Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Katniss Everdeen: Girl On The Verge or Role Model?...

Katniss Everdeen has been called "the greatest female protagonist" in history and the second-coming of Buffy Summers. Now, there may be some weight to each of those statements, whether they were written by the tweens at which such Young Adult fare is usually aimed or otherwise. But what about Katniss Everdeen: Role model? The girl on fire; the girl who became a symbol of freedom and defiance for a society that had nothing to live for went into it that role reluctantly and at times without knowing what she was doing at all. She admitted as much when it was just her and the readers, getting an inside look into her mind and her greatest fears. But it is not her word, or even her thoughts, that define her ability to be a role model but her actions. And when I look at them in depth, I see a strong girl on the verge of becoming a woman who has more struggles than anyone I have ever known. I see a girl with noble ideas and skills beyond what we need to be able to do to survive in our own society. And yes, I see how she can be inspiring. But since Katniss herself, more times than not, didn't want to wear the role model title, I am just as reluctant to stamp it on her forehead, sealing her fate just as hearing one's name called during the reaping would.

Looking back on Katniss' actions, and at times, inactions, there are so many parts of her that are admirable you may be cursing me for not just rewarding her and calling it a day. She is absolutely complex; a fleshed-out, more than three-dimensional character, who is both sweet and loving (with her little sister Prim, with the young girl from District 11 in the games, Rue) as well as tough and brave (volunteering to take her sister's place in the games is absolutely the strongest example of this and completely sets up who she is right off the bat). She's selfless, but she's also loyal to a fault (see: Peeta). She's smart and crafty; she can think on her feet; she preferred to keep herself alive in the games rather than focus her energy and attention on savagely slaughtering her competition.

That alone is something of which to take note. Perhaps it was because there was so much hype around how "brutal" and violent the "Hunger Games" trilogy was-- so much so that lovers of the books wondered and at times feared how it could be adapted for screen without receiving an NC-17 rating-- that I was expecting Katniss to turn into a blood-thirsty primate when in the arena. I expected something more out of "Lord of the Flies," rather than the baby Lisbeth Salander I got. I couldn't help but be pleasantly surprised when she didn't turn into a different person in that arena; I couldn't help but admire how she learned to play the game on a mental level and how when she walked out of there she didn't give in to the demons that were born within those confines. Katniss is absolutely to be respected, but to put her on a pedestal would be overkill.

For everything I loved about Katniss-- her odd understanding with Haymitch, her love/hate relationship with Buttercup, her devotion to her deceased father's items, even her stubbornness to keep Snow's warnings to herself-- the one thing that kept me pulling back from declaring my own love for her was her own real or not real? love, Peeta.

Though Katniss seemed to think she had more of a history with Gale, in reality the history with Peeta was clear from the moment she told the story about scrounging for food when she was eleven only to get tossed a loaf by a boy who literally took a beating to give her that bread. But as time went on, and certainly as the games complicated things, it seemed more and more like settling that Katniss would be with Peeta. She didn't know if she loved him, and let's face it, if you have to really think about it then you don't-- not truly, not in the way you should to be in a long-term relationship with a person. She was with him out of convenience during the game; she knew she'd be seen as a traitor if she didn't align with the person from her district, but she grew fond of him enough. Presumably if the games ended without incident, she could have disappeared back into her old life and this would be moot. But the game-makers had other plans. And because of their plans, Katniss' mentor and "prep team" had other plans, too. And that, single-handedly is what worries me about Katniss. She has moments of rebellion; she has moments of great, usually impulsive, natural action. As much is pointed out in "Mockingjay" when they all realize the times the audience responded to her during the games was when she wasn't scripted-- when she was just allowed to be herself. But those moments are fleeting and at times few and far between and more often than not she allows those around her to call the shots and tell her what to do. She constantly cuts herself down, saying she's not the born leader Peeta is (and let's face it, role models should be humble, but true empowerment is leading and not following-- setting a solid example because it's something you feel in your gut, not something people are telling you to say or do). Perhaps it's because she is still so young-- perhaps it is because she is more damaged than she lets on-- but she consistently trusts others to put plans in motion for her, even if not words in her mouth. She is just lucky that the ones she trusts (for the most part) have her back. Because her M.O. is to "wake up" at the last second and realize what the hidden meaning was all along, but often in life, if not also in literature, that is too little, too late.

But back to Peeta for a second because, really, my thoughts on him and their relationship could fill its own book, let alone another blog entry! She bonded with him deeply in the arena, sure; after all, when people survive such a hardship or tragedy together, they are automatically linked in a way no one else could possibly understand. But they were even the minute the hovercraft plucked them from the first arena. The relationship that followed was one out of necessity, one to keep up appearances, because the game-makers decided to make this story a love story. She went along with it; she did not rebel; she did not call out the fakeness of the game or the manipulation by the Capitol. She fell in line; she followed the herd. And when all was said and done, she not only settled, but she gave in to the one thing that she swore she would never do simply because it was what he wanted.

(Admittedly that realization is probably supposed to come with a spot of hope-- for Katniss' softening, for the future of their dystopian society, for the readers themselves-- but since it came in an epilogue, I'm cynically and skeptically inclined to disagree.)

I am certainly no stranger to reading between the lines-- in books, in television, in life. I am certainly no stranger to latching onto a person, or a character, as the case may be, and elevating them, assigning them more importance in my own life. If you're searching for something, you will inevitably do the same. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that-- the best compliment an artist can receive is that he or she caused such an emotional, personal connection-- but Katniss is a character who is still growing and maturing and defining in this series, and presumably beyond. You just can't put her in a box-- even if that box is a positive or otherwise complimentary one like "role model."

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