Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Complicated Katniss Feelings:
Having just seen Catching Fire (twice) last week and chatted through the books with my sister Lauren as she reads them for the first time, my Hunger Games feelings -- never very far below the surface -- are currently a force to be reckoned with. And you know how it is with me and feelings: if they are there, I will investigate them, for better or for worse.
I've mentioned numerous times here that I highly value Suzanne Collins's trilogy. From a writing standpoint, I'm sure I've discussed the pacing, the characterisation, and the honesty. From a philosophical point of view, I respect and admire the questions Suzanne Collins brings up, as well as the way in which she addresses them. Collins asks hard questions while managing to steer away from soft answers. I have no doubt that these qualities -- along with an authentic-feeling dose of family loyalty and romantic confusion -- are why I feel such a connection to these books as well as to the movies which do such a laudable job of pulling the stories from page to screen. But my experience isn't unique; half the world is in love with this series and its beautifully rich cast of characters.
In amongst all the Team Peeta and Team Gale fanfare, though (and of course I have thoughts about this, too, I mean -- how could I not?), honestly I think I'm cheering for Team Katniss.
I relish young adult fiction; it makes up a fair percentage of what I read and what I write. But I don't always relate to its heroes. The most lasting young adult heroine I've really felt a kinship to was Jo March, of Little Women. There was something about her blunt and manly exterior coupled with her desperately optimistic and maybe even a little fantastical thought life that made sense to me. She didn't have to beat the boys off with a stick. She was too busy inventing worlds and dreams and wrestling with her own identity. Besides which, she didn't really have the face or figure that garnered that kind of attention. She left that stuff to Meg, and Amy.
But then Katniss came along and though Katniss Everdeen is nothing like Jo March, there is still something inherently relatable about her. Perhaps it's that, amongst all the sword-wielding, purpose-filled young men and women who move from weakness into strength to fulfill their destiny, Katniss remains firmly within sight of her weakness -- at least in her own eyes.
Katniss is a heroine who does what needs to be done. She stays alive. She fights for the safety of her loved ones. She becomes the symbol, the figurehead, for an entire cause. Yet the rightness of the cause can never truly outbalance the wrongness of what Katniss is forced to do. Throughout her journey, Katniss doesn't attain some mystical higher plane of realisation; she does not embody the single-minded and pure heroine ideal because she can never truly be certain that wrong things become right things when they are done for the right reasons. Katniss is always going to wrestle with this part of herself, and it's what makes her story so compelling -- and, particularly in the trilogy's final episode, so wrenching.
Some teen characters, even those in bestselling series, are paper doll figures who have one quirk (usually endearing, never grotesque) to remind us they're human. Often, though, what makes them the hero is their ability to pursue the cause (whether it's a romance or a rebellion) at all cost. This is what makes them "good." Katniss, and in fact, most of the other chararacters in the Hunger Games, is neither all good nor all bad. Sometimes, she is a conflicted mess.
Heroines must leap forward into action in a split second. They must think on their feet. They must throw aside their own comfort and their own desires. All these things and more Katniss does and is, but unlike the mythic hero, the two-dimensional one, Katniss cannot merely charge forward leaving rubble in her wake. Katniss constantly looks backwards, never entirely rested or resting in what she has done. She is selfless when it comes to her sister Prim -- the only person Katniss knows without a doubt that she loves unequivocally -- but she is no angel. What Katniss is, is fiercer and stronger and kinder than she herself knows. She is not always good, but she recognises good and grasps desperately after it.
I think this is why I love Katniss, and why she's such a relatable character. Easy fiction, cheap fiction, wants to give us characters without loose ends, with polished sides so that they fit neatly into recognisable boxes. Katniss Everdeen is nothing like that.