In this chapter, readers get to know Katniss, the story's narrator, and the world in which she lives. Through her narration, Katniss reveals her love for her family and how she feels responsible for providing for them as well as protecting them, but she dislikes accepting help for her mother, who disappeared in a depressed haze after Katniss' father died. Her love for Prim is greater than any love Katniss knows, and she will do anything to make sure that her sister survives, which is a difficult thing to do in District 12, where starvation and poverty run rampant.
Katniss has great hunting prowess, particularly with the bow and arrow, something that will serve her well in the chapters to come. Katniss is also skilled at explaining away her emotions. When she discusses Gale, she talks about how much the girls at school like him and how this makes her jealous, but not because she likes him. Instead, she's worried about losing a good hunting partner. Just as she masks her love for Gale, she also must mask her true feelings about the Capitol. She recalls how, as a girl, she used to terrify her mother by saying bad things about the Capitol. Even now, when Katniss is by herself on her way through the woods, she feels as if she's being watched by the Capitol, an ongoing concern, and could be punished because of her disparaging remarks toward those in power. Gale, on the other hand, is much more vocal about his hatred for the Capitol while they're in the woods, but, though Katniss understands his anger, she doesn't see how it helps.
This chapter illustrates, through the description of the Hunger Games and the poverty in District 12, how abusive the rulers in the Capitol are. They have very little regard for the lives of those in the districts and work to keep the people living within the districts, as well as the districts themselves, as divided as possible. In District 12, the poor people of the Seam bear the brunt of the hardships and have their children's names entered more times into the Hunger Games lottery. This creates discord and distrust between the relatively wealthy and the impoverished of the district, raising questions about wealth and power and how those who have both are able to remain safe and comfortable and don't always question the injustices around them. By maintaining such division and terror among the people in Panem's districts, the Capitol is ensuring that there will not be another uprising. Gale recognizes this and knows that, in order to evoke change, there must be unity among the people.
For now, the Capitol uses the Hunger Games as a tool to control, punish, and humiliate the people in each district. It is ironic, then, that the reaping, which is a very unjust ceremony, is held in front of the Justice Building.
The ongoing theme of masks that Katniss discusses begins in this chapter. The people in the districts fear the Capitol and must mask their true emotions about the injustices perpetrated upon them. They pretend that the Games are a festive time, when really it's terrifying and dark, and, while they suffer at the Capitol's hands, they cannot speak against the officials there. Similarly, Katniss must wear a submissive mask and keep her true thoughts about the Capitol quiet, while also masking her feelings for Gale.
This chapter provides the history of Panem, the districts, and the Capitol, and establishes the discordant relationship that exists between the rulers and the ruled. It also establishes Katniss' background, her unique set of hunting and gathering skills, her life in poverty under the Capitol's rule, and the importance of her family and friendship with Gale. When Prim's name is called at the end of the chapter, we know that many of these topics — Katniss' feelings for Gale, the Capitol's power, the role of the Hunger Games and the tributes in them — will be called into question.