The classic heroine’s journey sees girls questing to rescue their lovers and families from danger, questing into fairyland to retrive a stolen child, or stealing a husband from the troll queen. The most quintessential quest is protecting a daughter or little sister—the other half of the self.
Prim is both these to Katniss, the tiny sister she has mothered when their own mother withdrew from them, the girl she spends each day providing with food. As Prim bids her goodbye in Katniss’s own baggy dress, she’s Katniss’s younger most innocent self, the self most needing protection.
The Hunger Games is coded as a battle of adults versus children. Katniss’s parents are useless, from her dead father to her withdrawn mother who forces Katniss to care for herself and her sister (before abandoning her in the final book). Katniss is the one to hold the family together and keep them from starving, and through the book she dwells on her mistrust for her mother. Only Gale, a fellow teen and protector of his own family, can be relied on.
In Katmiss’ world, the older children protect the younger, as she does her little sister, or Rue does for her younger siblings. Since Rue is the eldest in her family, there’s no one to protect her but Katniss. Katniss realizes that Thresh and Rue would be her friends if not for the true enemy, the ones who hold the games.
Her true allies, she ones she shares sympathy with are the tongueless girl in the capital, Thresh, who would have been a friend, her hunting partner Gale back home. Even Madge, the baker’s daughter, gives her the mockingjay pin she wears as a symbol of home, while Katmiss discards her mother’s dress and shoes. Half the children in the games are reluctant to fight, from Thresh, who lets Katniss escape, to Rue, showing her she’s in danger from hornets, to Foxface, darting in to steal and run.
Adults are using her, from Cinna, who selects her dazzling outfits to show off his own talent long before he sees her as a person to Haymitch, who pushes her to shine for the sponsors. The Games themselves are the most fundamental example of this, run by adults to kill children for entertainment. In this world, the president is the ultimate adult and ultimate user, murdering families to control the victors of the games.
However, Katniss fails to become a leader. Book one sees her outsmarting the game to save Peeta as well as herself, but she has no message of rebellion for her audience. She charms the president into publically sparing her by using, of course, childish charm. In Catching Fire, she disturbingly never rises above a pawn, as Haymitch arranges with most of the other winners to protect Katniss and Peeta and smuggle them to safety.
At the end of book three, Katniss finally embarks on hrer own mission, leading the adults to go assassinate President Snow. However, a group of children including Prim are deliberately murdered as the final casualties of war. When Katniss realizes that rebel president Coin is the culprit, and that Coin plans to restart the Hunger Games and kill even more enemy children, Katniss decides who her enemy is and breaks every adult law and expectation to shoot the real target. She turns from the protector of living children to the champion of the dead, even as she leaves her own childhood behind forever.