The Hunger Games: Credibly Unique Protagonists in YA Lit

 

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The day I posted The Hunger Games: Stakes, Risk & Character in YA, my site stats returned the Search Engine Query: “why katniss father survival skills are important in the hunger game.” (Not the most articulate enquiry, but we understand the point.) The question reminded me of something I often think about when planning a story. Namely, “Why this protagonist?” What traits make the protagonist special and how did they obtain these traits. These questions are a part of the artistic process which also asks why this setting, why this time period, why this conflict, etc.1? Protagonist must be unique, they must possess a special ability, even if they are unaware of it. Without a unique protagonist, the story lacks the potential for heroism2. Katniss Everdeen is an easy example of a character whose special talents and personal history enable her survival and define her heroism3.

 

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Before The Hunger Games begins, Katniss’s father has taught her to hunt, trap, forage and trade at the Hob4. At the beginning of Catching Fire, we discover he also taught her to swim. Her father’s intention was not to make her into a Career; the lesson was survival and familial autonomy. Their family and District 12’s circumstances necessitate self-reliance; residents starve in the streets otherwise. Katniss is the eldest sibling which is why the paternal knowledge is passed to her. (Gender politics is a rich man’s game.) Further, we can conjecture that her father didn’t want her or Prim to take tesserae, raising their reaping odds. Being poor in Panem’s poorest District demands self-sufficiency. And to be self-sufficient in District 12, you are forced to break laws. Survival is rebellion; this is the unintentional byproduct of her father’s lessons.

Katniss’s hunting, trapping, and foraging training, as well as her comfort in the woods and in water, are some of her special skills that not only save her and others’ lives, but also make her a unique protagonist. Suzanne Collins creates a character whose traits believably arise from her personal histories and circumstances. The plausibility of Katniss’s special skills is as important as what they are. She is a credibly unique as a characters. And herein lies yet another reason for the success of The Hunger Games series.


  1. These “Whys?” are the basis for the beginning of the artistic process. For more on the artistic see: on the Aims of the Artistic Process
  2. For more information on heroism, heroes and hero’s journey, I recommend Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces
  3. I’m finding it difficult to think of one protagonist, especially in YA, who does not possess a special ability or trait. If you can think of one, I’d love to know! 
  4. After the death of her father, Katniss continues survival training with Gale. 
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