As Katy has discussed over at The Blind Hem, the figure of the YA heroine is on the rise and at the front of the pack is The Hunger Games trilogy’s Katniss Everdeen. Katniss, a coalminer’s daughter from District 12, navigates unthinkable circumstances to become the single most important person in the fictional nation of Panem. Suzanne Collins has created a heroine who is strong, brave, and thoroughly believable as a young woman struggling to survive in a dystopia that is an uncanny mirror of our own culture’s obsession with the spectacle of dehumanization. Katniss’ evolution from a hunter by trade to rebel leader could teach us all a thing or two about how to deal when the odds simply aren’t in our favor. The following are life lessons from the Mockingjay herself, Katniss Everdeen.
- Selflessness is an underrated virtue in contemporary society. At the age of sixteen, Katniss is the sole supporter of her mother and sister, carrying her family through tragedy and poverty. Compared to the debauched commercial excess in the Capitol, Katniss’ acts of personal sacrifice are rendered even more profound. Although she offers up her own life to save her sister, Prim, Katniss is far from saintly. The character’s inner monologue reveals a young woman struggling with her own wants and needs and yet consistently placing her loved ones first. In a society that endorses individual gratification above all, Katniss retains her own humanity by recognizing the humanity of others.
- Courage doesn’t mean being free of fear. It means doing the right thing despite being scared witless. When Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place at the Reaping, she knows that to be a tribute in District 12 is to meet an almost certain death. As the stakes continue to rise in Catching Fire and Mockingjay, Katniss must often choose between doing what is easy and doing what is right. It takes a great deal of bravery to choose the latter when the former seems so much safer.
- It’s good to keep an open mind in personal relationships. Sometimes the people from whom we expect the least are the ones who surprise us the most. In Catching Fire, Katniss finds herself thinking of her hunting partner and potential love interest, Gale and remarks that “Gale is mine. I am his. Anything else is unthinkable.” Despite this assertion, Peeta manages to sneak up on Katniss, proving himself to be a true and loyal friend in the worst of circumstances. Keeping one’s heart open can be frightening but every now and then, the rewards are worth the risk.
- Life isn’t always fair but we must play the hand we’re dealt. For most of her life, the odds have failed to be in Katniss’ favor. The Hunger Games trilogy is far from escapist fiction and the finale of Mockingjay had some fans shaking their fists at the heavens while cursing Collins’ name. While I won’t give away the ending, I will say that Collins made some very bold choices as she wrapped up the plot. Although her bravery was often met with tragedy, Katniss did the best she could with what she was given. And sometimes, that’s all that we can do even if it doesn’t feel like it’s enough.
- It’s okay to fall apart. No matter how strong their armor might be, one person can only bear so much continuous suffering. While some fans have criticized Katniss’ breakdown in Mockingjay, I would argue that it is one of the series’ most highly realistic plot points. A common folly among writers attempting to create strong, female characters is to strip them of any and all vulnerability. What is remarkable about Katniss’ strength is the sheer humanity of it. Indestructible heroines are infinitely less compelling than those who fall and rise again.
- And, finally, the most important lesson one can take away from Katniss’ example and one that needs no further elaboration: When the odds aren’t in your favor . . . make your own.