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's true, there really isn't 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 so-called 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.
Relationships: Gale Hawthorne and Katniss Everdeen
In the love triangle of The Hunger Games, we meet Gale first. 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 that she does with others.
Gale is active, angry at the Capitol, outspoken, action-taking, and wants to fight for the future that could be. While Gale hunts to provide for his family and himself, he is not accepting of 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 is not receptive to either. It is not until the third book, that Katniss considers being what Gale wants and being active in the rebellion in a way that she thinks will be agreeable to Gale. This is not so much something Katniss wants so much as a compromise that Katniss is willing to make in order to be with 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.
Relationships: 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. As such, we follow the journey with the same confusion and uncertainty that Katniss experiences only later to find more clarity in Peeta's actions and motivations.
Peeta is sweet, sensitive, smooth-talking, and steadfast. Due to his background and character, he is self-actualized and while he knows that he may not be able to change the world, he is able to hope 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' relationship is one that starts on inequality. Later, Peeta deliberately burns bread so that it is unsellable and so that he is able to give it to Katniss when he sees her starving outside. While Peeta does this out of concern and care for Katniss, 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. While Peeta does these things because he cares for Katniss (and for other reasons as well), it places Katniss in an uncomfortable position because she "owes" Peeta, regardless of the source of his 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. Katniss recognizes that she has to separate out her feelings regarding Peeta, but in the books she is never allowed the opportunity to do so.
"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. While Peeta is not necessarily a match for Katniss and while the ending of their relationship is not well-developed, it does show that 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 cares for Gale but she also cares for Peeta, but her feelings are very complicated. Her feelings towards each of them are complicated but her feelings are complicated in general because of everything she has been through, how she has been used, and who she is as a person.
Katniss cares for Gale and comes to awaken to her feelings. She risks punishment and her life to stop him from continuing to be whipped. She indirectly lets Peeta know that she cares for Gale and Katniss' actions support her attachment to Gale but being with Gale presents problems for Katniss. She wants to be with Gale but she also cares for Peeta. There is also the fact that Katniss is no longer the Katniss she was before the Games and her current self is weakened, damaged, vulnerable, depressed, and unstable. Even before the Games, there were differences in the way in which she viewed the world and in the way Gale viewed the world. She wants to be with Gale but being with Gale requires her to change, even if she 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, but that she is considering doing in order to be with the person she cares for. This means Katniss is considering becoming someone other than who she is and doing something she does not want to do to be with Gale because she cares for Gale. 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 is also someone that has been forced upon her. Her feelings for him developed when she was being controlled by the Capitol, when she was in the Games, when she was emotionally and mentally unstable, and while she was being manipulated by Peeta. 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.
She initially wants to pursue her feelings for Gale because that is who she wants to be with even if it means that she has to change into someone who she is not.
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.
She gets involved in the rebellion not only because she cares for him or has feelings for him, but because she feels she has to save him. Once Peeta is back in the picture, Katniss appears to be cold towards Peeta but it is because while she cares for Peeta, she does not necessarily want to be with him, does not want to be with him at that time and needs space, or has unresolved issues with Peeta and needs to work through them.
This presents another prison for Katniss as not wanting to be with Peeta is reproached against her because of all that Peeta has done for her and because of all that he has gone through. On top of that, 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 low and 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
People generally avoid people and things that they do not want in their lives or that they do not want to deal with but when they cannot avoid those people and those things, they then have to decide how to react.
Do they silently endure them/it? Or do they treat them with hostility and act against them?
Katniss does both but then is reproached and chastised with no regard for her wants and needs.
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?
Could it possibly be because she does not want to? Could it be because she has reasons or reservations that distance her from him?
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?
Katniss is presented with a predicament that she never comes to work through.
She wants to pursue a relationship with Gale but cannot do so without having psychological and emotional ties to Peeta with who she first came to associate romantic actions and feelings with and with who she now psychologically and physically associates safety and security with. This is combined with her feeling responsible for Peeta and combined with the fact that she now has feelings for Peeta. But these romantic actions and their resulting feelings and development came while she was being controlled and manipulated, and they are also surrounded in trauma. She also cannot pursue a relationship with Gale without being judged, reproached, and "guilt-tripped" combined with the fact that she is no longer the Katniss she used to be.
Yet while she longs for Peeta, she does not necessarily want to be in a relationship with him or never makes it clear that she does. 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 is resistant to having to be in a relationship with him or is resistant to having to reciprocate romantically/having to be bound in a romantic role. Katniss' abandonment of Peeta after she works to save him from the Capitol is a form of releasing herself from the role that she had been given and a form of releasing herself from the responsibilities that came with that role, as well as a way of protecting herself from the now-dangerous Peeta.
Katniss is reminded of her expected and unpaid obligation to Peeta even if doing those things and "getting him back at any cost" are against her wishes and even if doing those things confine her in a relationship that she may not want to be in and/or even if doing those things assign her responsibilities that she may not be ready for or that are linked to issues she has not been able to work through.
Her behavior (shutting him out, abandoning him, and treating him with hostility at every turn) was one of the only ways she had left to her to communicate to Peeta and to others that she did not want to be in a relationship with Peeta or at least that she needed some space from him. She wants Peeta to live, be safe, and she cares about his well-being as supported by her joining the rebellion to save him and as is supported by her guilt and complicated feelings throughout the story. She cares for him as indicated by her inner dialogue. But she does not want to be in a relationship with him, is not fully convinced that that is what she wants/has not fully been able to process why she is resistant to him, or she needs some space from him without having to resume her role as his romantic interest/companion as is supported by her distancing herself from him.
We do not get to see her process this realization but can piece it together based upon her earlier decision to be with Gale and her pursuing an unofficial relationship with Gale (i.e. them kissing and spending time together) combined with her dynamic and dialogue with Peeta (i.e. her telling Peeta that she wasn't asking for his permission for her to explore her feelings for Gale and her avoiding him when he is back from the Capitol) and Katniss' actions.
Katniss is not allowed to not want to be in a relationship with Peeta or is not allowed space from Peeta to sort out her wants and needs because of all that he has done for her and because of all that he has been through. So Katniss finds herself trapped and manipulated once more.
Who was Katniss' true match?
The Love Triangle Ends
Neither Gale nor Peeta are a true match for Katniss, although Katniss is an acceptable match for either of them. Katniss is an acceptable match for Gale and Peeta because both Gale and Peeta have seen or come to see Katniss for who and what she is and have found traits that they want in a partner and are more than happy to take Katniss as she is. And while Gale and Peeta have had the opportunity to make this assessment about Katniss and to determine that she would be a worthwhile companion, Katniss has not been able to make this assessment for herself and has not even allowed herself to venture emotionally, mentally, or physically into that territory due to her circumstances, life experience, and how she views life. Even the time she tries to give herself to work through her emotions is taken away from her by Haymitch, those that reproach her, and the war.
Neither Gale nor Peeta match Katniss' spirit, her view of life, or what she wants. Gale wants to change the current world in which they live and does not accept the world in which they live, Peeta hopes for a future in the world that exists, while Katniss wants to survive and get through life.
Both Gale and Peeta want Katniss but neither one of them take into account what Katniss wants and most of the time Katniss does not even get to take into account what she wants because what she wants (and what little she knows that she wants) is constantly manipulated and threatened by forces outside of her control and by the people in her life. In addition, it can be argued that both Gale and Peeta have an agenda when it comes to Katniss.
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 changing and being with the guy that she cared for and wanted to be with or staying the same and being with the guy that she cared for but did not completely want to be with. (Or to be with either of them and in so choosing to be with a guy focused on his own needs over hers based upon Gale and Peeta's discussion over who Katniss will "choose.") When Gale is removed from the story, Katniss no longer has to decide between them or to decide differently, no longer has to decide if she is willing to change, and no longer has to encounter what those changes would mean in a world post-Hunger Games/post-rebellion. She also never has to work through her complicated feelings regarding each of them and regarding herself.
Katniss does not choose Gale but she does not choose Peeta either. She 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 love 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 continues to have a complicated relationship with Peeta as supported by their dialogue and struggles. Peeta continues to manipulate Katniss 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. There is also the fact that 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. They become crutches to 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 ever 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, influenced, and/or used 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. But even that is a simplification, as there is more to their relationship than meets the eye.
Questions & Answers
If Katniss never met Peeta, how do you think her life be? Would she even be alive?
Katniss' journey and who she met was deliberate and designed by Suzanne Collins. Since Peeta is so heavily interwoven into much of Katniss' trajectory, I think that Katniss' life would be a different story or would have a different backstory if she never met Peeta. But if we follow the premise of the book, arguably, if she had never met Peeta, she would have gone hungry as he would not have been there to throw her the bread that helped her and her family to survive during a time when there were no resources and Katniss was ready to give up on life. Given that context, Katniss might not have survived or she could have somehow made it and could have still found dandelions and learned to hunt. It's hard to answer because it's really the author of the story that gets to decide who lives, who dies, and what happens in the story.