The Hunger Games - Feminist Reading #1

I've been nudged on Twitter to give my opinion to The Hunger Games from a feminist perspective. So far, I've only read the first book and that was some time ago. So I'll be reading it from the very beginning, noting thoughts as they pop into my head. When the situations I describe are deconstructed later on in the book, I will write another article and link to the old one. Thus, I hope to make clear how my insights come to be.

Dysfunctional mother figures and all-female family

​Heute denke ich, dass meine Mutter in einer dunklen Welt der Trauer eingeschlossen war, aber damals wusste ich nur, dass ich nicht nur einen Vater verloren hatte, sondern auch eine Mutter.

In most children's and YA literature, a dysfunctional family is marked by a missing mother. The motivation behind that is that the mother is by nature's default the emotional core of the family, because -- in the old role models -- she raises the children, takes care of the father and the common homestead. This makes her the axis family lives revolves around.

The lack of a mother implies that the family is out of joint, out of balance. It means that other family members need to take over roles and functions they normally wouldn't have to bother with. This plot device is closely connected to the "Women in Refrigerators"-Trope (Pre-TropesvsWomenInVideoGames Anita Sarkeesian! Yay!). Women die or lose their agency in order to give a reason for vengeance or further character development of the often male protagonist. 

If there is a parent left and it's a female child protagonist, it will most often be the father. There is also the option to include a new woman from outside the core family as the villain, most often in the guise of the evil stepmother. It's quite obvious how deeply ingrained this trope is in traditional storytelling. Just take the Disney princesses: Arielle, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Jasmin … none of them have mothers or they have an evil stepmother. Mother Gothel takes this role in Tangled. ("Mother knows best", anyone?)

Is the child protagonist a boy and the mother survives, the mother is usually in need of protection, potentially a Damsel in Distress. In any case, the lack of a mother is always an indicator of emotional instability. Because men and feels? Blergh. Not really. And Raising children? Not their jam either.

But hurray, Katniss's mother is alive! Well, kind of, at leas. The fact that she is alive seems a little bit like a nod to the trope that can't muster up the courage to be a full-hearted exception. In that regard, it is rather striking that the surviving family members are all female. This explains why one of them had to take over the male role of the bread-earner that would otherwise have fallen to a male family member, let's say a son.

Katniss therefore strikes me as a Mrs-Male-Character in the first chapters. She hunts, she takes care of the family. In order to strengthen this hierarchy, Prim and their mother are described as hyper-feminine: They are weak and helpless, even their looks seem to mirror the typical damseled White Woman: Whereas Katniss inherited the darker skin and black hair of her father, Prim and their mother are both light-skinned and fair-haired.

Questions: Would this constellation have worked if Prim was a boy? How would the family dynamics have differed if the mother had died as well? What if the father had survived? Is the all-female helpless family mandatory to explain Katniss's protectiveness and skill?


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