Then something unexpected happens. At least, I don’t expect it because I don’t think of District 12 as a place that cares about me. But a shift has occurred since I stepped up to take Prim’s place, and now it seems I have become someone precious. At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. I means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love. (2.17)
By making a huge personal sacrifice, and taking her sister’s place, Katniss has changed the way her community sees her. They give her respect, admiration, and love for the choice she has made.
I knelt down in the water, my fingers digging into the roots. Small, bluish tubers that don’t look like much but boiled or baked are as good as any potato. “Katniss,” I said aloud. It’s the plant I was named for. And I heard my father’s voice joking, “As long as you can find yourself, you’ll never starve.” (4.22)
Katniss’s name comes from the plant growing beneath the pond. How do Katniss’s father’s words have a double meaning? Why is finding herself so important for Katniss’s survival?
It was slow-going at first, but I was determined to feed us. I stole eggs from nests, caught fish in nets, sometimes managed to shoot a squirrel or rabbit for stew, and gathered the various plants that sprung up beneath my feet. Plants are tricky. Many are edible, but one false mouthful and you’re dead. I checked and double-checked the plants I harvested with my father’s pictures. I kept us alive. (4.19)
Before the Hunger Games, Katniss fills her father’s shoes by acting as the sole provider and bread winner for her family. Every moment of every day revolves around the survival of her family. That’s all she knows, and the only way she sees herself.
"I want the audience to recognize you when you're in the arena," says Cinna dreamily. "Katniss, the girl who was on fire." (5.40)
Cinna, Katniss's stylist, makes a spectacular fiery outfit for her debut in the opening ceremonies. How is the public image that Cinna is crafting for Katniss different from who she really is?
What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by? (5.27)
Katniss’s whole identity so far is based on survival. Once she gets to the Capitol, she begins to wonder what her life would be like if she didn’t have to hunt and gather food for her family.
"Remember, they already love you," he says gently. "Just be yourself." (9.68)
Katniss undergoes several prep sessions for her pre-games interview. Haymitch can't decide how to present Katniss to the public, but Cinna tells her just to be herself. Does his advice work? Does being herself help Katniss win the Games?
"I don't know how to say it exactly. Only…I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?" he asks. I shake my head. How could he die as anyone but himself? "I don't want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I'm not."
I bite my lip, feeling inferior. While I've been ruminating on the availability of trees, Peeta has been struggling with how to maintain his identity. His purity of self. "Do you mean you won't kill anyone?" I ask.
"No, when the time comes, I'm sure I'll kill just like everybody else. I can't go down without a fight. Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don't own me. That I'm more than just a piece in their Games," says Peeta. (10.71)
The night before the Games Katniss is thinking strategy, but Peeta? Well, he's thinking more about his identity. Peeta wants to retain his humanity instead of being just a "piece in the Games." How can he show the Capitol that they don't own him?
I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do that there is a part of every tribute they can't own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.
A few steps into the woods grows a bank of wildflowers. Perhaps they are really weeds of some sort, but they have blossoms in beautiful shades of violet and yellow and white. I gather up an armful and come back to Rue's side. Slowly, one stem at a time. I decorate her body in the flowers. Covering the ugly wound. Wreathing her face. Weaving her hair with bright colors. (18.38-39)
Katniss honors Rue by covering her body with flowers. This action is meant to remind people that Rue was a human being. She was an actual person with an identity all her own, not just a character on television.
For the first time, I allow myself to truly think about the possibility that I might make it home. To fame. To wealth. To m own house in the Victor's Village. My mother and Prim would live there with me. No more fear of hunger. A new kind of freedom. But then…what? What would my life be like on a daily basis? Most of it has been consumed with the acquisition of food. Take that away and I'm not really sure who I am, what my identity is. The idea scares me some. (23.62)
Katniss might just win these games. But then what? If she's not Katniss the Hunter, who will she be?
With the Capitol growing father away every second, I begin to think of home. Of Prim and my mother. Of Gale. I excuse myself to change out of my dress and into a plain shirt and pants. As I slowly, thoroughly wash the makeup from my face and put my hair in its braid, I begin transforming back into myself. Katniss Everdeen. A girl who lives in the Seam. Hunts in the woods. Trades in the Hob. I stare in the mirror as I try to remember who I am and who I am not. By the time I join the others, the pressure of Peeta's arm around my shoulders feels alien. (27.58)
As the victorious Katniss returns to District 12, she seems to be changing back into her old self. But how have the Hunger Games changed who Katniss is?