March 13, 2012
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Peeta or Gale?

For something like six weeks, my daily trek to work and back has been brightened by the three volumes of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, ably read by Carolyn McCormick.

The Hunger Games are always about survival, and since the odds are never in our favor our focus is necessarily on getting through another day, on passing the open windows and trying – since we cannot really hope for more – to go out on a good note. These books are nothing like Never Let Me Go, but the underlying concern finds its echoes.

But – aside from that – there’s the romantic problem. Katniss Everdeen has no real hope of living happily ever after and no particularly fervent interest in boys (or girls). But she’s got two boys, Peeta and Gale, who are in love with her. They’re very different. She cares for them both – cares enough, at any rate, to want very badly not to kill them, which under the circumstances is quite a sacrifice.

But who will she choose? This would have played out differently in a different era. In turn-of-the-century melodrama, we’d have the Good guy and the Bad guy; after Lawrence, we might have the guy we should want and the guy we desire. In the forties, we’d find a Freudian rationale. In the sixties, we’d take them both and to hell with convention. In the nineties, we’d take neither. At this point in my reading, I don’t know how or whether it will settle, but it’s clear that she could make any choice and we’d support her and wear beige.

But who should she take? It seems to me that Collins is careful not to telegraph this. Peeta, to be sure, has primarily feminine attributes: he’s a baker, he paints, he’s charming. He’s the only Tribute in history to survive the Hunger Game without actually killing anyone, though nobody seems to remark on this. Gale’s attributes are more conventionally masculine, his body count rivals Katniss’s, and rhetorically he’s always been the ruthless one.

In practice, Katniss always wants the one who’s not there. In principle, Gale nails it: she chooses the one she can’t survive without.