Katniss and Her Friends: Why the Hunger Games Resonates

Wrote this a few years ago after reading the books. Some people told me this is crazy, it’s just a teen-lit story, I’m reading too much into it. Others said this is crazy, because I’m merely stating the obvious. Hmm. Anyway, here’s why I think this isn’t “just” a story. (Is there such a thing?)

So every teenage girl, it seems, wants to be Katniss.

I’m not surprised. I would, too.

The Hunger Games is about culture, and more specifically, Katniss vs. Culture. And it’s our culture of course, through the lens of caricature.

It’s our culture, and every teenage girl, it seems, would like to pick up a bow, and fire an arrow directly into the heart of it, and watch it die.

In the books (I haven’t seen the movie, yet) Katniss is substance, and adult culture – embodied and enforced by the Capitol – is all about appearance. It’s mean, it’s selective, it’s heartless, it’s cruel, and it pits one teen against the other.

Katniss cares about her appearance, but not very much. It’s the Capitol, the culture, that cares very much, foisting makeup and fashion experts upon her, each charged with making her understand how important outward beauty is to her survival. They convince her: Change, and change outwardly, and extremely… or you will not survive.

Katniss has romantic feelings, but they don’t control her story. It’s the Capitol, the culturally elite, that wants romance to control her story, to define her, and give her meaning.

Katniss wants to protect her younger sister from this culture. No girl, she thinks, should be drawn into this, but certainly not one so young. But to her horror, the Capitol-culture wants to draw in the youngest, the pre-teen, girl.

Katniss wants to provide for her family in the absence of her father. The culture used him for his economic utility, and ultimately took him from her.

Katniss wishes she didn’t need to hunt, but she is willing to do what it takes to be independent of the Capitol. But they (quite literally) set up barriers to stop her.

Katniss finds a boy/man who is flawed, but self-sacrificing, protective, warm, and committed to not being changed by the culture. He will not, he says, become a self-seeking “monster.” The fashionable culture is patronizingly charmed by that, even as it is fully committed to changing him into a self-seeking monster.

Katniss knows truth matters. She’s no philosopher, but she knows loyalty matters. She knows sacrificing for the vulnerable matters. She knows there is such a thing as Good, even if she can’t articulate it. The elites try to convince her otherwise.

Katniss loves her family. The Capitol finds that quaint, and valuable only in that it adds to an entertaining storyline, since amusement is, of course, the ultimate goal. And a human, a teenage girl, only has value to the extent the Capitol, our culture, is attracted to her.

No wonder Katniss wants to kill it.

And millions of teenage girls want to help her.

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