Heroines Catch on Fire–the oppositional gaze of gender

Oppositional Gaze Blog

“The Hunger Games” intend to interpret the oppositional gaze of gender. The main character Katniss as a heroine really overturns the concept of hero in history, society, even in cognition, etc. In history, “the first heroes displayed courage or excellence as warriors.”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero) However, warriors are mostly male. The preconceived notions of male hero gradually became dominant. Heroes in ancient Greek religion, cultures, myths,tales, most of them are male. Like the four heroes in Chinese novel “Journey to the West”, they are all males. Also, the male hero Ivan Tsarevich in Russian folklore. Otherwise, the modern fictional hero, such as superman, batman and so forth. They are all men. Therefore, heroines as the oppositional gaze of gender, Katniss breaks the stereotypical representations in film that heroes are usually male.

Especially in “Catching Fire”, the female protagonist Katniss seems stronger than men. Unlike other girls, she has no time to make up, go shopping and so on. From the moment that she volunteers for the Hunger Games in order to replace her younger sister, she has to act like as a heroine. The only thing she can do is to complete her protective job. “She hasn’t have time for much of anything beyond protecting the few people in her life that she values.”(http://www.buzzfeed.com/alisonwillmore/peeta-mellark-is-the-damsel-in-distress-of-the-hunger-games%23.iqZZaDBzY#.hteGPPlqVv)She is good at archery. She is a magic shooter as well, many male competitors can not compete with her. Lots of rivals are killed by her arrow in the Games. She uses her arrow either to protect herself or other partners, particularly, another main character in this film–Peeta. Peeta as a male protagonist, he is shorter than Katniss. He does not have a muscular build. In general, he looks more like Katniss’s younger brother. Conversely, there is a masculine side that embodies in Katiness’s character. For instance, she is very brave, sacrificial, and unyielding. She always wants to protect everyone. In the Games, she saves Peeta’s life several times. In other words, she protects more than Peeta can do for her. When the enemies appear, she is always the first one who takes the front-line in face of any danger. Like a warrior, marches forward bravely.


In “The Hunger Games”, Katniss always asks about Peeta: “Where is him?” Also, she mentioned several times that she wants to keep Peeta alive, she will rescue him. It looks like Katniss and Peeta’s gender are reversed. Katniss“becomes” a man who is obligated to save his beloved girl’s life. Peeta actually wants to protect Katniss as well, but he seems weaker than her in the Games. He is always in danger and even almost dies. The more that Peeta gives to Katniss is moral support. Nevertheless, Katniss gives him much substantial help.

Another male character in “The Hunger Games” looks different from Peeta whose name is Gale. He is strong, tall and persevering. However, he is not selected to the Games. As an outsider, he really can do nothing. Just like the distant water can not put out a nearby fire.Despite Gale wants to be the protector. At last, he still need Katniss’s help, because he even has no ability to protect him self under the control of Hitlerian government.


In this clip, Gale gets whipped, Katniss stands in front of him and finally saved him. There is a problem, Gale and Peeta these two main characters are supposed to protect Katniss or give her some help. Nonetheless, they even can not protect themselves. Instead, they always need Katniss’s help. Although Katniss is a heroine in this film. She may not need to be “stronger” than anyone else, especially these two male protagonists. Even though to think about it in a feminist way, this point is still a little bit flawed. A feminist film is not equal to macho film. According to Natalie Portman’s words: “A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with.”

Moreover, the violent action of female characters is also critical. Do heroines really need to be violent? I do not think so. It seems that the definition of heroine is redefined in this film. In general, heroine is a positive word, but violence has a negative meaning. It is interesting when heroines become violent or a violent woman is a heroine. At this point, Katniss as a violent heroine is controversial. Traditionally, she may not be regarded as a positive female protagonist or a heroine. As a female protagonist, she is too man-like. Like Mulvey posits that “woman as image, man as bearer of the look.”(Bell Hooks, p.123) When women is similar to men, are women still image and men as bearers? Besides, a macho violent heroine is hard for spectators to accept for the moment. The traditional concept of heroine and women characters or even feminist films are overturned.

Though this film faces these challenges, it can be seen in an oppositional gaze. When I view it “against the grain”, I find pleasure in it. The strong female heroine gives me a new feeling. It may just because of the overturn, Katniss becomes more attractive. Spectators are always curious to see the difference in films. This new kinds of female characters brings a trend that may become dominant. On the one hand, it is potentially successful to attract spectators’ interest as an attention-getter. On the other hand, the try of new-style refreshes peoples’ stereotype. People can keep in mind that there is another possibility for women. This is nothing need to be avoid or criticized, films need creation and imagination. Spectators will become open-minded when they view films without a critical eye or with oppositional gaze. Whenever there is a dominating gaze, there is an oppositional gaze. Hence, first impression are strongest. The gaze firstly becomes dominating does not mean that it is definite dominating, it may change as time goes by. Also, any change needs time to digest. An oppositional gaze let people view the opposition from different perspectives. People criticize or disbelieve the opposite view all the time. The main reason is that they does not try to change their positions. When I look at Katniss without comparing her with a dominating gaze. I try not to think of what a heroine should look like or the traditional gender role in our society. I begin to truly regard her as a heroine. There is not a helpless girlfriend who needs to be saved by her man. In this film, I can see how a girl who is helpless but still tries her best to save the people she cares about. This is not the same story as any other dominating stories that spectators can easily guess the ending. It should be more attractive. In this case, “The Hunger Games” does not violate the norm of traditional feminist film. It is just creative to bring spectators a new feeling. Similarly, Katniss does not ruin the heroine. Nay she make the heroine more attractive. Watching this film carefully, it is not hard to find that Katniss is virtually not strong. She needs encouragement and warmth. She cries several times in the film. When she is frustrated or even despairing, she needs holding. She is still a normal woman but have to be strong. The reality forces her to become a man-like woman in this film. Thus, Katniss is a heroine not only because she protects and saves people’s life, but also because she can do what other women can not do as a fellow woman. She is special, compare to other female characters. She is powerful, spiritually.

In conclusion, she is the“heart”of this film and motivate the whole story. She may become a representative new-style heroine, also this film may be considered a new form of feminist films. What a fantastic figure Katniss is!


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