Choosing Katniss - Real or Not Real?
"I might try to persuade him to run away… But he’s not alone and he’d never leave his family. Or me.” CF, Ch.3
"Peeta would have nothing to come home to, anyway. Except me…” MJ,Ch.1
Gale tells Peeta in Tigris’s cellar that Katniss will choose whomever she can’t survive without. We often discuss Katniss’s decision, but Katniss wasn’t the only one who had a choice to make. She describes a loyalty and connection to both Gale and Peeta in the quotes above, but only one was ultimately true. Because only one was based on a Katniss that was completely real.
"In the woods waits the only person with whom I can be myself. Gale." THG, Ch.1
The Katniss that makes this claim is the girl Katniss wants to be. Brave, self-sufficient, a skilled hunter and a successful trader. A girl who isn’t crippled by fear, who provides for and protects her loved ones. A girl who doesn’t need anyone.
This is the Katniss that Gale knows and wants. The girl who only needs a hunting partner to complete her. A fellow rebel who hates the Capitol as much as he does and shares his desire to destroy Snow and his regime regardless of the cost.
But this image that Katniss creates for herself masks the fragile girl underneath. The girl who is afraid and distrustful. The girl who finds it easier to embrace the fires of anger than face her emotional vulnerabilities or risk immobilizing pain from rejection, abandonment or death of a loved one.
Gale is unfortunately unable to deal with a traumatized Katniss. When she doesn’t live up to his expectations, and begins to vocally disagree with his tactics, their friendship begins to suffer. He fails to recognize or respond to the hurt and desperation she is experiencing which should be apparent to him as a best friend.
By the time they reach the Capitol all they have left is their well-honed teamwork as hunting partners which they effectively utilize in the Capitol mission, and his role as fellow protector for their families. Once the ‘last shot of the war’ is fired and with Prim’s death theoretically on Gale’s hands, the ‘glue of mutual need that bonded’ them is gone. He finally sees a broken, depressed girl and can’t reconcile this person with the heroic hunter and fierce warrior that he wanted. And he is not capable of dealing with her pain in light of his own sense of loss. They both know they are no longer the two kids who would have run off into the woods if it was only with each other.
Gale chooses to leave Katniss.
"I do. I need you." CF, Ch. 24
Peeta and Katniss’s relationship follows a more complex and less linear path. He finds himself in the unique position of being the person Katniss turns to when she is the one who is in need. He remembers the starving little girl who would have died without his intervention. He begins to see a Katniss who needs his support and comfort, not just for physical survival, but emotional stability. But he is also someone she pushes away when he gets too close. Her confusing coolness towards him coincides with his own issues around self-worth.
He understands the concept of presenting an image for the world as a coping strategy. He no doubt learned to do it himself growing up with a less than ideal home life. He uses this strategy as he experiments with ways to get through to Haymitch, and then win over the audience and the Careers in the first arena.
While Peeta is able to see both the vulnerable and the dauntless sides of Katniss, his own struggles with self-image and self worth further complicate his relationship with her. Unlike Katniss, Peeta isn’t afraid to show his vulnerabilities, but given the chance to protect her, he discovers a noble purpose. However, in THG and CF, the very thing that feeds his sense of nobility in sacrificing for her sake, is also a point of weakness. He idealizes her to the point of believing that his life isn’t of much value in comparison, but it gains worth by his willingness to give up everything for her, even if she, unsurprisingly in his mind, probably doesn’t love him in return.
Peeta eventually realizes the truth. Katniss reveals her vulnerability and need on the beach in the QQ. His hijacking is ironically cathartic in that it strips away the idealized vision of Katniss and allows him to see himself as a person of worth. He deserves the truth, and he challenges Katniss to be honest with him and herself, too.
Katniss idealizes pre-hijacked Peeta, too, by the time time they are in the QQ. In MJ, Katniss alternately devalues herself as a ‘fraud’ that he finally is able to see, and strikes out in anger at his post-hijacking accusations. In the aftermath of the Capitol mission, Katniss eventually is stripped bare of her indomitable persona and her unjustified self-loathing, and she allows her whole and true self to be revealed. Peeta sees the fragile but fiercely devoted and heroic girl, who uses an image as a means of self-protection in a frightening world.
Peeta knows that they have shared a close, if at times confusing partnership. But it is because he understands her at the end, that he knows how broken she is. Where Gale leaves because she has not lived up to his needs and expectations, Peeta sees the real Katniss under the facade. He loves and accepts the whole Katniss. Peeta recognizes the reasons for her reluctance to love. He knows that if she will be honest with herself, she is capable of both deep affection and courageous spirit.
Peeta is prepared to build a relationship that recalls them at their best, but firmly rooted in reality giving them balance in their need and love. And Katniss, finally honest in acknowledging her needs and desires, chooses him, too. No longer a source of weakness for each other, they are stronger and better together. They just need to reassemble the pieces.
Peeta chooses to come home to Katniss.