A good portion of early chapters in the book establish the setting, which is necessary to understand the conflict Katniss faces when she defies the Capitol. After explaining that District 12 is surrounded by fencing, she comments,
Even though trespassing in the woods is illegal and poaching carries the severest of penalties, more people would risk it if they had weapons. But most are not bold enough to venture out with just a knife. (Chapter 1)
Leaving a fenced-in area designated as "home" is illegal, meaning travel is forbidden. Guns have been completely outlawed, and so has hunting. It is clear that this is a strictly regimented society. Dystopian literature often also reflects a separation from nature and a distrust of the natural world. The government in Katniss's world has tried to implement this separation, forbidding citizens from engaging with nature through clear borders establishing "civilization."
After explaining the basic rules of the reaping, Katniss also clarifies that the established system is even harder on the poor. In exchange for additional rations, families can enter the names of their children into the reaping each year:
In fact, every year I have needed to do this. And the entries are cumulative. So now, at the age of sixteen, my name will be in the reaping twenty times. Gale, who is eighteen and has been either helping or single-handedly feeding a family of five for seven years, will have his name in forty-two times. (Chapter 1)
The ultimate feeling of governmental control and manipulation of the poor is clear. Katniss and Gale both need to provide for their families, and they face high odds of being selected in the reaping as a result.
The authoritative rule of the government is clear in various reflections, such as the one about free speech:
When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts. (Chapter 1)
Katniss, a feisty and spirited narrator, has learned over time that she cannot speak her mind freely, because her thoughts can inflict harm on her family. The government doesn't allow for freedom of speech, so she has unwillingly been forced to learn to keep quiet about the injustices around her.
When Katniss volunteers to replace Prim in the Hunger Games, the citizens of District 12 understand her sacrifice. For years, she has had to keep her family alive following the death of her father and in the emotional absence of her mother. They can't do much to help her, so they offer their support in the only way they can:
So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong. (Chapter 2)
When silence is used as a form of protest, society has gone clearly off course. Yet in this moment, there is strength in silence. District 12 supports this strong girl by refusing to applaud the Capitol's efforts to kill her.