The Hunger Games Trilogy: Catching Fire and the Purpose of Men

Thanks to reader V.’s recommendation, I have spent another sleepless night reading the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire. I found it to be a lot better than the first. The model of “one hero and a bunch of pathetic people and nasty evildoers” does nothing for me. In Catching Fire, though, that model is abandoned for the sake of a much more interesting model where people resist, cooperate, and there is no single hero who is a lot better at everything than everybody else. I have always been bothered by the “Superman plot” which revolves around the idea that we all need a hero with superhuman powers to save us all from our pathetic weaknesses.

What I find disconcerting in the novel, however, is how the male protagonist, Peeta, is presented as a person whose only goal and overpowering interest is to serve the needs of the “fair lady.” How would we feel about a 16-year-old female protagonist who tells a boy that her entire life is about him and that life has no meaning if he isn’t there? A female protagonist who shows no interest in her parents, siblings, or even pets, who has no friends of her own, who disappears when the boy she likes dismisses her and reappears as soon as he shows some interest or has need of her services? A female protagonist who tells the boy she wants to die so that he can go ahead and marry some other girl?

I think we  would all passionately condemn the novel as extremely patriarchal and promoting the image of women as subservient to men and as having no value of their own apart from male needs. Doesn’t it make sense for us, then, to feel equally bothered by a book that denies a male character any other role as being an uncomplaining and unquestioning servant of a girl?

The inhabitants of Panem at least manage to rebel against the authorities that enslave them. I hope Peeta does the same by the end of the 3rd novel in the trilogy.

7 thoughts on “The Hunger Games Trilogy: Catching Fire and the Purpose of Men”

  1. “How would we feel about a 16-year-old female protagonist who tells a boy that her entire life is about him and that life has no meaning if he isn’t there?”
    No need to speculate, just type “Bella Swan” into any feminist’s blog search. 😉
    I haven’t read the second book yet, but I was worried that Peeta was a ripe target for Flanderization (The act of taking a single -often minor- action or trait of a character within a work and exaggerating it more and more over time until it completely consumes the character) when I first read The Hunger Games. Looks like my suspicions were not unfounded.

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    1. The guy is so self-effacing that it’s sad. There is also no logic to this: he’s popular, has many friends, everybody likes him. Why is he so dependent on the girl’s approval?

      I still remember what it felt like to be in love at 16, but still, this is too much.

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      1. I’m somewhat familiar with the Hunger Games fandom (They call themselves “Tributes”) and Peeta is a popular target of crushes and swooning, partially because of this soppy devotion to Katniss. I don’t find that kind of slavishness appealing at all, it seems like the modern day equivalent to a Victorian character who’s considered sexy for dying a beautiful, poetic death by consumption, but it apparently tickles some people’s pickles.

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  2. I never looked at it like that, but then again, if I’m not reading it for school I read it purely for the entertainment value and I don’t delve too much deeper. This trilogy has made me question and try to pinpoint (without success) exactly why I like it though, instead of just liking it. Maybe it has something to do with me not wanting to jump on the bandwagon now that there’s a movie out and everybody knows about it. I would have read the books before, but no one would lend them to me and I hadn’t been the library in a while.

    One thing I do question is why does he love her? How well does he really know her? He ‘falls in love with her’ when he hears her sing (age 5 or so, maybe a little older, I can’t remember), but then he NEVER talks to her…to me his first proclamation of love felt like something they made up for the purpose of the game….which is what they told Katniss. They needed to make her desirable. I didn’t think it was real. And then I wondered what he sees in her because I’m not completely satisfied with her. But I think this is good because I’m not just blindly liking anything is this book and I am actually thinking a little because of it. This may also have to do with my age. I don’t know.

    I’m very curious to read your thoughts on book three. I think you’ll be somewhat satisfied (or something) with Peeta, even if the way he acts is not of his making. Does that make any sense? I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t started it yet. Sorry for the verbal vomit.

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    1. “One thing I do question is why does he love her? How well does he really know her? He ‘falls in love with her’ when he hears her sing (age 5 or so, maybe a little older, I can’t remember), but then he NEVER talks to her…”

      – I wondered about that, too. Is it because he is sheltered and he admires her independence and self-sufficiency? She must seem awfully cool to a boy from his background.

      “Sorry for the verbal vomit.”

      – Verbose people are always welcome around here. 🙂

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