The Hunger Games is a dystopia about a country named Panem, in which one city, the Capitol, rules twelve other districts. Due to the districts’ rebellion, the Capitol has instituted the Hunger Games: each district submits two children to a contest where they fight to the death. These Games are televised for the entertainment of the Capitol and as a reminder to the districts of the Capitol’s absolute rule.
The artificial aspect of the Games makes it a state of nature where life is “nasty, brutish, and short.” There are no rules except ‘kill or be killed.’ For this reason the story’s teenage narrator, Katniss Everdeen, views the games simply in terms of self-preservation. Her perspective is contrasted to the other teen selected from her district, Peeta Mellark. Peeta sees the outlook in terms of Autonomy; he does not want the Games to change him and wishes the Capitol to know they do not own him. Katniss believes such thinking is a luxury she cannot afford to indulge in.
Yet it is clear Katniss does not subscribe completely to the Hobbesian outlook either. It is self-sacrifice, not self-preservation, that led her to the Games in the first place. At the Reaping, the district’s lottery selection, she courageously volunteered to take the place of her sister whose name had been drawn as the female tribute for their district. It is the Capitol’s despotism that has forced her to withdraw her affections to her private circle, her immediate family, to the exclusion of everyone else.
As the plot unfolds, it is revealed that Peeta intends to protect Katniss throughout the Hunger Games, even if it costs him his own life. Katniss cannot fathom such self-sacrifice, and so for most of the story misreads his actions in light of her own narrow worldview. When they are the final two remaining contestants, Katniss realizes it would be better to suffer injustice rather than commit it. She and Peeta threaten the Game Makers with suicide rather than kill each other. This rebellious act will have political consequences since Panem citizens are watching it live on television.
By the end of the first novel, Katniss’ heart has expanded to include Peeta, but it has yet to include all of Panem. In the story’s opening, Katniss claims not to be interested in politics and simply accepts Panem’s political predicament. Whether her duties to her private circle of family and friends will grow into civic duties to the community as a whole will be the subject matter for the rest of the trilogy.