Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publication Date: 2009
LC Call Number: PZ7.C683
Here I am with another “one more thing” post, because after I wrote my earlier post, I found myself thinking further about Katniss and things that happen to her, and the things that I hadn’t written about. So here it is. (yes, this one has spoilers too)
Many of the scenes that I didn’t write about but that nevertheless caught my attention had in common Katniss’s body, and as I considered it further I began to notice all the ways in which control over her body has been wrested from her. This seems like a strange thing to suddenly bring up in a story which has mostly involved her being forced to battle other teenagers to the death, but there are specific gendered and sexual losses of control that happen above and beyond that which seem to be particular to her.
The scene that made this clear to me was the one in Catching Fire in which she is reunited with her fashion team, and she notes that there are no secrets between her and these people when it comes to her body. She’s already said that she will be unrecognizable when they are finished with her, which seems to indicate a certain separation from her body as presented to the public. They construct her in the mode of an idealized femininity, which is absolutely not under her control and is not at all what she would choose. It has a certain appeal to her, just as it does to the crowds–she expresses admiration of Cinna’s work in particular–but her appearance is very far removed from her identity.
But her lack of control over her gendered appearance is only the first step. There is also a fairly comprehensive co-opting of her sexuality. Of course, that really started with The Hunger Games, with Peeta’s declaration of love and Haymitch’s support of this as a plan, and the need to act this out in order to survive and so on. But in Catching Fire, this gets worse. She isn’t just required to perform her way through extreme circumstances with the hope of surviving and going home. Now, there is no going home, because she is asked to make her entire life conform to this story. The pregnancy story is an interesting one, because like so many things in Catching Fire, it directly parallels something in The Hunger Games, the declaration mentioned above, but unlike that, it turns out to be unnecessary. It’s hardly played up at all and it doesn’t really seem to make much difference to the story, which brings us once back to the question of how well justified this behavior was. It seemed justified in the first book because it worked, but here, where it doesn’t… maybe less so. We’re forced to revisit this question even if we (like Katniss?) had reconciled ourselves to it before. This is a way of using her presumed sexuality for show, and both times, it’s nonconsensual. It doesn’t really touch her body, but it controls how her body is understood, perhaps even affecting how she understands it herself.
So Katniss doesn’t control how her body is maintained, nor how it is seen. And then, of course, she also doesn’t control how she gets to use it. She sees that she will be forced into marriage and strongly suspects that her childbearing capabilities will be harnessed by the state to create new, exciting tributes. In other words, she will be forced to conceive children with Peeta (and, obviously, this is rape, even if we concede it isn’t Peeta’s fault and assume he doesn’t want this), and undergo forced childbirth. She has already been more or less forced to carry out a physical relationship with him, though it hasn’t come down to actual rape yet. Given where this seems to be going, though, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a rape in Mockingjay.
All of this stuff is so obvious that it’s hard to see why I would bother making a post about it, but there are two things that I wanted to say about it. First, I wanted to put all these violations of Katniss’s bodily autonomy together to show how they’re related to each other (and Peeta’s comments to her throughout the book, which I mentioned in the other post, seem to contribute to this, as he is making assumptions about what he gets to say to her without regard for her feelings). Second, it’s interesting that Katniss identifies marriage as a right that the District Twelve people have been able to rely on, which is now being taken away from her, directly as a result of her willingness to challenge these power structures. Using sexuality to control rebellious women, hmm, there is a political statement in there somewhere.