Analysis of Katniss Everdeen: "The Girl on Fire" of The Hunger Games Trilogy
Katniss Everdeen is such a complex and interesting character that I was surprised to find that many people found her to be an unlikeable and simplified character. Her character and what she brings to the story are what give the story much of its layers and commentary, and studying her character proves for a fascinating look into psychology, human coping, and the human spirit.
Continue reading for my analysis of Katniss Everdeen, the "Girl on Fire" of The Hunger Games trilogy. This analysis is based off of reading the trilogy and watching the movies but presently does not include text from the trilogy to support the arguments I make. I plan to include text support for this analysis in the future but it is possible that I may not get around to it. While I would not have made the arguments I make in my analysis if there was not text to support it, I know that this may be an issue for some. I hope to get around to fixing it later on but if not, thanks for taking the time to read it all the same.
This is your spoiler alert.
The Katniss That We Meet
Katniss Everdeen is a character focused on surviving and her general goal and expectation from life is to try to survive life as unscathed as possible. She accepts reality and the world as it is, and is focused on the present. She does not make plans for the future and sees it futile to try to change the world that exists. She does not see much joy or hope for the future, and given her past and present circumstances, she does not have much reason to seek these. When her father died and her mother fell into depression, Katniss became the primary provider for her family's survival, as well as her own. While Katniss is reserved and closed off from others, she loves her sister Primrose dearly and tries to give Prim a chance at a future even though she does not place hope in the future for herself. Katniss finds purpose in Prim.
Katniss does have a best friend named Gale Hawthorne who she is free to be herself with and who she has fewer reservations with than others, but who she has not permitted herself to have romantic feelings for. In fact, romance is something that Katniss has not allowed herself to think about. Katniss' feelings for anyone other than Prim and for anything other than surviving are unknown or unclear to Katniss and come to be known to us and to Katniss only as Katniss herself begins to know them. This does not mean that she does not feel or that she is incapable of feeling, but rather than in order to cope and survive in the world, she leaves her feelings on the back-burner where she does not have to deal with them or where she does not have to make sense of them, and focuses on what she needs to.
The primary catalyst for The Hunger Games is when Katniss volunteers to take Prim's place in the 74th Hunger Games. This act was not a calculated or planned act but one of sacrifice done to protect Prim from the games and to give Prim a chance at life and in the process, likely forsaking her own life.
The Katniss of The 74th Hunger Games
After volunteering to take Prim's place in the games, Katniss is quickly swept up into the surreal and twisted world of games preparation, Capitol culture and media, and then the actual games. Through all of this Katniss has to learn to maneuver a social and media minefield as well as the actual field of the games. Katniss has to develop and draw upon social skills that she does not have, and on top of that she has to use these skills in order to obtain the favor of an audience that watches a game in which she may very well lose her life and have to kill others who are fighting for their own lives, all for entertainment. This is no easy feat and not easy for anyone to stomach.
While Katniss never comes to stomach it, she does come to accept the fact that if she wants to live she has to "play the game" in more than one sense and on more than one level. This is a reality throughout the series that Katniss comes to increasingly accept, although not always willingly and normally without knowing what the outcome will be.
When Katniss discusses the games with Peeta the night before the games, Peeta shares with her a desire to stay true to who he is while in the games, to die as himself, and to not just be another piece in the games. Katniss initially interprets this to mean that Peeta would not kill anyone but Peeta clarifies when he answers Katniss' question in that he would kill if and when he had to but he wanted to still be himself if he were to die in the games. Katniss responds to Peeta letting him know that she cannot afford to think like that because she has Prim. This discussion is telling because it shows how much Prim is a driving force for Katniss and while she may not be able to focus on herself or wanting to stay true to herself if she dies, she will try to survive and win the games for Prim. This moment also foreshadows how Katniss will ultimately become a piece in their games and how Katniss on some level recognizes that she cannot rule out the possibility of becoming a piece in their games because she has Prim.
In the games, Katniss shows to be much like Peeta in that she will kill if and when she has to, most specifically when her survival is threatened directly. Katniss does not go out of her way to kill the other tributes and takes no pleasure in killing them, however she does not feel remorse or hesitation when the time comes for her to defend herself, when the time comes to kill, or when a killing has occurred. The exception to this is of course Rue, who Katniss views similarly to how she views Prim and who Katniss does not kill but who is killed by another tribute.
In order to survive, to maintain her sanity, and to keep going, Katniss does not allow herself to mourn or dwell on the loss of the other tributes but because she does open herself up to Rue and sees Rue as she sees Prim, she feels the loss of Rue acutely and this loss shakes Katniss' core. It is the senseless and violent killing of Rue that causes Katniss to breakdown. In an act of defiance, anger, and loss, Katniss mourns Rue and mourns her as properly as she can given the circumstances. In addition, she shows the three-finger sign of her district to Rue's district and the audience. While this act does not end up being fully televised, by doing this Katniss is showing her and Rue's humanity, and is returning humanity to the games which by design, strip the tributes of their humanity, and which also encourage and support the loss of the humanity of the tributes and of non-Capitol populations. This shows that while Katniss may view surviving as a priority, and that while she may implement whatever coping strategies she needs to in order to survive, she is not without conscience and heart, and that she is not without awareness of the wrongness and lack of humanity inherent in the games.
After mourning the loss of Rue, Katniss continues the game alone until it is announced that two tributes from the same district can come out of the game alive. With this, Katniss begins her search for Peeta and once she finds him, Katniss looks after him as best as she can. During this time, Katniss has to "play the game" yet again and in another way, as she has to make the audience and Peeta believe that she loves Peeta in order to gain the audience's support, and in gaining their support, increase both of their chances of surviving the games. But playing the game becomes all too real as Katniss is eventually not able to tell if she now has feelings for Peeta or when exactly the feelings began.This of course is not the greatest of her problems, but it does complicate things both during the game and after.
By this point, Katniss' survival drive and instinct covers not only her own survival but Peeta's as well; showing for the second time during the games that once she decides to let someone in she will look out for them and protect them. In the game finale, Katniss kills Cato out of pity and not out of malice or pleasure, and is willing to risk death for both Peeta and herself in order to hopefully secure their chance at living. This is just one place where Katniss' strength, bravery, and cleverness are highlighted. Katniss and Peeta are successful in keeping their lives and do not complete their suicide attempt, as the game-makers prefer to have two winners and no immediate public uprising as opposed to having no winners and public uprising.
The Katniss of the 74th Hunger Games is one who uses her coping mechanisms and drive to survive in order to make it through the games, but who also still holds on to her humanity even though she cannot afford to be in touch with it all the time.
The Katniss of the Tour and The 75th Hunger Games
The Katniss at the end of The Hunger Games and at the start of Catching Fire is one that wants to go forward and return to some kind of normalcy. She wants to put the past behind her and wants to find some way to continue on in life even though she is no longer the same person and everything she has experienced has taken a toll on her.
Katniss soon finds that any thoughts she had about trying to go back to life as normal and to try to forget the games were not going to happen, as she is thrown into the Victory Tour, back into the games, and back into the world she thought she had escaped. Throughout the tour, Katniss sees things unraveling around her and she is put in a position where she has to control something that she inadvertently started but is unable to contain. Katniss finds that she has no real control over her immediate life and no control of the world that is unfolding around her. The events and violence happening around her shake Katniss profoundly as violence is hitting innocent people in a way she never anticipated or planned, and in a way that she is not able to control.
When back in the games, Katniss finds herself fighting for her life but more for the purpose of fighting for Peeta's life. Katniss chooses to protect him and is willing to lose her life in the process to get him out of the games alive. This shows Katniss' self-sacrifice and also sense of morality as she views saving Peeta as the right thing to do. Katniss' feelings for Peeta develop further and things get complicated as they both try to get each other out of the arena alive, and as there are now others that need to come out alive as well. While Katniss makes it out of the arena alive, Peeta's fate is unknown as he was seized by the Capitol. Katniss finds that once again someone she cares about is in danger, once again she is a pawn in someone else's game, and that she is once again powerless in the outcome of a choice that she made.
The Katniss of the Rebellion
In Mockingjay, we come to meet a fairly unrecognizable Katniss. She is mentally, physically, and emotionally unstable and is in and out of consciousness for much of the book. When she is in consciousness, she is not in control of her life as she is now a pawn for the rebellion where before she was a pawn for the Capitol. She declines and her brief moments of resilience are tied to Peeta and ultimately die with Peeta since the Peeta that formerly was died too and new, hijacked Peeta is just as unrecognizable as Katniss. The difference is that Peeta is unrecognizable because he has been brainwashed, has been a prisoner of war, and has PTSD whereas Katniss is unrecognizable because she has depression, PTSD, is being constantly sedated and manipulated, and has mostly given up on life even though she is physically still living.
This is the Katniss that the trilogy ends with, only that her moments of happiness and resilience are still tied to Peeta. When Peeta succeeds and triumphs over his inner struggles regarding Katniss and finds his peace and hope, Katniss too succeeds and triumphs and finds some peace and hope by her connection and tie to Peeta. When Peeta does not succeed and triumph over his inner struggles regarding Katniss and does not find peace and hope, Katniss struggles more than usual.
In the ending we come to find that Katniss gives Peeta children because Peeta wants them, showing that in some ways she is still a pawn, only now it is for someone that she cares for.
How should Katniss' character have developed?
Two well-written, outside articles that make me appreciate Katniss even more.
- Is Katniss Everdeen Actually A Strong Female Character?
- Katniss Everdeen and the Meaning of True Strength | Pop Mythology: Movie, Book, Comic and Game revie
Of all the heroes in contemporary pop culture, Katniss Evereeen is one of the greatest. And it isn't because she's such a badass. It is because she isn't.
Katniss Everdeen as a Whole
Katniss is a reluctant hero but she never chooses to be a hero but rather is made to be one. Katniss is the love interest of two men in her life but she does not choose to be their interest but rather they choose her. Katniss has two potential mates that she can pursue a future with but she does not choose to pursue a future with either of them.
Katniss gets to choose very little and those choices give her little control over her life or actual outcomes, and many of her choices are "no-choices," "lesser-of-two-evils" choices, or choices that have already been made for her and she just has to pick one or "go with it." In reality, Katniss only makes three choices in the series: 1.) To survive, 2.) To save Prim (both after her father's death and at the Reaping), and 3.) To save Peeta (both in Catching Fire and Mockingjay). Ultimately, she only succeeds in one choice as she is only able to save Prim from the senseless killings of the games but not from the senseless killings of war, and as she is not able to save Peeta in Catching Fire or in Mockingjay.
Katniss' choice to survive keeps her going even when she does not want to keep herself going. Through injury, pain, violence, loss, emotional complications, and an added person to look out for, Katniss survives the games. Through the beginnings of mental instability, more violence, loss, threats to her family and loved ones, more at stake in the arena, and the further development of her feelings for Peeta, Katniss survives the Quarter Quell. Through manipulation, mental, physical, and emotional instability, through loss, through violence, through horror, Katniss survives the rebellion. But in the end, all Katniss does is survive; which is a sad triumph as it is the only choice that she succeeded in and had control over, but it is also the only thing that she does. She does not grow as a character and in fact, weakens over the course of the trilogy.
By the end of the trilogy, she allows herself to love Peeta but is only surviving through life, having occasional hope, and remembering that things could be worse. She copes to make it day to day and while there are some happy moments, it is an unfulfilled life.
Katniss is the most realistic and most-multifaceted character of the series even though the integrity of her character is not maintained throughout the trilogy. Katniss is smart, strong, capable, loyal, mature, serious, brave, pragmatic, distrustful, guarded, resourceful, and realistic; and even though she is all these things, she still ends up being a pawn for the agendas of others. She is faulted for manipulating and using Peeta to survive, but she is used and manipulated by those around her, even those that care for her. The way in which Katniss is used and the way events in her life unfold support Katniss' worldview that it is futile to try to change the world and the way things are. Her decisions stem not only from surviving, but from not getting hurt and not having those she cares about get hurt.
To say that Katniss is a character who is solely interested in her own survival is reductive as her actions support otherwise. Katniss' decisions and moral code are often founded in the survival of others and the sacrifice involved to help others survive (seen with Prim, Rue, and Peeta) while trying to survive herself. She shows compassion, integrity, love, strength, sincerity, fear, vulnerability, turmoil, and humanity, and as a character she rocks (in most of the trilogy) and is a hero (despite not choosing to be and albeit, a tragic one).
Katniss is both a casualty of life and a survivor of life; and while she does not grow much as a character, her constancy, decline, and subdued acceptance of life speak of those of the human race who are the most damaged and yet who somehow still manage to continue on through life and who somehow still manage to find strength even when they want to give up, even when hope is gone, and even when they have seen how horrible the world can be.