One of the things I find of most note in the Hunger Games trilogy is how gender roles appear to have generally been flipped with regard to the characters Katniss, Peeta, and Finnick. It is not simply that the rules have been flipped, as characters such as Haymitch and Primrose are more traditional while still regarded as acceptable. The individual characters are strong enough that the gender role difference is acceptable. Additionally, the foreign country of Panem can be considered a place where things are done differently, and its citizens are not judged the same way as modern Americans.
Katniss is by no means traditionally feminine, as she is the hunter and leader of her family, but neither is she simply cold and aggressive. It is noted that she got her defining genetic traits from her father, while her sister Primrose got hers from their mother. Katniss helped her father hunt and, after his death in the coal mine, she became the main provider for the family. As the mother mentally shut down after her husband’s death, Katniss also took care of Primrose as if a parent. When Prim is selected at the reaping in the for the seventy-fourth Hunger Games, Katniss takes her place as a protective action and is then able to compete in the Hunger Games with a realistic chance of success because of her ability with a bow and arrow. She later becomes the symbol of a revolution with both military ability and compassion to inspire hope in others. The PTSD she suffers seems realistic of any warrior, but specifically that of a well-conceived female character. I can imagine her as a father woodsman in a period drama, but she is certainly a woman in this fictional world that allows for strong women.
I consider Peeta to be essentially two different characters: Peeta before the hijacking and Peeta after the hijacking. Peeta before the hijacking is extremely nice and compassionate, and he is kind of like a traditional wife or potential wife for Katniss’ father role. He fell in love with Katniss when they were young and was too shy to approach her, but he did manage to sneak her some of his mother’s bread when she was hungry, at cost to himself. He is artistic, and this non-combative skill is the primary asset he uses in the seventy-fourth Hunger Games, for camouflage. He ends up being very vulnerable through most of the Games, leaving Katniss to take care of him by fighting off other tributes. Nevertheless, he is smart and aids in the defeat of the final tribute Cato through fast thinking while Cato has him by the throat by indicating where Katniss can shoot him to be most effective. Though Katniss worries he is manipulative and just trying to win crowd support, her concerns are for naught. Peeta really is a perfectly moral human being everyone can aspire to be like. When President Snow hijacks him to hate Katniss and District 13 hijacks him back, he has an identity crisis and undergoes a personality change paralleling Katniss’ PTSD. The new Peeta is cold and suspicious, comparable to Marco in the latter part of Animorphs, and for the purpose of gender analysis I do not consider him significantly different from the standard male character.
Finnick is a sexually vulnerable physically strong male character. Though we first see him through Katniss’ flawed perspective as an egotistical playboy, it’s eventually revealed that President Snow forced him to become a high-class prostitute after he won the Hunger Games. This causes all his earlier scenes to be given new context. I first regarded him as sort of a Captain Hammer from Doctor Horrible meets the Twilight boys, but now I see he’s a prostitute who was able to escape that life through joining the revolution. His flirtatious comments to Katniss thus do not have the slightly dominating connotations as would a normal playboy type of guy. I’m not entirely sure how to interpret all his actions, but he is definitely intriguing. It’s just interesting having a traditionally masculine heterosexual male character that without losing his overall strength as a fighter is also placed in a position of sexual victimization to be regarded as pitiable. Though Katniss as the narrator never says “rape”, this is consistent with her overall narration, as she is indicated to be somewhat ignorant of things commonly understood by the reader, and she often dances around subjects in a way that still makes their nature clear to the reader. In the case of Finnick, it is made clear that President Snow forced him to become a prostitute and that he was not happy having sex with all these people.
Special mention also has to go to the villain, President Snow, through whom roses are made scary. The man always wears a white rose, which is then used as his signature. He intimidates Katniss with a white rose left in her house, which is simply used to indicate his presence. Her team is later assaulted by white reptoid muttations that give off the odor of the roses. As Katniss gets PTSD, roses become very triggering for her. Flowers and especially roses are considered feminine and thus weak by association, but President Snow’s malicious demeanor is strong enough to imbue the white rose with threatening characteristics. President Snow himself is also traditionally masculine and does not become feminine by his roses, though as an elderly man, he is already able to have an affinity for flowers without affecting his masculinity, as with Mr. Feeny of Boy Meets World and Mr. Wilson of Dennis the Menace.
Supporting characters Haymitch and Primrose contribute the presence of traditional gender roles that contrast against the untraditional gender roles of Katniss and Peeta, who have similar traits respectively. Haymitch is kind of a jackass drunk. We see in the footage from the Hunger Games in which he competed that before his PTSD, he was an intellectual jerk smugly confident that his intellectual abilities would allow him to win, and he was right. He somewhat reminded me of Tom Riddle from Harry Potter. When Peeta and Katniss make him start caring about them for the seventy-fourth Hunger Games, he loses some of his coldness and assumes a responsible role like that of an uncle. He is somewhat of a dependable advisor who loves them, but his demeanor is standoffish and prickly, which is a generally acceptable masculine trait in contrast to Katniss’ similar unfriendliness. Likewise, Prim is a kind girl who is intuitively good at healing, taking after her mother and is like Peeta before the hijacking, which fits with her gender.
All these characters blend with each other well to produce a bouquet of different personalities that fleshes out the world created by Suzanne Collins. I appreciate that she makes the nontraditional characters of Katniss and Peeta as attractive protagonists, as this provides the needed message to readers that it’s okay to be themselves even if they don’t fit in the standard roles assigned by society. We have a while to go before this kind of personality diversity becomes standard. I suspect that if the Katniss character was tried in a book set in modern times, she would be rejected because women with traditionally masculine characteristics are not well respected. Peeta might fare better because it’s more acceptable for male romantic interests to have sensitivity, but male social dynamics harshly reject men who seem feminine in any way, which may cause a modern day Peeta to be liked only be female readers. It’s the nature of the strange, foreign land that allows for distancing between our accepted social roles and the behavior of the characters of Panem. In the land of fiction, ideas can be played with and given form like dreams. If the exchange of ideas is influential, it can even subtly affect reality.