For Halloween this year, two of the GLG writing crew dressed up as Katniss Everdeen. As my friend Brian said at the party, after he recognized my mockingjay pin with delight, “I’m surprised there aren’t more Katnisses. I mean, I don’t mean this in a bad way, but it’s the obvious thing to be!”
Perhaps you are not as familiar with Katniss as we think you should be, and perhaps you don’t know why she is the obvious character every girl wants to be when putting on a costume. One of the reasons I ended up loving my costume, despite its limited recognition value, was because it allowed me to proselytize for The Hunger Games hard core and explain to strangers and old friends that Katniss is the most kick-ass heroine who survives a post-apocalyptic dystopian society by drawing on her own inner strength as well as the hunting skills that previously enabled her to provide for her family. The movies are starting to come out next year, and trust me – once the films hit the public eye (and if the films manage to keep so many of the things I and many people I know love about Katniss) everyone will be wishing they could be Katniss.
So why do we love Katniss with such universal passion? [Behind the cut, I've separated my lists into spoiler-free and spoiler-filled categories so those hoping to read The Hunger Games trilogy needn't worry about finding out too much!]
Spoiler-Free Ways to Be Like Katniss
- Take care of others: She has provided for her family ever since her father’s death. We learn early on that Katniss’s father was killed in a mine accident, leaving her mother devastated by grief. But her father had taught her how to gather wild plants and hunt game (both of which are illegal in Panem, the society that has replaced America). So Katniss takes it upon herself to provide food for her sister Prim and her mother. This turns her into a fearless woodswoman and a tough dealer in the black market.
- Sacrifice for those you love: Well, this is kind of a spoiler, but I think you’ve got this much figured out anyway if you start reading the book. Katniss loves her family so much that she volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are an annual bloodbath; each district is required to send one male and one female tribute, between the ages of 11 and 17, to compete in the games. The contestants battle to the death in an outdoor arena, and the entire event is broadcast on national television. It’s mandatory viewing for the population of Panem. Katniss feels certain that she is going to her death, but she doesn’t hesitate before taking her sister’s place.
- Don’t be perfect – just be strong: Like Veronica Mars, a previous, tough nominee to this list, Katniss is not perfect. The toughness that has enabled her to survive has also made her prickly, unforgiving, and judgmental. While she is breathtakingly loyal once she’s decided that she’s on your side, she will doubt your every motive until you’re in the inner sanctum. I like a heroine that is as messed up as I am, and I appreciate Katniss’s frequent temper tantrums, outbursts of physical violence, and harsh assessments of her competitors.
- Put romance and beauty on the back burner: Romance and beauty are low priorities for her. For this reason, lots of the Internet chatter re: The Hunger Games have lauded them as the anti-Twilight. While I do admit to being fascinated by Twilight, I love Katniss so much more than Bella because this girl has her priorities straight. As she explains in the second of the books, Catching Fire, she simply can’t be bothered to worry about kissing when she’s in the midst of revolution and life-or-death battles. But she’s also forced to learn the way beauty and romance are part of modern survival. Because The Hunger Games are a television spectacle, Katniss is forced to become a media star. She is beautified. Her romance with Peeta, the other tribute from district 12, becomes a key part of the strategy to generate media sympathy. While she places family and personal survival above any other standard, she is smart enough to know that beauty and romance are tools she can use, as clearly as she can use her bow and arrow. And when her feelings become more complicated, she is able to admit that – albeit, in a confused and angry way. Ah, Katniss, I understand – it would be so nice not to have feelings, but they do emerge, even in the midst of revolutions.
- Fight back: Also like Veronica Mars, Katniss stands up to power, even when she’s the least powerful that she has ever been in her life. The result is that she gains self-respect, as well as the admiration of the nation. Sure, her outbursts may get her into trouble. But they also provide something we, her readers, as much as the audience of Panem identify with: passion, feeling, anger, a sense of justice. When the judges of the Games aren’t paying her adequate attention, writing her off as a girl tribute from the poorest district, she fires an arrow into their midst and demands their respect. When her favorite ally, an 11-year old girl, is killed during the Games, Katniss covers her with flowers and demands that the audience recognize the crime being committed in this game. And (big spoiler!!!) when the new rebel government eventually triumphs but agrees to put a new version of the Games into place, which will force the rich Capital children to play instead of the poor District children, Katniss assassinates the new president and refuses to allow her anger to exact vengeance on other innocent people. Girl has a moral compass.
- Learn your own strength: While Katniss is a tough survivor, she begins with a limited awareness of her skill and power. That is, she assumes she is going to the Games to die. Watching her realize that she is a genuine threat and a competitor is breathtaking. In the Games, she’s up against tributes from wealthier districts who train for the games and consider it an honor. She’s up against boys that work out and girls that run; she’s up against kids that have trained with weapons and who have carefully honed a sense of brutality and competitive bloodlust. But what Katniss has proves stronger – an incredible thirst to get home to her family; a loyalty that allows her to make allies and earn the respect of some competitors, who refuse to kill her because of what she has done for them or their fellow district tributes; a wily sense of survival that helps her outsmart rather than overpower many of her competitors; oh, and of course, an incredible ability as an archer that allows her to feed and defend herself.
I’ve only begun to describe the complete and utter awesomeness that is Katniss. So please, take over the comments and tell me why you think Katniss is so incredibly awesome.