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Category: Art and Entertainment, Feminism, Girls, Media

Katniss and Bella—Getting to the Heart of the Matter

| March 29, 2012

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The author, a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, argues that the distance between the teen heroes in "The Twilight Saga" and "The Hunger Games Trilogy" may not be as great as it seems.

How is it that pop culture can simultaneously embrace two completely opposite female heroes at once?

In case you missed it, the two characters are Bella Swan of “The Twilight Saga” and Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games Trilogy.”

On the surface level, they are quite different. Bella is a clumsy, awkward teenager who doesn’t seem to have a personality. (She won’t even tell us what search engine she uses!) Her existence revolves around her boyfriend and the other men in her life. The boyfriend, Edward Cullen, has primacy; Bella shifts her entire world so that she can be with him.

Katniss is an athletic, strong young woman who hunts small game so she, her mother and sister can all eat.  Her desires are simple, she wants to ensure the survival of those she loves. (I say “young woman” because it’s clear Katniss has a mental maturity that Bella simply doesn’t.)

This is biggest difference between the characters: where their motivations lie. Bella wants to be loved by her vampire boyfriend and wants to be by his side always. She’s willing to risk life, limb and anything else to keep him in her life forever.

Katniss’ motivations are a bit murkier. It’s clear she wants to provide for her family and escape poverty. We also know she isn’t by any means a fan of the totalitarian Capitol, where she is sent to train for the games. However, her feelings toward potential love interests Gale Hawthorne and Peeta Mellark aren’t always explicit in her narration. It’s difficult to say what Katniss would be doing if she weren’t providing for her family. What Katniss dreams of doing if she had a choice remains a mystery.

There is also one other key difference: Bella watches and Katniss acts. Bella is often an observer of violence; Katniss is forced to be a participant.

However, Bella and Katniss have more in common than feminist critics like to think they do. Both narrate their stories. Both are teenagers. Both live in fantasy worlds. Both are involved in keeping their families fed: Bella cooks, Katniss hunts. Both are from non-traditional homes, Bella has divorced parents, Katniss’ father died in an accident. In that same vein, both characters have complicated relationships with their mothers: Bella decides to move to Forks because her mother remarries; Katniss loves and resents her mother because she breaks down after Katniss’ father dies.

Both are involved in love-triangles, where curiously the young man with lighter features “wins.” And at the end of their respective series, both heroines—to a certain extent—end up fulfilling traditional roles as wives and mothers. (Katniss says she doesn't want to have children in the first book of the trilogy, but ends up doing so at the end of the third book.) They try to re-establish a “normal” life with their partners.

Both book series are wildly popular among multiple age brackets.  The movie adaptations are also very profitable. “Breaking Dawn Part 1” has made more than $280 million dollars, according to Boxofficemojo.com. “The Hunger Games” series has earned $19.75 million and that’s just from the midnight showings. CNN reports that “Hunger Games” is the third best debut in box office history, behind only “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” and “The Dark Knight.”

One might argue that because the “Twilight Saga” is ending its run in theaters just as “The Hunger Games” has started that a cultural shift has occurred. Perhaps the Artemis archetype that Jean Shinoda Bolen discusses in “Goddesses in Everywoman” has returned full-force into the mainstream media. (If Katniss isn’t an Artemis woman, I’ll eat my hat.) And the more traditional woman like Bella, the Demeter-Persephone archetype, is fading.

However, this is certainly not the case. Katniss is an independent, strong character who makes her own decisions. But she ends with a more traditional life. She, too, is used by those who would merely accomplish their own goals. Yes, Katniss does defy authority more than a few times, but she also willingly becomes a symbol. If that’s not objectification, what is?

The verdict is fairly simple, while Katniss is light-years ahead of Bella’s boys-and-baby obsessed brain, Katniss does adhere to some fairly traditional norms. We still have further to go.

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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