Leaving this unlocked for now, because I mentioned that I'd be writing this on twitter, and I don't think a lot of my feed is friended here.
So, back in September, when I started my senior seminar for my literature major, we were told from the get go to start thinking of topics for our thesis and presentation that would be most of our grade. Originally, I was planning on doing something with modern romantic heroine, mainly because I wanted to talk about The Time Traveler's Wife
. Then, somewhere between that and actually submitting topics, I read The Hunger Games
. And I think I was maybe halfway through the first book when I realized just how much there was to deal with and talk about and over analyze there. I ended up doing it on adult subtext in YA with Hunger Games as my model, but as I've read the books a ridiculous amount of times and had a lot of meta discussions with people, I've realized there was a lot of shit I would have loved to cover. So I'm gonna tl;dr now.
Essentially, I was thinking about Katniss Everdeen (for the part of my flist that hasn't read them, she's the protagonist and the entire book is from her POV) and how she's exactly the kind of strong female character that SHOULD be in YA fiction. And I agree. And she's actually one of few of that type that I 100% love. Actually, she's one of the few main characters in GENERAL I can easily call one of my favorites. (She's probably my second favorite, for what it's worth, but Why I Love Finnick Odair is a different teal deer for another time and partially irrelevant.) While a lot of this just because I personally find her likeable and relateable (ask zorabet
exactly how much. she might cry, tho.), both her character and her dynamics with other characters make her the type of female character I'd have wanted to read as a young teenager and that I want young teenage girls to be reading.
If I could go back in time and rewrite that paper, I'd do a comparison of Katniss and other female leads, track trends and flaws and successes. But I can't, so I'm just going to spill my (totally not researched thoughts and entirely too long) thoughts here. I'm looking at Bella Swan from Twilight
, Calla Tor from Nightshade
, and Katniss, because they're all female first person POVs in YA urban fantasy/dystopia, with love triangles of varying importance. And, to varying levels of success, I think they're all supposed to reach to their young reader. So...it goes without saying, I think, spoilers from all three below the cut. Also, for the sake of being upfront: bias wise, Katniss is by far my favorite and I'm not really a fan of Bella or Calla at all, but I think a lot of what I'm going to say is WHY I don't like them, not the other way around.
I'm not going to explain why Bella Swan is a pretty much the opposite of what I'd want my sister to emulate. Mainly because I don't think I need to explain why the relationships between both Bella and Edward and Bella and Jacob are pretty arguably unhealthy. (and for the record, I know a lot of people who read and enjoyed the books for the trashy romance stories they are and are under no illusion that that's a desirable relationship. And that's fine. To each their own, Twilight's just not my steeze. I'm just talking purely about the statement they make in terms of gender roles.) But beyond this: At the beginning of the series, Bella's pretty adamant about being a "different" girl. I really wish I could find my copy, but I can't, so I'm going off of memory, unfortunately. She's not tan and athletic pretty like the girls at her old school, she kind of dismisses Jessica's shallow chatter as inane, etc. It's all the makings of you hipster coming of age staring Ellen Page but then. Then we get into it an it's a tug of war for dominance between these two inhuman (and inhumanly strong/physically not even in her realm) boys with Bella as the submissive, passive chew toy.
It's less girl taking her own, unbeaten path at the fork in the road and more hot boys can totally fight over misfits too! And I feel like Bella's marriage resistance is an attempt to justify he individuality, but it falls flat when she's pushing for eternity. as. a vampire. to be with Edward. A rose by any other name... essentially, I feel like here we have some stereotypical, unhealthy, and fairly outdated gender roles presented in a way out of archetype for the girl to try to present it as something it's not.
I'm not sure how many people are familiar with Nightshade
, because it's a relatively newer series (the first book just came out this past year), but I did enjoy it; the love triangle itself,the main plot, kind of infuriated me, but I do really like the world and I'm in love with the secondary characters. (Mason/Nev 4eva, ngl. I ship it hard.) One think I really have to give Andrea Cremer credit for is that she does challenge the same roles that I think are enforced in Twilight. Calla is (in the easiest way of explaining it) a werewolf, and the alpha of her pack. So she's in control of four others, including her brother and one other boy. Cool. She, and the other wolves her age, were basically born to form a new pack, which requires the union of Calla and Ren, the male alpha wolf of the other similar aged pack. When this happens, all eight of the others would answer to both Calla and Ren, but as the male, what Ren says is above in Calla. (Though from what I understood, it doesn't mean she can't make decisions without going through him. It means if they disagree, what he says goes.)
Basically, Calla's journey in the book revolves around learning exactly how fucked up her whole predetermined destiny and lack of choices is. \ And the book is completely clear that it's fucked up. Yet somehow I still find Calla to be an annoying shit, and while I'm not totally sure why and it's possible I just don't like her as a character, here's a guess to why it would be relevant here:
1. Calla has an open hatred of everything girly--which is fine, but there's this overtone of ugh I am the alpha, I have too much responsibilty to care about this, kind of emphasized by her beta being totally, frivolously into it. And honestly? I might just be reading and interpreting that the wrong way. But I hate the approach to strong female character as rejecting of stereotypicially girl things in the sense that they're wrong or weak or shallow.
2. I feel like even as she's learning to question her place, she replaces it with...just going along with the other boy in the love triangle, and in turn...ultimately still not making choices and taking her own path. But to be fair? This is one book, and she'll probably get there.
Overall, though? I think Nightshade does and says some really good things. It's kind of a well-written Twilight (in that the love triangle is definitely the central plot point, and it's clear who she WILL end up with, I think), and there ARE a lot of really strong female characters in the background (and, as a sidenote, Sabine reminds me of Finnick in a weird way. Is it just the similar ~thing they have to do? IDK.) A lot of my problem with it lies with the relationship she has with the two boys. It's not exactly healthy and still kind of possessive on both ends, to me. But I'm definitely curious to see how that develops. I'm more conflicted on this than THIS IS BAD. But I can't really bring myself to LIKE her. IDK.
And Katniss. Who is definitely not a perfect character. I know people who dislike her and get why (one time zorabet
and I talked for two hours about whether she was likeable and Sarah basically came to the conclusion "she doesn't make me feel in my heart!"), but I followed along pretty well with pretty much all of the choices she makes. I don't think she's necessary the Perfect Female Character, nor do I really think that character exists (I mean, for some people? I think Calla comes off better than she does for me. There's a lot about her character in general that bugs me, admittedly). But here's why I think she works:
1. This isn't your traditional love triangle. Nor is the love triangle the point in anyway. The love triangle here is a consequence of circumstance, even down to how she initially came to associate with the boys. (In both cases, it came down to survival necessary because of the Capitol's control.) She cares deeply about both boys, and they both care about her. That's not a question. The crux of it is that this isn't a OMG THESE TWO HOT BOYS HOW. DO. I. CHOOSE. Katniss is a 16 year old girl who doesn't want a boyfriend. The only choice she had up until the Games, really, was who to marry or not marry. And then the Capitol takes that away. So the entire time, the issue is less which boy than the Capitol taking away even the choice.
2. She exists in a world that doesn't treat gender norms the way we do, so when she and other characters defy them, it maybe jarring and obvious to us, but it's not in the context of her society. She's not on an different playing field because she's a girl. And to us, Katniss as the hunter and Peeta as the baker might be a role reversal, but if it is in Panem, it's never acknowledged, which puts them on an equal level. (Similarly, all references to Peeta as "soft" are in reference to his socioeconomic class more than being soft for his gender, and those are knocked down pretty hard in the first book, I'd argue. This is a world that objectifies Finnick the way ours typically does women, presents him initially as a ~pretty boy, but makes it pretty clear that he's one of the strongest and most able in the arena. (And I think it's noteworthy that he and Katniss mutually assess each other as threats, at the cornucopia.) It sets up a world where these things aren't a big deal enough to make note of, which in turn is jarring because we DO.
3. She saves herself and is a fierce fucking bitch WITHOUT having to dumb down/weaken anyone else to look like a fierce fucking bitch. She shoots an arrow like a boss and provides for her family and wins the Hunger Games. And while this is all a result of her actions, she also manages to accept help and not be weak because of it. She and Gale are hunting partners and equals: she's better at shooting, he's better at traps. They're fine alone and strong together, and that goes equally for BOTH of them. And she saves Peeta's ass repeatedly in the arena, but his strategizing and way with words gave her a leg up. She holds out the berries and incites a rebellion, and Peeta encourages her to make sure everyone can see. The mutuality is lovely: Katniss doesn't need to be surrounded by weak people to look badass, because she IS that badass.
4. Similarly, she's not one dimensional-- she doesn't have to be just a fierce fighter and a kickass survivor, and she's not just the pretty girl twirling in Cinna's dress. She's strong as hell, enough to survive and pull others along with her, but she's vulnerable when she knows she can trust--more importantly, she knows when she needs to be vulnerable. All of these things make up people
and she doesn't need to be one or another to be a certain type of girl. She's just Katniss.
This is endlessly longer than I expected it be, and kudos if you read all that. It's definitely not anything but my opinions and thoughts on these characters and trying to sort out why they work and don't work for me. There's other stuff there, too, because I don't think any of these characters is solely defined by her function as a female. But thinking about it strictly in these terms, this is what works, to me, and what I'm not completely sold on. Thoughts?
tl;dr katniss everdeen is better than you tralala.