The narrator wakes up in a cold bed, and we learn that today is the day of the reaping. What is the reaping, you ask? In a daring act of suspense-building, the narrator decides not to tell us.
In the meantime we're introduced to the other people asleep in the bedroom. There's Primrose (or Prim for short), the narrator's sister; the narrator's mother, who was once very beautiful; and Buttercup, a mouser of a cat who the narrator originally tried to drown. (Not an animal lover, this one.)
Awake, the narrator dresses herself in hunting gear, grabs a goat cheese, and heads to the woods.
We learn that the narrator lives in a place called District 12, nicknamed the Seam, that is home primarily to poor coal miners. The narrator's father was a coalminer, but he died in an explosion five years ago, when the narrator was only eleven.
District 12 is enclosed by a sometimes electrified fence that's supposed to keep out the predators from the woods. Trespassing in the woods is illegal, but that doesn't stop our narrator. The narrator hunts there for food with her bow, a weapon with which she's nearly an expert.
District 12 is located in the country of Panem and ruled by people in the far away Capitol.
In the woods, the narrator meets with Gale, her hunting partner. The narrator reveals that her name is Katniss, though Gale sometimes calls her Catnip.
Gale surprises Katniss with a fresh loaf of bread. Katniss pulls out the goat cheese made by Prim. The two begin to gather blackberries for their feast and begin cracking jokes about the Hunger Games. (What are the Hunger Games? We're still not sure.)
Katniss offers more information about her family: her mother came from a family of merchants that ran an apothecary shop. She fell in love with Katniss' father, though, and left her comfortable life to live in the Seam.
Katniss' mother was depressed after the death of her husband. Katniss blames her for being "blank and unreachable" (1.21).
Over their meal Gale suggests running away together and living in the woods. Katniss finds the idea ridiculous. They have to provide for their families. She mentions that she never wants to have children of her own.
The conversation ends awkwardly, and Katniss is confused. She and Gale (who we find out is pretty hunky) aren't romantically involved, but they are friends and hunting partners.
Gale and Katniss move to the lake to fish. By the end of the day, they have a huge haul of food: fish, greens, and strawberries.
The two go to the Hob, the black market, to sell or trade some of their goods. Half the strawberries are taken to the mayor's house to sell.
There they meet Madge, the mayor's daughter, done up in a pretty dress for the reaping. Gale compliments her, and she responds by saying that, if she gets sent to the Capitol, she wants to look nice. Gale coolly dismisses this idea, considering she only has "five entries" (1.44).
What does it all mean, you ask? Katniss explains that, once citizens reach the age of twelve, their name is put in the pool for the reaping. At age thirteen, the name is entered twice. An additional entry is given to each person until they reach the age of eighteen – at which point they are no longer eligible for the reaping.
Sounds fair, right? Not quite. The poor get the worst of it because if you happen to be starving or living in poverty, you can get a year's supply of grain and oil (what is called a "tessera") by adding your name into the pool another time.
This means that once Katniss reached the age of twelve, she had her name entered once because of her age, but then three more times so that she, Prim, and her mother would have grain and oil for the year.
Richer families do not have to play the game this way, obviously – which explains why Gale was so miffed by Madge even suggesting that she would be the one selected to go to the Capitol. Her chances are miniscule compared to Katniss and Gale.
Gale has been known to rage about this kind of thing, especially about the unfairness of the system and the way it keeps the classes divided against each other.
Back at home, Prim is dressed in a reaping outfit formerly belonging to Katniss. Katniss washes and puts on a blue dress formerly belonging to her mother.
This is Prim's first reaping and Katniss, who normally protects her younger sister, feels powerless to do anything for her.
The family eats dinner (fish and greens) and then heads for the reaping in the square. There are bright banners and cameras everywhere (the proceedings are televised by the state), but still there is "an air of grimness" (1.68).
People in the crowd are taking bets on whose names will be picked.
Katniss stares at the stage where there are two glass balls with slips of paper in them. Katniss has her name in the lottery twenty times.
On the stage are Mayor Undersee (Madge's father), and Effie Trinket – the district's pink-haired escort from the Capitol.
As the clock strikes two, the proceedings begin: the mayor tells the history of Panem, a country that emerged from the ashes of a place once known as North America.
The country of Panem used to have thirteen districts, but the Dark Days came and the districts rose up against the Capitol. Twelve of the districts were defeated, but the thirteenth was destroyed.
The Treaty of Treason was established to bring peace after the uprising. As a reminder of the Dark Days, the Hunger Games were instituted.
What are the Hunger Games, you ask again for the umpteenth time? We finally find out: as a punishment for the uprising of the districts, a lottery is held each year in which a boy and girl from each district is chosen to be a "tribute" (1.75).
Each tribute is taken to the Capitol, where they are imprisoned in a gigantic arena and must, over a long period of time, FIGHT TO THE DEATH. Sound intense? Yeah, we thought so. "The last tribute standing wins" (1.75).
The winning tribute wins food for their district. It's supposed to a festivity, but really, it all sounds pretty terrible.
Back to the reaping at hand: the mayor reads a list of past victors. There have been few from District 12 and only one is still alive. His name is Haymitch Abernathy, a middle-aged drunk. He stumbles on stage, which the cameras, of course, are sure to get on film.
The bubbly Effie Trinket is on hand to pull the names out of the hat. First up? The ladies. The name she reads out? GASP. It's little Primrose Everdeen, Katniss's younger sister – who only had her name in the hat ONCE.