Todorov’s and Jackson’s Fantasy and Gothic Views of Katniss in The Hunger Games
Todorov and Jackson create two works that explain the definition of the fantastic and the gothic. According to Todorov, The Hunger Games is considered to be a fantasy and a gothic novel because it meets his literary views of how secondary world settings and supernatural events that occur together are often found in these genres. In The Hunger Games, Panem is the country Katniss lives in, or in other words a secondary world. Panem is considered a secondary world because it “cannot be explained by the laws of this familiar world” (Todorov 25), such as our primary world. Secondly, Todorov states that the “uncertainty of the truth” and fear, are common themes that make a novel fantastic and gothic. Katniss fears that if she is open to trusting people, she will be betrayed, like the ways she was by her mother, Peeta and the Capitol. However, what Todorov forgets to mention is that many fantasy and gothic genres can read through the psychoanalytic lens; how one’s—Katniss—psyche reveals their unconscious drives.
Todorov explains that in “fantastic texts, the author describes events which are not likely to occur in everyday life” (33), or in other words, the primary world. The primary world—that is known to be our own—is much different from this secondary world, also known as Panem. Panem divides their country into 12 districts, all of which possess important goods for Panem, for example District 12 has coal. People in the districts die from starvation and the lack of health care, but also by not being the victor of the Hunger Games. The Capitol of Panem—the wealthy people—pick 2 people from each district to sacrifice for their country. This idea of sacrifice, or giving back, ties into the gothic theme and “cannot be explained by the laws of this familiar world” (Todorov 25). The familiar world—primary world—does not sacrifice innocent people for a larger power by taking their lives like the lottery, and putting them in a place where they must kill each other until there is a victory of one person. If homicide occurred in most places around the world, they would be punished through the court of law and sent to prison.
When Katniss steps into the arena, she has entered a place that is “neither entirely ‘real’ not entirely ‘unreal’, but is located somewhere indeterminately between the two” (Jackson 19). In this place that is both real and unreal, Katniss faces supernatural events such as fireballs, mutated wolves and Tracker Jackers—human-made bees that cause severe hallucinations and sometimes death. This place is considered not entirely real because Katniss is aware that the supernatural events are created by the Gamemakers, meant entirely for entertaining the audience (Collins 175). However, the games are not entirely ‘unreal’ because the fireballs are real flames, the mutated wolves are alive and hungry, and the Tracker Jacker’s do carry poison, all of which can cause harm and sometimes death to the real people inside the arena. This is related to the fantastic because these events a not only “supernatural” (Todorov 33), but the events that Katniss faces are also considered both real and unreal. These themes also tie into the gothic because it breaks the normality principals of the primary world which leave the readers feeling shocked and disturbed (Todorov 47). The feeling of shock or uncomforting suggests that it breaks what is normal in our primary world because readers who are not familiar with human-designed creatures that are made to kill humans because it is unethical and a horror-like.
This fantastic theme that is carried throughout the text is called the instrumental marvelous. This theme involves “technological developments” that are unfamiliar to the speaker of the novel—Katniss—but can be “explained in a rational manner” (Todorov 56). For example, before the Games, Kantiss was never threatened by fireballs or Tracker Jacker’s, however when she does encounter them, she is aware that the Gamemaker’s created them (Collins 175). Another example of technological developments that can be explained is the medicine that is carried in containers, brought to the characters by a parachute. This is considered a technological development because this device can find the specific district players and land in place where it could be reached. This device can be explained however, as it is sent from the Capitol with the use of their advanced technologies that allow it to track the player.
According to Todorov, “the speaker’s uncertainty of the truth” (38) is a common theme throughout literary fantasies. The speaker in The Hunger Games is Katniss Everdeen; throughout the story she establishes a close connection with the readers by sharing her thoughts and feelings that other characters do not have access to. Katniss’ experiences with the “uncertainty of the truth” (38) suggests that she constantly debates what is true or untrue in scenarios throughout novel, specifically between Peeta, the Capitol and her mother. Katniss has a difficult time trusting Peeta; she always felt uncertain about his motives when he acted kind towards her. At first when Peeta acted kind toward Katniss, she thought of him as an honest man trying to be friendly, however it was not long until she reminded herself to not fall for it because he was planning to kill her (Collins 72). This part of the novel not only shows Katniss as a speaker by sharing her thoughts with the reader when she “reminds herself” (72), but also shows the uncertainty of trusting Peeta. Collins also integrates a gothic twist as well as fantasy through the fear of falling for Peeta’s trap and being killed. This is considered gothic and fantastic because gothic is anything that results in fear (Todorov 33).
Fear in Katniss is exposed through her thoughts and emotions that are separated from the cameras and the other characters. At the beginning of the novel Katniss comes off as emotionless and the opposite of weak; she hated her mother for her weakness and neglect, so she had to “put up a wall to protect [herself]” (Collins 53). According to Todorov, “fear is often linked to the fantastic” (33); Katniss constantly fears that if she lets her wall down, she will be susceptible to betrayal, such like the betrayal she felt from Peeta when she thought his acts of kindness was only to help him win the games. The mistrust Katniss has for Peeta is also present in the Capitol. Considering Katniss thinks that “trust will only be a weakness” (Collins 114), she refuses to show the Capitol that they own her (236). This is another example of her keeping a wall up to save her from her fear of being betrayed by someone else. Katniss shows that the Capitol does not own her by rebelling the rules of the Hunger Games and purposely does not kill Rue and Peeta. At the end of the novel, when the Capitol revoked the rule of having two victors, Katniss rebels by showing the Capitol if they cannot have two winners, they will have none by trying to eat the poisonous berries (319).
Near the end of the games, there was an announcement allowing two tributes from the same district to claim victory (247). Katniss trusted the Capitol and went to look for Peeta to claim victory together, until there was only two of them left. As soon as they believed they won, the capitol announced that the new rule has been revoked and that there would again only have one winner and “like a fool, [she] bought into it” (342). This part of the novel shows Katniss facing what she was most afraid of and how it resulted in the consequence of giving up her life or Peeta’s. This quote is related to the fantastic because it shows that her fear of being betrayed, is faced with the people of the Capitol that holds all the power over Katniss—a girl who never wanted to appear weak. This also relates to the gothic theme because gothic is often found in horror genres, which purposely tries to bring the feeling of fear and “anxiety” (Todorov 33) in the characters, as well as the readers.
In Jackson’s essay, he mentions that Todorov did not mention the psychoanalytic view and how it is prevalent in many fantasy works. Jackson’s psychoanalytic view can be carried through Todorov’s view of fantasy and the gothic through the examples of the fear of being betrayed and the uncertainty with the truth (Jackson 6). Katniss’ mother is the first example in the book who Katniss did not want to trust or have close relationship due to her “neglect” she put her kids through after her husband’s death (Collins 53). When Katniss decided to put her wall up to protect herself from needing her (53), she also decided to put up that wall for everyone else that entered her life. Jackson argues that “literary fantasies, […] are particularly open to psychoanalytic readings” (6). Psychoanalytic readings suggest that the text can be analyzed through deeper meanings through the lens of Freud’s work, such as the unconscious drives (6). In an article related to psychology and parental influence on children’s development, Moges and Weber (2014) explain that even if there are parents that are nearby but are not responsive or emotionally invested in their children, much like Katniss’s mom, the child is more likely to be emotionally incompetent. This suggests that the child will have difficulties understanding and displaying their emotions, which shows in Katniss character through her inability to trust people.
During most of the novel, Katniss does not show empathy for many people, however limits her trusts for Prim. When Katniss meets Rue, she is reminded of Prim which results in Katniss easily trusting her. Considering Katniss thinks of Prim as her own daughter, Katniss finds herself taking on the role of a parental figure for Rue, specifically when Rue is passing away. During Rue’s passing, she asks Katniss to sing to her, which reminds Katniss about her father’s voice when he used to sing to her (Collins 234). Not only is Katniss presented as a caretaker for Rue, she also exposes her emotions to the public audience which was something she never thought she would do. According to the psychoanalytic view, the feeling if sadness and compassion for Rue is due to the relationship Katniss “unconsciously” created between her and her sister—therefore it was as if her sister was dying in front of her. This scene is related to the fantasy because it supports Jackson’s argument through the psychoanalytic view, which are often found in fantasies (Jackson 6).
Overall, using the works from Jackson and Todorov on the fantastic and the gothic, The Hunger Games is supported as a fantasy and gothic novel through the Todorov’s definition of the secondary world versus our primary world, supernatural events that can be explained and the fear of the uncertainty of the truth. In contrast, Jackson’s view of psychoanalysis also supports the gothic and fantasy theme played throughout the novel. Even though the psychoanalytic view is not mentioned in Jackson’s work, it still can overlap Todorov’s arguments and explain why the fear in Katniss results in her inability to trust others.
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Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic. 1st ed., Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, 1975,.