Last week, I talked about how Han Solo shot first (and/or last), how this affected his character, and how certain terrible decisions by the director made him less relatable and diminished his character arc. The point: We relate to people who change.
This week, I’m going to look at someone who doesn’t really change all that much throughout her trilogy—at least, not as I remember it.
We relate to people who reflect our lives or what we want our lives to be. Sometimes this means we see ourselves as the witty hero who never flinches (outwardly) in the face of danger. Other times, it means we empathize with a hero who is trapped in a situation she can’t control and simply wants to protect those she loves.
That brings us to Katniss Everdeen of the bestselling trilogy, The Hunger Games.
Yes, it is a coincidence that my first two Character Study subjects have movies coming out this month. An awesome coincidence.
I don’t really like Katniss and, due to the reasons I don’t like her, I really, really like her.
Katniss is cold and hard to the world. A lifetime of oppression and loss has caused her to internalize her suffering so that she can be strong for the people she loves—the only people for whom she reserves any warmth. Her strength comes from a nurturing place and we can sometimes see that vulnerable girl beneath the armor.
I don’t like how calculating she can be, how she thinks so damn much about every move but can still be so impulsive. I don’t like the mistakes she made or even some of the non-mistake choices.
And that’s why I love her!
I can relate to Katniss’s armored outer shell in the face of hardship, I know that feeling of family that motivates her to volunteer as tribute and then to keep fighting when winning the Hunger Games is not enough. Katniss reflects both the character traits we see in ourselves and the traits we want to have. She isn’t cocky when she volunteers for her sister, she only knows that her sister will die in the Games and she might not.
Like a weirdo, I actually appreciate the occasional character with whom I disagree or dislike because they make choices I wouldn’t have made. As long as those choices are in-character, my disagreement indicates the author has created a layered, fictional person and not a Mary Sue or Gary Sue. Katniss is no one’s stand-in and I love watching her go and be amazing, even if it frustrates me in the process.
A final note: It’s been a little while since I read the books so I’m supplementing with research here but, Katniss Everdeen, in contrast to Han Solo, doesn’t really change throughout the series. And, in this rare occurrence, that’s actually kind of the point. The Hunger Games is largely allegory for existing political corruption and Katniss is not a driving force in the story, as most protagonists are. She drives her personal story, but the infrastructure supporting a society that has the Hunger Games and a Capitol like the one in the books results in most of the control remaining out of Katniss’ hands.
Katniss Everdeen’s emotional and physical strength in the face of such adversity in combination with her mistakes and failures make her struggle and her character relatable to the reader and, now, to the viewer.