Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games heavily focuses on the budding relationship between its protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, and her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta Mellark. Both characters must embellish their onscreen romance to appeal to the people of the Capitol, who crave a love story. However, it is still treated as a legitimate romance in which teenage female readers could get invested, fulfilling expectations of YA literature starring young women. Through its romantic subplot, The Hunger Games simultaneously critiques and reinforces society’s over-emphasis on romance in the lives of girls.
In “Metamorphosis of Katniss Everdeen: The Hunger Games, Myth, and Femininity,” Kathryn Strong Hansen writes, “[one] of the ways in which a young woman’s identity can register positively with the Panem audience is through her sexual desirability” (Hansen 168). This can be seen after Peeta declares his love for Katniss on television, when Haymitch says, “The most I could say about you after your interview was that you were nice enough, although that in itself was a small miracle. Now I can say you’re a heartbreaker… Which do you think will get you more sponsors?” (Collins 135) Despite Katniss’s unforgettable flaming dress, her unusually high training score, and her heartfelt sacrifice to save her sister, she was ultimately not appealing enough to the Capitol until she had a male suitor, therefore becoming “desirable.” This could be compared to modern societal attitudes toward girls; often, a girl’s romantic feelings toward boys are considered the most important and interesting part of her life, no matter how numerous her talents and interests may be. Later in the novel, this over-emphasis on romance is one again highlighted by her sponsors’ eagerness to send her gifts when she plays the part of a lovestruck teenage girl: “One kiss equals one pot of broth” (261). She finds herself having to continually exaggerate her onscreen feelings for Peeta in order to hold the Capitol’s interest, receiving more rewards for kissing a boy than for her hunting prowess. The Capitol’s attitude toward Katniss before and after Peeta declares his love for her, as well as the gifts in exchange for kisses, therefore draw attention to society’s obsession with romance in adolescent female life.
While Collins is able to critique these attitudes through her writing, the plot of the novel simultaneously plays into them, as Katniss and Peeta’s romantic subplot is frequently given precedence over other important aspects of the story. For example, after fleeing from the Cornucopia, Katniss and Peeta spend time apart and she forms an alliance with Rue. During this time, Katniss gains an advantage in the Games and shifts to a more offensive strategy: “for the first time, I have a plan… An offensive plan” (207). Despite the progress she makes with Rue, however, Katniss’s newfound ally dies and the Gamemakers change the rules so that Katniss and Peeta could potentially win as a unit. She then spends the final third of the novel either by Peeta’s side or thinking about him. Because Katniss and Peeta’s romance is given such emphasis during the climax and denouement, it leaves more of an impact in the reader’s mind than any other relationship Katniss has once the novel is over. This carries an implicit message that the most important aspect of a young woman’s life is her romantic interest in boys.
The precedence given to this romance can be seen as Collins adhering to tropes of young adult fiction, because they “often include (and even privilege) romantic elements – love triangles such as the one made up by Katniss, Peeta and Gale are common features” (Day 10). Collins creates this love triangle early on in the first book, with Peeta claiming after his declaration that Katniss is “just worried about her boyfriend” (Collins 136). Katniss’ cheeks then “burn” at the thought of Gale being her boyfriend. These initial mentions of Gale and Katniss being a couple set up a love triangle that continues and is given priority in the later novels. It can be argued that this trope found in YA dystopian fiction is used because it engages the target audience, adolescent girls, who become invested in which of the suitors Katniss will choose. The fascination with love triangles and choosing “Team Peeta” or “Team Gale” fuels the attitude that the most important aspect of a young woman’s life is her romantic interest in and appeal to boys. Furthermore, the obsession with the love triangle potentially distracts a reader from the strength and power of Katniss and creates a representation of her as a stereotypical “boy-crazy” girl, as society might expect her to be.
One of the most significant details of the novel is that the games are aired on television, allowing the Capitol to become obsessed with Peeta and Katniss’ “star-crossed lovers” (135) story. This obsession the Capitol has with their onscreen romance can be read as a critique of our current western society, where we have become obsessed with celebrity relationships and watching these play out through magazines and television shows. Because of the romance aspect of the Games, they can also be compared to reality television shows such as Bachelor in Paradise and Love Island. These shows focus on pairing up and forcing romance, which viewers never know whether is real or not, between young men and women. This demonstrates how Collins’ novel critiques society while still appealing to her target audience by presenting stereotypical aspects of girlhood.
Through Katniss and Peeta’s developing romance, Collins is both adhering to conventions of Young Adult fiction and subtly critiquing current society. The Capitol’s obsession with romance reflects western society; people view the most important aspects of a girl’s life as being her romantic interest in boys and her desirability. Simultaneously, however, the importance Collins places on the romance instead of female friendship or survival at times demonstrates how prevalent romance is in young adult fiction due to fixed expectations of adolescent girls’ interests.
- Do you feel that the Capitol’s behaviour toward Katniss’ onscreen romance is accurate to the way that we treat girls in modern western society?
- Does the novel change the way you view your own attitude toward things such as celebrity relationships and romantic reality TV shows, especially the young women within them?
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008.
Day, Sara K. “From ‘New Woman’ to ‘Future Girl’: The Roots and the Rise of the Female Protagonist in Contemporary Young Adult Dystopias.” Female Rebellion in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction, edited by Sara K. Day, Miranda Green-Barteet, and Amy L. Montz, Ashgate, 2014, pp. 171-186.
Hansen, Kathryn Strong. “The Metamorphosis of Katniss Everdeen: The Hunger Games, Myth, and Femininity.” Children’s Literature Association quarterly, vol. 40, no. 2, pp. 161-178.