Mother, sister, soldier, heroine, sidekick, mentor, villain: In fiction, as well as in life, the roles a woman can play are varied and multifaceted. It doesn’t happen very often that we are able to find all these types of women in one book.
When I first read The Hunger Games trilogy, I didn’t immediately fall in love with it. Even finding the plot so compelling that I read all three books cover to cover in as many days, I never really grew to appreciate the writing—not to mention I felt the character development was spotty. One thing about the franchise I did like, admire even, was the way it treated its female characters and the relationships among them.
In a world where fictional women are often relegated to marginal, passive roles as romantic interests, here was finally a saga where women were everywhere, and most of all, they all got to have a backstory and their own type of badassery. Katniss is not even the best example of this: As much as I like and empathise with her character, nobody will change my mind that the true heroine of the story is actually her sister Primrose.
Little helpless Prim, who sets the whole plot in motion by the mere act of needing the protection of her older sister, and by the end is turned into a brave and selfless young woman who risks her own life on the front lines of battle treating the wounded. In many occasions she appears more willing to fight than Katniss herself, even though her fight is one carried out with a different sort of weapons. Her courage, commitment, and hope are inspiring even to Katniss, and they display a very feminine and very disregarded kind of strength: the strength of those who work in the background, who live on the edge of the spotlight, but still do their part, carry on through adversities, and fight til the end.
Prim is not the only character exhibiting strength that is extraordinary: the same could be said for her mother, who undergoes an impressive transformation from semi-functional depressive and absentee parent to committed contributor to the rebel’s cause first, and to the post-war reconstruction later.
On first look, Effie Trinket seems as frivolous as she is fabulous, vain, insensitive, and naïve (often annoyingly so). And yet that’s not all there is to her character: Once the outer shell is cracked and the wigs and makeup are gone we see she is a survivor, and a fighter too—albeit a reluctant one. This is especially true in the movies, where her character takes over Fulvia Cardew’s from the books. Effie’s reasons for moving to District 13 and joining the rebels don’t seem to be political, but she’s not any less involved in the rebellion, doing her fashionable part to take care of Katniss.
Let’s not forget Mags, whose introduction and sacrifice only take up a few lines (and a few minutes on screen), but stay impressed on readers’ and viewers’ minds alike for much longer.
Characters like these remind us that “strong” is an incredibly limited definition for a female character (or any character, really). While it’s true that Suzanne Collins’s writing doesn’t leave room to explore each and every one of these characters in the depth they deserve, we at least get to see an array of women represented, and this is not very common in mainstream literature—and something very appreciated, too.
It’s also worth mentioning that the interactions between the characters live up to this higher standard, too. In The Hunger Games women are often pitted against one another, but this serves the plot, and is never random (which is, incidentally, an excellent life lesson to take away). Johanna Mason, for example, isn’t in competition with Katniss out of mere unjustified dislike, and the two are not rivals for the sake of keeping up a questionable love triangle (something that regularly happens on every CW show I can think of). Their relationship is definitely full of conflict, but is also a complex one and transforms significantly during the final book, thus bringing to light new traits in both characters which ultimately add to the final picture.
There’s something infinitely better than “strong” female characters, and that’s full-fledged female characters.
But now The Hunger Games saga has come to a close, and we should all be wondering: What next? Will we bear in mind its lesson about how to treat female characters, and keep the trend up? And even if we do, will Hollywood?