1. “I volunteer!” I gasp. “I volunteer as tribute!”
At the outset of Chapter 2, just after Prim has been selected in the reaping, Katniss volunteers to serve as the female tribute for District 12 in the Hunger Games. This event sets the rest of the plot in motion, and for the remainder of the book we watch Katniss struggling to survive the Games. The reason Katniss volunteers is, of course, to save Prim, her little sister. Despite the odds being in her favor, Prim is selected by the lottery system that decides which children become tributes. Because she is just twelve years old, and because she is a sensitive, nurturing person who has difficulty with any kind of suffering or violence, she is almost certain to die in the Games. Katniss, meanwhile, is four years older and very protective of Prim, and so without hesitation she volunteers to take her sister’s place. Moreover, she has years of experience hunting (and therefore killing) and is far less sensitive than her sister, making her more likely to survive the ordeal of the Games.
Katniss’s volunteering is also notable because, as Katniss explains, volunteers in her district are basically unheard of. Tributes from poor districts, such as Katniss’s District 12, rarely win the Games because their poverty puts them at a distinct disadvantage. They are often malnourished compared to the children from the wealthier districts, making them weaker and less able to endure prolonged exertion and difficult conditions. Additionally, as we learn later, some children in the wealthy districts actually train their whole lives to take part in the Hunger Games. Volunteers in these districts are common because winning the Games is a great honor for them. But because the tributes from the poor areas are vastly more likely to be killed, it is exceedingly rare that someone volunteers, even apparently to take the place of a sibling. Katniss’s gesture instantly earns the respect of her district and makes her unusual among the tributes in the Hunger Games.
2. The boy took one look back to the bakery as if checking that the coast was clear, then, his attention back on the pig, he threw a loaf of bread in my direction. The second quickly followed, and he sloshed back to the bakery, closing the kitchen door tightly behind him.
This quotation occurs toward the end of Chapter 2, as Katniss relates her first encounter with Peeta once Peeta has been selected as District 12’s male tribute. Katniss credits Peeta’s actions with essentially saving her life at the time and helping her realize that she would have to act as the provider for her family. When Peeta gave Katniss the bread, Katniss and her family were basically starving. The bread Peeta gave her allowed them to have their first real meal in a long while, and when Katniss saw Peeta the next day at the same time she saw the dandelion in the schoolyard, she realized that, if she wanted her family to eat, she would have to hunt and forage like her father taught her to feed them. Since then, Katniss has associated Peeta with this realization.
The quote and the events leading up to it additionally laid the groundwork for the relationship Peeta and Katniss would later develop, and they foreshadow how Peeta acts in the arena. Just before Peeta gives Katniss the bread, Katniss hears some sort of commotion in the bakery and she notices that Peeta emerges with a welt on his cheek, suggesting his mother hit him. Katniss suspects she hit Peeta because he burned the bread, and she also suspects he burned the bread deliberately so that it would be considered damaged and he could give it to Katniss. In other words, Peeta endures a physical beating so that he can help Katniss. He does the same later in the Hunger Games, when he saves Katniss after she’s dropped the tracker jacker nest on the group of Career Tributes. When Peeta finds Katniss stunned from the tracker jacker stings, he allows her to run away and fights Cato to protect her, suffering a serious injury in the process.
3. “I want the audience to recognize you when you’re in the arena," says Cinna dreamily. “Katniss, the girl who was on fire.”
Cinna says these words to Katniss in Chapter 5 as he prepares her dress for the opening ceremony of the Hunger Games. The quote points to one of the main themes of the novel: the importance of appearances. Cinna understands how necessary it is to make Katniss stand out, not just for the sake of vanity, but because he knows that appearances in the Hunger Games can have a significant, tangible effect. By standing out during the ceremony, for instance, Katniss can attract fans that might not otherwise have noticed her, and among these fans may be sponsors who could provide gifts that might prove critical during the Hunger Games. Though Katniss doesn’t feel spectacular, especially compared to some of the other tributes who are bigger and stronger than she is, she becomes one of the most notable among them, beginning with her appearance as “the girl who was on fire.”
4. In District 12, we call them the Career Tributes, or just the Careers. And like as not, the winner will be one of them.
Katniss’s explanation of what a Career Tribute occurs when the tributes gather together for their first day of training in Chapter 7. As Katniss explains, the Career Tributes are those tributes from the wealthier districts (typically Districts 1, 2, and 4) who have trained their whole lives to take part in the Hunger Games. They know how to fight and use a variety of weapons, and they are typically large and look strong and well-fed, compared to the tributes from the poorer districts who often look undernourished. As a result, they are generally better prepared for the challenges of the Hunger Games and are typically the winners. When Katniss sees the other tributes for the first time on their first day of training, she realizes the Careers will pose the greatest threat to her survival in the arena.
In addition, the quote highlights the inequality between rich and poor in Panem, a major theme of the novel. Because of the tessera system, in which children eligible for the Hunger Games can have their names entered into the reaping additional times in exchange for extra rations of food, the poor are already more likely than the wealthy to be chosen as tributes. Since the poor are also ill-prepared for the Games when compared with the Career Tributes, they are at a serious disadvantage. Being chosen as a tribute is essentially a death sentence for the poor, whereas Career Tributes often volunteer to compete since winning for them is an honor rather than a mere matter of survival.
5. Peeta blushes beet red and stammers out. “Because…because…she came here with me.”
In Chapter 9, as Caesar Flickerman interviews Peeta before the Games, Peeta reveals to Caesar and all of Panem that he’s in love with Katniss. Peeta’s revelation sets in motion the storyline of him and Katniss as ill-fated lovers that carries on throughout the Games. This storyline has a significant influence on the Games and on Peeta’s and Katniss’s survival. First, it makes Peeta and Katniss into a sensation among the viewers, in turn attracting sponsors. Haymitch has Katniss play up the romance for this reason, and in return he’s able to secure gifts that prove vital, including food and the burn ointment Katniss uses to heal her leg. Second, the novel suggests that the love storyline is the reason the Capitol decides to allow both tributes from a district to be named winners. The unprecedented move appears to be a response to Katniss’s and Peeta’s popularity, and it is essentially the reason that both Katniss and Peeta survive the Hunger Games (though Katniss, of course, has to force the Capitol in the end).
Peeta’s revelation of his love for Katniss is also the source of much of Katniss’s internal conflict in the novel. Katniss can’t discern whether Peeta is playing out a strategy devised by Haymitch or if his feelings are genuine. As a result, Katniss spends a great deal of time trying to puzzle out what he really feels. When he teams with the Careers, for instance, Katniss suspects Peeta was lying and will do whatever is necessary to stay alive. Later he confuses Katniss by saving her at the expense of being injured himself, suggesting he really does care for her. She remains uncertain about Peeta’s true feelings almost until the end of the novel, only conceding to herself that Peeta is telling the truth when he recalls details about the first time he saw her that prove he isn’t simply acting.
6. And right now, the most dangerous part of the Hunger Games is about to begin.
Katniss says these words at the end of Chapter 26, after Haymitch tells her the Capitol was extremely angry at her stunt with the berries. The dangerous event Katniss refers to here is her interview with Caesar Flickerman, and it’s dangerous because the lives of Katniss, her family, Peeta, and even possibly his family are now all at risk. As Haymitch told her, the Capitol feels that Katniss made them look foolish by forcing them to allow her and Peeta to both be declared winners after she and Peeta essentially threatened suicide. Consequently, though Katniss survived the Hunger Games, she is again in danger. She realizes that, in her interview with Caesar Flickerman, she must convince everyone she suggested to Peeta they eat the poisonous berries because she couldn’t bear the thought of losing him, not to deliberately defy the Capitol. In other words, she has to portray herself as desperately in love with Peeta and downplay any appearance of being a rebel. The quote and the events surrounding it again underscore how important appearances are in the novel.
Signature strengths are at the core of our identity. They are our essence…they are what make us glow. Maybe you shine when you express kindness or hope? Or perhaps when you use humor or creativity? Whenever we express a signature strength we are probably at our best – authentic, strong, and real.
When you think of Katniss, the star of The Hunger Games, what strengths make her glow?
I asked this of a few people who read the book, saw the movie, and know quite a bit about the VIA Classification of character strengths.
Here is what they said (for a list of character strengths go to the original source on the topic or check out my earlier blog). Katniss’ signature strengths would be:
- Perseverance: unwilling to accept her fate in District 12; she never gives up.
- Bravery: constantly walking into the face of danger when hunting and during the “games”; see my blog on Katniss’ courage strength.
- Love: volunteers for her sister at the reaping; takes care of her sister and friend.
- Judgment: uses smart tactics throughout the “games,” uses logic.
- Teamwork: collaborates with each of her allies and anyone willing to help her survive.
Perseverance and bravery were unanimous among the group. Indeed, Katniss’ life prior to the “games” is infused with risk-taking and resilience through poverty and oppression. These qualities are deep resources within her and she immediately turns to these as needed in a variety of situations. No argument there.
Love was almost unanimously chosen, perhaps because love is one of the easier character strengths to spot in films. There’s no doubting the genuineness and depth of Katniss’ love for her sister, Prim, and even for her friend, Rue, however, she really seemed to struggle to express her love for Peeta. Because this love strength does not naturally emerge – and it seems to cause her more discomfort (not energy and excitement) at times – I wonder if love would be a phasic strength for Katniss. Phasic strengths are strengths we bring forth strongly in certain situations (e.g., Katniss is able to force it during her interviews) but are not evident across all contexts.
I do think Katniss is displaying a significant heart-oriented strength at the “games.” Rather than love, I’d choose a strength that is difficult to pinpoint, even in positive movies – the strength of gratitude. The way Katniss honors Rue with song, care, and flowers and the way she upholds a respect for the forest seems to come from a deep place of interconnectedness with people and appreciation for life.
Self-regulation is also apparent to me. Katniss’ life of survival has been one of extreme discipline. Her hunting is a metaphor for this. Skilled archers explain how one must be intense and relaxed during the practice of archery. Such mastery with a bow and arrow takes incredible self-control and practice over time. Yes, Katniss has a couple impulsive lapses when she shoots an arrow through the apple and stabs the table an inch between Haymitch’s fingers. But, in even these moments, she uses exquisite accuracy and self-control, despite her rise in anger.
And, is Katniss using judgment or creativity when she blows up her opponents’ food supply, hunts and traps various animals, cuts down the trackers (bees) nest, appeals to the crowd to get sponsors, and tricks the Capitol into believing she would eat the berries? To some degree, it is both strengths. Judgment involves logical and critical thinking to analyze a situation while creativity involves originality and coming up with multiple pathways to find a solution. Because of Katniss’ incredible originality and ability to create possibilities in many situations, I vote for creativity.
Ultimately, Katniss is a team player – perhaps not on large teams – but in dyads, she is excellent. She teams with Rue, with Peeta, and for years hunting successfully with Gale. To a degree, she had collaborations with Haymitch and Cinna as well.
So, if Katniss were to take the VIA Survey today, my guess is that her signature strengths (listed in descending order) would be…
Do you agree? What strengths make Katniss glow? Are there any strengths you would add to this list?
Niemiec, R. M., & Wedding, D. (2008). Positive psychology at the movies: Using films to build virtues and character strengths. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment.New York: Free Press.