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Amy Neild

The Role of Women

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Nowadays, literature is known as a phenomenon that reflects the reality of the particular epoch, depicting the peculiarities of people’s worldview and the complex of their beliefs through the prism of the writer’s individual philosophy. Hence, every type of change that occurs in the society, be it social, political or cultural reformation, is eventually reflected in the literature. Thus, the explosion of social tension concerning gender inequality, followed by the emersion of a series of feminist movements, has introduced significant changes to the concept of a woman, along with its literary actualization. Whereas the traditional literary paradigm depicts women as human beings that are inferior to men on the intellectual, physical and social level, modern literary thought breaks the stereotype of a female character as an “utterly emotional, weak and vulnerable being with a worldview amenable to persuasion”. Instead, the dystopian environment presented in a series of literary works introduces the modern interpretation of women, whose competence in triggering social and political change is no longer doubted. As a result, female protagonists in the novels The Hunger Games and The Parable of the Sower are allotted with traditionally masculine features, which makes their chances of survival before natural and social dangers equal to men; at the same time, the gender of the protagonists benefits the successfulness of their actions, being less expected in the male-dominated world, and thus, resonating in people’s cognition.
Both novels immerse the reader into the post-apocalyptic setting, in which people’s lives are interpreted as an everlasting battle for staying alive. Although brought up in the environment of relative peace, artificially created and maintained by people, both protagonists develop awareness as a first step of rebelling against the system. While typically women in literature are allotted with the conformist nature, subordinate to men’s will, the main characters in both novels demonstrate their rebellious, and thus unlikely to be suppressed, essence virtually from the first pages.
The plotline of The Hunger Games, a novel written by Suzanne Collins, evolves around Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl, who, in spite of her disregard in the social and political order, becomes involuntarily positioned in the heart of the struggle, designed to reinforce the governmental power. The concept of the Hunger Games, a phenomenon that creates the principal conflict of the book, centers on the idea of the strongest survival, who are obliged to eliminate other contestants in order to achieve the ultimate victory. While the political force in the novel is held predominantly by men, the chaos of the competition underlines the animalistic essence of people attempting to stay alive on the arena. Furthermore, while nature created men and women as beings that complement one another, the aforesaid naturalistic paradigm is broken when people are positioned before the immediate threat to their lives. Hence, in this case, gender distinction loses its function as a main distributor of social roles, substituted by the animalistic instincts, which do not distinguish between men and women. Instead, the abilities adopted before the competition, accompanied by the specific complex of “Hunger Games PR actions” contribute to the success of the particular tribute.
In the novel, Collins foreshadows the role of the protagonist by describing her pre-arena life: “At eleven years old… I took over as a head of my family... I bought our food at the market and cooked it as best as I could and tried to keep Prim and myself looking presentable” (Collins 15). Hence, the author suggests that Katniss was forced to adopt the traditionally masculine role of keeping her family alive. The latter subconsciously affected her femininity, substituting such elements of female identity as concern about the appearance, relationships, marriage and childbirth for the typical male abilities to hunt, bargain, and make decisions on her own. As a result, Katniss’ worldview becomes irreversibly changed by the understanding of the real state of affairs in the world, and the disagreement with the existing order prevents her from performing traditional women’s roles. In fact, the protagonist “exists outside of prescribed gender roles”, undergoing gender marginalization, and voluntarily sacrificing her female identity for the sake of survival (Gilmore 3).
The similar tendency can be observed in the novel Parable of the Sower, written by Octavia Butler. Although the protagonist, Lauren, was not obliged to adopt the rebellious and gender stereotype-breaking philosophy while growing up, given the utmost care she was surrounded by her father, the social crisis she witnessed affected her perspective, altering the latter in order to match the principles of survival. Vargas suggests “Even though most of Lauren’s knowledge stems from her experiences within the community, she is also aware of the dangers for women outside the community’s walls” (18). Hence, in Lauren’s case, the changes of her gender perception can be regarded as a result of her logical conclusions and analysis of the events that occurred around her. Thus, she subconsciously abandoned the stereotypical feminine behavioral pattern, claiming her lack of desire to get married and have children in the world of social, economic and political instability. Moreover, she became immersed into the field of religion, in which women’s role is traditionally strictly limited. The development of earthseed, Lauren’s unique religious thought, can be considered the breaking point in her gender identification. Similarly, by rebelling against the established religious dogmas, she expressed her protest against the conventional moralistic principles that, in her opinion, did not correspond to the reality due to their being old-fashioned. Thus, Lauren’s verse: “A tree Cannot grow In its parents? shadows” can be interpreted as a manifestation of her revolutionary philosophy, deprived of gender traditionalism before the immediate threat that life imposes on every human being (Butler 29).
At the same time, by developing an ability to critically evaluate the reality, both Lauren and Katniss demonstrate their intellectual potential, and logical capability, which are traditionally attributed to the spectrum of masculine qualities. The fact that their ideas become rejected by the people around them as dangerous proves the abovementioned statement. Hence, while Lauren decided to share her beliefs with Joanne, who represented the conventional thinking, and when Katniss objected to the hypocrisy of the Hunger Games and the illusion of exclusive importance and success it created around tributes, both protagonists gave an impulse to their transformation into the heroines of the new philosophy. As much as their intelligence helps them in critical situations, it also increased the threat to the social and political order they presented.
The abrupt immersion into the hostile environment both Katniss and Lauren experience fortifies their system of beliefs. Despite the fact that Katniss was forced to “fit into the category of feminine” in order to become admired by the society and the sponsors before the competition, upon entering the arena she developed a combination of her newly ascribed feminine features and the masculine qualities she adopted while living in District 12 (Gilmore 2).
On the contrary, Lauren’s gender does not create any illusory protection around her. The author notes that outside the community walls, a girl only has one future – rape, murder, or prostitution (Vargas 18). Thus, in order to rebel against the described behavioral patterns, Lauren is forced to disguise herself as a man, concealing her gender vulnerability. Although it may be presumed that in this case, female gender is a burden to the implementation of the protagonist’s ideas, in reality it increases the unexpectedness of the social danger she presents. At the same time, the success of her struggle against rival people she meets on her way increases her authority among her companions. Therefore, by setting a positive example of a woman being capable of protecting herself she encourages her fellow travelers to act in the same manner. Furthermore, the latter also contributes to the distribution of her revolutionary philosophy.
In conclusion, it should be noted that both novels are the best novels of the 21st century and in both novels gender stipulates the success of the protagonists. By implicitly appealing to the men’s primeval desire to protect women, Katniss and Lauren establish a platform for the implementation of their ideas. At the same time, both authors highlight the idea that in the post-apocalyptic world gender stereotypes can disrupt even the most successful survival strategy. However, proper employment of the described clich?s can increase the subsequent resonance of the actions, which exceed the framework of conventional gender thinking. Similarly, the survival conditions require the genderless adoption of a set of particular qualities, due to the fact that death does not distinguish between men and women.
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