In Defense Of The Girl On Fire

hunger-games-trailer-200[1]“They’re already taking my future!
They can’t have the things that mattered to me in the past!”
– Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

Katniss gets a lot of hate.

But not from me. I love Katniss. This shouldn’t be surprising, but it is. Isn’t it?

Why do people dislike her so much? It’s not because she’s an antagonist. It’s not even because she’s a poorly written character. It’s simply because she’s “whiny”. Look, I won’t deny that Katniss complains – that would be ridiculous – but I do think her actions are justified. Katniss suffers through so much at such a young age and I wish people wouldn’t act as if she doesn’t have the right to be bitter.

Before the first book even begins, Katniss has already lost her father to a mining accident. She may as well have lost her mother too, because Mrs. Everdeen goes into a deep depression after her husband dies. At the age of eleven, Katniss has to figure how she’s going to feed and care for her family, because her mother certainly isn’t going to. For a while they starve, but gradually Katniss grows bold enough to break the laws and hunt beyond the fence surrounding District 12. That’s a huge amount of responsibility for a kid.

When she is sixteen, her little sister is reaped into the Games and Katniss volunteers in her place. If you want to be a nitpicking literal-minded idiot then sure, you can claim that Katniss had a choice when it came to entering the Games. But let’s be smarter than that! Consider what a horrible situation our heroine is in: she can let Prim go and be forced to watch her die, or she can go herself and save her sister (at least temporarily).

She is shipped off to the Capitol and learns how to act in ways that viewers will like – friendly and confident, but not too much of either. She has to hide her real feelings because scared tributes won’t get sponsors; who would want to support an easy target? Additionally, Katniss’ fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark, is someone she knows. He saved her from starving in the past. Now she may have to kill him.

Fast forward to the Games, and Katniss spends several weeks alternately killing children, watching others kill children, starving, and fleeing for her life. Oh yes, and in order to get sponsors she has to pretend to be in love with Peeta, but he thinks she really is in love. That’s enough to make anyone depressed, panicky, and bitter.

And that’s only the beginning – her problems just get worse from there on out. Katniss is sent back into the arena for the Quarter Quell. She fights against the Capitol, witnessing several horrific deaths including those of Finnick (one of the few she really trusted) and her own sister. PEOPLE, SHE WATCHED HER LITTLE SISTER BE BLOWN UP. That’s horrible irony – she went into the Games (thereby bringing about the rebellion) to save Prim. And now she’s lost her forever.

By the end of the trilogy, Katniss has lost almost everything of importance: friends, family members, a normal childhood, her sanity. Night after night she wakes up screaming after horrible dreams caused by the PTSD. And you say she whines too much? Fine. I’d like to see you do better.

The key word here is “compassion”, guys. I know Katniss is a fictional character but she’s not so different from us. (George R.R. Martin says it much better than I ever could: “Just as you grieve if a friend is killed, you should grieve if a fictional character is killed. You should care. If somebody dies and you just go get more popcorn, it’s a superficial experience, isn’t it?”) Think of how you would react if all that happened to the girl on fire had happened to someone you knew. Wouldn’t you listen to and attempt to comfort them, even when they’ve gone into the Crying A Lot, My Life Is Awful mode?

Katniss is one of my favorite characters of all time. She’s brave, resourceful, kind, and smart. She’s a female protagonist in science fiction – do you realize how rare that is? (No, Princess Leia of Star Wars and Uhura from Star Trek don’t count; they’re only supporting characters. The female main characters of books like Divergent, Matched, and Cinder don’t count either, as they merely followed in Collins’ dystopian trend.) Yes, sometimes Katniss tests my patience, but then I remember all she’s experienced and I ease up on the poor girl. I don’t know about you but if I’d been through so much, I’d be a sobbing wreck by now.

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About nevillegirl

Elizabeth, University of Iowa class of 2019. Double majoring in English & Creative Writing and Journalism. Twenty-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, and aspiring writer. Passionate about feminism and lesbian positivity.
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12 Responses to In Defense Of The Girl On Fire

  1. Andrea says:

    I absolutely agree. In fact, the way Suzanne Collins wrote Katniss made her even more human. There is not one person I know who never complains, and none of them have gone through what Katniss did–she certainly does have a right to be whiny sometimes. It’s in human nature!

    But truly, great post! πŸ˜€

  2. Artgirl says:

    I think what I love most about Katniss as a character is that she’s flawed. I din’t think anyone could go through what she had to go through and not be the way she is, or worse off. Plus, as you mentioned, she’s a main female character who is incredibly strong and not simply there as the love intrest. In order to appeal to a certain group of fans the book had to have a love triangle, but I feel like the series would have ended just as well with Katniss being all “I’m too good for men.” (By the way, I’m using that character deaths quote. It’s wonderful.)

    • nevillegirl says:

      I love flawed characters. It’s weird – when I was a little kid I loved the perfect characters. Now I find them boring. I want someone more interesting, even if they annoy me or make huge mistakes.

  3. DK says:

    I can’t help but seriously disagree with you.

    Before I begin, I’d like to state, for the record, that Katniss is an unconventional protagonist. I generally like unconventional protagonists. They’re refreshing. Katniss is selfish, mean, hard-headed, and bitter, and any characters with traits like these usually fall into my good books at once.

    Except Katniss.

    You see, I don’t dislike her because she’s whiny–though that’s one thing that bugs me about her–I dislike her because she’s a poorly developed character. Collins quite obviously didn’t have the first clue what to do when she created her. You said it yourself: she tests your patience at times. I’d like to ask you why.

    Your liking Katniss is an incredibly patient, kind thing to do. I understand where you’re coming from. Yes, Katniss has suffered, she’s seen a lot in her young life. Yes, I’d be the same way if I were her. But the fact of the matter is that not everyone sees it the same way you do. Take me. When it comes to characters, the more suffering, the better! Most of my characters in my stories have really gotten the short end of the straw. But my problem with Katniss is that I don’t get her. I just don’t understand her.

    Despite the series being in first person, Katniss remains distant and aloof, and I don’t understand what’s going on in that head of hers. I don’t understand her thought process, I can’t connect with her angst. It’s like Twilight. Why do Twilight haters loathe Bella? Because she’s whiny. Why do we think she’s whiny? Because despite having the perfect life, she complains. Very, very few of us have felt this sort of obsession she has with Edward, and so we don’t understand it. That’s why we say she’s weak. The same principle, essentially. Katniss is so poorly crafted that most people don’t connect with her, and that’s why they dislike her. You live a story through the characters, but if you can’t become one with the character, the story falls on its head.

    I’m going to compare her to Drothe, who is the protagonist of a book called Among Thieves. Drothe is also an unconventional MC. He’s a criminal, a killer, he’s short (as opposed to the cliche “Tall, dark and handsome” thing), he’s somewhat hard-headed and irrational, and generally has a different moral code as compared to you and I. And I absolutely love this guy. All of his actions are done with a train of thought that I can relate to. I *know* Drothe. I’ve read Hunger Games, and frankly, I don’t know Katniss at all.

    Katniss is pretty (all those times it’s mentioned that people always stared at her, and then when she wears that dress during her interview that makes her look like she’s actually on fire and the two boys chasing after her crap), she’s tough, she’s intelligent, considered compassionate (though I really don’t think she is. I think she’s a selfish brat), and is basically seen as a hero. As she’s so badly written that I can’t understand her one bit, she just comes off as a highly intense Mary Sue to me.

    • nevillegirl says:

      I already said why – she complains, I get a bit frustrated, then another bad thing happens to her and I feel sorry for her all over again.

      I can’t see why you think Katniss is a Mary-Sue. (Peeta, though… I like him a lot, but he IS annoyingly perfect.) She does have good qualities but she also screws up a LOT. She’s not perfect. I do agree that she’s distant and aloof. However, she has a good reason for being this way. She doesn’t want to be hurt anymore. She doesn’t want to open up, to be friends with people, because she’s worried that she’ll lose them. It’s unfortunate that she has to do that, but it makes a lot of sense.

      I don’t mind that you disagree, though – I like to discuss this stuff with people!

  4. Bravo! I’m surprised Katniss doesn’t complain as much as she does (and she has the right to do so)! I hated that Suzanne Collins made Prim die . . . I mean, seriously? You just HAD to torture this poor girl.

    She’s a very flawed character, but she’s definitely not selfish. What selfish person voluntarily takes part in a “game” where they have a 1 in 24 chance that they’ll survive?

    Katniss is one of my all-time FAVORITE protagonists, and she’s helped to inspire a few of mine, as well. πŸ˜‰

    • nevillegirl says:

      I figured Prim would die. I thought Collins would kill someone in Katniss’ family, and as Mr. Everdeen is already dead and Mrs. Everdeen isn’t too important to her daughter, it would have to be Prim.

  5. Boquinha says:

    Oooh, great post and interesting discussion in the comments, too! It’s been a while since I’ve read the series and I suppose I should disclose that while I like the series well enough, I don’t quite get the incredible amount of love and attention it received. I maintain that it benefited from timing – people were seeking a Harry Potter replacement (hint: there IS none!).

    I think you’ve made excellent points about Katniss, both in the post and in the comments. You’ve defended her well and presented pros and cons – I appreciate an honest evaluation.

    On a tangential note, I’m a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence! Have you seen her press interviews? That girl is remarkably down to earth and fun and funny and so refreshingly herself and loveable.

    And ha! The Magic Violinist just walked over to me and told me she just commented on this post as well. I had no idea – what timing!

    • nevillegirl says:

      I have to disagree about there not being an HP replacement – I never thought I’d say this, but LotR has replaced HP for me. I still love HP, but it’s not quite the obsession it once was.

      Thanks! I love writing persuasive essays (basically what this is) and debating with people. I don’t mind if people don’t agree or I lose the debate. It’s still fun.

      Jennifer Lawrence is my favorite actress! I like her sense of humor (and her acting, of course) and blah blah blah, I’m just repeating what you said. She just seems so normal. All that fame could get to her head, but it doesn’t seem like it has.

  6. Pingback: Two-In-One Review: Cinder / Ash | Musings From Neville's Navel

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