Monday, December 9, 2013

Katniss and the Boys

In preparation for the movie Catching Fire, I reread The Hunger Games trilogy.  Problems with Mockingjay's pacing aside, I walked away from this reading (fourth for the first two books, third for the third) with a much greater appreciation for the series and what Suzanne Collins was trying to say.

There will be spoilers for all three books and the first two movies.  You have been warned.

I loved Catching Fire as a book and as a movie.  I felt the movie was a huge improvement over the first (and I loved the first), adding more depth to the locations, plot lines, and characters.  The weakest part of the movie was the romantic entanglements of Katniss, Peeta, and Gale.  I also felt it was the weakest part of all three books, but having now gone back and read them again, I realize that despite being weak, the relationships were also the most important.

There's a wonderful essay about how Peeta is the typical on-screen girlfriend in the movies.  Katniss is always having to drag him out of trouble, she's always having to save him.  Suzanne Collins managed to completely reverse the gender roles in this series without causing a fuss.  But the real reason Peeta and Gale are important, is because of the choice they represent.

Throughout the books, Peeta is the rational one.  He's the voice of reason.  He is unconditional love, always thinking about others first.  Gale is a revolutionary.  He wants a better world, not just for Katniss and himself, but for everyone.  He is cold, calculating, and brave.  Katniss herself is mostly reactionary.  She is also brave and will do what it takes to protect her self and her family, but instead of thinking ahead, she mostly reacts to situations that occur.

In the first and second books, Gale is attractive to Katniss because he represents a mirror to Katniss.  He is strong, she is strong, he cares about family, she cares about family, they'd both go to any lengths to protect the ones they care about.  They are the same.  Gale represents the stereotypical masculine traits.  Peeta, on the other hand, seems to care only about Katniss.  He would do anything for her.  He doesn't have any relationships outside of Katniss, doesn't seem to care about his family.  When Katniss looks at Peeta, she doesn't see anything of herself in him.  He is persuasive, likable, cool-headed, and likes to bake.

It's when we reach the third book that the differences really crystalize.  Gale becomes the person who creates weapons capable of and whose intent is to kill innocent people.  Peeta becomes the only person Katniss desires to impress.  Because he is brainwashed, he spews hate at Katniss, but rather than view Peeta's ramblings as delusions, Katniss sees the truth in them.  She sees how she uses Peeta for her own ends, how she manipulates him.  She sees how President Snow has taken a pure, good-hearted person and corrupted him. At this point, Katniss sees in Gale the person she is on the road to becoming, and in Peeta, the person she wants to be.

The choice isn't between two boys, it's between the kind of adult Katniss wants to become, about the kind of life she wants to lead.  She could easily go with Gale and become a fiery revolutionary, a weapons-maker, a killer, but she doesn't want that.  In her heart, she's not like that.  She doesn't want to be capable of devising a plan that kills thousands under a mountain or kills children.  Instead, she chooses Peeta.  She chooses to be with Peeta because she is a better person with him.  He brings out the qualities in her that she admires in him.

In the end, the love story in The Hunger Games trilogy isn't about choosing which boy is dreamier, it's about Katniss finally choosing for herself the kind of person she wants to be.  It's about choosing to let go of the past, of the hatred, of the games themselves, and look toward the future.  Maybe it's not a future Katniss will ever be capable of living in, but she knows that with Peeta, both she and her children will have a chance at a better world.


  1. You make a great point about the triangle, even if you'll never convince me to actually like triangles.

    I haven't seen the second movie yet, but I thought the first book was absolutely stellar, and the second one was perhaps 90% as good. The third one did not stand up, but it wasn't so bad as to be unreadable or anything.

    1. The first time I read the third book, I was like, "Yay!" The second time I read it, I was like, "Boo." Having now read it for the third time, I actually admire what Collins did. Katniss was never a revolutionary like Gale was. She was always a reluctant hero, the kind of person who would stand up and do what's right when required (like when someone she loved was in danger) but who really wasn't in it for the greater good. Her interests were almost wholly selfish. That's why, when she votes for the hunger games against Peeta and with Haymitch at the end, we see that she isn't the pure person Peeta is. In fact, that's why she chooses Peeta over Gale. Gale would have chosen the hunger games too. But Peeta, Peeta was looking to the future. And Katniss realized that the future belonged to people like him, people who could move beyond the horror of Panem and rebuild their civilization.

      There's a good line in MJ where they're sitting around talking about putting the capitol children in a final hunger games and Katniss wonders if this is how the first hunger games came to be...with a bunch of people who thought they were doing the right thing sitting around a table discussing it. And she sees that, yes, that's how evil comes to power. Good intentions mean shit if the outcome is kids killing other kids and people going hungry while others puke up food to make room for more. That's why she kills Coin. And it's the one act in the entire series that she performs, not to save her mother or sister or Peeta or Gale, but to save Panem.

      Ultimately, the final book is about choosing between two evils. It's about recognizing that the enemy isn't who we think it is. It's not the people in the Capitol, it's us. We're the enemy. So long as we believe that we can defeat violence with more violence, then we're only going to set into motion the same events we're fighting against.

      It's a great parallel for the US and their war on terror. IN many ways, by fighting the terrorists, the US government has become terrorists themselves.

      I have problems with the pacing of the third book, but in going back and really examining it, I think it's the only way it could have ended. But I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

    2. I would have to read it again, as clearly you picked up more than I did. I did not like the pacing, I did not like the choices Katniss made, and I did not like the way they invaded the capitol (what did I want them to do? I don't know. Flee? Somehow win in a less cheesy way?)

      That said, your ultimate point is a great one, and it certainly is a terrifying parallel to our nations policies.

    3. Yeah, the pacing is definitely problematic. The way they kept sedating her was an issue for me. I also disliked the choices she made...but I think that, especially this time around, I appreciated why she made them. Or, to put it better, I appreciated why she had to make them. The way she treated Peeta, the decision to drag all those people into the Capitol, ultimately leading to Finnick's death, the vote to hold a final Hunger Games for the losers of the way...all these choices were bad. Terrible. Horrible choices. However, Collins wrote Katniss in such a way that she couldn't have made any other choices. She hadn't grown significantly enough as a character to outgrow the way she made decisions. Katniss is written in such a way that she will always try to do the right thing, but often it's for the wrong reasons. She's bullheaded, and often deeply selfish. The growth she shows by recognizing that Coin needed to die and that she needed Peeta to help her become a better person were the only real signs of character growth there at the end. And, in a way, it's more real than a lot of character growth in books. Often, recognizing that you have these faults and wanting to change them is the biggest step a person can make.

      So, yeah...Katniss was frustrating and difficult in the last book, but you really can say that about all the books. We love her for the same reason everyone loves her: for the potential person she can become, not for who she is. We love her because Peeta loves her and because Cinna loves her and because she gives people hope. But the real Katniss, the one behind the scenes treated Peeta like shit, considered betraying and killing Finnick and Beetee and Johanna in the middle of book 2, would have run another Hunger Games just to punish her enemies, and leads people to their deaths without thinking things through. But we accept her goodness because if people who are good, like Peeta and Cinna, believe she's good, then there must be something to it.

      I think this is the reason this series has staying power over the other "dystopians" that have come out. Suzanne Collins had a lot to say about war and humanity.


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