The Hunger Games pulls together many threads in contemporary culture and literature -- including the appeal of the strong young woman character of Katnis. She's clearly linked to similar protagonists in earlier popular books for YA readers, such as Jo March in Little Women, Julie in Julie of the Wolves, and Pippi Longstocking.
Thanks to Monica Hesse, of The Washington Post, for interviewing me for her article "There’s room for both Katniss and Bella as heroines, but who’ll be remembered?"
There are many types of female protagonists. Katniss is certainly a strong, independent, spunky, non-conformist girl. This type of character has always appealed to many female readers. Girls like to read, and watch films, about characters who break the mold, or stretch beyond their cultural construction. Katnis is part Buffy the Vampire Slayer and part Xena: Warrior Princess. She's also has some similarity to Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. There's also the element of a Cinderella-style makeover, too.
But the book, and perhaps the film, raises interesting questions about how American culture deals with violence. Do we justify violence when it's done by a strong, spunky girl who is following her own path? Does that make it more allowable? It's pretty clear that the book is a critique of violence as entertainment. But can the film carry out that message as well? It will be interesting to see how the film is able to visually portray the violence, yet at the same time critique it. Is it okay for a young woman to be intelligent, independent, and have desire to kill people?
According to Roger Ebert's review of The Hunger Games, the film has more violence than thoughtful introspection, which is unfortunate since reading about how the characters think about their predicament was what made the books so compelling. Ebert writes that "the film leapfrogs obvious questions in its path, and avoids the opportunities sci-fi provides for social criticism."
Suzanne Collins has made Katnis an interesting, but deeply flawed, character. Perhaps that's why she's so compelling.