Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy develops a conflict that remains unresolved at the end of the first book. That conflict plays out in protagonist Katniss Everdeen’s life over the course of the three books, following her as she struggles to assert individual agency, resisting the state’s aggressive attempts to coerce her into its service. Her personal struggle, in turn, represents that of the downtrodden citizens of the dystopian state of Panem, forming a resistance to an oppressive government that controls the many for the benefit of the few. 

The Hunger Games establishes this conflict almost immediately. Chapter 1 sets the scene in impoverished District 12, on the day of the lottery for the 74th Hunger Games—a battle to the death between teenage tributes from each district. The inciting incident occurs when Prim’s name is drawn as tribute, which is a shocking moment—unexpected because Katniss has taken tesserae, entering her own name in the lottery multiple times to improve Prim’s odds of avoiding selection. Katniss is compelled to volunteer, saving her sister likely at the cost of her own life and setting the novel’s events in motion. The state, this incident reveals, compels all district teens to undergo the reaping, and their families cannot protect them. This is state control at its most dehumanizing and disempowering. Katniss’ choice to protect Prim asserts her independence and competence. Tellingly, the district’s people refuse their cue to applaud, instead honoring her with silent gestures. Her willing choice, however, exposes her to more direct exploitation, increasing the tension between what she desires and what the state imposes. 

The rising action begins as Katniss and Peeta travel to the Capitol. During training, Katniss must balance what she wants to do with what she must do to increase her odds of survival. Will she play the role of sweetheart that Haymitch engineers? Will she be bold, as Cinna suggests, to charm sponsors? Katniss often cannot tell how her decisions will be interpreted. When she angrily shoots the apple on the Gamemakers’ table, she expects punishment but is rewarded with a high score, as if the Gamemakers are capable of co-opting any attempt to assert independent worth. 

For the Capitol, the Games—compulsory viewing for all citizens—are a tool of intimidation, yet players sometimes resist. Before the Games begin, Peeta acknowledges that he will likely kill and die, but he wants “to die as [himself],” not as a “monster” for the Capitol’s benefit. Katniss shares this desire. Every day in the arena tests the limits to which she will go to live by her moral standard. Her relationships with Rue and Peeta reveal this conflict especially. Aware that nothing she does or says is veiled from viewers, Katniss can choose to act with integrity or to play a role. Often, she tries to do both, maintaining a degree of agency while attempting to gain sponsors. She learns that pleasing some viewers, as with her ritual burial of Rue, displeases others. She also grapples with decisions that rob others of their agency, as when she drugs Peeta before the feast. In no instance can she act without the constant knowledge that she is being watched, controlled, even taunted by the Gamemakers. The terrible final night at the Cornucopia shows the lengths to which the Capitol will go in its quest for control. The revolting “muttations” that attack the remaining tributes mingle the dead tributes’ bodies with the forms of vicious wolves. Even in death, the Capitol controls its citizens. 

Perhaps this realization drives Katniss to the decision that marks the novel’s climax. She and Peeta openly defy the Capitol as they decide to die together rather than acquiesce to the rule change requiring one of them to kill the other. As Katniss takes the nightlock berries from her pouch, Peeta says, “Hold them out. I want everyone to see.” To refuse death on the Capitol’s terms while choosing it on their own terms is brazen, and Peeta sanctifies the choice with a kiss—in front of all the citizens of the Capitol. When the announcer’s “frantic voice” breaks in to declare two victors, everyone has witnessed what seems to be a successful rebellion against the Capitol. 

This victory against the Capitol’s control is temporary, however, as the novel’s falling action reveals. The conflict that Katniss experiences as she attempts to wrest control of her life from the Capitol has yet to resolve, either for her or for Panem’s citizens. In Book One’s disturbing resolution, Katniss is removed from the arena, only to be returned to the control of the state. She finds that she must continue to hide her true feelings and to play the role of the innocent girl in love with a boy. To refuse is to endanger herself, Peeta, and their families. But because her own feelings are confused, to comply is to mislead Peeta, who truly loves Katniss. As they return to District 12, Peeta and Katniss remain trapped in the roles the Capitol expects them to play. If they obey, their families will benefit. If they rebel, punishment will follow.