The One in Defense of the Girl Who Was on Fire

I CANNOT BELIEVE I ACTUALLY HAVE TO WRITE THIS POST. Maybe I'm just feeling particularly protective of Katniss after what she's been through, but I need to get this off my chest before I HULK-SMASH my keyboard. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

This post at Forever YA has me REALLY worked up. Obviously there is some serious Team Gale sour grapes there, but the implication that Katniss just surrendered to a meaningless life and gave Peeta children against her will--that she could have had this glorious future in rebuilding the country and stepping up to be a real leader--grates on my already frayed nerves.

I can't claim to understand Katniss completely. For example, I still have NO IDEA why she would ever vote in FAVOR of having a Hunger Games with the Capitol children. And she votes "Yes... for Prim," which makes even less sense because she went into the HG to protect Prim, and after everything that happened to Rue and the Capitol children being bombed--you'd think it'd be the last thing she'd want.

But, I digress.

First, from what Plutarch says as Katniss is being brought back to 12, she's basically been banished there. She's not allowed to leave. And even if she could, she's been discredited at her "trial" and has been reduced in the public eye to what amounts to a confused, troubled girl who killed their future, "respected," leader Coin in a fit of insanity. They might have executed her for it, if the doctor hadn't put that argument forward (Is that what everyone really believes? Sad...). So that's a wrinkle in the idea she can go out and be a trailblazing leader. It's likely she has no legitimacy left.

Second, Katniss doesn't just settle for Peeta. She CHOOSES him. She chooses him over and over again in MOCKINGJAY. The moment that he came back so badly hijacked and damaged? Even Gale recognized that Peeta--from that point on--would completely fill Katniss' world. And, yes, she does abandon him to go to District 2--likely because she's in incredible emotional turmoil, pain, and can't stand to be around someone who confirms all of her worst fears about herself. But the moment she chooses Peeta, actively and wholeheartedly, is (in my mind, at least):

It's a long shot, it's suicide maybe, but I do the only thing I can think of. I lean in and kiss Peeta full on the mouth. His whole body starts shuddering, but I keep my lips pressed to his until I have to come up for air. My hands slide up his wrists to clasp his. "Don't let them take you from me."

Peeta's panting hard as he fights the nightmares raging in his head. “No I don't want to..."

I clench his hands to the point of pain. “Stay with me."

His pupils contract to pinpoints, dilate again rapidly, and then return to something resembling normalcy. "Always," he murmurs.

Up to that point, after her phone call with Haymitch (in which he flips the situation around and asks her how Peeta would be treating her if she were the hijacked one), she's trying to get him back. She's trying to remind him of who he is and who he is to her. This seemed to be the moment where he really starts to come back to himself. Later, we still see him affected by flashbacks (these are cited at the end of the last chapter), but never once is it hinted that he still feels these urges to kill Katniss, or even hurt her. She didn't settle for an abusive husband, she didn't condemn herself to a life of misery--she chose a life in which they can both help one another heal.

It was clear to me from the beginning of CATCHING FIRE, with the quiet moments of them comforting each other on the train, that Gale didn't stand a chance. Gale was never going to understand what she and Peeta had gone through together, and that was made perfectly clear by the fact he couldn't begin to fathom her distress at seeing her prep team so badly treated.

Besides, all along, what have Peeta and Katniss been doing, both inside the games and out?

“You’re still trying to protect me. Real or not real,” he whispers.

“Real,” I answer. It seems to require more explanation.

“Because that’s what you and I do. Protect each other.”

She, Peeta, and Haymitch are a little dysfunctional family--but they're the only ones that really understand each other. It's sad that she and Gale can no longer be friends, but all of his actions and planning in 13 make it perfectly clear that his fire and desire for revenge far out-powers even her own. Go back and re-read the beginning of CF, when she mentions the uprising in District 8. Look at his reaction. This wasn't a new aspect of his character. They have two completely different visions of the world; at one point they might have been in line with one another, but I think it was only on a superficial level. They both might have thought, "The Capitol is evil," but Gale was the one thinking, "And I'm going to find a way to bring them down."

Apparently because her mom (don't get me started on HER), Prim, and Gale are all gone, she just thinks, "Well, shucks, I guess I'll be a housewife and pump out some babies." WHAT? Katniss tells you that they all go back to their own routines. She hunts, Peeta bakes, and Haymitch drinks. That's what she wanted from the beginning. They find comfort in the normalcy of it, and that's what allows them to start healing again.

Third, since when has Katniss EVER been a revolutionary? Since when has she ever felt the same burning desire Gale did to get out in the world and shake things up? All along, she's motivated by her desire and need to protect the people she loves. She goes into the Hunger Games not to take a stand against the government, but to protect Prim. She agrees to take up the mantle of Mockingjay because it'll mean her loved ones will be taken care of in a way they otherwise wouldn't be. She's an accidental revolutionary; people are inspired by her, but she's not actively trying to inspire THEM. They're reacting to her natural reaction to these hugely violent, terrible, traumatic events.

If you want to get really technical here, Peeta is the politician of the two. Katniss and Coin acknowledge this over and over again. He's the one that plants the idea in Katniss' head that they shouldn't just be pawns in the Capitol's games. He's the one that tells her that they should live and die on their own terms, and not let the Capitol control their actions. This directly inspires a good portion of her most important "revolutionary" moments. See: the berries in book 1. Or the scene of her pleading with the guy in District 2.

Fourth, why is everyone all pissed off that she has kids with Peeta? Katniss says in both HG and CF that she doesn't want kids BECAUSE SHE DOES NOT WANT THEM TO END UP IN THE GAMES. BECAUSE THE WORLD IS NOT SAFE FOR THEM. Peeta has wanted kids all along, yes, because his vision of the world and his hope for the future have always been stronger than hers. It takes him "five, ten, fifteen years" to convince her to have kids, because it takes her "five, ten, fifteen years" to be convinced that peace has a chance of sticking, and the darkness of the world isn't going to consume them.

And that "terror" Katniss describes? That's the terror that most first-time mothers feel bringing a child into a world that is less-than-perfect. I thought the fact that she eventually did have kids ended the book on an optimistic note, because it implied she was at a point in her healing that even she believed the world could and would become a better place. Like Peeta would ever harass her into having children against her will--that's an insult to both of them.

Also, I also think it was a good decision to leave the children unnamed--you've seen what happened with the next generation of HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT. I doubt Katniss calls them "Boy" and "Girl." to their faces, guys.

And, and, AND--why in the world are people claiming she'd be a terrible mother? Where are people getting that from? Granted, I'm sure it's difficult for their children to see their parents still suffering over all these years, but I do think Katniss has a strong maternal instinct. She's the one that provided for her mother and sister for years. You can see it in how she treats Prim and Rue. For as tough and standoffish as Katniss can be, she can also be very tender. She comes outright in the epilogue and says that her children make her incredibly happy, and have been a large part of why she's healed as much as she has.

Fifth, I think people who saw this trilogy as a big statement on war and politics and revolution must have been disappointed by MOCKINGJAY (especially that guy that came up with the whole Pearl Conspiracy Theory). For me, it’s always been a look at how violence and grief affects us on a personal level. This is why I valued the romance aspect of the series, even as everyone else was saying that the politics were the most important aspect. Romance was important, because it was important to Katniss and any future life she might have had.

At the end of this book, I was just glad to see Katniss out from under the thumbs of others. She was free from being forced to be a player in a game she never wanted to play.

Sixth, can we at least drop the idea that "fire" is a good thing? She's not ever going to be a "Phoenix." She can't rise from these ashes stronger than ever. Fire is used to symbolize the revolution and revolutionary movement, but it's Cinna who thrusts the title of "Girl on Fire" onto her by designing those costumes. And what did fire do to her and Peeta at the end of the book? It leaves them "fire mutts"--scarred emotionally and physically. Mutations of their former selves.

To conclude this long, rambling post, I'm going to steal from my roommate Julia, who posted under me in the FYA comments. She's one smart cookie:

It sort of reminds me of the end of The Dark Knight–it would have destroyed Gotham (Panem) to learn that Harvey (Coin) was actually a murderous lunatic, so Batman (Katniss) takes responsibility so the people can unite against him. A big theme of both Batman and The Hunger Games is the power of symbols: Katniss is much more powerful as an icon than as herself, and she knows this very well. Now, she gets to peacefully live out her life as a symbol of the devastating effects of the Hunger Games on young people, which fits a lot more comfortably than Hero or Leader.