Katniss returns to the remains of District 12, which the Capitol has mostly firebombed into oblivion, with the exception of the Victor's Village. Her best friend, Gale, is watching her closely from a nearby hovercraft - although he respects her desire to wander around the ashes alone. Katniss is weak and still recovering from her dramatic rescue out of the Hunger Games Quarter Quell Arena, in which Peeta Mellark was taken prisoner. The magnitude of these recent tragedies come into focus as Katniss notices the bones of the desperate District 12 citizens who tried to flee. She is burdened by a deep feeling of guilt for their demise, but she also blames the rebels in District 13 who drew Katniss into their mission to overthrow the Capitol without her even realizing it.
Meanwhile, Gale is responsible for saving the 800 or so District 12 survivors, including Katniss's mother and sister, who are now safe in District 13. Still, Katniss is haunted by the knowledge that Peeta is likely being tortured in the Capitol. She thinks about how Peeta would have been a better "mouthpiece" than her; as Katniss admits she "won't cooperate" (11). However, she cannot escape the fact that the rebels expect her to be the Mockingjay, a symbol of revolution. Thinking back on her loved ones who have perished, Katniss wonders, "could any good I do possibly outweigh the damage?" (13). Inside her old house Katniss rescues her sister's cat, Buttercup, and retrieves some of the family's cherished items. She also finds a white rose on her dresser - signaling President Snow's "promise of revenge" (15).
The hovercraft takes Katniss and Gale back to District 13. Katniss re-iterates the history of the lost district: the Capitol led the other districts to believe that 13 was obliterated in the Dark Days, but actually, it was home to the Capitol's secret nuclear development program. However, rebels in 13 leveraged the substantial nuclear arsenal to threaten the Capitol and gain autonomy. Now, Katniss and all the other rebels and survivors live in District 13's underground community. Their lives are heavily regimented - individual schedules are imprinted on each person's arm every morning.
Despite her mental fragility, Katniss must attend the rebels' frequent strategy meetings, during which she remains detached. One meeting is different - as Katniss is shocked to see Peeta on Capitol Television, looking healthy and strong. Interviewer Caesar Flickerman prods Peeta to reveal that his plan during the Quarter Quell was to sacrifice himself to save Katniss and their "unborn child." However, Peeta openly regrets his decision to ally with the other Tributes (including Haymitch) and argues that neither he nor Katniss knew about the rebellion until the escape was underway. Peeta uses this public platform to call for a cease-fire, proving to Katniss and the rebels that he is in collusion with the Capitol.
Everyone around Katniss denounces Peeta as a traitor, but Katniss is overwhelmed with relief that Peeta is alive. Gale comes to comfort Katniss, angering Coin and Boggs in the process. While both Katniss and Gale are frustrated with President Coin's coldness, they admire the fact that the citizens of District 13 have been able to survive this long and build up the resources to support the rebellion. Katniss ponders the reality that Peeta is still putting himself in danger to save her - he wants to make sure that Katniss is not punished if the rebels lose. Katniss, meanwhile, considers her options. She replays every instance of pain and suffering the Capitol has forced her to witness - and decides to embrace her role as the Mockingjay.
That night, Katniss tenderly holds the pearl that Peeta gave her right before she blew out the force field during the Quarter Quell. Prim wakes up and cuddles with her sister. Katniss marvels as to how much Prim has grown up since her name was drawn for the Hunger Games so many months ago. Prim assures Katniss of her importance to the cause and encourages her to ask for Peeta's immunity in case of a rebel victory. The next morning, Katniss goes to meet with Command with Gale in tow. She presents Coin with a list of demands in return for taking on the role of the Mockingjay. She wants her family to be able to keep Buttercup; she wants to go hunting with Gale; and all the captured tributes must be pardoned in case of a rebel victory. Last but not least, Katniss wants to kill Snow. Coin acquiesces to all of Katniss's demands. Meanwhile, the other rebels are inspired by Katniss's show of passion.
Fulvia shows Katniss a sketch of her Mockingjay uniform, which Cinna designed in secret before he died. Katniss realizes that both Cinna and Gale have had faith in her as the Mockingjay for much longer than she has believed in herself. Now, the Mockingjay's first task is to film a 'propaganda spot' (propo) for broadcast in the other districts. Fulvia leads Katniss, Gale, and Plutarch to Compartment 3908, where Katniss is surprised to find Venia, Flavius, and Octavia, her Capitol-based prep team - naked, battered, and chained to a wall. The Preps are in District 13 at Cinna's request, but they are being punished for stealing food. Katniss sees their punishment as Coin's warning to anyone who might disobey her rule. Later, Katniss and Gale are finally able to go hunting. The experience brings Katniss "as close to happiness as [she] thinks [she] can currently get" (53).
At the heavily anticipated public assembly, Katniss is reunited with Finnick who reminds her that Annie is also a captive of the Capitol and should therefore be on the immunity list. Coin publicly announces that Katniss has agreed to be the Mockingjay and accepts all of her conditions. However, Coin adds her own termination clause: if Katniss deviates from the prescribed mission, it "will be viewed as a break in this agreement" (58) and her requests will become null and void. Katniss muses that Coin is the first "to publicly brand [her] as a threat" (59). Gale, however, argues that Katniss left Coin no choice.
The next morning, Katniss gets a makeover from her preps, who are on the road to recovery. After lunch, Katniss and Gale go to Special Defenses. Beetee takes Katniss and Gale to the heavily guarded Special Weaponry room. He has made Katniss a new bow that matches her uniform and only responds to her voice. The bow will be a prop for Katniss's first "propo." She is required to repeat the carefully written call of the resistance: "People of Panem, we fight, we dare, we end our hunger for justice!" Suddenly, Haymitch starts laughing at Katniss's stiff, awkward delivery. This is the first time Katniss has heard his voice since the Quarter Quell.
Even though the rebellion has been in full swing for some time, this first section of Mockingjay tracks Katniss Everdeen's acceptance of her expected role in the war. Katniss barely has time to deal with the destruction of her past as she is being catapulted into an uncertain future. All she has ever wanted was to keep her loved ones safe - but because of her own ruthless survivalism, she has had a part in inciting the rebellion, therefore leading to the destruction of her district. Now, she has to decide whether to accept her power and take on the responsibility of leading her people. As entertainment blogger Charlie Jane Anders writes, Mockingjay tracks Katniss's "journey towards becoming not just a survivor, but a real hero."
Unlike many popular contemporary young adult protagonists (the Harry Potter trio being the most visible), Katniss has difficulty making decisions, and her train of thought often proves to be contradictory. Because Suzanne Collins writes from the first person point of view, the reader sees this dystopian world through Katniss's lens. Like many teenagers, Katniss lacks the self-awareness that is present in the adults around her, especially in these opening chapters. For example, Katniss bemoans her power even while she is in the process of manipulating it to get what she wants. The only reason Katniss has been allowed to visit the remains of District 12 is because she has made it a condition of cooperating with the rebels' mission. Otherwise, the authorities simply view her trip as "a costly and pointless venture" (3). As she walks through the piles of ashes and bodies strewn about, though, Katniss thinks, "the citizens of District 12 had no organized resistance movement of their own... They only had the misfortune to have me" (6).
While Katniss knows that she is in a position to bargain with President Alma Coin and her rebel authorities, she can only focus on how to use that power to benefit herself and her family. She is not quite sure if she wants to be the symbol of an entire rebellion. Unlike more self-assured (and older) characters like Coin, Snow, or Plutarch Heavensbee, Katniss cannot chalk human loss up to collateral damage. She takes every death and injury personally.
One of the other reasons that Katniss is hesitant to throw her loyalty behind President Coin is that she has "no confidence that [her] being the Mockingjay will benefit those who are trying to bring [the Capitol] down" (12). Katniss has overheard President Coin saying she would have preferred Peeta to the surly, uncooperative Katniss. Additionally, Katniss has certain reservations about District 13 and their methods. 13 stood by and watched the Capitol torture and destroy the other 12 Districts while quietly building a massive underground city. These opening chapters contain many hints that the rebels are just as ruthless as the Capitol. Life in 13 is militaristic, with little enjoyment or leisure time. Katniss's prep team is tortured over a piece of bread. Coin clearly doesn't like Katniss but tolerates her because she is a strategic facet of the rebellion.
Because of her own muddled focus, Katniss must rely on those with more straightforward motivations to inspire her into action. Gale fuels her with his hatred, claiming, "If I could hit a button and kill every living soul working for the Capitol, I would do it. Without hesitation" (31). When she sees Cinna's design for the Mockingjay suit, she realizes that Cinna had believed in her until his untimely death at the Capitol's hands. Gale believes in her, as well, as does Prim. Katniss's final lingering hesitation is quashed after she sees Peeta on television calling for a cease-fire - he is still putting himself in danger to save Katniss. With so many people on her side, she embraces her sense of duty at last. But she continues to dictate the terms of her involvement when and where she can. Katniss has to constantly struggle to define her place in the rebellion because she never expected to survive this long. She has persevered after many close brushes with death, just like the Mockingjay itself.
Suzanne Collins has compared the journey of prickly Katniss to the creation story of the fictional Mockingjay. The Capitol created jabberjays to root out potential rebellions in the Districts of Panem. The birds would fly all over the place, memorize entire conversations and repeat them back to their Capitol minders. However, once the rebels caught onto the jabberjays, they started to feed the jabberjays false information. Collins says, "At some point, the Capitol figured that out and left the jabberjays to their own in the wild, thinking they would simply die out. But instead, they mated with female mockingbirds and this whole new species was created, which are the mockingjays." Therefore, the mockingjay is an animal that was never meant to exist in the first place, but now that it does, the Capitol cannot contain it.