So in case you lovely readers weren’t aware, The Hunger Games is the hottest thing in Hollywood right now. Jennifer Lawrence, who portrays protagonist Katniss Everdeen, has been featured on the cover of pretty much every magazine in existence and her career has essentially blown up. FemOnFire and I even did a recent Bitchin’ Table about the films and some rather unfortunate audience reactions.
But I’m not here to talk about the Katniss Everdeen of the films today. I want to discuss how The Hunger Games has given this generation of readers a wonderful, feminist role model to look up to. And to top it off, Katniss is decidedly a working class hero.
First, I’ll start off with why I consider Katniss a feminist role model. A lot of people are trying to compare these books to Twilight, but frankly, there’s no comparison. 90% of Bella’s actions are motivated by either Edward or Jacob-her love interests. Katniss is motivated by her family and/or survival. She volunteers as tribute to save her young sister from having to endure what would surely have been a brutal death in the Games. She struggles brutally in the arena, motivated not by “love” for Peeta, but by her obligation to survive for her family and her District. This is probably one of my favorite things about Katniss-she never does anything motivated by romantic love.
Even her personality traits reek of feminism. After her father’s death in a mining accident, Katniss took the burden of caring for her family onto her shoulders. While her mother succumbed to depression, Katniss persevered and honed her hunting skills. Because she lives in the most impoverished District in Panem, just getting by is a daily struggle for most people, but she manages to feed her family and bring in a little money. She takes on the “man of the house” role unassumingly, and by all accounts excels at it.
However, the thing that really makes up Katniss’ feminist street cred is that her sex/gender in no way affects the story line. She is asked to be the face of the revolution-not Gale or Peeta. It is her intelligence and cunning that wins both her and Peeta the 74th Hunger Games. As this article points out, if you went through the books and changed the pronouns to their masculine counterparts, the story would make sense 95% of the time.
But what makes Katniss fit into this series on working women? Her politics. District 12 is described numerous times as one of the poorest districts in Panem. Katniss lives in the Seam, which is the poorest part of 12, where the miners and their families live. Even after she wins the games and is moved into the Victor’s Village, she feels completely uncomfortable in the large, decadent house, and often returns to her family’s one room shack to settle her thoughts.
As someone who grew up in a working class family, I can tell you that I never feel comfortable in wealthy homes or surroundings. Much like Katniss, I feel like I don’t belong in places like that. Reading those books was so amazing for me because for once there was a character who felt the same way that I did about those kinds of things.
As the series progresses, Katniss unwittingly becomes the leader of the resistance movement. But she always feels an obligation to her family and District above all else. One of the most emotionally compelling scenes in the series occurs in the final novel, Mockingjay. The leaders of the resistance, including Gale and Katniss, are formulating a plan to destroy the Capital’s military base in District 2. Because the base is housed inside an impenetrable mountain fort, Gale suggests causing an avalanche to trap the workers inside. Katniss balks at the idea. As the daughter of a miner, she cannot fathom a worse fate than being trapped inside an underground stronghold, and makes it clear that she wouldn’t wish it on anyone. She understands that many of the people in the mountain are working class people like herself and Gale, and that they have a common enemy, the greedy Capital. The empathy she exhibits toward these people, and her willingness to stand up for them, is very reminiscent of the connections felt by people in unions and workers in general throughout labor history.
I’m so excited that a new feminist role model has been produced for a younger generation of girls. I was lucky enough to have Hermione to look up to growing up, but part of me wishes The Hunger Games had been published when I was younger. Having a young woman like Katniss to look up to, who is smart, strong, and comes from a staunchly working class family, would undoubtedly have made me proud to come from a less than well-off family, as I’m sure it does now for many young women.