I finally read Hunger Games this weekend. I can see why everyone is fascinated. It’s a really compelling story.
The world creation, the plot, and the characters, are all well drawn and it took me a while to notice the problem with Katniss.
Don’t get me wrong, she’s a very interesting character. As a reader I care about her success and her struggle. I just wonder if anyone else thinks it’s odd that compared to almost every other person in the book she has no character at all, not of the moral kind that is.
Katniss is a very good portrayal of a girl who survives, who has lived through trauma, who does what she needs to do to get what she needs to get. She has only formed deep attachments with one or 2 other people in her life. She is so narcissistic that she can’t even see the possibility that someone else isn’t playing the game and has a goal other than winning or survival in mind. Noble ideals are foreign to her.
I’m sure this is deliberate on the part of the author, and it makes sense in light of Katniss’s back story. In literary terms Katniss is not what we call a hero, rather, she is an anti-hero.
Wikipedia defines an anti-hero thusly:
Unlike traditional heroes, antiheroes are not as fabulous as the traditional ones… They are not villains but not necessarily heroes. They may do bad things but are not evil. They usually fight villains, but not for the reason of justice. Their actions are motivated by their own personal desires, such as revenge. For example, an antihero may steal, vandalize, and perform other “bad” acts but may do so for a good cause.
Even the good things Katniss does are motivated out of self interest, rather than altruism. She cares for Peeta because it will make her look better to the audience, she tends to Rue because she wants to show her own rebellion.
In literary terms there is nothing wrong with a character like this and the other characters provide a good contrast to her consuming self interest.
However, the problem is this. Hunger Games is young adult fiction. Young girls are reading this book and idolizing a narcissistic self interested girl who’s bursts of emotionalism are almost always rewarded. Is this really the kind of role model we want our girls to be reading about?
What happened to the days when literature for young people called them to a higher standard, and led them to expect more of themselves, rather than less?
A quick survey of popular heroines in YA fiction turns up Bella, from the Twilight series, Hermione from Harry Potter, and Katniss.
Bella is self absorbed, lacks self control and is bent on self destruction that others have to save her from. Not to mention that her great love is abusive.
Katniss is narcissistic, self absorbed, and prone to emotional outbursts that are rewarded rather than censured, encouraging girls to disregard self control and trust their hormone charged feelings and perceptions.
Hermione shines in contrast as an example of a girl who works hard, does what is right even when it would be easier not to, and is a good friend and a person with moral fiber.
And that my friends, is why my girls will be reading the classics for many, many years before they get their hands on most modern fiction. Because imagine Laura Ingalls, or Anne of Green Gables, or Jo behaving in such ways and getting away with it. It just would not happen.
Who were your literary role models growing up?
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