The female Tribute from District 12. A star-crossed lover. Girl on Fire. Mockingjay. All these describe Katniss Everdeen, the main character in The Hunger Games. Readers see the story through her point of view. She is strong, determine and cynical and marked to die.
Who is she, exactly? How did she come to be the way she is?
Katniss is the eldest of the two Everdeen sisters. Her father died when she was 12 in a mining accident. After his death, her mother falls into a stupor, forcing Katniss to take on the role as provider for the family. She develops her hunting skills and eventually meets up with Gale Hawthorne, another boy trying to help his family survive. Gale’s father died in the same explosion as Katniss’s did. Gale is a few years older than she is. The two work together to catch enough food to feed both their families. Due to her resentment of her mother’s mental abandonment and her hard lifestyle, Katniss is rather cynical and rough. Her little sister Primrose is the only person that she loves deeply.
After Effie Trinket selects Prim at the reaping for the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers. This move wasn’t a surprise, but making her volunteer rather than being picked gave her character much more depth. Katniss promises Prim she’ll try to win, even though she has no real hopes that she will return to her home in District 12.
Throughout preparations and the Games themselves, Katniss proves repeatedly that she is a survivor. She knows that she will receive no mercy from Capitol and can play her own games to survive another day.
What makes Katniss such a great character isn’t only that she volunteered to die in a horrific fashion for Prim; it’s her behaviors, attitudes and decisions. Katniss isn’t innocent. She isn’t naïve or clueless. She also has reasonable and understandable emotions. She cries, she hurts, she acts out in anger. How many times are the heroes or main characters in books, movies and comics considered a weakling if they show too much emotion?
Forcing us to read about Katniss grieving makes her seem more human. We’re already put into a horrific setting that seems unbelievable on the surface, but with a little thought can feel as if it could actually happen. Katniss changes right before our eyes in a masterful way. Suzanne Collins showed us how the arena changes people without being too obvious about the changes or telling us.
Coupled in with most discussions about strong female characters is, of course, the love interest. In a way, there are two in this story, though I never considered Gale a true contender. In a world without the Hunger Games, possibly, but he has a dangerous streak in him that would cause considerable problems between the two in the future. In Catching Fire, yes, it could be called a “love triangle” in the loosest definition of the phrase. The man is Peeta Mellark.
Peeta fell for Katniss long before the story begins, as he explains during the Games. We’ll save an in-depth look at Peeta for another post. Katniss has a bumpy relationship with Peeta. She doesn’t depend on him to keep her safe, nor does she need him to define her. The two can work together with either seeming pathetic or weak.
Various reviews and discussions criticize the way Katniss breaks down during Mockingjay. Her response was realistic. There’s only so much tragedy a person’s brain can handle. Mentally shutting down was her way of dealing with the situations, or at least attempting to recover from them. This reaction doesn’t classify her as weak or useless. It makes her human and different from other female characters. Very few can explain what it is like to be hunted, so there’s nothing for most people to base her reactions on.
Katniss is one of the best examples of the types of good female characters that readers want to see. Writers can learn more about the types of characters the masses want to see by following Suzanne Collins example.