Saturday, May 14, 2011

Playing with Fire

You can’t touch fire.  In fact, fire has the nasty habit of destroying anything too close to it.  The heroine of The Hunger Games series is Katniss, “The Girl On Fire”.  One comment I have frequently heard when comparing this series with the Twilight books is the strength of the lead character Katniss compared to the clingy, boy-focused Bella.  Katniss isn’t just stronger physically; her greatest asset seems to be her tough emotional shell.  Just like every other fictional heroine, Katniss’s life prepared her to face the challenges in this story.  So what is it about her life that has isolated Katniss into a young girl with commitment issues?

In the world of this story life is hard.  You have to scrounge for food to keep from starving.  Katniss’s father (who died in a mining accident before the story even begins) was a great hunter and he apparently lived long enough to pass a great deal of this on to Katniss.  Katniss loved her father.  They understood each other and were quite close.  Katniss is not particularly close to her mother (who is never named), and when her father dies the nameless mother slips into a depression so deep that Katniss must become her father and provide for the family.  The only emotional connections left to young Katniss are those between her and her sister, Prim, and to her hunting partner, the handsome Gale.  Katniss must be strong, not only because she has no one looking out for her, but because she is responsible for the lives of her mother and little sister. 

Katniss has a difficult time understanding why the adults in her world silence her complaints and observations about life under the rule of the Capital.  She appears to mistake the adult’s lack of hope (their silence) as blindness.  Her character is presented as being lonely in her discernment of the Capital and its oppression.  She can relax and speak her mind with her friend Gale, but she is also becoming aware of his attraction to her, a thing she is not exactly happy about.  Katniss does not express this sentiment until later in the story, but she seems to not want to fall in love because love leads to marriage…and children.  Katniss does not want to watch her own children go through the reaping or the Hunger Games.  Again, this isn’t explained until much later in the books; however, in the beginning Katniss is clear that she does not want or need a romantic relationship. 

Katniss does have an emotional weak spot; she is a sucker for someone who needs her protection.  The only characters Katniss forms any attachments to are all ones that rely on her to protect them like Prim and Rue.  It isn’t until Peeta actually needs Katniss’s help in the Games (up until then he had been protecting her) that Katniss’s character shows some stirrings of feelings for him.  She fights these feelings and is, of course, clueless as to what they mean to her.  In the last book Katniss overhears Gale’s brilliant observation to Peeta that Katniss will ultimately choose whichever of them needs her protection most.  She might be a hunter and ultimately capable of cold-blooded murder, but she loves to rescue the strays and runts of humanity. 

Katniss is untouchable.  She thinks she doesn’t need help from others so it takes her a while to notice when someone is helping her.  She is also bitter and broken by the end of the books.  She has won a battle she never wanted to fight for people she didn’t know or care about.  Everyone she did care for is either dead, far away, or as broken as her.  The author ends the books with the idea that the world will be better for Katniss’s unwilling sacrifices.

Next Friday: Why is being untouchable so attractive to our daughters?

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