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'The Hunger Games' Not Just For Girls - Why Women Are Reading the Trilogy

Popular Among Women & Girls, Katniss 'Should Never Have Existed' Says Author


Updated March 01, 2012
Why is the novel The Hunger Games (along with the other books in the trilogy) so popular? How did it attract an ardent fan base from tweens (11-14 year olds) to adult women? Is it because of the lead character Katniss Everdeen? While many readers see aspects of themselves in Katniss, author Suzanne Collins sees her as "a girl who should never have existed" (for reasons which will be explained later.) Although Katniss begins the Hunger Games as a 16-year old girl, she nonetheless resonates with females (and males) of diverse ages and backgrounds. Why?

The answers are as varied as The Hunger Games readers. Visit any online forum or discussion group and you'll see endless debates about the series and its characters. The four opinions expressed below came from women who are self-identified fans and have read or are in the midst of reading all three books. They felt strongly enough about The Hunger Games to share their thoughts with a larger audience. Each read the same book but came away with completely different insights into the major themes and the character of Katniss. Following their opinions is the author's explanation of why Katniss "should never have existed" and how her existence came into being.

Highlighting Class Warfare and The Other 99%
Hayley Schultz, a marketing manager in the travel industry and a mother of three, finds that the novel is effective in depicting the age-old conflict between the "haves" and the "have nots" and has relevance to recent headlines. For her, the underlying issues in The Hunger Games parallel "the unrest related to the income-gap issues today." As Shultz sees it:

The people of the Capitol are the recipients of the districts' hard work simply because of where they were lucky enough to be born. The people of the districts, no matter how hard they work, can only aspire to a certain (low) level and nothing more...no matter how much they "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." I saw the Occupy Wall Street movement in this book. Suzanne Collins did a great job painting that picture in a way that young adults can easily make that connection.
Honoring Women’s Roles as Caregivers
Allendra Letsome, an attorney and certified mediator who is the Membership Vice President of the National Organization for Women, credits The Hunger Games with creating a heroine who unflinchingly embraces a significant role that most women assume at some point in their lives but is typically ignored in contemporary popular fiction:
What I liked about Katniss was that she was the caregiver of her family. So many YA books have siblings and families removed...but in The Hunger Games, she was a part of a family and had a major caregiving role (both in being "mother" to her sister and "breadwinner" for her family and "caregiver" to her mother. I felt this was one of the first times this was done without it sounding whiny or oppressive....I imagine there are many young women in the same roles and there are more than a few older women dealing with the same pressures.

However, I would push back on the distinction that it is YA. Just because the heroine is a young woman doesn't necessarily...make it a YA novel. The storylines are quite adult/mature and I wouldn't want it to get marginalized just because the main characters are young.

Flying in the Face of Female Stereotypes
Stephanie Smith Brown, a freelance writer and baby parenting expert who also blogs about vegan cooking, appreciates that the heroine's perspective runs counter to all those societal expectations of what it means to be female. Katniss, she notes, sees her strength in her skills rather than her looks:
What I identified with was the lead character's no nonsense style. Katniss isn't a girly girl who enjoyed dressing up or wearing makeup. When she had all those handlers and was going through the paces (getting waxed and dressed elaborately) it mirrored how I feel about all those things. Ugh. There were aspects of it that she ended up sort of enjoying (I get that, too!) but overall, it was nice to see a representation of a girl who doesn't care too much for all the stereotypical girly things.

It was also interesting to see how the author used that to illustrate how sometimes "style" is about projection and manipulation and not necessarily about truth. I get that, too. Who hasn't dressed to make a statement (like they were "on fire") for a first date or a job interview, for example, even when they weren't feeling "on fire" on the inside? Another interesting aspect of this book is the portrayal of women in combat / war. It's good that the YAs of today are at least getting some representation of that in their literature.

Balancing Strength and Caring
Melanie Zehner, a college student with a lifelong interest in theatre, believes the appeal of The Hunger Games is due to the resilience, compassion and intelligence of its protagonist:
Katniss is one of the strongest female characters in YA books to come along in a long time. She is smart, can fight, is be a caring sister and inspires a nation to fight back against a harsh Government.
Although Zehner's observations are brief, she may have hit the mark closer than the others in ascertaining Collins' true intent in writing the Hunger Games trilogy.

Why Katniss is the Mockingjay
In an August 2010 interview with the School Library Journal (SLJ), Collins reveals her vision of Katniss as a human parallel to the series’ symbol of rebellion, the mockingjay. The author describes mockingjays as a species that arose when genetically-engineered jabberjays -- designed to record human conversation and function as spies for the Capitol -- mated with mockingbirds in the wild after being abandoned by their creators. "So here’s this creature that the Capitol never meant to exist," Collins tells SLJ, " and through the will of survival, this creature exists."

As Collins explains it, Katniss should never have existed. Yet she did because she was born in District 12, a small region characterized by poverty and scarcity and the last place the Capitol expected a rebel leader to come from. Its downtrodden citizens appeared so unlikely to rise up that security had grown lax, and the electrified fences that surrounded each District were rarely turned on in District 12. These lapses enabled Katniss to escape into the wilderness, hone the skills that turned her into a deadly hunter, and gain a small taste of freedom -- a dangerous combination that the Capitol never anticipated:

[Their disregard of District 12] create[s] an environment in which Katniss develops...and learns to be a hunter. Not only that, she’s a survivalist, and along with that goes a degree of independent thinking that is unusual in the districts.So here we have her arriving in the arena in the first book, not only equipped as someone who can keep herself alive in this environment....but she’s also somebody who already thinks outside the box....So in that way, too, Katniss is the mockingjay. She is the thing that should never have been created, that the Capitol never intended to happen....[T]his new creature evolved, which is the mockingjay, which is Katniss.

Margolis, Rick. "The Last Battle: With ‘Mockingjay’ on its way, Suzanne Collins weighs in on Katniss and the Capitol." SchoolLibraryJournal.com. 1 August 2010.

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