Sunday, July 13, 2014

Gale or Peeta? Katniss's choice in 'The Hunger Games'

"The Hunger Games" is not a love story, but it reveals complexities of relationships, especially within the context of the pressures of war and subterfuge.

Originally posted June 30, 2013 to Helium Network.


"The Hunger Games," a trilogy for young adults by Suzanne Collins, features a heroine who, along with other teenagers, is sent into an arena with lethal weapons and instructions to try to stay alive. The melee is broadcast on live TV for days. The children are sacrificial gladiators for entertainment of the privileged class and for psychological control of the masses. As the story builds through the second and third book, the heroine matures to adulthood by taking a key role in a rebellion against the cruel government.

The theme of love, then, is tricky. The heroine, Katniss, grew up under the threat of starvation and learned to hunt game illegally to provide for her mother and younger sister. Her sister “is the only person in the world I'm certain I love,” she says. (She’s content to receive “no hissing” from the family cat.) She is close friends with her hunting partner, a boy named Gale, and they have some possible mutual romantic interest, but they have not quite established themselves as a couple when Katniss is called into the arena. This takes place in the best-known first book.

For a while, in the arena, she looks out for a younger girl, a sort of substitute for her younger sister at home. The girl is fatally attacked, and in one of the book’s more poignant scenes, Katniss cradles her and sings a lullaby: “Here is the place where I love you.”

The real love story, however, involves a boy named Peeta. He is also one of the other children Katniss is told she must slaughter in the arena. Back home, Peeta once gave her bread, and Katniss worries that kind people such as him could end up “working their way inside me and rooting there.” They form an alliance in the arena, and this makes Katniss nervous, as all such alliances must be temporary. She kisses Peeta for the benefit of the television cameras, and she finds that playing to the audience in this way seems to improve their survival chances. Initially, it is a pure calculation on her part, but gradually, something grows. “I realize how much I don't want him to die,” she thinks. “And it's not about the sponsors. And it's not about what will happen back home. And it's not just that I don't want to be alone. It's him. I do not want to lose the boy with the bread."

Of course, Katniss cannot sort out her true feelings for two boys while running around the wilderness trying to avoid being brutally murdered. In the second book, she is forced into more introspection after the president himself visits and tells her that he had “doubts” about her romantic performance in the arena. This is the same ruler who put her in the arena to begin with. He orders her to convince him and the public that the romance is real. Katniss and Peeta take a sort of public relations tour to convey their love for each other, but violence erupts. Katniss is going to be forced to marry Peeta, and Gale wants to run away with her before that happens. She declines, although she wishes Gale could know “how much better my life has been...for loving him, even if it’s only in the limited way that I can manage.”

In the third book, the relationships become more nuanced. Katniss, Gale and Peeta are heavily and inextricably involved in a full-scale rebellion against the government. Gale and Peeta do not like each other, but they protect each other because they have Katniss in common. They love Katniss, and they know that Katniss loves them both, in her way. They alternately believe that Katniss may turn her affections toward whoever is most pitiful and needs her help to survive, or toward whoever will somehow help her survive.

In planning war tactics, Gale reveals an especially calculating side of himself. He is keenly aware of the enemy’s cruelty and thought process – as, for example, in their willingness to target injured or unsuspecting people – and he takes an “eye-for-an-eye” approach in his desire to return those tactics. Katniss herself can be calculating, and this plays a factor in her romantic decision.

"The Hunger Games" is not a love story, but it does reveal interesting complexities of relationships, especially within the context of the pressures of war and subterfuge. The characters mature significantly during the course of the year that the story spans. As they mature, they are able to reveal more of their own unique virtues and personal desires.

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