Survival is one of the main themes in The Hunger Games, a dystopian novel set is a postapocalyptic future where a series of districts are forced to send children as tributes to fight to the death in an annual Hunger Games.
Katniss has been fighting to survive long before she volunteered to take her sister’s place in the Games. As an inhabitant of District 12, the poorest district, food is hard to come by and jobs mean a slow and eventual death in the mines for those lucky enough to have them, or a quicker one in an accident. Her father died that way.
Katniss does what she can to protect her family, perfecting the hunting skills her father taught her by using an illegal bow and arrow and hunting in an also illegal rural area outsider of town. She develops a close association with a local boy, Gale, who is also desperate to feed his family. These two things come to a crossroads in my first quote, in which Katniss discusses the moral quandary she puts herself in by pretending to care about Peeta, her partner and eventual competitor in the Games.
How I never question Gale’s motives while I do nothing but doubt the latter’s. Gale and I were thrown together by a mutual need to survive. Peeta and I know the other’s survival means our own death. (Ch. 8)
Katniss has to pretend to be in love with Peeta, when she actually feels more connected to Gale. She is also aware that she might have to kill Peeta. She brings up the eventual need to kill Peeta. There are several layers of the survival theme in this one quote.
In the next quote, we see one of the worst aspects of the games: the idea of children hunting each other. Yet we also see Katniss applying her own analytical and survival skills in a new situation.
So they’re fighting in a pack. I’m not really surprised. Often alliances are formed in the early stages of the Games. The strong band together to hunt down the weak down then, when the tension becomes too great, begin to turn on one another. (Ch. 11)
This quote demonstrates the situation that Katniss is up against, but it also shows that she has carefully evaluated her enemy and found their weakness. She is aware of what she has to do to avoid them. She is essentially just waiting them out. She will do what she has to do to survive.
Which brings me to the last quote. One of the most important elements for survival in the games is to find help. Katniss does this by remembering where the cameras are, what Haymitch is thinking, and imagining how he is communicating with her.
Haymitch couldn’t be sending me a clearer message. One kiss equals one pot of broth. I can almost hear his snarl. “You’re supposed to be in love, sweetheart. The boy’s dying. Give me something I can work with.” (Ch. 19)
Katniss uses her intelligence, her ability to put her personal feelings aside and play to the cameras, and her survival skills, to save Peeta’s life. She does it again when she uses the berries to threaten to commit suicide and kill them both, so there is no victor at all.