What Do We Gain From Watching Little Blonde Girls Die?

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Here's a brief history lesson from The New Yorker's Book Bench blog about how little blonde girls came to be "indelibly equated with innocence" who redeem sinful adults through sacrificial deaths, inspired by one of the most telling racist Hunger Games tweets: "Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture."

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So how come we prefer to make martyrs out of innocent blonde girls, or even Virgin Suicides-like nymphets? Naturally, it all starts with the Christ child, who inspired some of the nineteenth-century writers so preoccupied with "doomed child saviors," like Harriet Beecher Stowe's Little Eva and Charles Dickens' Little Nell.

The Book Bench's Maria Tatar says this persistent obsession filters into real life, too:

The deaths of blonde girls and women have a way of monopolizing the media limelight, as the frenzied press coverage of Jon-Benet Ramsey and Natalie Holloway makes all too clear. Their murders are emphasized far more than the deaths of "some black girl" (that "some" packs a dehumanizing punch) or, for that matter, anyone living below the poverty line without a halo of blonde hair.

Tatar argues that Suzanne Collins "enlarges the myth about girl saviors to include multiple ethnic identities" in the the Hunger Games novels because it's (Spoiler Alert!) dark-skinned Rue, not Katniss' sister Prim, Rue's pale doppelganger, that dies in the first book. Her death "is a murder, one pictured with unsentimental candor in the movie" that inspires Katniss to salute the residents of Rue's home, District 11, provoking them into rebellion — her death isn't a catalyst for redemption, but for radical change.

However! Tartar fails to note that (Double Spoiler Alert!!) Prim does die in Mockingjay, the last book in the series, while in the middle of what is basically the most saintly act ever: delivering supplies to frightened children who are even more innocent than she. Prim's death doesn't inspire Katniss, but rather scars her to the point of mental instability. Rue is not as pure and blameless: in the movie, she inspires Katniss to drop a deadly hive onto the other tributes, and she would have definitely killed, say, Cato, if she got the chance. Prim, on the other hand — perhaps because she falls into the still-prevalent innocent blonde trope — dies a more sentimental, gentle death.

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Little, Blonde, Innocent, and Dead [New Yorker]

DISCUSSION

By
meltybananas

I guess I'm alone in that Mockingjay was actually my favorite of the books. What I loved about it was that SPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSPOILERSP...

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although Panem is freed and Katniss "wins", everybody loses something (or a lot of things) that are incredibly important to them. Katniss loses her sister and her best friend, Gale loses the love of his life and has to live with the fact that he's indirectly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children, and Peeta is a barely functioning mess who lost his entire family. And honestly I love the fact that it ends on a total down note, because firstly most books go for happy endings, and secondly because if it had been a happy ending I don't think it would have been very true to the series. In a real war lots of people die, and lots of people who survive wish they hadn't, and Mockingjay captures that pretty brilliantly imho. And I am Team Gale to the grave, so the fact that not only did they not end up together, but they couldn't even really be friends anymore (and that even though Katniss wanted to figure it out Gale knew her so well that he knew it could never be the same and she was better off without him) fucking broke my heart. But that it broke my heart was great, because I knew these characters so well I knew that it had to end that way.