Thursday, October 20, 2011

Self- Image in THE HUNGER GAMES

If you follow me over on From the Write Angle you know that this is a re-post for me. If you're here looking for my usual transcendent Thursday Thoughts I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I just haven't been thinking a lot this week.

So instead we're going to talk about self-image in THE HUNGER GAMES.

Yeah, you read that right.

Since publication, Suzanne Collins' THE HUNGER GAMES has been the subject of more than one parental tirade against the violence depicted therein. While this post isn't focused on that topic, the one thing I do want to say is that whenever I hear an adult ranting about any book my first question is, "Have you read it?" Haven't had a "yes" answer to that one yet.

Instead, I want to focus on something THE HUNGER GAMES gives teens without being preachy, without talking down to them, and possibly without them even knowing they've learned a powerful lesson.

How tired are you of effortlessly gorgeous female teen characters? How about the rich one with the designer everything who is torn between two ultra hot guys? Or the girl from the wrong side of the tracks that's hitting an 11 on the 10 scale and the guy on the right side of the tracks who falls for her? Are you sick of perfect skin, glossy hair and full lips? 'Cause I sure as hell am.

Katniss kicks ass across the board. Sure, she can kill people in fun and imaginative ways, but the first time we see her she's using her skills to fill the fundamental need of feeding her family, alongside longtime guy friend Gayle. Her love for her little sister sends her to the stage to take Prim's place in a contest where she knows the odds are against her and her life is at stake.

And what does Katniss look like? Well ... we're really not sure. She's got dark hair, and it's usually in a braid. Due to the fact that she's from the poorest area of a poor district and has to hunt her food we can assume she's probably not terribly clean all the time and might even *gasp* smell bad occasionally.

Once a handful of professionals get a hold of her Katniss cleans up and gains attention from the world, but guess what? Ultra-hunky Gayle and super-sweet Peeta were already in love with her, before she got a dress that caught on fire and became the de facto spokeswoman for world peace.

Hmmm ... what could have possibly attracted them to her in the first place? Could it be ... her personality!?!?

One of my favorite lines from the entire series comes from a scene in MOCKINGJAY when Katniss goes to see Peeta after he has been conditioned to despise the polished and public version of her persona, and he says, "You're not very big, are you? Or particularly pretty?" (p. 230).

Katniss even points out her physical shortcomings, in a refreshing non-self-pitying manner: "With my acid-damaged hair, sunburned skin, and ugly scars, the prep team has to make me pretty and then damage, burn, and scar me in a more attractive way." (p. 59).

Katniss has been through battles, bested her enemies, won over the world and had a guy on each arm the whole time.

And she's not "particularly pretty."

Good for her.

4 comments:

catwoods said...

Love this assessment and the truth behind it. I like sparse description in writing, particularly regarding character's physical traits, as I like to see them through their personalities.

Ms. Collins succeeded well in this area. I think it's one of the reasons why so many kids loved this book. They finally had a protag who could offer more than a pretty face.

Annalise Green said...

I agree that Katniss' depiction in regards to female looks is refreshing. I did read a blog complaining about how a lot of the more awful female characters tend to wear a lot of makeup, which she saw as part of that age-old argument about feminism and make-up - basically she felt that Collins was condemning people who wear a lot of make-up and by association people who are more traditionally feminine.

I'm honestly not sure how much I agree with that analysis, as it seems to make too many assumptions about what Collins was saying (or even Collins as a person), but I will agree that there are a lot of interesting and important things happening with physical beauty and Katniss in the books.

It's kind of cool how even when Katniss does get all dressed up and fancy, it's clear that it's NOT to further her self esteem, but a way to leverage more power in her society during the Games.

Someone should write an academic paper about all this.

Arlee Bird said...

Came over per Jemi Fraser's recommendation.
Haven't read any of the Hunger Games series but I do want to. I like real people, not untouchable on-a-pedestal perfection. It's what's inside that counts.


Lee
Tossing It Out
Please see my guest post at:
So You Want to be a Writer?

Mindy McGinnis said...

Cat - absolutely. I have read some reviews where Katniss was criticized for being too stoic and hard to access emotionally. I disagree, I think it's nice to see a female MC who is control of her emotions, as opposed to being controlled by them.

Annalise - very interesting argument. I can see why someone would feel that the more vain characters of the HG series are characterized as being shallow, and certainly the "evil" Capitol citizenry is very image-conscious. On the other hand, even Katniss comes to appreciate her team of beautifiers, and they do emerge as distinct characters as the series continues. Cinna in particular proves his mettle.

Arlee - thanks for coming over from Jemi's blog! I'll check yours out!