitol might retaliate against her family, but then thinking about the ways her family has already been hurt by the Capitol, she finds her resolve only strengthened. The realization confirms for her that action needs to be taken, even if it means more pain in the short-term. By that point, she’s become something like the rebel the Capitol feared.
Yet another complicated situation she has to contend with involves her relationships with Peeta and Gale. Gale has hinted at times that he’s in love with Katniss, but finally in this novel he tells her outright. Katniss, meanwhile, has feelings for both Gale and Peeta, but because of the complexity of her life, she doesn’t want to be with anyone. At the same time, she has to pretend publicly that she and Peeta are madly in love, even though Peeta knows she does it only because of the threats made against her by the Capitol. As a result, there is constant tension among all of them. Peeta and Gale are jealous of each other, and Katniss is nearly always caught in the middle, trying not to hurt either’s feelings but making both feel rejected.