“How many words do I get?” I asked.
“The usual,” Lauren said.
I think I whined a little.
These books are R. to the I.C.H. in meaning. Here, I want to focus on how Katniss shows us that survival requires knowing yourself and being true, honest and real. The quickest way to extinction is to choose shadow, myth, and superficiality over reality.
BE REAL IF YOU WANT TO BE ALIVE.
Girlfriend. BFF. Daughter. Sister. Good girl. Straight-A student.
Cheerleader. Musician. Student Body President. Babysitter.
Brainiac. Athlete. Frenemy. Church girl. Wild Child.
How many roles do you take on every day? How many of them feel real to you? Comfortable? Seamless and honest?
I’ve played a lot of roles in my life, too. Some of them were harmless and some of them were self-destructive. We all flow through different selves as we mature, trying to hit upon the truth.
Did you notice how many roles Katniss played? Isn’t she a bit of a jumbled mess?
Collins sets up the central premise of the trilogy when, in Chapter 4 of Book 1, Katniss’s father said, “As long as you can find yourself, you’ll never starve.”
This seems obvious, right? She was named after a root which provides nourishment (and one which, tellingly, has leaves shaped like arrowheads) and as hard as her father worked to teach her survival skills, it makes sense that he would give her a “reminder” sort of name.
But when we first meet Katniss, she’s a study in contraries. She’s city and country. She’s male and female. She’s adult and child.
Let me explain—
Katniss was born of parents who are polar opposites—who tried life in the middle, the Seam, and paid dearly for it. She’s in love with two boys who represent extremes. She loves to hunt, but she admires pretty dresses. She’s a teenage girl who has accepted the role of father who provides for a family, and the role of mother who nurtures. She is a healer and a killer. A Mockingjay, the true genetic hybrid.
The question Collins asks Katniss to answer is this—
What if ‘who you are’ has nothing to do with these roles you play—
mother, father, sister, hunter, tribute, victor?
The first time I read The Hunger Games, I couldn’t stop thinking of Galatians 3, where Paul hammers the churches of Galatia for trying to narrowly define what makes a person a follower of Christ. They had based their decision on nationality, gender, and occupation—purely exterior roles rather than interior convictions.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3: 26-29 (NIV)
The whole society of Panem is set up to judge and create biases based on the exterior. It becomes Katniss’s job to see this and change it. It doesn’t take long for us to realize that there’s a future for Katniss. Moments of grace pop up everywhere.
Two of them strike me as particularly meaningful—
- When Katniss first becomes the provider and nurturer for her family, they slowly starve. In a tender moment, we see the real Katniss (the vulnerable, scared and lonely girl) and it’s a beautiful scene.
Peeta sacrifices himself to give her bread, literally the bread of life, and because of that selfless gift, hope stirs in her soul. She’s able to see the future again. (Nearly every time Katniss learns a lesson, she talks about being able to see again. I once was blind but now I see could be her theme.)
- Later, during the Games, when Katniss is deeply entrenched in the role of survivalist, Rue is killed. Rue, whose name means ‘remorse,’ represents Katniss’s awakening. Did you know that, historically, healers would make “a rue,” an herbal rub, to put on the eyes of someone suffering from eye strain? Rue heals the eyes of Katniss’s soul.
Who’s your Rue?
What about all the roles we play daily? When our hearts are aching because we aren’t comfortable with who we’ve become, what is our conscience trying to tell us?
We are strangers here—citizens of another land, loyal to a Creator who sees the inside, not the outside. Sometimes we get caught up in the games of this land, and it takes moments that drop us to our knees to remove the scales from our eyes.
Perhaps one thing we need and crave more than anything else is to be seen for who we really are when we’re not role-playing. Katniss found this with Peeta, and the best news ever is that we, also, are seen.
We are seen by The One who made us who we are. He has searched us and He knows every longing, every fear, and every insecurity. He knows what makes us laugh. He knows what makes us cry.
What a relief to forget about role-playing for a minute and just be me. Just be Laura.
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
Psalm 139 1-6 (NIV)