Light and Darkness: Men of the Hunger Games

SEPT / OCT 2011: BY RACHEL SEXTON

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Since the popularity of Harry Potter shifted into high gear, the category of books known as young adult has steadily increased to become a major profitable section of the market. The Twilight series was a huge success and the number of entries aimed at teen readers has grown even more recently. Fantasy and paranormal romance remain fixtures in this type of writing, but another genre has appeared and taken off in popularity: the dystopian thriller. The main character usually faces an oppressive future government and must fight for their lives and those of the ones they love. One of the earliest examples of the dystopian fiction boom is one of the most critically adored and will soon have it’s own film adaptation. The Hunger Games trilogy manages distinctive character development amid a furiously-paced plot and the characters of Peeta and Gale leave a unique and memorable impression.

The Hunger Games begins in a desolate near-future where the United States has collapsed and been replaced by a nation known as Panem. In this place an oppressive Capitol rules over twelve separate Districts. To keep rebellion in line, each district is forced to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to a televised fight to the death called The Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen is the central female character who tells the story in first-person narration. She has been the provider for her household since the death of her father in a mining accident caused her mom’s mental breakdown. Though her mother recovered enough to resume her nursing activities, she still isn’t able to be the main provider. Katniss hunts well and manages to help her family avoid starvation; she also gets a hunting partner in the form of older Gale, a boy who lost his father in the same accident. He is her best friend and a fellow survivor.

When Katniss is 16, the Reaping that chooses the competitors for the Games for her District (called Tributes) draws Prim’s name. Without hesitation, Katniss takes her sister’s place. The male Tribute turns out to be Peeta, the son of the local baker who is the same age as Katniss. She remembers that at the darkest moment after her father’s death when the family was about to starve, Peeta risked the ire of his mother and purposely burnt two loaves of bread to give them to Katniss when she was weak and collapsed nearby. This is the state of Katniss’ interaction and relationship with each male as this trilogy begins, but many changes are in store.

Gale is introduced first but Peeta has more page time in the first installment. Though the reader is with Katniss the entire time, Peeta is well established before the Games begin. Publicity surrounds all the Tributes, with each getting personal stylists and televised interviews before being transported to the Arena. The interview is the time when Peeta reveals the central characteristic of his nature: his charm. He is a natural before a camera. He is personable, talented at striking the perfect tone while answering questions. This is also when the romantic storyline of the series begins, as Peeta admits in an interview that he has feelings for Katniss.

I won’t spoil the action of the Games for you, but life-or-death drama never lets up. At the same time, Katniss tries to discern if Peeta’s feelings are real. At first the problem is they are all in the Arena to kill each other, but after the Capitol decrees that male and female Tributes from the same District can win together, Katniss focuses on getting them both out alive. All the Tributes are mentored by past winners from their District, and hers is a middle-aged, alcoholic, Haymitch. Katniss realizes that he, through the timing of gifts sent into the Arena, is letting her know that a romance between herself and Peeta is the best way to get Panem on their side and both of them home safe. She finds Peeta and nurses him through a bad injury, all the while wondering how much of their connection will be real after the Games are over, assuming they survive.

The second installment, Catching Fire, begins shortly after their return to District 12 and the romance shifts into a triangle when Gale makes his interest in Katniss known with a kiss.

In this book, the evil president of the Capitol threatens Katniss’ loved ones, including Gale, if she and Peeta don’t fight as a team and play by the rules. Gale is already showing revolutionist tendencies, and it is he who informs Katniss that the fabled District 13, which rose up against the Capitol and caused the creation of the Hunger Games after being defeated, may not have been wiped out after all. This is Gale’s defining trait: he’s a fighter. He survives by hunting with Katniss and chafing against the Capitol’s many restraints.

While he has more page time in Catching Fire, Gale isn’t as clear to the reader as Peeta is, which makes deciding between the two young men difficult. But what happens thereafter says a lot about each of the men and should help the audience decide who the heroine should be with. The plot stays focused on the action, but these two male protagonists have been deftly moved into opposing sides of a love triangle for the heroine.

The final installment, Mockingjay, proves to be the deciding one for these two guys. Peeta’s recovery from the aftermath of the Quell is very complicated and lengthy but he is beside Katniss and Gale in the rebel stronghold of District 13 when the revolution against the Capitol reaches its zenith and accompanies the rebels as they go into the Capitol itself to end the oppression once and for all.

Gale benefits mightily from increased page time in this final book and we see that the strategic mind that serves him so well as a soldier can have a stark and cold tone that truly sets him apart from Peeta. Gale has a “fire, kindled with rage and hatred” but Peeta stands for “the bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction.”

The physicality of Gale and Peeta mirrors the difference between them—Peeta is blond and of a medium build while Gale is dark and tall. Both are handsome, something the film no doubt exploits. The actors playing Peeta and Gale have been cast quite in keeping with the novel’s description of their looks: Peeta is being played by Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth will be Gale. Now it is up to these two performers to portray the different personalities of these characters as they are written.

As the Capitol says to the Tributes, may the odds be ever in their favor. ■

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Rachel Sexton is from Ohio and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Arts. She loves her parents and her dog Lily. But what you really need to know is that she has to have acting, film, reading, and dance in her life and her favorite fandoms are Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jane Austen, and Once Upon a Time. Plus, she is most described as quiet and her biggest vice is cupcakes. Oh, and her main hobby is editing fan videos.

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