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Why Hunger Games’ Katniss Represents All Teen Girls

Artemis is one of the fiercest characters in Greek mythology: the goddess of the hunt, wilderness, and the moon, a superb archer who’s sworn to chastity, and a protector of girls and young women. On-screen, no one personifies her quite like The Hunger Games’s Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence. Here’s our Take on Katniss’s complex relationship with the Artemis archetype, the obvious traits she shares with heroines in the Artemis mold, and how the stories of both Artemis and Katniss offer a potent metaphor for the journey into adulthood, one that continues to resonate with young women today.

TRANSCRIPT

Katniss Everdeen: “I volunteer as tribute.” - The Hunger Games

Artemis is one of the fiercest characters in Greek mythology: the goddess of the hunt, wilderness, and the moon, a superb archer who’s sworn to chastity, and a protector of girls and young women. And on-screen, no one personifies her quite like The Hunger Game’s Katniss Everdeen.

Like Artemis, Katniss is an independent woman with a pure and incorruptible spirit. Even in a dystopian world ruled by a totalitarian police state, Katniss remains the master of her own destiny. As Katniss moves through this hellish world she’s been thrust into, then eventually leads the charge to change it, her character repeatedly harkens back to Artemis, who has long served as the patron of young women who are striving for their fullest potential.

Here’s our take on Katniss Everdeen’s complex relationship with the Artemis archetype, the obvious traits she shares with it and other heroines in the Artemis mold, and how the stories of both Artemis and Katniss offer a potent metaphor for the journey into adulthood, one that continues to resonate with young women today.

Katniss Everdeen: The Artemisian Warrior

With her bow and arrow and her obstinate will, Katniss typifies the powerful, Artemisian warrior. Like Artemis, she is both a hunter and a healer. Artemis is the goddess of nature, and Katniss, too, feels most at home in the woods. More symbolically, Artemis is also known as the Bringer of Light—a role that Katniss takes on once she’s drafted into the Hunger Games, and given a flamboyant new persona.

But the similarities between the two go beyond the superficial. Let’s take a closer look at some of Artemis’s most dominant traits, to see how they describe Katniss, too:

Artemis protects the vulnerable, especially women and children. And from age eleven, Katniss has taken on this role for her own household, after her father died and her mother had an emotional breakdown. Like Artemis, we see Katniss protecting young women: she acts as a guardian to her younger sister, Prim. On the battlefield, she looks out for Rue, forming an alliance with her, despite resolving to go it alone. She tends to the wounded—even when it puts her in danger. And she respects anyone who similarly defends the defenseless.

But like Artemis—who’s the goddess of both animals and the hunt—Katniss is a study in contradictions. Caring as she can be, she’s also quick to anger. Some of the most famous stories about Artemis find the goddess exacting a form of justice that looks a lot more like vengeance, doling out harsh punishment to mortals and other gods who have offended her. Katniss is no different. Her instinct for survival becomes an insatiable thirst for revenge. Like Artemis, Katniss’s thirst for retribution can sometimes consume her.

Katniss Everdeen: “I’m going to kill Snow. Nothing good is safe while he’s alive.” - Mockingjay, Part Two

Artemis is also rebellious: In Homer’s The Iliad, she even dares to stand against Hera, queen of the Gods, to fight on the side of the Trojans. And Katniss is equally obstinate. From early on in the Games, she shows signs of defiance that lead to her openly taking on the entire system. And it’s these small, revolutionary acts that, eventually, make Katniss a hero.

Most importantly, Artemis is fiercely independent. She chose to live a life of chastity, running free in the woods rather than settling down in love or marriage. In the book Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women’s Lives, psychiatry professor Jean Shinoda Bolen writes of women who embody the Artemis archetype that they are “less likely to project an expectation of being fulfilled, rescued, taken care of, or made complete by having a spouse, child, or lover.” Katniss is defined by this self-reliance: She learned to take care of her family from a young age by hunting and foraging, which are the same skills that keep her alive in the arena. But autonomy has also made her emotionally distant; she has trouble with vulnerability, and she shows almost no desire for close relationships. And while Katniss’s distrusting nature may serve her well in battle, it also makes it difficult for her to express her true feelings.

Katniss’s attitudes toward love, marriage, and motherhood can largely be ascribed to her surroundings: Why would she harbor dreams of romance in a world like this? But like Artemis, she also just doesn’t seem to fall in love easily. She enjoys an easy camaraderie with Gale: In a way, their relationship evokes Artemis and Orion, the great hunter who became Artemis’s companion in the woods, and the only man Artemis ever felt affection towards. Yet—at least at first—she doesn’t think of Gale as more than a friend. And even when something develops between them, she can’t allow it to distract her from her mission.

Katniss likewise feels gratitude toward Peeta for the kindness he showed her as a young girl. But she’s also kept her distance from him. When Peeta announces his romantic interest in her, Katniss is sure it’s just a ploy—and in fact, the very idea makes her angry. Of course, eventually, Katniss does fall in love, not just with Peeta, but with Gale.

Katniss Everdeen: “He made me look weak.”

Haymitch Abernathy: “He made you look desirable, which in your case can’t hurt, sweetheart.” - The Hunger Games

In this, Katniss doesn’t perfectly align with Artemis: she ends up married to Peeta, having children, and settling down, which the goddess of chastity would certainly never do. But again, even this reflects the contradictions of Artemis—who is, after all, also the goddess of childbirth. Those who worshipped Artemis turned to her in times of transition, asking her to watch over young women as they entered each new phase of life. And for Katniss Everdeen, Artemis proves a spiritual guide for her unusually perilous coming of age.

Artemis and the Young Girl’s Journey

Artemis has always been associated with a young girl’s maturing into womanhood. In ancient Greece and Rome, adolescent girls would lay their dolls on her altar—a symbolic offering of their childhood. But what is it about Artemis that makes her such a natural parallel for the young girl’s experience?

Again, Artemis is a huntress. Besides literally hunting for food, Katniss figuratively searches for her purpose—like any young girl who’s trying to find her place in the world. Katniss truly finds herself when she becomes the Mockingjay—when she accepts this role she’s been forced into and recognizes the power she has to make a difference. In her book, Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman, Jean Shinoda Bolen describes this discovery of a woman’s inner core as becoming “one-in-herself”—a young woman crossing the boundary between childhood and adulthood, and moving beyond others’ expectations to forge her own identity and make her own decisions.

Bolen also describes how girls who mirror the Artemis archetype will often find in nature and animals a sense of the nurturing that they often lack at home. We see how the woods become an important place of learning and growth for Katniss. In the first film, Katniss hunts animals without mercy. But when we see her hunting again with Gale later, she has another encounter with a deer—and this time something has changed. She recognizes in the deer a symbolic innocence. And her decision to let it go marks a dramatic growth: Although she kills plenty throughout the series, Katniss has discovered an inner one-in-herself that won’t allow her to be morally corrupted—unlike the adults around her.

Katniss’ ability to remain uncompromised, to spot the hypocrisies and dishonesties, even among her supposed allies—along with her willingness to call them out—are what make her the only person who can save her people.

Katniss Everdeen: “We have no fight. Except the one the Capitol gave us.” - Mockingjay, Part 2

Artemis responds ruthlessly if someone under her protection is violated or threatened in any way. This loyalty and defensiveness often manifests in teenagers—and Katniss is no different. For many, this rage has come to define Katniss. In The New York Times, Sabaa Tahir called the character “an embodiment of teenage anger.”

We see this anger as a cathartic fury, expressed by the formerly powerless young girl, asserting herself against the forces that keep her in check. We’ve seen glimmers of the Artemis archetype throughout our most popular depictions of willful young women, from Little Women’s Jo March to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Brave’s Merida. Like Katniss, all of them embody this idea of forcefully standing up for themselves in a world that aims to keep them in their place.

Arya Stark: “The world doesn’t just let girls decide what they’re going to be. But I can, now.” - Game of Thrones, s7x6

Katniss also speaks directly to the young women in this specific moment in history. In an article for The Guardian, Noreena Hertz even suggested rebranding Generation Z as “Generation K” after “Katniss.”

Noreena Hertz: “Like Katniss, they feel the world they inhabit is one of perpetual struggledystopian, unequal and harsh.” - The Guardian

Katniss has proved to be a natural role model for a generation of young women who assume more leadership roles, and who passionately challenge their own social injustices. She updates the Artemis archetype for a new era, one where coming of age means dealing with much more than just becoming a woman.

Beyond Artemis

Katniss isn’t a simple copy of Artemis. She complicates and diverges from the archetype in some notable ways. After all, Katniss isn’t an immortal goddess. She’s a mortal in an exceptionally dangerous world—she has to do things differently in order to get through it all. But Katniss’s experiences again parallel those of real-life teenagers, who may also want to rebel, but are forced to conform to certain expectations in the meantime. Ultimately, Katniss’s journey serves as a metaphor for how young women may aspire to the Artemis within while contending with just how much the world tries to keep them boxed in.

Katniss may be morally incorruptible and fiercely independent, but she also can’t speak freely, otherwise, she risks harm to herself and the people she loves. And while she eventually becomes the voice of a revolution, she also spends the series keeping most of her true feelings to herself—even among those she trusts. For most of Katniss’s story, that includes suppressing her opinions about the Capitol. Early on, her fears and her survival instincts force her to go along with doing whatever the Capitol tells her to. And when she does become the leader of the rebellion, it’s a role she outright refuses. Katniss is repeatedly shaped by others, who manipulate and mold her.

In their essay, “Alone, I Can’t Be the Mockingjay: Katniss Everdeen and the Artemis Archetype”, writers Jessica Auz and Kaitlin Tonti argue that Katniss isn’t necessarily as self-reliant as her superficial links to Artemis might suggest. In fact, they point out, Katniss regularly relies on men to guide her. They teach her how to hunt, how to dress, and how to play the game, all while giving her emotional support and boosting her confidence. She’s not as self-reliant as she may seem: In the end, Katniss marries Peeta because she becomes emotionally dependent on him. Peeta gives the traumatized heroine the comfort and the hope she needs to go on living.

Scholar Tatiana Golban argues that, over the course of her story, Katniss comes to more closely resemble the goddess Persephone. Like Katniss, Persephone is thrown into an unthinkable situation when she’s abducted into the Underworld. She’s an innocent girl who’s forced by a desperate trial to find new strength within and realize her truest self. The myth of Persephone offers its own metaphor for coming of age amid suffering and uncertainty, and for young women navigating the darkness by following our own inner light. Like Katniss, it’s a journey that doesn’t just transform her, but the world.

For her part, Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins has said she was inspired by another Greek myth—the story of Theseus, the young prince who volunteered as tribute to fight the Minotaur. Theseus offered himself up to prevent other young people from being sacrificed under another cruel regime—and his story obviously has a lot in common with Katniss Everdeen’s. But it’s no accident that Katniss reminds us of female heroines like Persephone and Artemis. As we’ve seen more and more lately, it is often women who are leading the charge, who stand up to oppression, and who slay the myriad monsters that plague our society. Whenever women strive to reach their truest potential, the world moves ever closer to realizing its own.

Conclusion

Like Artemis, Katniss is an imperfect role model: She shows us how to be brave and resilient, to stand up for the vulnerable, and to be unapologetically yourself—even as she embraces her heroism reluctantly, and allows her war to strip away some of her individuality. But Katniss isn’t a mythical figure. She’s a modern, complex character who’s shaped by a complicated world, which only makes her more relatable and inspiring. Besides, Artemis and the other Greek gods don’t represent fixed personality types so much as they do inner drives—motivations that guide us through certain phases of our lives. And those drives can be different as we grow older and our goals naturally change.

You might start out as an Artemis, determined to stay free, independent, and unattached forever. But as you get older, you may find yourself becoming an Aphrodite, falling in love, and looking to settle down. One is not inherently more empowering than the other, nor are they mutually exclusive: You can continue to identify with Artemis’s strong will and determination, while still aspiring to be a nurturing mom or giving partner—you just need to carve out space for that independent self within. Like Katniss Everdeen shows us, it’s possible to grow and change without being corrupted, to retain those core strengths and beliefs that make you you, while also opening yourself up to new possibilities. This is the true hero’s journey.

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