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Katniss, like most real life humans, varies between active and passive. While she occasionally makes decisions and takes a stand, these are largely “reactive“. I would argue that she can’t be defined as passive nor active.
To break it down further, here are the reasons why Katniss is not a passive character:
- If she were truly a passive person, she would not have never made it out of the Hunger Games alive. This is probably one of the biggest arguments in favor of her not being passive. Instead, Katniss was given a situation, “kill or be killed”, and chose to kill. In a situation like this, you cannot be passive.
- She volunteered for Prim. This was her big defining moment of the first half of book 1. A passive character would have watched with all the same feelings of pain and unhappiness but a passive character would not have immediately stepped forward, making a decision almost subconsciously to step in for another.
- She expresses genuine anger at being manipulated or having decisions made without her. Katniss is the primary actor of her own life and she refuses to be coerced into anything. When Peeta first admits his feelings for her in front of all of Panem, she’s so angry that she pushes him down. Rather than desiring to remain in the background and watch other people act in ways that affect her life from afar, Katniss desires to be an active figure who sets her own life’s course.
- She chose her allies for herself. Although Haymitch had allies in mind for Katniss in the Quarter Quells, Katniss wants Wiress and Beetee as her allies and so allies they become. Johanna accepts that Katniss’s decision is final and risks her own life to save them both.
- She chose to save Peeta instead of herself in the 75th Games. This was a huge step for Katniss — choosing to place his life above her own and vowing to henceforth make all of her decisions based on maximizing his chances for survival rather than her own. It was also a decision she made on her own, going to Haymitch only after having made it.
- She decides to be the one who kills Snow. This was a huge decision on her part and though it was fueled by many reasons, some better than others, it was a decision she made herself. Though the entire venture was utterly fruitless and resulted in many unnecessary casualties, Katniss actively sought Snow after having been hunted by him for so long.
- The final scene of book 1?. When Katniss holds the berries up, threatening the Capitol with all that the simple move can mean, she is truly an active agent of her own destiny. She has no idea of the implications and ramifications, yes, but she does it anyway.
On the other hand, here’s some examples of her acting passively:
- Her behavior towards her mother borders on passive-aggressive for much of the series. After she felt emotionally abandoned by her mother following her father’s death, Katniss never quite forgave or trusted her mother again. Instead of ever discussing this or attempting to fix it, she let her negative feelings fester. By the end of the series, her mother is almost a non-entity instead of being a loving supporter who could have helped her work through some of her issues.
- Much of her behavior towards Gale is passive. Although it’s clear she has some type of feelings for him right from the beginning of the book, she refuses to both address them and acknowledge them. Instead she justifies her inactivity to a desire to never marry or have children. Ignoring an issue rather than facing it, even internally, is a classic sign of passiveness.
- Unhappiness with system but no drive to change it. From day 1, we know that Katniss is no fan of the current system in place. But she never exhibits any desire to change it or fight it even when Gale does. Rather than acting as an empowered agent of change, she is truly passive. This does, however, change over the course of the series.
- And, of course, her final scene with Gale is over the top in terms of passivity. They awkwardly discuss the double bomb which killed Prim and whether or not it had been one of his. He guesses that she’ll never be able to forgive him and she says nothing, allowing her truest companion to walk away and out of her life forever.
There are two big exceptions in the list of Katniss actions that I deliberately did not include in either list. They are:
- Killing Coin. This was a pivotal point in the series and could arguable be seen as Katniss finally standing up to the injustices perpetuated by such a system. However, I believe she was manipulated by Snow (see my answer to: Who is more evil, President Snow or President Coin?) into killing Coin. It was not her choice — it was an act that Snow forced upon her, an act of cruelty. He caused her to question everything and everyone and confide in no one. Yes, she “took matters into her own hands”, but it was out of sheer desperation.
- Her entire trial following Coin’s death. This is clearly an example of what looks like passiveness on Katniss’s part but I chose to stay away from it because I think there’s sufficient evidence in favor of her suffering from PTSD. How it affects one’s mental state in terms of activeness vs. passiveness, I don’t fully understand.
In a sense, the entire series is a game of cat-and-mouse between Katniss and Snow. He makes a move (involving her and her family in the Hunger Games), she makes a move (her move with the berries), he makes a move (forcing her and Peeta back into the arena), etc, all the way until the end, at which he makes a move (convincing her that Coin was behind Prim’s death). Katniss varies between active and passive in her personal life but with Snow, she is always reacting to his moves, one-upping him only to be one-upped. She’s certainly not a passive character, as she refused to accept his way without taking a stand but neither is she the main instigator of the chain of events that unfolds.
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