Team Bella or Team Katniss? It’s Not Even Close

The Hunger Games series — about a girl taken from home to participate in annual games which will result in almost certain death — have been called the “new Twilight.” Both of these movie franchises come from best selling books aimed at teenagers, both have female lead characters, both have love triangles, and both have parents wrangling with suitability for their kids.

However, I said no to Twilight and yes to Hunger Games for my kids, and here’s why.

First, our culture needs more Katnisses and fewer Bellas:

As the parent of a thirteen year old daughter, I was disappointed at the lead character in Twilight (Bella Swann) had become so popular…  though she’s always been ingrained in the popular imagination, hasn’t she?  As long as I can remember, there’s a damsel in distress tied to a rail road track, screaming for a man to rescue her in the nick of time.  Just because Bella is waiting for a werewolf or a vampire to rescue her doesn’t make her weakness any more palatable.  Bella is defined – some would argue consumed — by her romantic love.

Which is understandable since she doesn’t have a great relationship with either parent.  In fact, both Bella and Katniss have missing parents.  Bella’s parents are divorced and her mom is an emotionally weak woman living far away from her.  Katniss’s dad died in a coal mining accident.  Ever since her husband’s death, her mom is “vacant.” This plunges Katniss into a dire situation.  While Bella’s absent parents cause her to seek an intense love outside of her immediate family at an incredibly young age, Katniss assumes the role of care giver for her family, learns to hunt, and deals with merchants in the marketplace. She’s fierce, loyal, and independent even in the most trying of circumstances.  (If we could bend the book/time/movie continuum and introduce the two characters, Katniss wouldn’t get Bella.  “Why is she so depressed all the time?” she might say to Gale while looking for squirrels in the woods.  “ Why is she so sullen when she has so much food to eat and so much free time?”

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were fewer Bellas and more Katnisses in high schools across America?

Second, love in The Hunger Games is outward focused, while love in Twilight is inward focused:

Both Bella and Katniss have conflicted romantic feelings, but there’s a huge difference.  Rebecca Cusey wrote about Eclipse:

What concerns me is the very nature of Bella’s love. Edward is … always there, but they never do anything. They don’t hike or fish or go shopping or watch movies or play Wii or volunteer at a soup kitchen or even work at the local ice cream shop. They never laugh. They talk about their feelings. It’s all intensity all the time… While the emphasis on marriage is refreshing, the film begs the question what is the purpose of love, romance, and marriage? Is it solely to love and adore each other?

If the inward-focus of love is all there is, the intense talks and wildflower meadows, then Bella’s desire to become a vampire and adore Edward throughout eternity makes perfect sense. However, if that inward focus is designed to evolve into a greater outward focus, then she will surely miss out.

The love triangle in The Hunger Games centers on whether Katniss shold choose, childhood friend Gale or fellow contestant Peeta. However, the real story is the fight for survival, and the romance does not require characters to walk around without shirts for the duration of the film.  (In fact, there’s no sexual content in The Hunger Games.) Katniss Everdeen’s love causes her to bravely sacrifice on behalf of others – from taking care of her family to figuring out how to play a game in a way that hopefully won’t kill  her friend. As Rebecca pointed out, the love in the Twilight series is inwardly focused and makes you want to toss cold water on the characters’ heads. The love in The Hunger Games is outwardly focused, and movingly portrays characters acting in loving and courageous ways in the midst of tragedy.

Third, we live in a tough time, let’s have tough conversations.

Obviously, The Hunger Games has a more violent — and dark — plot. Though the producers do a great job at avoiding gruesome killings, Katniss must battle it out with the other contestants until there’s one survivor.  So how do you justify letting kids read about such a horrible situation?  Because there’s a strong message about personal freedom, liberty, war, and oppressive governments from which teens – and adults — would greatly benefit.

Plus, it’s time we face it.  We live in tough times.  Let’s start having difficult conversations with our teenagers.

 

In conclusion, there’s been a great deal of ink asking Twilight fans whether they’re Team Jacob or Team Edward, and Hunger Games fans whether they’re Team Gale or Team Peeta.  I say we put away these silly questions and declare ourselves Team Katniss over Team Bella.

Because, in the battle between these two teenage characters, it’s not even close.

Making Special Time
Dealing with Disappointment
Can You Take the Heat?
Humans and Kings
About Nancy French

Nancy French is a three time New York Times Best Selling Author.

  • http://patheos.com Joy Rhodes

    We made the same decision here at our house based on the reasons you listed, plus one: I’m just not a big fan of “vampire love.” Me and my girls went to see the Hunger Games movie this weekend and I really enjoyed the conversations we had afterward. I gotta say that I do like your spin on the “team” issue. Count me in on Team Katniss!

  • Kim Scruggs

    Great job explaining the differences, Nancy. I appreciate your perspective and insight; it helps me end my personal conflict of whether or not I should have let my almost-13 year old son read the series. I am reading it this week and taking him and his brother to see it next weekend. It will be Seth’s second viewing – he was behind you with Joey in that mob at Shadybrook on Thursday at midnight!

    Thank you for taking a stand and not being afraid to share those beliefs. Keep up the good work.

  • Betsey Usher

    Thank you for posting this. As a person well beyond her teenage years, I am thrilled that “Katniss” is such a strong and positive role model for kids as well as for adults.

  • Amber

    While I appreciate the well thought out argument, the bottom line is that these books are children killing children in a dark, parentless existence. Is this really the best we have to offer our young adult readers? Shame on us.

  • http://www.fromthenarrows.com Susan

    Exactly what Amber said!

  • Jill

    I was mystified by the popularity of the Twilight series. Bella was obsessed, clingy, and a sad portrayal of teen infatuation. I did not want my daughter to see her as an acceptable model. However, I certainly understand why Katniss is seen as a positive depiction for girls. Yes, Panem is a grim place and the books are violent but the themes that Collins tackles have a timeless quality. Love, honor, integrity, and sacrifice. Our culture has been silent for more than a couple of decades about these very real aspects of humanity.

    Surely, these stories can take their place on the shelf beside Animal Farm, Brave New World, and The Lord of the Flies.

  • http://www.fouragainsttwo.com Mandy w

    I am navitgating these waters with my four girls. Two are 12 and I have let them see The Hunger Games. They have read the books, we have talked about the themes. I have also let them watch the first three Twilight movies (with me fast-forwarding some parts) and the older one has read the first three books (with me taking some pages-chapters away from the book). We’ve used them to discuss topics that they already are seeing in their everyday life…well not vampire love, but teen obsession and the definition love for some people. I have not chosen this lightly, but I have to do my best with kids being raised in this world.

    All that said, I am Team Katniss and when my girls talk about team Gale or Team Peeta I always tell them that Katniss is not a prize to be won, she is her own self and is amazing. Hopefully they are listening!

  • http://olderthanjesus.blogspot.com Alison Hodgson

    Well said, Nancy. Team Katniss all the way.

  • Jackie F

    Hmmm…. I wasn’t a fan of the book – only because it didn’t grab me – I loved that the story, however, revolves around a strong, independant GIRL. I also love a good, “underdog beats the totalitarian state”, type of story….

    For those outraged by the subject matter; I’ve said it once & I’ll say it again…. Nobody has told this story better than William Golding…. Maybe you’ve heard of him… He wrote Lord of the Flies. You should check it out if you haven’t.

  • Queen Bee

    I applaud the parents who are reading books along with their child and discussing them. What really matters is that we engage our children in discussions. They may then begin to understand our thought process and recognize out concern for their well-being. I hope to see both movies with my 15 year-old son and share feedback. Keep the conversations alive.

  • regular joe

    I’d say the differance is this: Twilight is the sort of girl story girls have always loved, traditional feminine empowerment via being a masculine object of desire of a powerful and admirable man. Hunger Games is another in a long line of Butt Kicking Girls from a Feminist title 9 fantasy, neuvo feminine empowerment thru aquiring masculine skills and needing a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Twilight is twinkies, Hunger Games is offically good for you feminist brussle sprouts. Of course mod moms will say eat your feminist broccoli.

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

    Joy, I agree — not sure about the intraspecies love triangle! yuck!

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

    Thanks, Kim — I saw Joey and Seth at the premiere!

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

    Yes, Betsey – I want to be more like Katniss too!

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

    I totally get what you are saying — but you do think that these types of books ideally help us deal with the darkness in our own world? I mean, we do live in a dark place — our kids will have to deal with these terrible geopolitical challenges. Perhaps stories like this will prepare them to face down these challenges with courage?

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

    Jill, I like Twilight, but feel like the dad could’ve been much stronger in trying to calm down that teen romance a bit… I guess we’d only had one book then…

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

    Regular joe — great lines!

  • Amy

    Thank you, Team Katniss all the way. I want my girls to be empowered that they can be more than a love object and I want my boys to view women as strong and capable, not weak and sex objects.

  • Dawn

    I really appreciate your article and arguments “for” Katniss and Hunger Games over Twilight. However, I have decided, for the time being, my 13 year old daughter is not going to see Hunger Games, nor read the books. And Twilight, well…that’s a no brainer….NO…for us. My daughter IS the only girl in her grade at her small, private school who has not seen it. Though I agree with your description of the GOOD Katniss brings to this unsettling (to say the least) series, my beliefs that we should focus on things that are good, pure, and lovely, keep me from allowing her to see this now. I am a firm believer that what goes into a mind, comes out in a life. And while we can’t escape and hide from the reality of a sick world that we live in, we don’t need to cram it into her 13 year old psyche for 2 hours. Yes, in the end, the good overcomes the evil, but….getting there is a long, drawn out process. It’s just not something that I believe God wants me to expose my child to. I hope that parents and children can understand this…because as it is now, she and I are being ridiculed for not seeing any of these “good movies that everyone else is allowed to go to.”

  • sonjia

    Outstanding analysis. As a critical-thinking adult and parent, I loved Hunger Games. Though my children are quite young and will not read the book or see the movie for several more years, I have discussed the plot, various conflicts, possible solutions, admirable character traits, and frightening facts regarding totalitarian regimes with my pre-teen children. Brainwashing by the media begins early, best to start young training our kids to be critical readers, listeners, and decision-makers!

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

    Dawn, no I totally understand your point. I think under different circumstances, I’d feel the same way you do. However, when my husband went to Iraq, it just forced my entire family to look into the face of evil (the war and all of the atrocities we were fighting) and try not to flinch.

    Plus, when we went to Africa to adopt a daughter, it sobered them up to the reality of life in most places. (In fact, after my 11 year old saw Hunger Games, he said, “You know, those people in District 12 still had it better than …” and he named the area of Africa where we got my daughter.)

    So, my kids “grew up” a bit in this area of life. that doesn’t mean they aren’t sweet and innocent in other areas, but they “get” that there’s evil in the world and we sometimes have to face it. Does that make sense?

  • Howard Blasingame

    I never knew any of this stuff. Thanks for the enlightening.

  • Paul

    Outstanding!
    I like the movie because it is probably one of the most pro-conservative, pro-libertarian movies, right up there with Ayd Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Kathy Tuan-Maclean

    Thanks Nancy! You put in words what I’ve thought. In fact, I listened to the Twilight books on tape and during book 2 and 3 kept yelling at Bella in van because she was so codependent–had a lot of conversations with my girls as a result.

    As one of my friends/colleagues said about using Twilight as a teaching moment with kids, “If a guy says he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stop himself from killing you, don’t walk 5 miles into the forest alone with him.”

  • kelly

    This is an excellent analysis of the two, thank you! One note to add about the Bella character, which I find especially disturbing: throughout the book, there is a lot of sideways talk about Edward being unable to “control” himself. Then, of course, there are broken beds, occasional bruises, and other marks of violence. It’s never mentioned directly, but in an oblique way, Bella experiences pretty classic domestic violence, and lives into the cycle of it. A partner who can’t control him/herself, so violence is done, but he/she “really” loves them, so they return, and the cycle begins again…

    It’s a rather terrifying thing to be teaching our teenagers, that if a person “really loves you” but “can’t control themselves” than the violence (whether physical or verbal) is somehow acceptable.

    Just a thought.

  • Jayme

    Of course your post is much more articulate and thoughtfully written, but this is a humorous take on an imagined girl’s night with Katniss Everdeen, Hermione Granger, Bella Swan and Buffy Summers that you might be interested in reading: http://bit.ly/GZltSI

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

    LOL — that’s good advice!!

  • EB

    I actually think one of the strengths of the Hunger Games books is that the struggle between good and evil is so complicated in them. The war at the end seems to be between evil and evil in terms of the leadership, and between two groups of people fighting for survival among the armies, with our heroine trying to navigate a way through that keeps her and those she loves alive. She spends the whole series, I think, desparately fighting for her integrity. This seems much more like real life than those series in which you can easily distinguish the good from the evil.

  • anonymouse

    TEAM KATNISS……and TEAM GALE
    YEAAAA

  • Pingback: Twilight « David's Commonplace Book()

  • valeria

    First let me thank the Lord for giving me boys. And bless all you parents of girls. Hopefully some of you are raising my future daughters in law! I have not read either books series or seen any of the movies, but from what I have read and heard, I would prefer a Katniss to a Bella in the daughter in department. As a matter of fact, maybe some of us could exchange e mail addresses. I am still diligently trying to convince my sons of the benefits of arranged marriage!

    The Hunger Games concept reminds me of that short story we all read in school, “The Lottery”..and also, as someone else on this thread mentioned, Lord of the Flies and Brave New World. I wonder how those books were received and perceived when they first came out?

  • valeria

    Lots and lots of typos there. Now you moms of outstanding young women are thinking, “Arranged marriage, my foot! I don’t want my daughter marrying into a bunch of illiterates!”

  • http://facebook.com/kippingitreal Russell Waller

    I really enjoy reading on this internet site , it holds good posts . “For Brutus is an honourable man So are they all, all honourable men.” by William Shakespeare.

  • Timothy Dalrymple

    They strike me as quite different. Katniss volunteers to go into the titular games in order to save the life of her little sister — and inside the arena, it’s kill-or-be-killed, and Katniss never (to my knowledge) initiates a fatal attack. She also, in the second novel, rejects the games and leads others in rebelling against them — and is then swept up in a civil war against a repressive totalitarian government. This seems quite different than teenagers (well, okay, immortal vampires with a few mortals sprinkled in) killing each other because they’re hungry for blood or because they are offended or etc.

    I don’t know about “the best we can offer” — lots of things are not the best we can offer. But the Hunger Games has a lot of good things to offer.

    It *is* interesting that so many stories — and this is not a new phenomenon — have protagonists with dead, absent or abusive parents. It opens the door for lots of interesting dramatic and emotional developments, but I think in some ways we have a hard time starting a story with a hero who has loving and supportive parents, unless those parents are killed or stolen or etc., because it doesn’t present as compelling a before-and-after.

  • lacy

    You’ve pointed out some interesting differences between the two, particularly how one is inward focused and one is outward focused. I am frustrated with the way you have exalted Katniss’ response to pain and absent parents and condemned Bella’s response. Katniss is found worthy of praise and love and Bella is found worthy of rejection and shame. You to go as far to say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were fewer Bellas and more Katnisses in high schools across America?” It is this spirit that I am reacting against.

    For one, no, it would not be and is not nice to have more teenagers living in defensive modes due to absent, neglectful parenting–however those modes look. Secondly, I find this utterly adolescent to sink to the level of who is cool and who is lame–strong and untrusting Katniss or vulnerable and lovesick Bella. Thirdly, I find this article discriminatory–there are girls and women who are naturally inner focused and there are girls and women who are naturally outer focused and this is not a measurement of strength in any way. This is the domain of human personality, and to declare some people inferior to others based off of their natural preference is bigoted.

    It feels that all you have done here is look at these two girls and idealize one for her strength and crucify the other for her weakness. I do not find your contribution edifying to the world of teenagers and how they navigate their worlds and respond to pain. There are many Bella’s out there who are worthy of our love, not our rejection. Both of these characters fought for what they were missing out on — unconditional, undying love.

    It’s one thing to critique the values and ideas and messages portrayed these books. It’s entirely another to take it where this article has, down into the mire of us versus them, who is worthy and who is unworthy. You may be right that Katniss wouldn’t get Bella, but that doesn’t make the Katnisses of the world more worthy of love and respect than the Bella’s. There are Bellas and Katnisses around us and around our kids, and there are possibly Bella and Katniss parts inside each of us. And they need our acceptance and support.

  • MAZE

    You hit the bullseye within the bullseye! Agree! Agree! Agree!
    Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


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