Adolescence is an age in a young person’s life that is plagued by uncertainties and a yearning to find one’s true self. Thus, identity serves as a primary motif in nearly all coming of age novels. Whether in the food-deprived slums of District 12 or the bustling streets of New York, both Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Esther Greenwood from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar must assume false selves in order to combat their respective social environments and not assimilate into the dreadful cultures that bombard and surround them. Katniss, who “volunteered as tribute” in the horrendously inhumane, seventy-fourth Hunger Games, uses sternness and a keen lack of emotional distress as her tactic for survival. Similarly Esther, a young woman living in a 1950s era New York City that is plagued by sexually charged double standards and far fewer occupational opportunities for women, assumes the role of a “good girl” in order to survive.
This manipulation of identity or “self” as a weapon for youths to defend against the harsh and unforgiving realities of their societies, is one that is prevalent throughout both novels. Katniss reveals her false self following her separation from her family, noting, “I catch a glimpse of myself on the television screen that’s airing my arrival (to the capitol) live and feel gratified that I appear almost bored.” Though understandably distraught with death and atrocity looming mere days away, Katniss cloaks her emotions with a stoic façade in order to appear fierce to her competitors. Likewise, Esther, who is internally a woman horrified by the societal pressures to become domesticated, assumes the self of the “traditional girl,” winning scholarships and seldom misbehaving. Both Katniss and Esther’s manipulation of identity ensure their survival in abrasive and hostile societies. Ultimately, the reader is left wondering whether either character would have been able to endure without the creation of false selves.
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