Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark: A Realistic "Love Story"
The Hunger Games trilogy has been called a love story by many. Looking closely at the story and at the relationship between Katniss and Peeta reveals fascinating aspects of human relationships but also reveals that it is not quite a love story. In fact, upon closer inspection, calling the relationship between Katniss and Peeta a "love story" neglects the questionable aspects of how their relationship develops and what their relationship is.
Continue reading for my analysis of the relationship between Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. This analysis is based off of reading the trilogy and watching the movies and goes beyond the text. Text support and further analysis related to the arguments I make in this article are presently provided in another separate article, The Hunger Games: A Romantic Analysis of the Peeta vs. Gale "Love Triangle.
This is your spoiler alert.
What aspect of the Katniss and Peeta love story do you like?
The fact that it's _______.
We Meet Katniss
Katniss is a complex and layered character. We come to know Katniss and her thoughts, traits, feelings, and motivations as she comes to share them with us and as she comes to know them herself.
Katniss is a character who has been both strengthened and hardened by her suffering and her need to provide for her family. She is not interested in romance but in trying to take care of her family, particularly her sister Prim. She volunteers to take her sister Prim's place in the 74th Hunger Games out of love for her sister. It is a selfless, self-sacrificing, and difficult act and decision. Katniss is doing something to take care of the one she loves most.
From the beginning, Katniss shows herself to be a person with clear motivations: she takes care of those she loves. It is not fame, glory, or social status that drives her. It is love and trying to give those she loves a chance at life.
We Meet the "Boy With the Bread"
Peeta is a character whose motivations are complicated, as his kind and sweet actions are paired with moments, actions, etc. that serve him and that do not give Katniss the space to make the decisions that she would want to make or have the responses that she would want to have without having guilt, pressure, judgment, etc. from Peeta or from others.
We come to know Peeta, his character, and his feelings as Katniss comes to know them and through the hints that the author Suzanne Collins drops through Katniss' perspective. Peeta is shown to be sweet, sensitive, smooth-talking, self-sacrificing, and steadfast. He has a way with words and with people. He knows how to charm, please, and persuade.
Like Katniss, Peeta comes from District 12 but he comes from a slighter "higher class" or higher group. He is not rich but he does not go hungry or struggle the way that Katniss does to survive. Katniss and Peeta have never spoken but when Katniss and her family were first starving after the death of her father, Katniss was sitting outside of the Mellark bakery weak and hungry. Peeta deliberately burns bread knowing that doing this will make the bread unsellable and after receiving a physical blow from his mother, he throws the burnt bread to Katniss. Katniss comes to associate Peeta as "the boy with the bread" who gave her hope when she had none and when her family was starving. She does not know or understand why Peeta did this for her and she always feels indebted to him for it.
"Thinking about your family?" he asks.
"No," I admit a bit guiltily. "All I can do is wonder about tomorrow. Which is pointless, of course." In the light from below, I can see his face now, the awkward way he holds his bandaged hands. "I really am sorry about your hands."
"It doesn't matter, Katniss," he says. "I've never been a contender in these Games anyway."
"That's no way to be thinking," I say.
"Why not? It's true. My best hope is to not disgrace myself and. " He hesitates.
"And what?" I say.
"I don't know how to say it exactly. Only. I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?" he asks. I shake my head. How could he die as anyone but himself? "I don't want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I'm not."
I bite my lip feeling inferior. While I've been ruminating on the availability of trees, Peeta has been struggling with how to maintain his identity. His purity of self. "Do you mean you won't kill anyone?" I ask.
"No, when the time comes, I'm sure I'll kill just like everybody else. I can't go down without a fight. Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to. to show the Capitol they don't own me. That I'm more than just a piece in their Games," says Peeta.
"But you're not," I say. "None of us are. That's how the Games work."
"Okay, but within that framework, there's still you, there's still me," he insists. "Don't you see?"
"A little. Only. no offense, but who cares, Peeta?" I say.
"I do. I mean, what else am I allowed to care about at this point?" he asks angrily. He's locked those blue eyes on mine now, demanding an answer.
I take a step back. "Care about what Haymitch said. About staying alive."
Peeta smiles at me, sad and mocking. "Okay. Thanks for the tip, sweetheart."
It's like a slap in the face. His use of Haymitch's patronizing endearment. "Look, if you want to spend the last hours of your life planning some noble death in the arena, that's your choice. I want to spend mine in District Twelve."
"Wouldn't surprise me if you do," says Peeta. "Give my mother my best when you make it back, will you?"
"Count on it," I say. Then I turn and leave the roof. I spend the rest of the night slipping in and out of a doze, imagining the cutting remarks I will make to Peeta Mellark in the morning. Peeta Mellark. We will see how high and mighty he is when he's faced with life and death."--Chapter 10, The Hunger Games
The Star-Crossed Lover With Bad Luck
Before the televised interviews with the tributes, Peeta distances himself from Katniss suggesting that he is preparing for what it will take to survive in the arena. But then in the televised interviews, Peeta professes his crush for Katniss, going from distancing himself from Katniss to bringing him and Katniss closer than he ever would have been able to do inter-personally. This is a strategic and manipulative move on Peeta's part both in the "game of love" and in the Hunger Games arena, which according to Peeta was not without planning.
"It was my idea," says Peeta, wincing as he pulls spikes of pottery from his palms. "Haymitch just helped me with it."-Chapter 10, The Hunger Games
By professing his feelings on national television, Peeta binds Katniss to him both romantically and in the arena. He blindsides Katniss and forces Katniss into a position where she has to give a response to his feelings and places her under even greater scrutiny. He changes Katniss from just another tribute to a girl holding on to the adoration of a sweet boy from District 12, who happens to be a fellow tribute.
Will she care for him in return? Will she give him a fighting chance in the arena?
Katniss is angry with Peeta for his stunt and Peeta places chains on her when he declares his attraction to her. Katniss is angry that Peeta makes her look weak. Haymitch argues that he makes her desirable. Both of these statements are correct and they are done without Katniss' consent. And so begins the narrative of the "Star-Crossed Lovers from District 12;" with Peeta playing a role in manipulating the hero, the audience, and both his and Katniss' fates. Peeta declares his feelings and crush for Katniss on national television and does not really have anything to lose in doing so.
In the movie, Katniss and Peeta have a conversation the night before the games and Peeta tells Katniss that he meant his remark as a compliment. This is a moment that hints at Peeta's manipulative nature showing how he can turn a situation in which he was clearly at fault into a situation where he had no fault. Katniss does not address his offense or the fact that declaring his crush on her and putting her in the position that he put her in was not a compliment. She lets it go and they have a sincere conversation about the games but this scene was different than the book.
In the books, Katniss and Peeta have a sincere conversation about the games but Katniss ends up upset with Peeta and they part on bad terms before the games. Katniss feels inferior to Peeta in this conversation and is upset over the way he responds to her desire to wanting to stay alive and is upset over the way he responds when she advises him to care about doing the same. Peeta shows some condescension in his anger to her advising him to try to stay alive. This scene shows a clash between Katniss and Peeta, and is important to the trilogy overall and significant in the questions it poses to the reader and viewer.
Contextualizing Peeta's Crush
Peeta comes from an abusive and dysfunctional home. His mother was abusive and his father was kind but unable to give him a more functional and loving home life. On the first day of school, Peeta's father points out Katniss and tells Peeta that he wanted to marry Katniss' mother but that he did not because she ran off and married a coal miner that had a beautiful song and voice. From there Peeta takes note of Katniss and her singing and watches her everyday. He watches Katniss, her sister, and her mother, and sees Katniss and her happy family. He has approximately eleven years in which to fall in love with the idea of Katniss and to fall in love with the idea of a fairy tale ending and happy home life that his father could not have and that he had not had in his own life. Katniss is the daughter of the girl that would have made his father happy and that would have given him a happy home and so Katniss is the girl that can do the same for him.
This information does not support that Peeta loves Katniss but that he loves the idea of Katniss and of who he believes Katniss to be. Further supporting this fact is that Peeta himself calls it a crush. For eleven years over the course of an unhappy, abused, and dysfunctional life, Peeta had a crush on Katniss and Katniss was his hope and his possibility of a better, happy, more fulfilling and meaningful life.
Peeta Is Sweet and Steadfast But Also Has Manipulative Tendencies
Peeta is noted for being sweet, steadfast, and self-sacrificing, and while he is sweet, steadfast, and self-sacrificing it is not all that Peeta is. Peeta knows how to charm, flatter, and persuade and he knows how to have a way with people. He says sweet, flattering, polished things to Katniss; things that are sincere but that are also meant to get a certain response.
Peeta knows how to maintain his outward image but Katniss is an open book to everyone but herself. Katniss' motivations are clear and she holds no pretense. In their dynamic, Peeta is not very successful with charming Katniss, but he does manipulate Katniss with guilt, acts of kindness and selflessness that Katniss cannot repay and a resulting indebtedness to Peeta due to these acts, knowing Katniss as no one else does, and being there for Katniss when she is most vulnerable and unstable. Peeta interactions with Katniss in the story are a mix of kindness and actions that lack self-interest, and kindness and actions that have self-interest (manipulative nature).
The problem with Peeta is that he and his actions are complicated. He is sweet and kind but he also is out for his own wants and needs. He does want to be there for Katniss and he does want to look out for her. He wants good for Katniss and he wants her to make it out of the games alive and for her to have a future. Peeta's kind actions are often paired with self-interest, emotional manipulation, or passive-aggressive comments. He pulls the rug out from under Katniss on more than one occasion (declaring her his crush and declaring her pregnant on national television, etc.) where she has to "play along."
The Kind, Selfless, and Unconditionally Loving Peeta
Peeta is too available and ready to be there for Katniss. He allows himself to be used in this way even though he knows Katniss has feelings for Gale and allows it because Katniss needs it. His being available for Katniss when she needs and when she wants is a double-edged sword. Due to Katniss’ mental condition and need, Katniss will not refuse and it benefits him to allow her to use him in this way. For the most part, this arrangement is enough for him in Catching Fire but in Mockingjay resentment and hostility surface.
In The Hunger Games, Peeta does not know that he is being used and that he is being used in this way because it is necessary for both his and Katniss' survival but in Catching Fire he is aware of where he and Katniss stand. And even with this awareness, he still makes himself as available or more available to Katniss than before. He is there for Katniss and he does not make any explicit arrangements or demands, he does not set any boundaries or terms for this arrangement, but he still has expectations and he is still getting something out of the arrangement. It is not that Peeta is just being used and used, and that he is not getting anything out of it. His actions are not entirely selfless. In Mockingjay, when some of Peeta has come back and he is trying to find out what is real and not real, he makes a comment about the nights on the train.
"Yeah, a lot of things should count for something that don't seem to, Katniss. I've got some memories I can't make sense of, and I don't think the Capitol touched them. A lot of nights on the train, for instance," he says.
Again the implications. That more happened on the train than did. That what did happen - those nights I only kept my sanity because his arms were around me - no longer matters. Everything a lie, everything a way of misusing him.”-Chapter 17, Mockingjay
Katniss reflects on how wrong Peeta’s comment is because he is implying both that more happened between them than what did and also that she was using him, or misusing him. Hijacked Peeta shows everything that sweet and kind Peeta would never express. He is expressing the fact that all those nights he was used and he did not get anything out of it, and that he was misused; which is not true because he did get something out of it, even if it was not exactly what he wanted.
When Katniss needs comfort Peeta gives it. When Katniss wants to get close and be physical, he reciprocates and has open arms. Even when Katniss does not necessarily indicate that that is what she is looking for, Peeta makes the invitation or initiates. When the right opportunities present themselves, he hugs, touches, comforts, and caresses Katniss. Katniss accepts what Peeta offers her but often feels guilty because she gives him “so little in return.” At times, Katniss catches herself and recognizes the fact that it is wrong of her to turn to Peeta in this way or to ask him to be there for her and refrains from doing so, but other times she gives in.
Peeta does not have to be available in this way and he can set boundaries that would allow him to be supportive as a friend as opposed to something more at any time, but he never does. Out of the eyes of the public, Katniss gets the emotional and physical benefits of a romantic relationship without having to be in one while maintaining a relationship façade when in the eyes of the public. But Peeta benefits from this arrangement as well. He would not have been so readily available for Katniss throughout Catching Fire if he was truly not getting anything out of it and if he did not benefit from it. In Peeta's case, some Katniss is better than no Katniss.
Falling in Love
Peeta and Katniss both begin to develop feelings for each other in the arena and over the course of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Katniss develops feelings for Peeta as she begins to let Peeta in and Peeta develops feelings for Katniss as he has contact and interaction with her.
Over the course of the first book, Katniss does not fully trust Peeta but starts to let him in and begins to have feelings for him in a gradual process while Peeta is still in love with an image of Katniss and sees his interactions with Katniss through idealized eyes. He does not yet see Katniss for who she is even though he is developing feelings for her.
In Mockingjay, Katniss comes to realize that she does have feelings for Peeta but that the Peeta that she has feelings for no longer exists and no longer knows her. The Peeta that exists no longer knows Katniss and now sees Katniss with tainted eyes but also with new eyes. He sees Katniss as a villain because he has been poisoned and has undergone trauma to see her that way but in this process he also comes to see and care for Katniss for who she actually is (or comes to see and care for Katniss as other than what he thought she was) and not for the image of Katniss that he had built up in his mind over the majority of his life.
Katniss' Distrust of Peeta
Throughout the games, Katniss notes of her indebtedness to Peeta and Katniss becomes increasingly uneasy about being indebted to Peeta over the acts that he does for her and the expectations that come with them.
Peeta has issues and has not worked through them and he [laces his happiness and expectations on a person he does not even know. Peeta is sweet and kind but he is not entirely selfless.
Katniss is often reminded of the fact that she is not worthy of Peeta but Katniss refuses to give in despite being told by Haymitch that she could "live a hundred lifetimes and not deserve him;" showing how even Haymitch shares the view that Katniss should want Peeta and reciprocate feelings because of what Peeta has done for her. Katniss knows that she does not "deserve" Peeta but the way the story is written and Katniss' responses and inner dialogue suggest that she does not necessarily want to deserve him.
When hijacked Peeta enters the picture, we see more than the Capitol's poison in Peeta's actions and words. Peeta's suppressed anger towards Katniss comes out. He is not just angry that Katniss used him in the games or that Katniss is a muttation and an evil creation, he is angry that despite doing all the things he was supposed to do to get the girl, he did not get her (given the "nights on the train" comment and the implications). Katniss used him and she does not return his feelings in the manner that he expects. In fact, he comes back and she deliberately avoids him and she shows no intention of apologizing to Peeta or admitting fault for the things he is angry about with respect to her.
What about Gale?"
"He's not a bad kisser either," I say shortly.
"And it was okay with both of us? You kissing the other?" He asks.
"No. It wasn't okay with either of you. But I wasn't asking your permission," I tell him.
Peeta laughs again, coldly, dismissively. "Well, you're a piece of work, aren't you?”
-Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Capitol-hijacked Peeta expresses anger towards not getting what he was supposed to get and anger about how things happened between them. He has also undergone trauma and does not understand his and Katniss' history. Peeta's questioning of Katniss about her romantic interactions with Gale and himself show expectations that Katniss should be showing different romantic behavior towards him and the fact that he asks her and the way in which he asks her shows the fact that he thinks he is entitled to an answer about what he asks. Peeta wants Katniss to explain why he did not get what he felt was owed to him but he does this without asking her explicitly.
Katniss does not have an answer for him. She cannot (or will not) tell him why he cannot have her, why she will not fulfill the debt, and/or why she is behaving romantically different and romantically distanced. This bothers Peeta as shown by his laughing "coldly" and "dismissively." Since he does not get an explanation for what he asks and Katniss does not feel she owes him an explanation ("But I wasn't asking your permission"), Peeta closes with "Well, you're a piece of work, aren't you?"
People normally come back with the phrase "I wasn't asking your permission" when responding to a person that feels entitled to tell the person how to live his/her life or when responding to a person that feels entitled to an area of the other person's life that he/she is not entitled to.
So when Katniss responds to Peeta she is not only telling him that it was not okay for her to kiss both of them, but also that he does not have a right to tell her how to work through and/or develop her feelings and relationships, and/or that she does not "owe" him/that he does not have a "right."
The exchange between Katniss and Peeta is worth noting because it shows a clash between them; both of them push but neither one budges. Peeta asks "and it was okay with both of us? You kissing the other?" Katniss responds "No. It wasn't okay with either of you. But I wasn't asking your permission." This is also worth noting.
Katniss does not say, "No. It wasn't okay with either of you. And I know that I owe you an explanation" or "And I know that I owe you and Gale an explanation."
And Katniss does not say, "No. It wasn't okay with either of you. And I should have done things differently."
Katniss says, ""No. It wasn't okay with either of you. But I wasn't asking your permission."
A Complicated Relationship
Throughout the trilogy, Katniss has a complicated relationship with Peeta, that becomes even more complicated as she develops feelings for him.
Katniss comes to have feelings for Peeta but she develops feelings gradually and as she lets down her defenses. Katniss falls for Peeta because he is sweet and kind, because he knows and understands her in a way that no one else can, because he is her rock when her world breaks down around her, and because he gives her strength, safety, and hope. But she does not develop feelings for him because she "owes" him or because he "wins her over."
Katniss knows and understands Peeta for who and what he is, but appears to have ambivalent feelings for him. The Peeta that gives her hope and strength is the same Peeta that manipulates her and makes her feel guilty. Her love for him is real but conflicted.
After reading this analysis, how do you feel about Katniss' and Peeta's relationship?
Prior to reading this analysis, did you already see Katniss' and Peeta's relationship in this light/perspective?
A Plateaued Ever After
By the end of the trilogy, Katniss is done fighting; this includes fighting against having a relationship with Peeta and later fighting against not having children. She is broken, she has lost everyone she loves, she has undergone significant trauma, and she is done with everything. Peeta can’t let Katniss go (he admits to this when he doesn’t let her take the nightlock) and Katniss comes to expect Peeta (she suggests as much when she reflects that she “seems to be waiting for something” when in District 12). So Katniss and Peeta are tied to each other.
Katniss never makes an active choice in the story about her romantic relationships but her passive choice is clear. At the end of the story, Peeta loves Katniss as she is, but more accurately, he is willing to take whatever Katniss is willing to give him both with respect to herself and a relationship. This is supported by the way in which Katniss leaves to rebuild her life in District 12 and Peeta comes back to Katniss. This is a marked change and it is an important one. Peeta goes from silently pushing and manipulating Katniss, to verbally demanding, to quietly accepting whatever she will give him. And because of the foundation of their relationship, it is only in this way that they can be together.
The ending of the trilogy is unresolved and things never do get resolved with Katniss and Peeta. Their relationship was built on manipulation and truth, power play and control, trauma and surreal circumstances, hope and strength, love and the lack of it, and there is no way to separate all that they have been through and the ways that they have used each other.
And even though Peeta comes back to Katniss willing to accept whatever Katniss is willing to give him, it does not stop him from pushing his wants on her in the future. Support for this is that Katniss does not want children but "after five, ten, fifteen years" she eventually agrees and gives Peeta two children because he wants them and because he "wanted them so badly." At the end of the story, Katniss and Peeta live in harmony, grow together, heal together, and make a future.
At the close of Mockingjay, Peeta triumphed where his father failed. He got the girl he wanted and the harmonious and fulfilling home that he did not have growing up. He struggles with trauma but tries to cope and heal with Katniss and has the children that he strongly desired.
Katniss' story arc leaves her without what she wanted most (her sister Prim living) or what she fought for most (her sister Prim living, Rue living, saving Peeta) but she finds hope and meaning in her relationship with Peeta and in the life that they have. She has a distant acceptance of life but she continues on, trying to live day-to-day raising her children and managing her struggles with trauma.
And this is the love story of Katniss and Peeta. Realistic, complicated, and bittersweet.
Questions & Answers
You make their relationship sound so awful, but in reality, it is very sweet and charming. Plus Peeta might not have had any idea that he was manipulating her in ways that were found harmful. Any healthy relationship has ups and downs. Don't you think that you could have made this article about the Hunger Games sound a little less judgmental?
This was a critical analysis based on the text with explanations provided so making it “sound a little less judgmental” is not what this article was about. Many people find the presentation of Katniss’ and Peeta’s relationship very sweet and charming, which is likely why the romance was well-received. I make the argument that they had a realistic, complicated, and bittersweet love story and I provided support for this in the article.
Having a character trait and being aware that you have that trait are not mutually exclusive; just because Peeta is not aware that he was manipulating Katniss in ways that were found to be harmful does not mean that he did not manipulate her and/or does not mean that he does not have manipulative qualities. If Peeta had had knowledge of the fact that he was manipulating Katniss in ways that were harmful and still decided to manipulate her in those ways, he would not only be a manipulative person, but also a dark person and something of a villain in the story and in Katniss’ life. I do not argue that he is a dark person but that he is a manipulative person and that he manipulates Katniss. Any healthy relationship has ups and downs but these aren’t the ups and downs reflected in Katniss’ and Peeta’s relationship in the story; these healthy relationship ups and downs could at most be argued in the epilogue of “Mockingjay” but it read more like a plateau and acceptance to a way of life and to their relationship more so than as ups and downs. Katniss’ and Peeta’s relationship cannot be argued to be a healthy relationship or to be sweet and charming, but many people view it as such.Helpful 16
Do they love each other ?
It's a complicated love, but yes, by the close of the trilogy/time of the epilogue they love each other.Helpful 9
I don't think Peeta manipulated Katniss into having kids. Katniss tells Gale that she never wants children because of THG. She never wants to see them reaped, even says in CF that she imagines a world without THG, 'where Peeta's child could be safe.' Seeing as she's supposed to be pregnant, I think it hints that Katniss was considering becoming a mother, if the Games didn't exist. Maybe she never had a strong want for her own children, but she thinks about the concept a lot. What do you think?
You present a good viewpoint for that and I think this could be supported given the story and text. It’s been a while since I’ve read the books, but when I read the part where Katniss imagines a world “where Peeta’s child could be safe,” I think I read it thinking she was speaking to the future life Peeta could have and that she was speaking about the world a real child of Peeta’s could live in but you make a good connection. I think what you pointed out is supported or could be argued given the text. It does not seem that she had a strong want for her own children but since she had that thought in Catching Fire when she was supposed to be pregnant and she included that she imagines a world without The Hunger Games, it could hint to or read that she was considering the idea of becoming a mother or that she had thoughts of motherhood as they related to a real child of Peeta’s.
I re-read the epilogue and I don’t think “Peeta manipulated Katniss into having kids” accurately captures the dynamic, based on both the epilogue alone and based on the epilogue combined with the points you made about Katniss not wanting children because she never wants to see them reaped. The lines most related to this are “It took five, ten, fifteen years for me to agree. But Peeta wanted them so badly.” The fact that it took five, ten, fifteen years for Katniss to agree suggests that Peeta was pushing, requesting, and letting his desires known to Katniss in those years and that Katniss was against having children in whatever forms she communicated to Peeta that she was against having them and then after all that time of him pushing and communicating his desires, Katniss gave him what he wanted because he wanted it so badly. She eventually got tired of pushing back and she gave him something that he wanted so badly but that she did not want because she loved him, she didn’t have the heart to tell him no anymore, and he wore her down with what he wanted. Her doing this does not negate that she did not want children or that Peeta did not respect her wants and boundaries, does not negate her reasons or rationale for not wanting children (i.e. not wanting to see them reaped), does not negate the possibility that she might have considered motherhood, and does not negate “the joy of holding her [daughter] in [her] arms” but it shows that she made a compromise, gave in, and gave someone she loved something he wanted after he kept pushing her to get it and it shows that all of these items exist together, which makes it much more nuanced than just “Peeta manipulated Katniss into having kids.” I’ve updated the article to reflect “it does not stop him from pushing his wants on her in the future” to try to better capture that.
Thank you for sharing your perspective and those parts of the text. It adds more layers to Katniss, her thought process, and to the nuanced nature of Katniss’ and Peeta’s relationship.Helpful 4
© 2014 Nalini Marquez