As I said in Episode Ten this week, after years of hearing the hype and listening to my bibliophile friends rave and recommend, I finally broke down and read The Hunger Games. I trusted my friends when they said I would not be able to put it down but I was also too repulsed by the concept, (in a dystopian future the oppressed territories controlled by the all-powerful “Capitol” must sacrifice two children from each district to compete in a televised death-match called The Hunger Games, for those of you living under a rock) to make myself pick up the book. Finally my curiosity got the better of me and I started to read. When I looked up, two days had passed, my cats were hungry and my mom was wondering why I hadn’t responded to her last 37 text messages. Seriously though, it is a very compelling read and I do highly recommend it to those who haven’t read it. All three of you.
Like all good books, The Hunger Games did leave me with some lingering questions. Some friends and I were discussing the lack of female protagonists in books and movies. Most of the stories that involve women are love stories or feel-good buddy stories where the girls sit around and talk love. The only way a woman seems to be able to carry a story all on her own is to act in a traditionally masculine manner and Katniss Everdeen is a classic example of this. Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games to save her younger sister from being taken. Although she does not want to kill her competitors she does so ruthlessly and efficiently in order to survive. She is solitary, focused solely on survival, and contemptuous of the weakness of her mother as well as others who show her affection. Let me state for the record that I do consider it a sad state of affairs that qualities of decisiveness, competence, and strength are automatically considered “male” traits, never-the-less, I would like to see a story with a female protagonist that avoids both falling and love and killing people. As you all know, I have no problem with romance novels, but I do find it frustrating that in fiction we are constantly presented a world where a woman has two choices for her hero’s journey: either to embrace her feminine side and express herself by falling in love or to reject her feminine side completely and express herself by killing.
Naturally this left me feeling a little conflicted about Katniss when I finished the first book in the trilogy. I couldn’t make up my mind whether Katniss was a character that I liked or not. I was torn between thinking that Katniss was a strong yet flawed individual who made a compelling character on her own merits regardless of gender, and thinking about how I wished she could have been someone else. This internal struggle led me to start to read up on what others had to say about Katniss, and I learned that I was not the only reader who struggled with endorsing Katniss as a feminist icon and role model. Not surprisingly there were a slew of blogs that welcomed her as a breath of fresh air compared to Bella Swan, but Laura Miller made a very persuasive argument that Bella was actually more empowered than Katniss in her article on Salon. And I just loved this article on Ink that argued that Katniss, while a wonderful character, was not someone that you would want your daughter to grow up to be like, and offered Sailor Moon as a better alternative.
Of course as I’ve already said, this was only the first book in the trilogy. No doubt Katniss will develop in all sorts of interesting ways and I look forward to seeing her journey to the end. Suzanne Collins has created a fascinating world filled with some wonderful characters which is hard enough for a writer to do. The fact that her books have left me thinking about feminism, imperialism, oppression and power is the mark of a truly gifted story-teller. Now if you will excuse me I have to go fill up the cats’ food bowl and start reading Catching Fire.