Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark: A Realistic "Love Story"
What aspect of the Katniss and Peeta love story do you like?
The fact that it's _______.
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 one, The Hunger Games: A Romantic Analysis of the Peeta vs Gale "Love Triangle.
This is your spoiler alert.
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 or in frivolities, but in trying to take care of her family, particularly her sister Prim. She does not have time to take notice of or be occupied with things that girls her age would normally be able to do and has not really had the time or desire to develop social skills and other skills involved in smooth social interaction (romantic, platonic, political, etc.).
She volunteers to take her sister Prim's place in the 74th Hunger Games out of love for her sister. It is a clearly selfless, self-sacrificing, and difficult act and decision. And once again, 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.
Enter "Boy with the Bread"
Peeta is a character whose motivations are deceptively clear, and by that I mean that his motivations seem to be clear and transparent but when in fact they are joint with "conflicts of interest."
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 never comes to know or understand why Peeta did this for her and she always feels indebted to him for it.
Katniss' and Peeta's relationship began on an unequal foundation.
"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 interpersonally. 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 altogether 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 right to be angry with Peeta for his stunt. He places chains on her when he declares his attraction to her and it is one of the only ways and one of the only times that he can.
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 not only the hero, but the audience, and of both his and Katniss' fates. Peeta declares his feelings and crush for Katniss on national television and as a tribute without odds in his favor, he has nothing to lose.
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.
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 is made to feel inferior to Peeta 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.This part in the books shows some of the clash that exists between Katniss and Peeta, how Peeta is passive-aggresive about Katniss' feelings/wants, and the early dynamic of Peeta's influence on how Katniss feels about herself and/or how Peeta affects her mental health and self-worth.This effect that Peeta has on Katniss is revisited in Mockingjay when Peeta makes Katniss feel low and unworthy.
There's more to consider about Peeta's crush.
Peeta has had a crush on Katniss since forever. But something does not make sense about his crush on Katniss; and while Katniss never quite figures it out, she is resistant to the crush and to the actions that come from it.
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. He 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.
He does not love Katniss. 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. A crush that he has had for eleven years and where he watched and obsessed over her from afar. His crush over the course of an unhappy, abused, and dysfunctional life.
His hope. His goal. His possibility of a better, happy, more fulfilling and meaningful life all wrapped up in a girl that did not know he was alive until he threw her some burned bread and who he had idealized to no end.
"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 does want good for Katniss and he does want her to make it out of the games alive and for her to have a future. But he also wants Katniss. He wants her for himself, and he wants Katniss to want him; and in order to get Katniss and to get Katniss to want him, he needs Katniss to need him and he does manipulate her to get there."
Peeta is not just sweet and steadfast. He is also manipulative.
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 is just as wounded as Katniss; the difference is that he hides it better. Peeta is observant and manipulative. He knows how to charm, flatter, and persuade and he knows how to have a way with people. But these tactics do not work on Katniss. Peeta says the right things to Katniss; sweet, flattering, polished things. Things that are sincere but that are also meant to get a certain response from Katniss. But Peeta is unsuccessful with this approach when it comes to Katniss because Katniss does not respond to him the way he wants.
While Peeta knows how to maintain his outward image, Katniss is an open book to everyone but herself. Katniss' motivations are clear and she holds no pretense. Peeta cannot get to Katniss with charm, so 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 cannot win Katniss over the way he wins over everyone else. Peeta is patient and tries different approaches that combine both his sincere feelings towards Katniss and also his 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 does want good for Katniss and he does want her to make it out of the games alive and for her to have a future. But he also wants Katniss. He wants her for himself, and he wants Katniss to want him; and in order to get Katniss and to get Katniss to want him, he needs Katniss to need him and he does manipulate her to get there.
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 especially allows it because Katniss needs it. His being available for Katniss when she needs and when she wants is out of both kindness and manipulation. Due to Katniss’ mental condition and need, he knows 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 had under the surface and 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 in fact 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 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' Intuition and Distrust of Peeta
Katniss does not fully trust Peeta and distances herself from him and it is not just because she is unfocused on her feelings and it is not just because Peeta is a fellow tribute (although these do play a part combined with the following).
Throughout the games, Katniss notes of her indebtedness to Peeta.The argument can be made that Katniss is aware and uneasy about her indebtedness to Peeta resulting from the dynamics of one person being indebted to another, from a female being indebted to a male, or from both, but from whichever of these the argument is made the payment of the debt is the same. Katniss becomes increasingly uneasy about being indebted to Peeta over the acts that he does for her. No matter how sweet, kind, and charismatic Peeta may be, at some point he will come to collect and in Mockingjay Katniss is expected by Peeta and by those around her (i.e. Haymitch, Haymitch as a reflection of the rest of society, etc.) to "pay."
Peeta has issues and has not worked through them. Peeta places his happiness and expectations on a person he does not even know. Peeta is sweet and kind but he is not selfless. He not only wants Katniss, but he expects to get her. If Peeta plays by the rules, is a nice guy, chivalrous, self-sacrificing, supportive, and brave that he should get the girl. Being a nice guy and being a nice guy because you expect something in return are two very different things and Peeta is both at different times in the story.
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 Peeta does in terms of male and female dynamics. Katniss knows that she does not "deserve" Peeta but the way the story is written and Katniss' responses and inner dialogue suggest that she did not want to deserve him and does not think that she should have to try to deserve him just because he wants her.
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. Katniss owes him and she is not his 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 his anger towards not getting what he was supposed to get. Peeta's questioning of Katniss about her romantic interactions with Gale and himself shows how he expected to get something in return from Katniss 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. She cannot (or will not) tell him why she will not fulfill the debt (but there is a reason why she will not fulfill the debt). 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."
Katniss does not say, "No. It wasn't okay with either of you. And I know that I owe you and Gale an explanation."
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."
"Katniss cannot separate the Peeta that gives her hope and strength from the Peeta that manipulates her and wants to possess and control her, because they are one in the same."
A Complicated Relationship
Throughout the trilogy, Katniss has a complicated relationship with Peeta, that becomes even more complicated as she develops feelings for Peeta.
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."
Even though Katniss has feelings for Peeta she does not fully embrace him because she knows and understands Peeta for who and what he is, and also because of how their relationship developed. Katniss cannot separate the Peeta that gives her hope and strength from the Peeta that manipulates her and wants to possess and control her, because they are one in the same. Katniss loves Peeta but has ambivalent feelings for him. Her love for him is real but conflicted (more on this here).
"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?
No Happily Ever After
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 that is because things never do get resolved with Katniss and Peeta. Because 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, 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 manipulating her in the future. Support for this is that Katniss gives Peeta children because he wants them and because he "wanted them so badly." Katniss does not want children but eventually relents and gives Peeta two children. And for the most part, Peeta and her live in harmony, grow together, heal together, and make a future.
At the close of Mockingjay, Peeta's sunbconscious and/or underlying life mission has been completed. He triumphed where his father failed. He got the girl he wanted and the harmonious and fulfilling home that he did not have growing up.
Mockingjay closes with a Katniss that is tired, patched together, and trying to get through life. She loves and is loved by a person that she has a complicated relationship with and has ambivalent feelings for. She has children in her life that she was manipulated into having and that do not yet know what the world is capable of. She is strong but her strength has been stretched thin and everything has taken a toll on her. She has a distant acceptance of life but she continues on anyway, trying to live day-to-day, and finding pieces of hope where she can.
And this is the love story of Katniss and Peeta. Realistic, complicated, and bittersweet.