A quick disclaimer before I begin: I have read The Hunger Games. I have not read Catching Fire or Mockingjay. I also have not seen the new movie. So this is all based on the one book. Anyway…read on.
Katniss Everdeen is the latest fictional heroine to captivate us. Her story of bravery, determination, and willpower has been read by thousands. She is becoming a role model of sorts for young people, specifically female young people. They see her as a symbol of courage, a young woman who rose up from obscure and dystopian surroundings, overcame great odds, and rose to become a nationally recognized figure. This is inspiration itself to many readers: “Rise up, don’t let anything stand in your way, you can do anything you set your mind to!” These are noble and striking words to be sure, but we are missing a fundamental element of tragedy.
Katniss Everdeen has a problem that affects many women today. She is unable to allow herself to be loved. She is an anti-princess. In their strengths and in their weakness, the princess in literature and film is nearly always sure of one thing: “Someday, my prince will come.” Westley and Aladdin fight for the heart and the life of Buttercup and Jasmine, princesses of courage and valor; Belle has her face buried in fairy tales until one of them becomes real and she recognizes her prince in the form of a Beast. In each case, the prince seeks out Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White until he finds them. And what is the response of the princess? No matter how strong a character, no matter how seemingly weak, the response of the princess is: “I knew this would happen. I knew someone would come who will love me. I knew someone would come and we will live happily ever after!” But what about Katniss?
Peeta Mellark is no prince. He’s the son of a baker. But he fits into the archetype of one easily enough. He saves Katniss from hunger as a child, he braves Career Tributes and dangerous alliances and risks his life for Katniss. He admits to a live television audience that he is in love with Katniss Everdeen, but to what effect? It’s all a ploy to her. It couldn’t be possible. Yet everyone, Haymitch, Rue, they all know Peeta is genuine. But not Katniss. “There’s no way my prince will come. I won’t let him.” And what does she think about a relationship with Gale? “It’s no good loving me…”
It doesn’t end in the romantic realm. Katniss is even surprised that Madge, the mayor’s daughter, could see her as a friend. The only people in The Hunger Games that Katniss allows to love her are people who she sees as dependent on her: Rue and Prim. And she only allows their love because it is important to Katniss that they are loved first. This inability to accept love is completely separate from her decision to not have children. That decision is based on compassion and a noble unwillingness to allow innocents to suffer.
The ability of a person to accept that they are loved will correlate to how much they know they are loved as children. Katniss has loving parents until her father dies. Then she lost him in a mining accident and her mother to grief. She turned to hunting to provide for her family, and then what was she to others? A source of food, perhaps a hunting partner. This is exactly what the young women of today are in for.
There are more and more families where a child knows that her father decided there were more important things than her before he left. If you’re not seen as beautiful or talented then you’re not worth “loving.” If you don’t get good grades, you’re stupid. You are unable to allow anyone to help you, you have to do things by yourself because even if someone is helping you now, someday they will leave for greener pastures. And even if you’re pretty, or talented, your beauty and talent aren’t appreciated because then all you’re good for is your looks, and if they go away, tough luck, if you try to say how you feel, shut up, because people don’t want your opinion, they don’t even want your love, they just like how you make them feel.
And there are some, like Katniss Everdeen, who do not give in, who know that there is more to themselves then the superficial. But to survive they harden themselves to the outside world. They know its evils. “I will not allow them to consume me…but I won’t let anything else in either, and I won’t ever know what love is.” But there are some who do give in, many that give in. They think perhaps “if I can make him happy, if I can look pretty, maybe I can be on a magazine cover someday and I will get noticed, because I’ll take anything I can get so I don’t feel completely empty.” They accept less because they don’t know there is more. They don’t know their ‘prince’ is there and he will fight for her, and there are fewer and fewer ‘princes’ left who will fight.
Some women know this, and they know that if they don’t stand for themselves nobody will stand for them. “There’s no way my prince will come.” “It’s no good loving me.” And this is the tragedy of Katniss Everdeen, because “it is good to love you, if you’d only let me.”