By Erinn Sweet
November has proven to be an exciting month for me. I recently submitted my master’s thesis, a comprehensive exploration of the identity of urban Appalachian women (that you can read more about in this blog post). As I approach my twenty-sixth birthday, I also find myself reflecting on the milestone achievements in my communication career, such as sending out my 200th newsletter as the Communications Specialist for The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition. Additionally, the premiere of a film adaptation based on one of my favorite young adult series has added an extra layer of excitement to this month.
Freshly emerged from my master’s-level communication program, I’m keenly attuned to the presence of urban and rural Appalachian women’s identity all around me—including popular culture. In my thesis research, I delve into how Appalachian women have inscribed themselves into the discourses surrounding Appalachian identity and culture. Their mediums range from artistic expressions like fiction writing to music. Although Suzanne Collins, the author of the Hunger Games series, may not explicitly identify as Appalachian, her fictional characters, Katniss Everdeen and Lucy Gray Baird, undeniably catalyze a thought-provoking discussion on the identity of Appalachian women through the discourse that unfolds in a dystopian North America, divided into twelve districts, set approximately three hundred years in the future.
In Suzanne Collins’ captivating Hunger Games series, the author paints a vivid picture of a dystopian future where the Capitol rules with an iron fist, and the residents of the impoverished districts are forced into a brutal fight for survival. The setting of District 12, rooted in the Appalachian region, becomes a symbol of resistance as the women of the series emerge as powerful symbols of strength and resilience. In this blog post, I will explore how the Hunger Games series, particularly through characters like Katniss Everdeen and Lucy Gray Baird, showcases the spirit of women who defy oppression to defend their homes and loved ones.
Katniss Everdeen, The Girl on Fire:
Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the Hunger Games trilogy, embodies the spirit of rebellion against the Capitol’s oppressive regime. Hailing from District 12, one of the poorest districts whose mining industry has become extremely difficult after centuries of extraction, Katniss becomes the face of resistance after volunteering to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games. Her archery skills and resourcefulness in the arena showcase not only her physical strength but also her ability to outsmart and outmaneuver her adversaries.
What sets Katniss apart is her commitment to protecting those she loves. Throughout the series, her primary motivation is to shield her family, friends, and, by extension, her district from the Capitol’s tyranny. Her defiance, symbolized by her famous moniker “The Girl on Fire,” becomes a beacon of hope for the oppressed citizens of Panem. Katniss becomes a catalyst for change, inspiring others to question the Capitol’s authority and fight for their freedom.
Lucy Gray Baird, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes:
In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins takes readers back in time to explore the origins of the Hunger Games. The novel introduces Lucy Gray Baird, a talented singer from District 12 who is chosen as a tribute in the 10th Hunger Games. Lucy Gray’s story provides a nuanced perspective on resistance, revealing the various ways individuals can challenge oppressive systems.
Lucy Gray’s strength lies in her ability to use her creativity and charisma to navigate the Capitol’s treacherous political landscape. She becomes a symbol of hope through her music, captivating both Capitol citizens and those in the districts. Lucy Gray’s resilience and determination to remain true to herself, despite the Capitol’s attempts to control her, mirror Katniss’s defiance in the original trilogy.
Comparing Katniss and Lucy Gray:
While both Katniss and Lucy Gray come from different backgrounds and face distinct challenges, they share a common thread of resistance against the Capitol’s oppression. Katniss relies on her physical prowess and strategic mind, while Lucy Gray leverages her artistic talents through music and storytelling to challenge the Capitol’s narrative. Both women serve as powerful examples of how individuals, regardless of their circumstances, can stand up against injustice.
My intent is not to romanticize Appalachian women in fiction writing. I use the Hunger Games as merely one example of how Appalachian women’s identities and experiences have inspired stories of resilience, resistance, and passion. There are aspects of Katniss and Lucy Gray that parallel my own life and the lives of the women I interviewed throughout my research. However, no story is perfect; not even a dystopian young adult series with two amazing female leads. I am not suggesting we use the Hunger Games to essentialize Appalachian women or the history of Appalachia. Instead, we should analyze (and even be critical of) these mainstream narratives and portrayals of Appalachians. We might also consider ways to use this mainstream story to enter into discourses about Appalachia with those who are not familiar with the region.
Though it is not perfect, the Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins highlights the strength of women like Katniss Everdeen and Lucy Gray Baird, who might also share some characteristics with you and/or the women who raised you. Through their stories, readers witness the transformative power of resistance, as these women defy the Capitol to defend their homes and loved ones. The series serves as a reminder that even in the darkest of times, the human spirit can prevail, igniting a spark of hope that has the potential to blaze into a fire of revolution.
If you have not read the series or want to revisit them, check your local library or bookstore. Check your local movie theaters for screenings of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.
Cover image: Kendra Miller (Flickr)
Erinn Sweet is the Communications Specialist for UACC. She holds a BA in communication from Northern Kentucky University and MA in communication from the University of Cincinnati where she studied Appalachian identity, feminist studies and discourse.