The Role of Women in Panem. A Discussion of the Female Characters in Suzanne Collins' Trilogy “The Hunger Games”

Seminar Paper, 2014

16 Pages, Grade: 1.0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction ... 1

2 The women of Panem before the rebellion ... 2
2.1 The role of women in the Capitol ... 2
2.2 Women in the districts ... 3
2.3 Female tributes in the 74th and 75th Hunger Games ... 5

3 The role of women during and after the rebellion ... 7
3.1 The first spark – initiating the rebellion ... 7
3.2 Women in district 13 ... 9
3.3 Development of female characters during the rebellion ... 10
3.4 The situation in Panem after the rebellion ... 11

4 Conclusion ... 12

5 Bibliography ... 13
5.1 Primary Literature ... 13
5.2 Secondary Literature ... 14

1 Introduction

The Hunger Games1 by Suzanne Collins is one of the most successful novels of the young 21st century and could not only fascinate young adults, the primary target group, but also gain attention among the adult audience. One reason for the trilogy's great success is certainly the fact that The Hunger Games is a typical hybrid novel. By including elements of different genres like romance, war literature, young adult literature and dystopia, it is able to attract and retain a broad audience. Like almost every dystopian novel, Collins' trilogy has a clear socio-political characteristic which, according to the author, has been created “very intentionally […] to characterize current and past world events”2. Thus, a close analysis of the fictional society can be helpful to understand the complex story that is built around the (at the beginning) 16-year-old protagonist Katniss Everdeen. The Hunger Games is set in Panem, a North-American state of the ulterior future, which is divided into twelve (originally 13) districts and governed by a centralised power, in person of President Snow, from a city called the Capitol. The novel's main plot concentrates on a rebellion, set up by the districts in order to overcome the dictatorship.

This paper takes a closer look on Panem's society, more precisely on the women of Panem including their social and political role in the Capitol as well as in the districts, with a special focus on whether and how the role of females has changed during the rebellion, that entirely starts in the second part of the trilogy. Important male characters are not completely left out though, so that a detailed comparison between men and women is possible. To underline the suspected change in the social and political standing of women and the altered female self-image connected with that, the development of some selected female characters before and during the rebellion is pointed out. This part of the analysis focuses mainly on the protagonist and her little sister Primrose Everdeen, but also includes other characters from the Capitol and the districts.

2 The women of Panem before the rebellion

Panem is not a united state. Therefore one cannot speak about THE society of Panem but has to take into account the different situations in which people live in the Capitol and the twelve districts. The following chapter delivers an analysis of the life of women in both societies before the start of the rebellion, with a special focus on the female tributes in the 74th and 75th Hunger Games.

2.1 The role of women in the Capitol

At first appearance, women do not play a special role in the high society of Panem, that is compressed in the Capitol, but at least they seem to be well integrated and nearly on the same social level as male citizens. Throughout the story, the reader learns about several women who are no “angel in the house” like the Victorian woman but have a – probably paid – job and are therefore capable of living independently from men. It is even not mentioned whether these women are in a romantic relationship or live completely on their own, while the latter case would be an additional sign for social gender equality in the Capitol. However, by taking a closer look it becomes obvious that women in higher positions with responsibility are quite rare. The only mentioned exception is Atala, who is the head coach in the training centre where the tributes are prepared for the games. Most other working females in the Capitol hold a lower representative position, like Effie Trinket, or are in charge of beauty, e.g. Venia and Octavia, who are supposed to prepare Katniss for her public appearances. However, the latter ones do not work on their own but have a male workmate – Flavius – and are under the control of another man: Cinna, Katniss's stylist. Although the female stylist of Peeta Mellark, Portia, works on the same level as Cinna, she speaks very little, which makes her seem far less important than Cinna. Another woman, who works in this sector, is Tigris, a former stylist that runs an underwear shop in the city.

Male characters in higher positions are mentioned far more often. Not only the President himself but also most powerful people around the games, like the head Gamemakers and even the TV presenters, are men. Women in powerful social or even political positions are not mentioned at all. One could assume the reason for that fact could be the apparent pointlessness and missing education of Capitol women, which becomes obvious at several points in the novel. For example, after Katniss won the 74th Hunger Games, her prep team has no clue about the dangerous situation she is in. Katniss herself mentions that “it's a safe bet they're clueless.”3 Clueless is also the word Katniss repeatedly uses to describe her host Effie, who sometimes tries to appear sophisticated but is actually not, e.g. she claims that pressure could make pearls out of coal.4 Snow, however, indirectly accuses not only women but the entire society of the Capitol of being stupid, when he mentions that people in the districts are not as easy to fool as those in the Capitol.5

In the end it is obvious that the seeming gender equality is actually not existing in the Capitol but that it is rather a patriarchal society. Habits like calling the “ladies first”6 are apparently no sign of appreciation of females but just an act of good manners. Even more, if one takes into account that there are as many girl tributes as boys and that also girls are turned into an Avox if they do not obey.

2.2 Women in the districts

In the districts, people live a totally different life than those in the Capitol. They do not work for themselves but have to transfer their goods to the Capitol and do not get paid directly. Hence, they can even be called slaves as they cannot chose their primary workplace and are constantly dependent on the Capitol. Inside this dependence there is no difference between men and women since everyone has to do the same work, e.g. Johanna is very capable of handling an axe as she has been working in the woods since childhood and Rue tells Katniss a lot about her work out on the fields of district 11. District 12 seems to be the only district where children are not forced to work. But due to the fact that they do not get paid for this work, women cannot take any advantage of this equal treatment.7

Apart from the work for the Capitol, several of the district women have additional jobs, which appear to be typical women's jobs. Gale's mother starts working as a housekeeper for Haymitch, which supports the patriarchal image that is also dominant in the Capitol; men doing the household are never mentioned. Katniss's mother, Mrs. Everdeen, has been working as a carer for a long time and is held in high social esteem in district 12. She knows a special treatment for many different injuries and sicknesses, which Katniss tries to remember several times in the arena, and seems to be the person to meet for everyone around who needs help. But in spite of her skills she does not hold a high position but works at home without a big perspective. Although she is an important person in her district, Mrs. Everdeen is described as a weak and vulnerable character at the beginning of the story, who even suffered from depression after her husband's death.8 That was the time when Katniss had to start caring for her family.

Katniss is the only female character mentioned that can be called strong from the beginning. She “fulfils traditional narrative expectations for a heroic protagonist”9, who is normally male, and combines both male and female attributes as well as two roles in herself:10 She replaces Mrs. Everdeen by taking the maternal role and at the same time she develops her hunting skills by killing preferably rabbits – an animal which is the ”traditional symbol of female fertility.”11 But while following her male qualities to feed her family, Katniss tends to undermine her female ones. She does not show any weakness which could be “coded as emotional vulnerability”12 and does not try to be empathetic towards anyone but her little sister. However, after chosen as a tribute, Katniss's neglected female qualities turn into life saving ones. The way Cinna presents her manipulates the crowd in a for her positive way and the made up love story is an important tool for her to get sponsors.13 All in all, “her gender performance is part of a dialogue between herself and the crowd.”14 The fact that she uses these opportunities knowingly supports the theory that, in contrast to the women of the Capitol, Katniss, like her mother, is well educated and intelligent. Additionally, she also knows a lot about Panem's history, and she is able to question certain things as well as she follows her own values instead of taking things she has been told for granted without reflection. The latter is proven by the fact that she knows hunting is illegal but still does it.


1 Throughout this paper, the title refers to the whole trilogy if not explicitly stated differently

2 Blasingame. 2009. p. 726

3 Collins. 2008. p. 360

4 cf. ibid. p. 74

5 cf. Collins. 2009. p. 21

6 Collins. 2008. p. 20

7 cf. Chakoshi. 2012. p. 46

8 cf. Collins. 2008. p. 27

9 Lem, Hassel. 2012. p. 123

10 Ibid. p. 118

11 Trites. 1997. p. 75

12 Lem, Hassel. 2012. p. 122

13 cf. DeaVault. 2012. p. 194

14 Ibid. p. 195

Excerpt out of 16 pages


The Role of Women in Panem. A Discussion of the Female Characters in Suzanne Collins' Trilogy “The Hunger Games”
University of Bonn  (Institut für Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Keltologie)
Utopia and Dystopia
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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role, women, panem, suzanne, collins, hunger, games”
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BA Nicole Eismann (Author), 2014, The Role of Women in Panem. A Discussion of the Female Characters in Suzanne Collins' Trilogy “The Hunger Games”, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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