say something new, i have nothing left.
i can't face the dark without you.
there's nothing left to lose, the fighting never ends.
i can't face the dark without you.
holding the hand that holds me down...
i forgive you, forget you. the end.
holding the hand that holds me down...
i forgive you, forget you. the end.
--breaking benjamin, "without you."
for the past few weeks i've been procrastinating at work by writing down my thoughts about peeta and shaping them into something resembling an essay... ish. now that i've finished reading all three hunger games books and have re-edited the essay as many times as humanly possible, i figured i'd go ahead and post it. can't hurt.
i've been stalking the HG tag on tumblr for a while, and i remember a couple, uh, months? ago i came across a post that mentioned that the arguments of most peeta fangirls are to the extent of "OMG he's soooooo sweet i just love him!!111!" while fans of gale are usually more articulate and they elaborate more on why they prefer the character. which... frankly, i kind of agree with. it might be true for the majority of the fangirls, i think.
now, i'm not going to turn this into a peeta vs. gale thing because even though peeta is my favorite, i really love both characters (seriously, the whole "team peeta" and "team gale" thing is ridiculous and has to stop. this is not twilight). and i may not be the most articulate person out there, but never have i ever been accused of not elaborating on my thoughts! quite the opposite, in fact. ^^;;; so i kind of feel obligated now to talk about peeta and why i like his character.
first things first: I DON'T LOVE PEETA BECAUSE OF JOSH HUTCHERSON. yes, i came into the fandom AFTER josh had been cast, but i haven't ever seen any of his work (except bits and pieces of zathura, i think) so it's not like he attracted me to the books or anything. i know there's lots of peeta fans who DO like the character because they think josh is hot or simply because they are fans of him as an actor, but not all of us are like that. and personally, i could never really think of josh as hot. oh, he's handsome alright, for a boy his age, but i'm like 10 years older than him and in my head he'll always equate to a kid. heck, my seventeen-year-old cousin-- my BABY cousin-- has had a massive crush on him since his terabithia days. i could never see him as a man when my baby cousin has been drooling over him for the last five years. i would feel too much like a cougar.
(now, liam, on the other hand...)
that said, i love josh as peeta. i don't know how good an actor the kid is, but from the few interviews of him i've seen, there's something about that boyish grin and the almost rascally glint in his eyes when he laughs that just makes me think of peeta. i think he's going to do great.
so, why do i love peeta? easy: he is adorable. yes, i will use that word because there's just no better way to put it. let's face it: the boy could charm a rock.
i'm well aware that's not everybody's cup of tea. and that's perfectly acceptable, because it's a matter of personal preference-- in fact, i would normally find that sort of thing laughable. i'm more of either the dark and brooding type, or the joker type, if i were to categorise how my favorite characters usually behave. i'm very much not a sentimental type of girl, and more often than not, when i read or see a character spew out some of the stuff peeta has said in THG, i would say it's beyond cheesy and roll my eyes at him. but there are certain instances in which a borderline cheesy line manages to come across as so thoroughly genuine that even someone as cynical as i am (and let's not even say katniss) can feel their heart warm up. like, say, that "you have bewitched me, body and soul" line in the 2005 version of pride and prejudice? it just makes me melt EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. my friends used to make fun of me for getting all fluttery, when i'm usually the snarkiest person you'll ever meet.
peeta sort of has that effect on me as well. yes, he says the most cliched things that totally make katniss fall in love with him against her very will, but the way peeta behaves, pretty much his entire character was conceived from the beginning to be sweet, funny, charming but just genuine. when he says this stuff, it doesn't come across as a line to pick up girls-- that would be more finnick's thing, i guess; at least playboy!finnick-- and you just feel like he truly means everything he's saying. he's a kid in love! of course he's going to feel things that strongly.
and i LIKE that. i like it because in a universe like the one we have in the hunger games, where every character has gone through so much hardship and cruelty and horror that they're all pretty much jaded from the very beginning, it's nice to have someone who, despite everything, can see something good around him, and bring a little softness into things. kind of like rue, kind of like prim, you need to have someone who can look around him and see something to be happy about, even if it's bittersweet because you're fated to suffer at best or die at worst. THG isn't only a story about survival and revolution-- it's a story about the human condition in general. you root for katniss and the rebels to win, to make things right, but winning and abolishing an abusive regime are not a guarantee of happiness (as collins aptly showed us with that ending).
do you know how rare it is to read such dark, horrifying piece of literature and still find moments when you can sigh and go "awww," without it coming across as cheesy and contrived? it is VERY rare, and i give mad props to suzanne collins for that. it's a dark world, the HG universe, and i feel like i need that balance of emotions in there, to keep me from wanting to go and kill myself seventeen times per book. peeta's sweetness and honesty, and the way his feelings grow and mature through the books, they give me that, even if it's a small comfort.
(and i say mature because, honestly, i thought the whole thing was flimsy at the beginning. he fell in love when he heard her sing, then just watched her from afar for eleven years? sweet, but a stretch. i've never believed in love at first sight-- i believe you need to know a person to get to love them. granted, he spent most of his life
that's not to say the boy is perfect. i've heard this word thrown around one too many times to describe him and well, maybe in the sense of "perfect boyfriend"-- i'll give you that. as far as boyfriend stereotypes go, he appears to be the perfect one. but he is by no means a perfect person, he has his own crippling issues to deal with and they are touched upon in the narrative, even though most people don't see them when they read. i think the reason why peeta's flaws aren't more prominent is because they don't affect the plot itself-- or maybe they do, but in the sense that they enable it, so for the most part they go unnoticed. his flaws may not be as obvious as katniss' temper or gale's desire for revenge, or johanna's abrasiveness or the playboy mask finnick wears to keep his true self safe. but he does have flaws.
the first one being, and i accept this without a qualm: the boy is a big load. he can't really fight unless he's having a crazy fit, hardly has any talents other than those having to do with bakery... he's not even all that smart, in the textbook definition of the word, though he does know his way around notes and lists and diagrams, and he knows how to manipulate and read people, and he's absolutely charming and can come up with a decent enough strategy so as not to get killed in the first five minutes of being in the arena. (hey, the second time around, he did just fine for about an hour or so. that's gotta count for something). let's face it, the boy isn't completely useless, but for three books he's more or less ridden katniss' wave when it comes to badassery.
but you know, i think this is actually very real, in the sense that you can't expect everybody to have expert survivalist skills. the world is a bell curve, and the tributes are meant to be pooled from EVERY underage kid in every district, not just those who have the skills. it's reality TV, but it's not reality TV as we know it, the whole point of the setup of panem is to show us how the people's mentality and thirst for entertainment has shifted to a point where all concern for their fellow human beings has been obliterated-- a lesson as to where we're going to end up if we continue our present trend. if they choose someone with zero abilities and they die the very day the games begin, fine, that's that.
it's a big difference: the audience for the hunger games are supposed to be entertained not just by drama, or scandal, or outrageous behavior as we are today, but also the actual event of seeing children die. they feel entitled to it. those kids who survive a bit more have more of a chance to be entertaining to the audience, but an early death will do just fine. in that sense, peeta was a bit like prim, someone ill-conditioned for survival in the games, only he didn't have someone take his place. still, he may not be absolutely badass like most of the other characters are, but at least peeta was smart enough to keep himself in the game for as long as he could. and even though he didn't do it via brute force or any sort of impressive skill, it was still a strategy of sorts. that's more than i would've pegged the son of a baker from the poorest district to be good for.
i keep hearing that, since peeta is so "perfect," collins needed to introduce an external element to give him some flaws: the hijacking. and while it's true that his hijacking was most definitely forced on him, i think people tend to forget he does have his temper as well-- which is ironic because he's probably the least confrontational character in this series (apart from the kids, i guess), but he so rarely expresses it. if there's one thing we can keep from peeta's behavior through all three books, it's that he can't simply do nothing when people he cares about are in danger. he may not be able to save them single-handedly, but any small thing he can do to help, any one action he has to support, he will do it. and when someone gets in the way of his ability to do that, he gets angry, even if it's at katniss.
we've seen it before: he doesn't like feeling that he doesn't know all the details, or that he's being misled, or that people are purposefully trying to keep him from doing everything he can. he told haymitch and katniss as much during the victory tour, complete with shattering a vase and everything, he was in such a tizzy. well, his behavior after the hijacking isn't really different at all when you think about it: it's the same feeling of being rendered helpless in his ignorance, but to the tenth power. they didn't just mislead him about the one thing... they misled him about EVERYTHING. and he reacted angrily to it, as expected. in that sense, the hijacking might've been an external factor, but the way he reacted to it was something he had in him since the beginning, only to a higher level than normal.
however, i have to wonder if whenever he DOES get a bit more aggressive before the hijacking, if it's not just for the usual "i'm peeta and i'm selfless" reason, but if it's because he needs to vent out his other, usually suppressed, negative feelings. like, when he goes off at katniss and haymitch about not telling him the truth about snow: i'm sure there was more than a little jealousy there, at the fact that they had this sort of "bond" they could never have with him, even though the two outwardly disliked each other.
or when they find out about the quarter quell and he goes into psycho trainer mode, sure, he probably did think it was the only way he could help to keep them all alive, but part of me always thought it was also some sort of backhanded throwback at katniss for rejecting his affection. like "look, you chose gale and even so i'm STILL trying to save your life! how does THAT make you feel, huh? guilty, i bet!" (and heh, she DID feel guilty). technically i know it was more that he really thought the training would help, but the timing of it... i'll always wonder if there was an undercurrent of that. which, personally, i think he deserves since katniss kept stringing him along for most of the first book and then took everything back in the first half of the second book. but still, if he did sort of have that in the back of his mind, it shows that he CAN be petty-- he tries his darndest not to be, but it happens sometimes... like every other regular human being on this earth.
and then, i've heard some people mention that peeta is entirely too self-sacrificing to be realistic. i have to disagree. mostly because people mention that it's just another way of making him into a "hero," which brings us back to the whole "perfection" debate. now, while i can absolutely see how his actions can be taken as heroic, i mostly just take them to be the natural reaction of a good person. we've seen countless examples of that in real life. i said in one of my harry potter fanfics that if you're a generally good person, sacrificing yourself for someone you care about is almost an instinct. he got really upset when he learned he'd unintentionally put his family and who knows how many people in danger after that stunt he pulled in district 11. clearly, he DOES react on the basis of caring for other people, whoever they are. and of course, he was willing to give up his life for katniss and for katniss' well-being and happiness more than once... but if you think about it, he wasn't exactly coming up with plans so BOTH of them could survive, was he? it was like the choice was already made for him. that tells me his go-to reaction was to sacrifice himself for her, even when there are other options. he IS a naturally good person, and sacrificing himself for people is less of a "tough choice" for him, as it is a knee-jerk reaction. still admirable, but that tells me it's a conditioned reflex. and conditioned reflexes always have a reason.
and there's another flaw of his that i think is related to this "reason," in part at least, and i think it's the one that most gets to me: he's very self-deprecating. to a fault. especially when you compare it to the pedestal he seems to put katniss in at first, he thinks very little of himself. not in the "i hate myself, i'm just gonna go slit my wrists now" way, but in a more resigned way-- which might be even sadder because it means he really believes he's worth nothing, but he'll still be completely functional so people around him may never even notice. it's all over the place there, in the first book-- just read some of the comments he drops about his mother like he's talking about the damn weather, or the fairly easy way he seems to acknowledge, more than once, that between the two of them, katniss is the one that should survive.
think about it: this is a boy who, as i mentioned above, could charm a rock. he's smart enough, charismatic and compelling. yet he pines for a girl for eleven years, without ever saying a word. NOT ONE WORD. not even "hello"! now, i'm not saying he should've outright told katniss he liked her or tried to chat her up or something, but he COULD have. why did he never try to approach her? this goes far beyond just shyness, if you ask me. so why was he so hesitant? maybe he doesn't think himself worthy of katniss. of love. so he never even tries, until it's clear that his trying might save her life.
also, we know he has some level of rebelliousness in him, but he rarely expresses it publicly unless he feels it serves some sort of purpose. katniss herself has noticed this. okay, i'm not saying he should up and plan the whole insurrection himself, but often he even apologizes for expressing what few seditious opinions he has, especially before he learns what's really going on between president snow and katniss. why? everybody else has no problem recognizing how much they hate the government, so long as they're not being overheard. johanna did it ON NATIONAL TELEVISION. i think, in part, it's got something to do with the idea that he believes his opinions to be inconsequential. he doesn't put enough stock in himself to think that anyone else would.
and like i said, he is very self-sacrificing, and very much fixed on katniss and her well-being. i don't think he actively wants to die, but if given the choice, throwing away his life for her is an easy choice for him. not that i'm saying he's not doing it out of love, because i believe he does love her very, very much (what kind of peeta/katniss shipper would i be if i didn't?), but i think his lack of self-worth was a definite factor in the EASE with which he sets these goals. even if you love that person with all your heart, there should be SOME sort of fear of dying there. everybody has a survival instinct! it shouldn't be that easy. katniss herself is self-deprecating, too, but she's a survivor; she's perpetually looking for a third option. maybe it's just the fact that this is all from katniss' PoV, but i didn't even get the feeling that peeta was all that scared to die, just resigned. that's... not good. nor is it normal. people say he's only abnormal in this sense because "he's written to be perfect." i think there's more to it than that.
i think that general lack of self-worth, that's actually very realistic. if you ask me, it's pretty clear that peeta was a victim of child abuse, both physical (beatings) and probably even psychological from his mother (she clearly wasn't terribly anguished by the probability of her beloved son dying if she had the time to remind him how much better katniss was and how district 12 might actually stand a chance with her as a tribute). his father possibly pining for what could have been probably didn't help things. from this, it's no surprise that he's already come to terms with the "fact" that he's nothing special. he's probably been hearing that for ages. it also explains the crush he's had on katniss for so long-- on the first day they met, she showed everyone how special she was (via singing). hard not to be drawn to someone who's everything you've been told you're not. i bet in his eyes, she was shining like a star that day.
the funny thing is, all these behaviors sort of clash inside him and build upon each other. so there are times when he needs to have his opinion taken into account and demands it angrily, even to haymitch and katniss herself. yet he doesn't do it because he wants to make himself feel important or relevant, he only does it because there's people suffering and he will always want to do something to help, or at least know what he's getting into so he doesn't make things worse. it's the only moments i can see where he DOESN'T want to be taken as someone "too inconsequential, or too stupid, or too weak" to handle things. it's the downside of his own goodness and lack of self-love working together-- and helping people through self-sacrifice, will always win out.
so he goes out on a rant about being left out of the loop in katniss & haymitch's survival game, and then when he's let INTO the loop, he draws a big target on his head ON PURPOSE by being openly rebellious (but in a soft, peeta way) with the gamemakers. peeta: whut? contradictory boy is contradictory. but if you think about it, it does make sense, because he does it so that his death might imply katniss living-- he has no qualms making himself and his true feelings noticeable to others in this case, in fact he NEEDS to be taken into account for once, but in reality it's just a sign of his dismissing his own LIFE, just so that katniss might stand a chance. it's one god damned vicious cycle that i'm not sure even HE understands. (damn limited first person PoV!)
compare: for katniss, self-sacrificing is more about guilt and a misguided feeling of debt. during the quarter quell, they're both playing the same angle: save the other even if it means them dying. katniss thinks she's doing it because she owes him. i think it's because she loves him, but there's also an undercurrent of "it's my turn now" which can't be denied. peeta has no such debt, just the love in his heart and the idea that she deserves to live while his own life doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. not quite the same motivation, but it's a similar behavioral pattern.
(and see what i mean by "his flaws enable the plot"? this self-deprecation is hidden under the romantic plot AND the main plot of "only one can survive," so people tend to lose sight of it, but take a second to think of how he was before they went onto the arena, and you'll see, it's definitely there still).
and now you'll say "well, he somehow managed to survive, and he got the girl, so these silly flaws should be irrelevant now, right? he's become perfect." well... not quite. see, my favorite anime, and possibly my favorite piece of fiction ever is neon genesis evangelion. (and that's one all you lovers of dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction where children are forced to kill and destroy lives for "salvation" should definitely check out! funny, i would never recommend EVA in any other fandom, but it fits in this one). and if there's one thing i learned from EVA, it's that you can't truly love someone else if you don't love yourself; if you do, it will always be a hollow sort of love, and you will never achieve true happiness. that's the human condition. now, in real life i don't think things are as black-and-white-- there's a middle ground, i'm sure-- but it's true that it's very hard to be happy if you don't think you're worth it.
this lack of self-worth and helplessness, it wreaks havoc on a person's psyche. it can potentially give way to some sort of insecurity, doubt, and anger. i think, just as katniss still has her own issues to deal with even 15 years later, peeta is also dealing with this still, possibly even aggravated by the fact that he once tried to kill katniss (even though he was brainwashed), his already fractured memories and identity because of the hijacking, probably residual guilt for the people he killed (both accidentally and on purpose), and possibly by the fact that he hasn't been able to make katniss completely happy, as he would've wanted to.
this could create a lot of conflict in their relationship, let alone personally. he loves her more than anything in the world, that much is clear to me, but your entire happiness cannot depend on one person. it's just not healthy, and points to a fragile state of mind. however way you look at it, peeta might be sweet, he might be charming, he might put love above everything else, and that's certainly admirable, but that doesn't mean it's all sunshine and daisies for him. this is something he's going to have to work for all his life.
in conclusion (and if you've sat through this ridiculously long rant, kudos to you!), the idea that he is "too perfect," if you ask me, is a bit like taking the mask to be the real thing-- and is something of a disservice to his character. it's fine not to like him if that's just not your "type," but don't dismiss his complexity. he has a lot of good things that make us love him, but he has his issues to deal with, just like anybody else. i think peeta can be quite three-dimensional if you pay attention to the little things and try to step away from katniss' PoV a little bit.