Catching Fire: Katniss as The New Woman?

In my “Play of Ideas” course, we spent a couple of days talking about Henrik Ibsen’s plays, mainly A Doll’s House and Ghosts. My professor suggested that the representations of women in these plays were a representation of “the new woman” whom Ibsen might have imagined as sexless. I think it’s an interesting concept for a women to be “sexless.” What exactly does that mean? Does it mean she stays away from any notions of romance? A review for Ibsen’s Ghosts suggests that his characters represent the new woman, an “unwomanly woman, the unsexed female.”

If we think about The Hunger Games trilogy, it’s not about a love triangle. It’s not about a damsel in distress. It’s about a girl trying to stay alive. But Hollywood media has made these films largely about who Katniss will choose. Team Peeta? Team Finnick? It’s as if the film’s take on inequality, war, violence, and pain aren’t enough. We have to make them about love too.

For those who haven’t read The Hunger Games trilogy or seen the movies, be warned. Some spoilers below. Although at this point if you haven’t read any of the books then….well. Okay.

Like I mentioned, Katniss is a girl trying to survive. She isn’t interesting in having kids or falling in love. In Catching Fire, she tells Gale that all she can think about every waking moment is how afraid she is. President Snow even asks Katniss when she first realized that she was indifferent to Peeta. He knows she has no interest in him, but he threatens to kill her family and friends if she doesn’t convince him and the districts that they are in love. Katniss is trying to stay alive, so she agrees to put up this act.

And this is where she starts to lose herself. She didn’t want to be in love! She just wanted to protect her family. Now, she has to convince the world that she loves Peeta. Then you have Gale back in District 12 asking Katniss if she loves him. In the film, he kisses her out of nowhere because “he had to do that.” This idea of romance was imposed on her, which made me think: Why isn’t the answer to “Peeta or Gale” as interesting as the question itself? Think about it. The question operates under the assumption that she HAS TO pick. What’s interesting about the question is that Katniss isn’t given the option to be alone. She couldn’t possibly be this sexless woman. She absolutely has to fall in love.

I’m not arguing that Ibsen is right in saying that the new woman must be sexless or unromantic. A woman should be free to do whatever she wants, but Katniss isn’t given that opportunity. At the end of the series, she ends up having two kids with Peeta. TWO! In the first book, she said she never wanted kids. Granted she said this because she thought they would be reaped and now circumstances are such that the Games don’t exist anymore, but still! She lets herself slip into a romantic relationship with Peeta out of circumstance, not out of love. It’s ultimately destructive because love was imposed on her. She wasn’t given a choice to fall in love, or not at all.

Check out this great quote from this article on why both Peeta and Gale are terrible options for Katniss.

But no, as Katniss juggles being an icon of revolution and the violent repercussions of pissing off President Snow, both of her men are playing games of jealousy. Katniss isn’t to blame for her indecision. It’s the men in her life who can’t admit to themselves that they’re torturing this young woman. Katniss later tells Gale that she wants to run away with him into the woods, to completely disappear from the chaos of the Districts. He insists that it’s not possible. The world needs her (code for: “I’m still not happy that you had to kiss another boy during the equivalent of a school play”). He’s not wrong that the Districts need a hero like Katniss, but he’s not expressing that emotionally. He has tunnel vision for his own wants. This is pyschological mistreatment 101 and no one — fictional or real — should have to put up with it.

She shouldn’t have to put up with the pressure these two men are putting on her. Katniss shouldn’t have to deal with sad sack Peeta or revolutionist-type Gale.

The Capitol is trying to play up this love story in the book series. In a similar manner, our media/popular culture chooses to emphasize this love story over the more interesting themes of the series. I laugh at the fact that the media is doing exactly what Collins’ book is criticizing them of doing: downplaying the murder, violence, war, inequality, and pain, and instead focusing on a BS love story.

I envisioned this post as a response to the NPR article, “What really makes Katniss stand out? Peeta, her movie girlfriend.” This reversal of gender roles is a long conversation for another day, but I saw  the title of the article and thought, “REALLY?” What makes Katniss stand out is her bravery and willingness to do anything to protect her loved ones. What makes her stand out is not a romantic story, or of how she lovingly saves Peeta every time he trips over a shoelace. I know that these are fictional characters, but reducing Katniss down to just her relationship with these two guys really bothers me. Especially when one of these guys is a short, boring, one-dimensional, generic white boy. Can we also just talk about how the movies keep portraying Peeta as being as tall, or taller, than Katniss? Josh Hutcherson isn’t taller than Jennifer Lawrence in real life, and Peeta isn’t taller than Katniss in the books.

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4 thoughts on “Catching Fire: Katniss as The New Woman?

  1. Great review Christian. Definitely worth your time and effort if you’ve seen the first, and also especially if you can’t wait to see what they have coming up next in terms of this story.

  2. Christian, thanks for posting! I love all things Hunger Games so I really appreciate your post on many levels…

    I initially liked the Hunger Games series, especially its heroine, because, in the beginning, Katniss doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the love triangle and disregards the notion that this choice is inevitable (although we have been trained to see otherwise). For Katniss, this Gale-Peeta thing is so minor compared to the real problems within her family, her district, the games, and later when she sees for herself, the rest of the districts too. I liked that romance took a backseat to the plot (sort of), but definitely did to Katniss.

    Katniss actually says in Catching Fire, “I really can’t think about kissing when I’ve got a rebellion to incite” after kissing Gale. In fact, she hopes he doesn’t remember the kiss, because “everything will just get more complicated.”

    I like this quote particularly because Katniss isn’t necessarily “sexless” like this new kind of woman or heroine (that you’ve discussed), but she has other priorities, such as a igniting a revolution, which she elevates above romantic entanglements. She doesn’t need to be “sexless” for her to decide that sex and romance won’t dominate her thoughts or actions.

    For me, your thought below totally nailed it:

    “The Capitol is trying to play up this love story in the book series. In a similar manner, our media/popular culture chooses to emphasize this love story over the more interesting themes of the series. I laugh at the fact that the media is doing exactly what Collins’ book is criticizing them of doing: downplaying the murder, violence, war, inequality, and pain, and instead focusing on a BS love story.”

    I liked your point, because it highlights the irony that this film/novel, which offers a critical commentary on popular culture, takes part in this same culture. Marketing for this movie focuses on the love triangle, when again, especially in Catching Fire, it’s a very minor aspect. Additionally, in all of the promotional interviews, Lawrence, Hemsworth and Hutcherson (Katniss, Gale, Peeta) are continuously asked about the love triangle, but furthermore, they are asked the kissing scenes: what is it like kissing one another, who is the better kisser. And in most interviews with Jena Malone, who plays Johanna Mason, she’s asked how naked did she actually have to get for filming one particular scene, in which her character undresses in front of Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta. We can understand why the film is marketed in such a way when, even as a “young adult” series, the media’s concern is Sex. These types of interview questions are in no way unique to these films.

    We’ve talked a lot this semester about the gaze and our way of looking, particularly asking, is the problem in our way of looking or in what we’re looking at… I think the film stayed pretty true to the novel, not making the love triangle too important, but it doesn’t change what many will take away from the film. In this instance, I think the problem is in the gaze. The Onion’s Review of Catching Fire covered this really well: http://www.theonion.com/video/the-onion-reviews-the-hunger-games-catching-fire,34637/

    In a comedic way, the video illustrates a tendency for viewers to fall into a trap, limiting themselves to simple and often, trivial concerns about content—the love triangle, the attractiveness of the participants in such a love triangle, etc.

    On a final note, I didn’t have the same problem with Katniss choosing Peeta in the end as you do. I didn’t think it was imposed upon her, because at the end of the series, there is no political reason forcing her to be with Peeta and there is no revolution preventing her from thinking about her future. Part of what I love about Katniss is that she is fiercely stubborn and independent, but this part hurts her too (remember, she didn’t want any allies in the arena?), but luckily, Peeta and Haymitch arranged it. Katniss frequently alienates herself, because she is innately distrustful of others (rightfully so) whereas Peeta has always been more trusting or perhaps, early on, more naïve. Katniss comes to recognize throughout the series that having a partner or allies doesn’t make her weak, but can make her stronger. Marrying Peeta after the revolution is over shows that she doesn’t choose Peeta solely out of the compulsion to survive.

    I get what you mean about wanting Katniss to end up alone, not needing a man, not wanting her to be defined by a love triangle, but in this case (in the novel, since I don’t know how it plays out in the film) I found Katniss empowered, because it means she has invested in the future, decided to trust another person, and let another person care for her (prior to this, she has trouble trusting and wants to take care of everyone but herself); this choice, for me, shows she’s free from the horrible picture of humankind she held before (again, totally justified) and finally ready to live for herself and not everyone else.

    Didn’t mean for the response to get so long. I just get so worked about the Hunger Games. Thanks again for posting!

  3. Pingback: #TeamKatniss: Deconstructing the Centrality of Romance to Female Characterization | Girlpower

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