Today we share the fourth of six pieces of public writing selected for publication from an assignment in ENGL 801 “Graduate Studies in English” — and the first selection from Section A of ENGL 801, taught this fall by Cameron Leader-Picone: a piece of public scholarship (700-1,000 words) which tailors an academic paper and its scholarly intervention of 10-12 pages for a general-interest audience.
Read more about the assignment and the first publication, “Signs, Signs, Everywhere…The Hidden Depth of Japanese Signs in Spirited Away” by Ian Lutz (MA ’24), in the post from December 8, and enjoy the subsequent posts: “Can YA Fiction Predict the Future? Political Mimicry in Kiera Cass’s The Selection Series” by Delaney Sullivan (MA ’24) and “Secular Nightmares: Mental Health and the Absence of God in Parker Finn’s Smile” by Milena Beliso (MA ’24). Watch for the final two posts from this fall’s ENGL 801 students after the holidays. For now, on to “How to Build a Hopeful Future: Reject Citizenship” by Jordan Dombrowski (MA ’24)!
— Karin Westman, Associate Professor and Department Head / Instructor for ENGL 801 ZA (Fall 2022)
When I was younger, I remember being so excited to give my mom a gift. Thinking I was sneaky and going to pull off the perfect surprise, I went to our closet to find wrapping paper, only to find the wrapping paper my “From Santa” gifts had been wrapped in my whole life. Santa, in fact, was actually my parents.
Lots of children grow up believing what their parents tell them and realize eventually that each family has their own set of rules and traditions – such as the Santa wrapping paper being indicative a gift was from Santa. In fact, you could even say that families are like their own little government structures, if not for the fact that they operate within their nation’s government.
But what if these family structures reject their nation’s government?
In the epilogue of the popular YA dystopian series The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen rejects her collective government of Panem, instead choosing to establish an independent government within her own family. Through Katniss’ actions, the series calls into question if rebellion actually is the way towards a hopeful future. In the process, the series dismantles the stereotypical ending of most YA dystopias.
The epilogue of this series, in which Katniss decides to have children, is often read as “relinquishing her dream for domesticity” (Baker and Schak) and is perceived to place Katniss in a powerless position (Rauwerda). These interpretations all make sense – after all, Katniss is quite literally the hero and symbol of her nation at the end of this novel, with all opportunities opened to her. One might say this is the feminist dream – unrestricted opportunity – and having children seems to fit a typical gendered expectation of women.
However, given the trauma she’s been dealt from both the collective government of Panem and the rebellion, Katniss’s decision to start a family gives her control and power in a way she could never have within collective government.
Panem’s government takes away Katniss’ control by forcing her into the Games, requiring her to fit ideal images, and threatening her family. When she changes to the rebellion’s government, she expects more control, especially as their new “Mockingjay.” However, Katniss realizes this government cannot be trusted either, as they too take away her power through control, making her voiceless (Guanio-Uluru) in the “propos” they make her film, but also in her own life. These two collective governments quite literally are the ones who’ve made Katniss powerless – not her choice to have children.
In fact, as she enters exile for killing the leader of the rebellion, Katniss’ choice to have children enables her to fully reject the newly established government and instead create her own rules, traditions, and structures as her own independent government, giving her ultimate power.
The question left, though, is: What makes Katniss’s family an independent government instead of just a family, similar to the ones in contemporary times with different rules?
For starters, Katniss completely chooses to reject citizenship. Not only does she live in what-was District 12, far away from the government, but she also refuses to participate in any shaping of the future collective government, as seen when she kills President Coin. Her rejection proves that she has no alliance to government: she is free to create her own.
Falling into this category as well is the control Katniss establishes regarding the education of her children. In having a family as an independent government, Katniss doesn’t have to succumb to the censorship about the history of Panem and her past, as regulated by the new government. Instead, she ponders how she can tell her children about the world she grew up in (Mockingjay 389), indicating that she controls what her children know, how they learn it, and what they do with the information.
In this scenario, Katniss is the one in charge of her family – making her not only a matriarch, but also the leader of her independent government. She controls how the family operates and the rules they live by. This control acquires Katniss the power that was once taken from her.
By establishing her family as an independent government, Katniss also signals that she views the new government, created by the rebels, as potentially harmful towards her own establishment. In the epilogue of Mockingjay, Katniss wants to raise her children to be braver (390), indicating there is a future where they might face conflict. In this way, Katniss is raising her children as if it were a small military – where they can always defend and protect themselves from harm, a much needed trait of a successful government.
It is these specific measures of control Katniss establishes which change family to government, creating the structures necessary for a government: a system of rules and a system of protection and defense. This change to independent government maintains Katniss’ power, proving that she doesn’t just give up her agency for domestic life in the epilogue.
But, besides this point, why does it matter?
By demonstrating that her main hero wants nothing to do with the creation of a better future, Collins questions the entire foundation typical of YA dystopia – the sense of hope for a better world. If the new collective government established at the end of these series is only representative of hope with the protagonist at the helm, should we really be trusting government as a whole? Are we, as readers, only hopeful because our trustworthy hero is in charge?
Katniss’s choice to turn to independent government seems to suggest so.
Instead of telling us to rebel and create the government we actually want, this series makes us re-evaluate our participation in government. Even if we’re allowed to vote for a leader, how much does our opinion matter? How much control do we have?
The answer according to Katniss: Not a lot. But if we turn inwards to the family, we might find the control we’re missing in order to create a hopeful future.
Baker, David, and Elena Schak. “The Hunger Games: Transmedia, Gender, and Possibility.” Continuum, vol. 33, no. 2, 2019, pp. 201–215. https://doi.org/10.1080/10304312.2019.1569390.
Collins, Suzanne. Mockingjay. Scholastic Press, 2010.
Guanio-Uluru, Lykke. “Female Focalizers and Masculine Ideals: Gender as Performance in Twilight and The Hunger Games.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 47, no. 3, 2015, pp. 209–224., https://doi.org/10.1007/s10583-015-9263-1.
Rauwerda, Antje M. “Katniss, Military Bratness: Military Culture in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Trilogy.” Children’s Literature, vol. 44, 2016, p. 172-191. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/chl.2016.0016.
— Jordan Dombrowski (MA ’24)
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