So! My thoughts on Peeta in Hunger Games. because he can be a controversial character. There's no getting around the inequality of the situation: the Games give Peeta the opportunity to not only be alone with Katniss, but play out a romance. While Katniss is forced into playing that role with him. The difference being that she never wanted it.

Yes, it’s a girl’s worst nightmare: forced to play out the fantasy of some guy who’s been silently pining for her for years. Yipes. So I can get why people can just never deal with Peeta, but personally I don't have a problem with him, myself.

If you remember he's 17 and dying.

[personal profile] morganmuffle earlier, for instance, said she couldn't help but be annoyed by Peeta's keeping quiet about his crush for years and then deciding that TV was the appropriate place to reveal it. Which makes sense to find sketchy. But the way Peeta's narrative reads to me, it's exactly the right place.

So he doesn’t tell her about his crush for years, which isn’t bad in itself. He was too shy to say anything to Katniss. He may have thought, for good reason, that she wouldn’t be interested in him. Maybe he was working up to it. Maybe he’d put it out of his mind. Maybe he would have gone his entire life never speaking to her. He’d marry someone else, have kids, whatever.

Then this happens: he finds out he’s only got a few weeks to live. It puts things in a different perspective. His situation going into the games is very different from Katniss’s, because he fully expects to die, period. Only one person can survive, and there’s no way it will be him. Not because he refuses to kill or holds himself above it, but he just knows himself well enough to know he doesn’t have that survivor’s instinct. So for him, the Hunger Games are not a fight for survival, as they are for Katniss, they’re just the remaining few days of his short life.

Peeta’s goal isn’t to survive, it’s to come up with a way to keep some control over the story of his death—Peeta, as we see, has an instinct for stories and their meanings. He knows how they can inspire people, so why not turn that power and insight on himself? Even if he’s the only person who knows the “story” he’s writing, it will give him the courage to go forward. He’s going to try to save Katniss. Is it unfair for him to do that without telling her? Sure, but it’s every man for himself here. If Katniss doesn’t like it, he’ll be dead anyway. He’ll spend his last few days publically as the Boy Who Loves Katniss. It’s a one-sided love story as he presents it—which basically is the truth, but exaggerated and more desperate.

He doesn’t want the Games turning him into something he’s not, so he comes up with something he feels he “is” on some level, and sticks to it. We’re in Katniss’s pov as she goes through the motions of this love story—she’s conflicted about a lot of it: she doesn’t love Peeta, she isn’t sure it’s nice to be faking it, she’s confused by any positive feelings it brings out, but she knows it might help her survive and Haymitch is pushing it. Plus it makes Peeta happy.

Peeta, meanwhile, is just a boy who’s dying and is giving his life meaning with this story. He has every reason to throw himself into it 100% with no conflict. We already know he’s adept at adjusting himself to other people in exactly the way Katniss is not—he’s charming on TV, convinces the Careers he’s on their team etc. But he’s basically a spy here, motivated by the narrative he’s sticking to as his “truth.” If Katniss starts playing into it as well, he’s got every reason not to question it too much. Even if he does question it a little, he still thinks he’s dying. If it’s not true, what’s the harm? He’s got something nice to focuse on for his last few days on earth.

Even after they get the rule change that says there can be two champions, Peeta’s already dying. The rule change is more to get Katniss to look for him. Peeta’s already too injured to move. Katniss goes running to the river, and the cave, and the Cornucopia. Peeta’s just the damsel in distress.

If Katniss is unsure about her feelings after playing her role in the Games, Peeta’s probably even more screwed up. For his own mental survival he’d have consciously and then unconsciously imbued Katniss with every quality he needed her to have. Imagine him, for instance, lying for hours when he was camouflaged, dying of a wound he got protecting her. What else would he have to do, there, but remind himself over and over that he’d done what he wanted to do, he saved Katniss, the girl with whom he is in love. Then she shows up to save him—of course he’s primed to believe her own act, even though he himself forced it on her. At that point there’s no reason for him to consider that she could be lying. What does it matter, if he’s not going to live long anyway? It’s nicer to focus on getting the girl of his dreams than the abject terror of death by stabbing and infection.

Of course, he doesn’t die. So things get a bit awkward. To be fair, there are times where he acknowledges his own weird feelings there. He apologizes to Katniss for sulking at the idea that she was faking it. He realizes he’s not entitled to her love, that he put her in a bad situation and how else was she supposed to survive? Didn’t she use the very help he wanted to give her? But if Katniss is confused by then, Peeta’s just completely gone. After all those days in that extreme of a situation, he’s not going to be able to just let go of the fantasy that kept him going. How could he even begin to separate out his real crush from his exaggerated crush from his performed crush? Or decide how much he was “tricked” by Katniss’s acting and how much he tricked himself because he was desperate.

I feel like Collins must have thought of that in later books since she finds a way to basically hit reset on Peeta’s brain there. By giving Peeta an illusion that Katniss is not only his true love but in fact is a monster sent to destroy him, she wipes out the original version. Peeta has to start over, building a new image of Katniss from scratch, one that isn’t an angel or a demon. That’s why I never feel like the Peeta of the epilogue is the same guy who just loved loved loved Katniss forever. Which for me keeps it from being creepy, or being about how if you just don’t give up on the girl eventually she’ll have no one left to love but you. I can imagine the Peeta that shows up to tend her garden not pining for Katniss still, but doing something that seems worthwhile to him without expecting much in return.

That Peeta is dealing with how he’s going to live, not planning his death.


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