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May the odds be ever in your gender: Women’s Center discusses subtext in ‘The Hunger Games’


UMKC’s Women’s Center and University Libraries hosted the book discussion “Girl on Fire: Gender, Violence, and Social Class in the Hunger Games—Part 2” for faculty, staff and students on Wednesday, April 4 in Miller Nichols Library. It was facilitated by faculty and covered Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy, along with the recent film adaptation.

The Women’s Center frequently holds book discussions about depicting societal roles that stray away from the “norm.” Assistant Director of the Women’s Center Arzie Umali, said the discussion was sparked “Because part of our mission is to educate and advocate for women’s equity,” and “It is important to promote and lead discussions on books that portray strong female characters that don’t fall neatly into typical gender roles that ‘society’ usually defines.”

The event discussed the portrayal of the lead character, Katniss, in “The Hunger Games,” and how she doesn’t abide by the gender role society stipulates for females.

Librarian Scott Curtis opened the forum by asking how readers perceived Katniss and her position as a protagonist. Many agreed she did not follow society’s expectations for females because she became caretaker for her mother and younger sister Prim after her father’s death. Her role in the family differs from typical expectations.

She talks to her mother as though she were a child instead, and commits to caring for Prim. Katniss uses a bow and arrow to hunt for food, which is illegal in the book’s futuristic setting of Capitol. Trading the animals she catches, she provides other resources for her family to survive.

“Her circumstances, her poverty and the oppressive government have forced her to be reactive and often unemotional. There is a lot of violence in the story and it is used by the Capitol to manipulate and oppress the districts,” Umali said.

The consensus among participants was that many of Katniss’ actions were based on survival instincts. Some voiced that “she is a jerk.” This led to discussion about how certain demeaning qualities, such as being a “jerk,” are usually reserved for male characters.

Curtis made a comparison to Meryl Streep’s character in “The Devil Wears Prada,” pointing out her position as the editor-in-chief of a prestigious fashion magazine. This character’s demanding, intimidating demeanor is typically applied to men.

Katniss’ masculine characteristics are reflected in her counterpart, Gale, who also hunts illegally. The book implies, with heavy hints in the film, that there could be romantic subtext between these two characters. This creates a love triangle between Katniss, Gale and Peeta.

Another interesting point during the discussion was how marriage became a punishment to Katniss rather than a reward. The Capitol, the story’s authoritative entity, stresses to Katniss that she is expected to ignore her love for Peeta to quell ensuing rebellions from her victory in the fight-to-the-death competition. She thinks she will have to marry Peeta and have children, which she earlier expresses as something she’d avoid to prevent sending them to The Hunger Games in the future.

The discussion compared the film adaptation to the original book. Readers were interested to see how omitting important details would affect the future films for the trilogy and how it affected the storyline’s focus. Many agreed the film focused too much on the love story between Gale, Katniss and Peeta. They believed the more important theme was the dynamic between the Capitol and the Districts it controls.

There were many spoilers for attendees who hadn’t read the entire series or seen the movie, but the Women’s Center expressed this when advertising. They hope to have future, similar discussions.

“The women’s center is looking for another book or series to discuss next fall that has a strong lead female character,” Umali said. “We are taking suggestions.”

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  1. In the third paragraph, the lead character’s name is misspelled. It’s “Katniss,” not “Karniss.” Also, the setting of the book is “Panem,” not “Capitol.” The Capitol is the central city and is not where Katniss lives.

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