The media and some of the movie cast talk about how Katniss is a very strong, powerful female character. Well, she is, but I think that they are overlooking some nuances that make her such a complex and realistic character. The movie makes Katniss more likable, more black and white (because film-making requires a different way of communicating).
What I like about this character is how grey she is. She is not wholly likable. To give you a strong example: the first book opens with how she wanted to drown a cat. She is not your traditional, typical hero. She is an unwilling one and always struggles to carry the unbearable burden of being the Mockingjay. She breaks down, she falls apart, she loses herself, yet she survives. Like the bird.
Her way of being is a very human response to the terrible environment she grew up in. She has to act emotionless, cold, calculating, reserved. Have you ever heard of defence mechanisms? She is already suffering from PTSD pre-Games and the Games and the war just worsen it. There’s nightmares, flashbacks and frightening thoughts, emotional numbness, guilt, depression, worry, lost interest in activities previously enjoyable (singing, anyone?), anxiety, angry outbursts, insomnia. Her psychological state is obviously changed by what she goes through. That is not being cold, that is being human.
If you notice carefully, her success in the Games is heavily influenced by how much of her humanity she keeps. Just look at her most important decisions: volunteering for Prim; protecting, making allies with and honoring Rue; finding and saving Peeta and preferring suicide to killing him and even Cato’s mercy kill.
Even if it is painful to read, I liked that she does not have a glorious ending. She is truly broken, and we witness that on first hand. For those who complain about her “whiny, complaining” behaviour in Mockingjay - the first person narrative style is there for something. Try putting yourself in her shoes. Just imagine that you are in her place. Imagine that you lived in such a horrible, vicious, sadistic and twisted world. Imagine that you lost some much of what was so dear to you. So many people. What would you do?
If you would not break down, then congratulations, because you must be Superman. But Katniss is just a 17 year old girl who went through too much and became a piece in everyone’s games. Like a rag doll she was used until no one even bothered to fix her properly anymore (the scars that cover her body at the end).
In wars, there are never true winners. Everyone loses. People lose parts of their humanity, their goodness, their kindness. Never undervalue the power of those qualities during dark times. When they are genuine, they can change you. Look at Katniss. She could never forget the first person who helped her when she had pretty much given up on life.
To this day, I can never shake the connection between this boy, Peeta Mellark, and the bread that gave me hope, and the dandelion that reminded me that I was not doomed.
This is also connected to the heavy symbolism present in her final choices (coming back to life, re-connecting herself with Peeta). Because she dares to choose hope. Despite being so hurt, so broken, so destroyed. The Hunger Games is a story about the path of a girl towards accepting and embracing hope despite the overwhelming darkness that crushes her. Hope in being a better person. Hope in living a better life. Hope in creating a better world.