In many novels depicting adolescence, protagonists define their identity as they come of age. Every adolescent experience is unique and includes varying degrees of difficulty. In Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, experiences the period of adolescence with the additional struggle of being a parentified child. The parentification process occurs when an elder child assumes the financial burdens, emotional responsibilities, and overall role of supporter for her family. Balancing multiple false selves while still searching for one’s true self results in a difficulty forming attachments with others, self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy, and an inclination to assume too much responsibility.
After the death of her father, Katniss’ mother abandons her family as a caretaker, leaving Katniss to become the father, mother, daughter, and sister of the Everdeen family. Although Katniss lives in a dystopian world, I can relate to Katniss’ struggle in juggling all of her identities. While she hunted for dinner in the forest, I fought in a literal hunger game, stealing cans of soup from school-sponsored canned food drives and pretending that Ramen was in fact gourmet. Although she volunteered herself as tribute, I volunteered myself as my family’s spokesperson at the Office of Social Services. Just as she looked after Prim, I looked after my younger siblings. Most importantly, just as she struggles deciding who her true self is, I still am trying to find out who Jackie Salg, the eighteen-year-old girl from New Haven, wants to be. Our personalities–Katniss’ and mine–are defined by a sense of independence, stubbornness, and protectiveness. This transition from childhood to young adulthood is largely responsible for the people we become. Although we may have lost our childhoods, our focus on survival coupled with our experiences with parentification give us the upper hand in any game.