I had been reading book blogs for about two months before I started my own. When I like a blog, I tend to dive in and see if they’ve reviewed some of my favorite work. A lot of my favorite blogs are Young-Adult blogs, because I really enjoy this genre, though I don’t focus on it specifically, like a lot of bloggers due. While the majority of post I read were informative, opinionated, and smart, there was one idea I came across a few times that made me wince. That thought? The idea that protagonist in Young Adult Dystopia novels who have break downs aren’t “strong” characters anymore.
Now, I know there were many reviews I read that made a clear difference between saying the book was bad and unrealistic, and saying that they just personally like it. I saw negative reviews of books such as Mockingjay and Insurgent that were well-rounded in presenting points. That, I have no problem with(in fact, I even applaud!) More so, I think many readers don’t take the break downs these characters have seriously, and think that strong characters can never break. So I want to talk about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Young Adult Dystopia. Specifically, I’m going to be looking at the Divergent trilogy and the Hunger Games, since those are the ones I’ve read where PTSD, or at least trauma-induced stress, is in full effect.
First, what is post-traumatic stress disorder? I’m going to use this definition from the Mayo Clinic, because it’s pretty simple and understandable:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
That’s a pretty good overall definition, but the condition has some very specific symptoms, that are grouped into three types: intrusive memories, avoidance/numbing, and increased anxiety. The Mayo clinic lists the following symptoms for each type:
Symptoms of intrusive memories may include:
- Flashbacks, or reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time
- Upsetting dreams about the traumatic event
Symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing may include:
- Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Feeling emotionally numb
- Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
- Hopelessness about the future
- Memory problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
Symptoms of anxiety and increased emotional arousal may include:
- Irritability or anger
- Overwhelming guilt or shame
- Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much
- Trouble sleeping
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Hearing or seeing things that aren’t there
All right, now that we have a good overview of what PTSD actually is, let’s apply it to Divergent and the Hunger Games. Warning: From here on out there may be spoilers for either book!
Let’s look at the Hunger Games first. By the time we reach Mockingjay, Katniss has lived through two games in which she was forced to kill or be killed by other teenagers. Her father died in a horrific mine explosion, her district has been wiped off the map, she’s living underground in District 13 with people who may mean well but are very restrictive, and she’s been personally threatened by the ruler of the country. It’s a slight miracle that she can even still walk. Which symptoms of PTSD does she portray? I can remember the following:
- flashbacks & upsetting dreams(intrusive memories)
- trying to avoid thinking of the event(avoidance)
- feeling emotionally numb(avoidance)
- trouble concentrating(avoidance)
- difficulty maintaining close relationships(I’m torn on this one, since Katniss was never portrayed as being particularly good at relationships, but I think she has enough trouble with her friends and family in Mockingjay to count)
I think there’s more, but since Mockingjay isn’t fresh in my mind, I went with the ones I knew were in the book. Throughout Mockinjay, we see Katniss hiding in closets, relive her time in the arena, and in general, be a bit of a mess. And remember, this is at the start of the book, before Peeta is hijacked and Prim dies and things get even worse. I’m not exactly going out on a limb here by saying that Katniss is suffering from PTSD. Frankly, it would be a bit of a miracle if she wasn’t. And yet, people seem to think that just because she’s a bit broken inside, she’s no longer a strong character.
I’ll be honest: at times, I got annoyed with Mockingjay too. I think the first-person POV worked well in the first two books because Katniss really was at the center of the action, but it hurts the overall story a bit in Mockinjay, when much of what was going on was happening without Katniss. This is why I loved The Hunger Games movie. Yes, we lost some of the narration, but we gained so much more! The riot scene still sends shivers down my back no matter how many times I watch it. That being said, Katniss is still relevant in Mockingjay. She is the Mockingjay. And is she really no longer a strong female character? Throughout the book, we see her:
- confront President Snow
- kill Coin
- begin to rebuild her life
- be the face of the rebellion
- reach out to Johanna
Yes, these are not the actions of the not-yet-completely-broken Katniss in the first two books. This is not the same girl who drops tracker-jacker nests on the careers. This is not the same girl who kills Marvel so effortlessly. Would you really want her to be? This is Katniss embracing her humanity, which breaks her a bit. This is the same girl who mourns Rue and who vows that Peeta will be the victor of the Quarter Quill. This is still the same girl who volunteers for Prim, and who will do anything to protect what she holds most dear in the world. Would you want her to be anything different? Katniss has changed. She changed in the only way that it made sense for her character to change. Mockingjay may not be what you like to read, and that’s OK. But it’s not poorly written. It’s a disturbing book for a disturbing series, and Katniss is exactly who she needs to be.
This post has become monster-length, so I’m making it a two, maybe three parter. Any more insights onto Katniss’ PTSD in Mockingjay? I’ve really just began to scratch the surface, and I would love for this conversation to continue.