Monday, March 11, 2013

Introversion in The Hunger Games

There has been a lot of media attention paid to introverts lately, mostly stemming (I believe) from Susan Cain's book Quiet, which I have not yet read. I did, however, listen to Cain's book talk at Poetry and Prose and I found it very interesting. There was also this discussion at about introverted heroines in media which mentioned a few great examples, but did not include any mention of Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of The Hunger Games trilogy. I think that was a significant omission.

I've written about The Hunger Games before on my previous blog. You can read those posts here and here. Those posts were inspired when I read the books last year. But this weekend, Hopper and I finally watched the movie, and that got me thinking again.

Katniss is an introvert: she spends hours by herself or with one friend (Gale) in the woods, hunting. Her only close relationships are with Gale (with whom she is reserved) and her sister. And she describes herself as having difficulty making friends. But she's not the only introvert in the series: Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Roo and Cinna can all be described as introverts, too. All of the politicians and of course the TV personalities in the Capitol are extroverts.

So in The Hunger Games, the "good guys" are all introverts and the "bad guys" are all extroverts. In the Capitol, they try to make Peeta and Katniss into extroverts. Peeta succeeds, to some extent, because he loves Katniss so much he is willing to go outside his nature to play the game, yet he expresses concern about losing himself in the process, and we only see the real Peeta when he is alone with Katniss or Haymitch. Katniss, of course, does best when she is alone in the woods, and never becomes the spokeswoman or politician that her handlers would like her to be.

In part, this reticence is seen as negative--Katniss refuses to understand how the game is played and gets what she needs (medicine, soup for Peeta) when she does play along. In some ways, Katniss is seen as petulant. But in the end, Katniss wins because she is smart, stealthy and resourceful. She exploits one-on-one relationships with Roo and Peeta, but does not betray either friend. She uses skills that she honed over years of individual practice. And she is always, always, true to herself. All of these are strengths that most introverts share, and they are celebrated in The Hunger Games.

Conversely, working well with groups, the ability to rally a crowd, politics, following directions and group strategizing are all seen as negatives. These are strengths of extraverts, but they are not celebrated in The Hunger Games.

I think it's true, generally, that introverts are under-represented in media. I suspect that's because unless you select them by lottery and force them into an arena, introverts don't tend to do things that are interesting to watch. Would you want to watch the movie where Katniss practices her shooting every day for ten years? But if we want to encourage introverts to use their strengths, it's something to think about, and I'm glad the issue is in the public discourse.

Maybe they'll make a movie about me learning to knit!

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