The Hunger Games: A Romantic Analysis of the Peeta vs. Gale "Love Triangle"
The ever-popular love triangle has been called out for being overused. Its latest criticized incarnation is of the love triangle between Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, and Gale Hawthorne. Some will argue that there is no true love triangle between these three and those that make this argument have strong support for this (and it is true, there really is not a love triangle); however, it seems that summaries of the story cannot avoid naming this as a love story, and specifically a love story involving a love triangle.
While one of the strong points of The Hunger Games is that it is not primarily a love story or a story focused on a love triangle, the love triangle does play a role in the inner turmoil of the hero and protagonist as it relates to her feelings and decisions regarding survival and in some instances, what is right and wrong.
Continue reading for my analysis of the "love triangle" between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale. This analysis is based off of reading the trilogy and watching the movies.
This is your spoiler alert.
Relationship Foundation: Gale Hawthorne and Katniss Everdeen
In the love triangle of The Hunger Games, we first meet Gale. Gale is Katniss' friend and comrade. While he is not necessarily Katniss' confidant, Katniss can be herself with Gale and has fewer reservations with him than she does with others.
Gale is active, angry at the Capitol, outspoken, action-taking, and wants to fight for the future that could be. Gale hunts to provide for his family and himself, but does not necessarily accept the current world and of the conditions in which they live.
Gale and Katniss are both from District 12 and come from similar backgrounds in their struggle to survive and provide for their families. They look out for each other both in the woods and outside of the woods, and try to balance each other out when the other cannot provide for his/her family. For the most part, Gale and Katniss have an equal relationship where they are both equals in the woods, equal providers for their families, and can build upon and contribute to each others' strengths.
Gale and Katniss get along and understand each other, but Gale is more vocal and angry than Katniss in his opposition to the way in which they live. Gale hints at a future life, both personal and in rebellion, but Katniss does not communicate receptiveness to either. In the third book, Katniss considers being active in the rebellion in a way that she thinks will be agreeable to Gale.
As the rebellion progresses, Katniss and Gale grow farther apart, both in their personal relationship and in their roles in the rebellion. Katniss and Gale are best friends and could have potentially built a future together, and had the Hunger Games not happened, they probably would have; but long before the rebellion, it is clear that Gale is not necessarily a match for Katniss despite their similar backgrounds and friendship.
Relationship Foundation: Peeta Mellark and Katniss Everdeen
We come to know Peeta and his role in the love triangle as Katniss comes to know of Peeta's feelings for her. Peeta is sweet, sensitive, smooth-talking, and steadfast. He knows that he may not be able to change the world but he hopes for a future in the world that exists.
Peeta is from District 12 but he is part of a slightly "higher class" or higher group in District 12. Peeta is the son of a baker and while Peeta is not necessarily rich, he does not go hungry and does not have to struggle in the way that Katniss and Gale do to provide food for themselves and for their families. This is the first place where we see that Peeta's and Katniss' backgrounds and foundations differ. Peeta deliberately burns bread so that it is un-sellable and so that he is able to give it to Katniss when he sees her starving outside. Peeta does this out of concern and care for Katniss, but it is an act that Katniss does not understand and that Katniss is unable to repay. Throughout the games, Peeta protects Katniss and looks out for her in ways that she is not able to repay or match. While Peeta does these things because he cares for Katniss, it places Katniss in a position where she "owes" or has to match or reciprocate Peeta's actions.
The lines become more blurry and the rules more complicated as Katniss has to reciprocate feelings or at least, feign reciprocal feelings for Peeta and as it becomes harder for Katniss to separate what is real and what is not real with regards to how she feels for Peeta and for what is starting to develop in their relationship.
"I haven't even begun to separate out my feelings about Peeta. It's too complicated. What I did as part of the Games. As opposed to what I did out of anger at the Capitol. Or because of how it would be viewed back in District 12. Or simply because it was the only decent thing to do. Or what I did because I cared about him. These are questions to be unraveled back home, in the peace and quiet of the woods, when no one is watching. Not here with every eye upon me. But I won't have that luxury for who knows how long."--Katniss, Chapter 26, The Hunger Games
By the end of the series we see Katniss and Peeta grow together, grow separately, and then ultimately they end up back together. The development and ending of Katniss' and Peeta's relationship is complicated, but Katniss and Peeta come to be on common enough ground in which to build a relationship on.
The Hunger Games "Love Triangle": Katniss and Gale
"I wish Peeta were here to hold me, until I remember I'm not supposed to wish that anymore. I have chosen Gale and the rebellion. A future with Peeta is the Capitol's design, not mine." -Katniss, Catching Fire
Katniss' feelings towards Gale and Peeta are complicated but her feelings are complicated in general because of everything she has been through and who she is as a person. Katniss cares for Gale and she risks punishment and her life to stop him from continuing to be whipped. She spends time with Gale in Mockingjay but the post-Games Katniss is weakened, damaged, vulnerable, depressed, and unstable and Gale and Katniss were not on the same emotional page. There were differences in the way in which Katniss viewed the world and in the way Gale viewed the world before the games and after the games, but after the games there is more distance between them. Being with Gale requires her to change, and while Katniss cannot revert to her former self, she still has to change to a self other than what she is. Katniss is aware of this and this is indicated by her preliminary choice where she states "I have chosen Gale and the rebellion. A future with Peeta is the Capitol's design, not mine."-Catching Fire.
Choosing to pursue her feelings for Gale means taking on a role in a cause that she does not necessarily believe in and/or want to be a part of in order to be with the person she cares for. This statement is also worth noting because it reveals an important aspect of how Katniss feels towards Peeta.
"A future with Peeta is the Capitol's design, not mine."
Peeta is someone that she cares for, but who she has a complicated dynamic with. Her feelings for him developed when when she was in the Games and when she was emotionally and mentally unstable. But she has developed feelings for Peeta and a need for him as the beginning of her statement was "I wish Peeta were here to hold me, until I remember I'm not supposed to wish that anymore. I have chosen Gale."-Mockingjay. Peeta provides her with safety and security in the world that she now knows and has seen, and to the person she is now while Gale provided it in the world she knew and to the person she used to be but based on the quote, Katniss has trouble reconciling this reality. Katniss has trouble reconciling this reality up until the very end in which she still hopes to find Gale and to rekindle romance in their former meeting place in the woods.
The Hunger Games "Love Triangle": Katniss and Peeta
While Katniss considers joining the rebellion for Gale, she decides to join the rebellion for Peeta but her feelings and interactions with Peeta are complicated throughout Mockingjay. Once Peeta is back in the picture, Katniss appears to be cold towards Peeta and does not necessarily communicate that she wants to be with him.
Peeta is no longer who he was, and no longer sees her as he once did. He sees her as a monster and tries to kill her. He is both a physical danger and psychological influence to her as on top of trying to kill her, he lowers her mental health by causing her to make decisions and judgments based on the guilt she feels instead of what she wants and needs and by making her feel lower than she already feels at various parts in Mockingjay. Peeta's impact on Katniss' mental state is highlighted where Katniss expresses "All those months of taking for granted that Peeta thought I was wonderful are over. Finally, he can see me for who I really am. Violent. Distrustful. Manipulative. Deadly. And I hate him for it."-Mockingjay.
Peeta makes her feel bad about herself and makes her feel guilty, and Peeta's return did not entirely mean a romantic rekindling for Katniss. She longs for him in her mind but she is also resistant to being left with him and/or is resistant to having to handle him, especially since the person that she longs for no longer knows her and no longer exists.
She tries to deal with her conflicting emotions for Peeta and for her situation with him by avoiding him, and when she cannot avoid him her encounters with him are filled with hostility. But she is not allowed to deal with her conflicting emotions without having more guilt placed on her plate.
" 'You're punishing him over and over for things that are out of his control. Now, I'm not saying you shouldn't have a fully loaded weapon next to you round the clock. But I think it's time you flipped this little scenario in your head. If you'd been taken by the Capitol, and hijacked, and then tried to kill Peeta, is this the way he would be treating you?' demands Haymitch.
I fall silent. It isn't. It isn't how he would be treating me at all. He would be trying to get me back at any cost. Not shutting me out, abandoning me, greeting me with hostility at every turn." -Mockingjay
The implied message here is that Katniss should do for Peeta what he would do for her but after Katniss saves Peeta she does not do this.
The question is why?
Haymitch claims that Katniss is "punishing [Peeta] over and over for things that are out of his control" but when looked at closely is that really what Katniss is doing?
Haymitch's comment reflects Katniss' treatment of Peeta after he tried to kill her but also shows the expectations of how Katniss is expected to behave towards Peeta. Katniss is expected to romantically reciprocate and to do for Peeta what Peeta would do for her, regardless of how she feels towards him or regardless of what she wants. Katniss reflects on the fact that how she is behaving towards Peeta is not how Peeta would be treating her and that Peeta "would be trying to get [her] back at any cost." But Katniss does not try to get Peeta back at any cost and her behavior towards him (shutting him out, abandoning him, greeting him with hostility at every turn) communicates the opposite of wanting to "get Peeta." The behaviors she demonstrates keep Peeta at a distance after he tries to kill her.
In Mockingjay, Katniss is drawn towards both Peeta and Gale at points in the story, but the writing for the moments with Gale are weaker than the moments written with Peeta. Katniss has psychological and emotional ties to Peeta and she psychologically and physically associates safety and security with him but these romantic actions and their resulting feelings and development came while she was in the Games and are surrounded in trauma. The space that she creates between her and Peeta is reproached and guilt-ridden (seen in the exchange with Haymitch) and she is no longer the Katniss she used to be.
Yet while she longs for Peeta, she does not necessarily make it clear that she wants to be in a relationship or wants to pursue things with him, and her behavior towards him in Mockingjay keep him away from her. Her thoughts of him relate to what he makes her feel, what she came to associate with him (i.e. the kiss), and what he provided for her that filled a need (safety, security, goodness, hope, understanding, etc.). She wants Peeta in her life and she needs him, but she distances herself from him and from the romantic role in Mockingjay.
Who was Katniss' true match?
The Love Triangle Ends
Katniss is presented in the book as an acceptable match for Gale and Peeta because both Gale and Peeta have indicated that she is a companion that they would like to be chosen by (given Gale's and Peeta's discussion as to who Katniss will "choose", and dialogue between Katniss and Gale and Katniss and Peeta). The books lack support for Katniss making this assessment and she is reproached by Haymitch when she tries to give herself time and space to work through her emotions.
Katniss' spirit, view of life, and what she wants do not align with Gale and Peeta. Gale wants to change the current world in which they live and does not accept the world in which they live (wants to fight the Capitol, active role in the Rebellion), Peeta hopes for a future in the world that exists (wants to stay true to himself, wants to have children and build a life with Katniss), while Katniss wants to survive and get through life (true at beginning and end of the story but with more hope at the end).
Gale and Peeta want Katniss but do not take Katniss or what Katniss wants into account. Katniss generally does not take her wants into account in the decisions shown in the book and her wants are manipulated and threatened by forces outside of her control (the Games, the war, etc.) and by the people in her life (Gale, Peeta, Haymitch, President Coin, etc.).
Gale is removed from the ending after his indirect involvement in Prim's death but prior to this Katniss was faced with the decision of being with a guy that she was drawn to and had history with (looking out for each others' families and surviving) but that she would likely have to change for and would have to take on a more active role in the Rebellion or in life for, or to be with a guy that she cared for and that she could stay as she was with but that with whom she had complicated feelings, experiences, and trauma. (Or in choosing to be with either of them, choosing to be with a guy focused on his own needs over hers based on Gale and Peeta's discussion over who Katniss will "choose" and on how they each engage with Katniss). When Gale is removed from the story, Katniss no longer has to decide between them, decide differently, or make an active choice, and she no longer has to change or grow as a character. Katniss does not choose Gale or Peeta and goes back home to District 12 to continue her life.
But Peeta does go back to Katniss, and Katniss accepts him in her life. She comes to loves him and she does need him. Katniss later reflects "What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. The promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That it can be good again."-Mockingjay.
Even with rebirth instead of destruction and the promise that life can go on no matter how bad her losses, Katniss still has a complicated relationship with Peeta as supported by their dialogue and struggles, and as Katniss gives Peeta two children because he "wanted them so badly."
Katniss accepting Peeta in her life also reflects her passive choice to be with the person who did not require her to change and that provided support, safety, stability, and hope to the post-Hunger Games and post-Rebellion Katniss that she was and became.
Peeta comes to be a better match for Katniss than Gale, primarily because Katniss comes to "need" Peeta and Peeta brings to Katniss' life things she does not bring herself. They both become damaged in similar ways and their damages and strengths weave together allowing them to both benefit from the relationship and support each other. Katniss comes to be a better match for Peeta than she was before and a better match for Peeta in general. In the story it is fitting that Katniss ends up with Peeta but she arguably could have paired with and had an acceptable life with either of them, with neither of them/with no one, or with someone completely different all depending on what overall message Collins wanted to send.
Regardless of who Katniss chose, if she were written to make a choice, Katniss would have had to compromise some aspect of herself by choosing Gale or Peeta, and she would have had to reconcile her choice to be with that partner along with her view of life and the future, as well as with the way in which either Gale or Peeta affected or influenced her.
Peeta's hope for a future in the world that exists is more aligned to Katniss' desire to survive and get through life than is Gale's desire to change the current world, and is one of the reasons that Katniss and Peeta are more of a match for each other. Peeta's view of life is easier to reconcile to Katniss' view of life and in this regard is also beneficial and balancing as Peeta (and his perspectives) gives Katniss hope.
By the end of the trilogy, given the changes that both Katniss and Peeta undergo, it is only together that they survive and are strong.
Questions & Answers
Do you really think that Peeta was purposefully manipulating Katniss, or that he was really in love with her?
I think Peeta genuinely cared for Katniss but that he was manipulative and/or that he was a manipulative person. Being in love with a person and/or caring for a person doesn't mean that a manipulative person will stop being a manipulative person and/or that he/she will not manipulate those that he/she cares about. I don't necessarily think he was purposefully manipulative in the sense of consciously deciding to manipulate to get what he wanted, but more so that as a person/character he was manipulative and that he was manipulative with Katniss. Manipulation can consist of deliberate and conscious decisions and actions, but manipulation can also be inherent in who a person is and in how he/she interacts with others. Peeta seemed to be the latter.Helpful 10
Are you Team Peeta or Gale?
On one hand, this question misses the point of the analysis I wrote and reduces the concepts and relationships in the book to a superficial love triangle that lacks depth. On the other hand, this question suggests that I did not show bias against or favor towards either Peeta or Gale in the analysis and that the analysis leaves the question open as to whether I am "Team Peeta" or "Team Gale," which I think is a good thing from the perspective of making an argument. I'm not really on either of their "teams" but Katniss was written to end up with Peeta and that's what her and his character development and trajectory support in the story.Helpful 4
Regarding The Hunger Games, if Katniss lived her life with Gale, would she live as happily as she is with Peeta now?
Probably not; I don't think Katniss could necessarily be argued to be living "happily" with Peeta at the end of the story but it does read as if Katniss is peaceful, resigned, and accepting of her life, relationships, and experiences. Gale wanted to be active in the changes and have a more involved role in what was going on post-war and in the future so that didn't really fit with who Katniss was and became through the Games and by Mockingjay. The Katniss at the beginning of the story might have eventually had a future with Gale but that Katniss exists primarily as a contrast and memory to the Katniss she becomes and that Katniss ending up with Gale would have been a years-down-the-line Katniss that would still likely have a different worldview than Gale and that we wouldn't have gotten to read and that there might have been no story to. Katniss is still similar to her previous self but with more trauma, loss, and instability so no, she probably would not have been as happy (or as peaceful, settled, etc.) with Gale in the story as written.Helpful 4
At what point did Katniss make it clear in her mind that she wanted to pursue a relationship with Gale?
When I first read your question, I didn't remember making the case for this argument distinctly but then I looked at this article again and saw that I referred to her feelings for Gail in most of the article and then I changed/wrote about her wanting a relationship with Gail towards the end. I've updated the article to reflect the feelings vs relationship aspect. Katniss does not make it clear in her mind that she wanted to pursue a relationship with Gail, or with Peeta for that matter. She goes back to District 12 by herself and the "I need the dandelion in the spring" part came too late in the story for it to support clarity in her mind for wanting to pursue a relationship with Peeta.Helpful 3
Of The Hunger Games, why did you make Katniss choose Peeta over Gale?
I didn't make Katniss choose Peeta over Gale; that was a Suzanne Collins decision. I made an argument for why she never actually "chose" based on an earlier writing decision in the story (https://hobbylark.com/fandoms/Why-Katniss-Does-Not... ).
Katniss never made an active choice in the story but passive choices could be argued to be choices; if arguing passive choices, Katniss did make a passive choice and that choice was Peeta.Helpful 1
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