Dr. Mazeroff spoke this week in class about the Hero’s Journey, a Jungian archetypal story that has become a universal part of storytelling across cultures. The Hero’s Journey consists of several oft-repeated standard tasks, or benchmarks that the hero faces in his or her quest toward completion of a goal. The major steps associated with the Hero’s Journey include Departure, Initiation, Atonement, Apotheosis, and Return, among several others that are often, but not always, included. The Hunger Games, like most fiction, fits the criteria of the Hero’s Journey, although some parts of the archetype are less obvious than others in Katniss’ journey.
At the beginning of the Hero’s journey, the Hero must cross the first threshold, separating him or her from home. At some point, the Hero must often spend time in a metaphorical “belly of the whale,” during which time the hero is isolated and transforms by way of self-annihilation. Katniss crosses her first threshold soon after the reaping, when she must board the train to the Capitol with Peeta. Cut off from her family and home district, she must face the belly of the whale alone, emotionally if not physically. Here, she steels herself against what she must do in the Hunger Games, leaving behind the fear that she felt at the Reaping.
Often, a Hero’s journey includes the gathering of allies. For Katniss, this includes Peeta, Rue, Haymitch, Cinna, and even Effie and her design team. A hero frequently carries an amulet or special weapon. For Katniss, this is visible not only in her Mockingjay pin, but also in the bow and arrow that she finds in the arena. A meeting with a goddess is another typical step along the Hero’s Journey. Typically, this involves a male hero connecting with his anima, or the feminine side of his character. For Katniss, who embodies many traditionally male characteristics, this step is visible in her communion with Prim in Mockingjay, during which she discusses her thoughts and feelings regarding Peeta in an uncharacteristically vulnerable way.
The Atonement step of the Hero’s journey is traditionally the hero’s atonement with his father. Katniss’ father died in her youth, and since then she has held her relationships with men at arm’s length. A symbolic representation of atonement with the father could be seen in Katniss’ meeting with President Snow after the rebels’ capture of the Capitol. When she finally elects to kill Coin instead of Snow, we can interpret this as further rejection of the femininity that Katniss has scorned for most of her life. Alternately, we can see Coin as a negative reflection of Katniss, a cold and uncaring individual who has repressed her own desire for love. By killing her over Snow, Katniss could be choosing to embrace the possibility of positive influence from men in her life and rejecting her old manner of isolating herself emotionally. After returning home, Katniss lives with Peeta in relative peace, suggesting that she may have finally accepted him as a source of happiness, love, and companionship.
We see aspects of Katniss’ Hero’s Journey in her return home. In Catching Fire, she is plucked from the arena by the rebels in a hovercraft, an example of the “rescue from without” that becomes necessary for some heroes near the end of their quest. We see Katniss as the typical “master of two worlds,” especially in Mockingjay, when it becomes clear that Katniss has developed an understanding of the Capitol (for instance, in empathizing with her prep team) that Gale cannot reconcile with the Katniss he knew before the games. Finally, when she and Peeta return to live in District 12 at the end of Mockingjay, Katniss has found her “freedom to live” in that she must no longer live in fear of the Capitol. She even has children, which years of fear of the Hunger Games had previously made her reluctant to do.
The Hunger Games series is a long and complicated tale of Katniss’ life, and the Hero’s Journey can be seen in each book separately as well as across the entire narrative arc. Although Katniss’ story is dark, and she is ultimately left damaged by her journey, her epic fight against the Capitol follows a formula that has existed in mankind’s consciousness for millennia.