While rereading Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games for my Introduction to Literature class, I couldn’t help but notice that one character in particular is vastly undervalued and under-discussed. As the title of this post would suggest, this character is none other than Rue, the female tribute from District 11. She may be the youngest tribute in the Games, but I believe that she is also the most surprising, wisest, and important competitors in the Arena.
One of the most valuable and interesting aspects of Rue as a character is the way she challenges the reader. At first I automatically categorized her as a reflection of Prim, Katniss’ younger sister. Prim and Rue are the same age, and Katniss even goes so far as to say that “she reminds [her] of Prim” (210). But just as you’re confident that you know Rue, she begins to take on a different– yet still familiar– persona. Suddenly the reader is exposed to yet another side of this young girl, a side that certainly surprised me at first. Rue’s hidden strength is clearly uncovered when Katniss says, “You can see the glint of excitement in her eyes. In this way, she’s exactly the opposite of Prim, for whom adventures are an ordeal” (210).
Not only is she more courageous, adventurous, and clever than she first appears, she is also much more like Katniss than I initially realized. In fact, I’ve come to think of Rue as more of a reflection of Katniss rather than Prim. Take this description of Rue, for example:
“And I come to know Rue, the oldest of six kids, fiercely protective of her siblings, who gives her rations to the younger ones, who forages in the meadows in a district where the Peacekeepers are far less obliging than ours” (211).
Whether she is conscious of it or not, Katniss has actually given us a fairly close description of herself. Although the tiny details are different (Rue has six siblings while Katniss only has one, etc.) the basic ideas are the same. Both Katniss and Rue are the eldest sibling and take on a parental role in their families. They feel as though it’s their responsibility to protect and provide for their siblings, and they accomplish the latter by illegally hunting and gathering. In many surprising and unexpected ways, we come to view Rue as a younger version of Katniss.
Arguably the most important and fascinating aspect of Rue is what and who she represents. Rue is a tribute from District 11, which specializes in agriculture. The citizens of this district are forced to work in the field to earn their wages. Much to Katniss’ surprise, the Peacekeepers there are even more cruel and merciless than those in District 12. Rue explains that if you eat the crops while picking them “they whip you and make everyone else watch” (202). Add to the harsh conditions of District 12 the fact that Rue is described as having “bright, dark eyes and satiny brown skin” (98) and what does this all suggest? When the details are broken down and laid out it appears as though Rue is representative of slavery and the horrific racial inequality faced by African Americans. Katniss is taken aback when she learns that conditions in District 11 are indeed worse than those in District 12, similar to how many people are ignorant of the struggles that people of different races and ethnicities are forced to confront on a daily basis. Rue is much more than yet another tribute in the Games; in actuality, she is a symbol for an aspect of American history and society that people are often too eager to forget.
Having realized the complexity and depth of Rue’s character through this second reading, I would be interested to see how much more insight I could gain from reading this novel a third time. Rue is so much more than she first appears to be– a statement that applies to each and every one of us, if only we choose to see it.
What do you think of Rue? Who is your favorite character in The Hunger Games? Let me know in the comments section below!