Warning: If you haven’t read Mockingjay, please be warned that this post contains spoilers!
When we left Katniss at the end of Catching Fire, she was barely conscious, struggling to take in the news that she’d been broken out of the Quarter Quell arena by a band of District 13 rebels and that District 12 had been destroyed. Not to mention also having been electrocuted half to death.
So it’s not surprising that she starts Mockingjay at a bit of a low ebb. Even the grinding poverty and starvation endemic to District 12 and the manipulative machinations of the President Snow’s interference in her life and relationship with Peeta pales in comparison to adjusting to life as a refugee, in the knowledge that Peeta, whom she promised to keep safe, has been abandoned to the Capitol. At the age of 17, she’s had to cope with more in the space of less than two years than most of us have to deal with in a lifetime. Which is why I find it so hard to understand the criticisms of Katniss as a girl turned weak in Mockingjay.
By the end, i was like, what the hell happened to the Katniss we all know and love from the Hunger Games? She went from awesome to a confused zombie who couldn’t make up her mind.
Personally, I think this Goodreads comment is harsh. All through the trilogy Katniss is built up. Not as a superhero. Not as a superhuman with special powers. But as a normal person pushed into extraordinary circumstances. As one of us.
So yes, she’s flawed. Yes, she makes mistakes. Yes, sometimes she wavers on the edge of just not being able to cope. She’s not a strong female role model. She’s a human being.
Let’s recalibrate that thinking where we assume that the ability to survive also imbues her with the power to avoid the consequences and scars. Instead, here’s why I think her behaviour in Mockingjay makes perfect sense…
Katniss leads, but she’s not a natural leader
Many commenters have fixed on Katniss’ reluctance to take the role of the mockingjay, both in name and in action. But this is entirely consistent with the behaviour we see from her in the earlier books. When her father dies, she doesn’t instantly dash to the woods to grab up her bow and take up his mantle as the family provider. She almost starves to death first. She only takes on the role of hunter-provider when there are no alternatives left. When she’s in the cave with Peeta, she holds herself back and refuses all but the most essential of contact with him, until it becomes clear that his life is at risk. Then she puts on the romance to get the medicine he needs. So it’s no surprise that when handed the role as the mockingjay, she vacillates. She’s doing what she’s always done – weighing up the pros and cons, minimising the risk and only making that dash into action once she’s sure there are no alternatives.
Responsibility paralyses her
Her hesitation isn’t just caused by caution for caution’s sake. In several instances, she puts herself and others in danger because she’s trying so hard to do the right thing. In the very beginning of The Hunger Games, she lingers on her plinth for a few precious moments once the game begins because of the internal conflict between making a run for the items she wants from the bounty scattered around the cornucopia vs the advice Haymitch gave her. In Catching Fire, she runs away to the shack in the wilds that her father showed her and whiles a day away there to think instead of dealing with the issues at hand. And this ‘rabbit in the headlights’ tendency continues on the rebel mission to the Capitol, putting the group in peril on more than one occasion.
But the burden feels just as odd when it’s lifted
People wonder why Katniss falls to pieces so much more in Mockingjay. Practical facts aside, could the answer lie with Prim? In the first book, Prim is literally the reason why Katniss picks herself up out of the gutter and heads out to the woods each morning. Helpless, ducktailed, gentle Prim is the reason why Katniss sacrifices herself to the Games. Katniss means well, but when she brackets her mother and sister together, you get the impression that she considers them both as dependents, probably permanently. Then, through Catching Fire and Mockingjay, you get hints of Prim growing up, taking more control of her life.
Prim’s growing independence mirrors Katniss’ descent into uncertainty and self doubt. By the time of the bomb scare, Katniss realises that she doesn’t need to take care of Prim anymore. Even though it’s a good thing, it removes the key motivator that has driven her throughout the story. Notice how Katniss begins to focus on fixing Finnick and Johanna after this point? I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Katniss needs someone to save, because she doesn’t think she’s worth saving herself. And that’s ultimately why she falls apart at the end. Because there’s nobody left to save.
Katniss Everdeen is not a strong female role model. But she’s a great character. Would I want her to be my best friend? Maybe not. But it’s hard not to empathise with her and to be glad that she manages to find some measure of peace in the end.