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Katniss and Peeta barely know each other when the book begins, and by the end they are very close, and possibly in love.
Katniss’s earliest memory of Peeta is when he intentionally burned some bread so that he would have to throw it away and she could have it. Katniss forgets about this incident until she sees Peeta chosen as the second tribute for the Hunger Games.
To this day, I can never shake the connection between this boy, Peeta Mellark, and the bread that gave me hope, and the dandelion that reminded me that I was not doomed. (p. 32)
Peeta and Katniss naturally bond because they are the two tributes from District 12. Katniss is suspicious and does not learn to trust easily though. Peeta takes it one step further by announcing that he is in love with Katniss. Katniss cannot decide if this is a clever ploy for sponsor money or if he is sincere.
At first, Katniss is angry at Peeta for announcing their relationship. Then she decides to play along because Haymitch thinks it is brilliant.
“You are a fool,” Haymitch says in disgust. “Do you think he hurt you? That boy just gave you something you could never achieve on your own.” (p. 135)
When the games actually begin, Peeta and Katniss are separated. Katniss is shocked to learn that Peeta is hanging out with the Careers, a group of well-trained volunteer tributes from wealthier districts. She assumes he is a traitor and basically forgets about him.
The Gamemakers apparently decide that the Game would be more interesting if it takes advantage of Katniss and Peeta’s connection. They announce a rule change.
Katniss runs for Peeta immediately. Now that two tributes from the same district can win, she wants to save him. This sudden burst seems to show that she really does have feelings for Peeta. From them on, she looks after him and even kisses him because she realizes that Haymitch would want her to. The more affection she shows, the more Haymitch can wine and dine the sponsors, and the more life-saving gifts they can get. She begins to understand that Peeta has been playing a role too.
…[Hooking] up with the careers must have been a move to protect me. Peeta, it turns out, has never been a danger to me. (p. 248)
The strategy works. Katniss nurses Peeta back to health, and genuinely does care for him as she plays for the cameras. When the rule change is reversed back to the original rule, she convinces Peeta to commit suicide rather than have them kill each other. They are both declared winners.
Katniss’s defiance was a truly revolutionary act, but at the time she was just trying to stay alive and keep Peeta alive. However, by doing so she links herself to Peeta irrevocably. Their fates are intertwined from that point. She tells Peeta she was just playing a role, but he clearly loved her.
“It was all for the Games,” Peeta says. “How you acted.” (p. 372)
In some ways, she really loves him. The book ends with her confused more than ever about how she really feels for him.
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