The dystopian fantasy “The Hunger Games” presents intriguing sexual dynamics. The characters are multi-faceted and display uncharacteristic gender traits. “The Hunger Games” blurs the line between what is considered masculine and feminine in terms of relationships. By exploring the relationships that form within “The Hunger Games” I propose that we can better analyze social trends regarding gender and sexuality. By looking at examples of gender role reversal in “The Hunger Games”, such as Peeta’s affinity to baking or Katniss’ for hunting, one may discern that traditional gender roles are not as important in a relationship as many may think. The balance between roles appears to be the key to healthy relationships whether the roles are traditional or reversed.
Male and Female Relationships
The relationships within “The Hunger Games” are complex. Katniss is not a feminine girl, early in life she learned to rely on her strengths instead of conforming to feminine standards. As the main provider for her family, her need to survive causes her relationships to suffer. She takes on a maternal role caring for her younger sister and her own mother who is incapacitated. She has also taken on a more traditional masculine role as a hunter to provide food for her family (Collins). The character of Katniss bends traditional gender roles.
Peeta also has a duality of nature. At the beginning of “The Hunger Games” Peeta is very reserved. His main joys in life are his art and baking, both more traditionally feminine roles. He is clearly shy and admires Katniss from afar but cannot summon the courage to approach her. Martin states, “Cross-sex behavior in boys generally is viewed more negatively than cross-sex behavior in girls.” (Martin ).
After the tribute Peeta’s character changes. At first he seems to surrender to his fate, death. He knows his weakness and doesn’t see any alternative (Collins ). However, eventually Peeta’s will to live override his fear. The turning point for Peeta is when he says, “I keep wishing I could think of a way . . . to show the capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than a piece in their games.” (Collins ). At this time we see him become more capable and more masculine. He doesn’t have the skills need to survive the Hunger Games but he relies on his cleverness and ability to form relationships to survive. When Peeta and Katniss team up it is obvious they complement each other well, even if their gender roles are reversed!
Gale, on the other hand exudes masculinity. An accomplished woodsman, he takes on the role of father to his younger siblings as well as providing for Katniss and Primrose when possible (Collins ). He is what one would call “the strong silent type.” He works long hours and considers it his duty as a male to keep everything in order. This speaks to the masculine need provide. Very straight forward, Gale doesn’t hide the feelings he has for Katniss, but realizes that in their situation it is not the right time to form a more intimate relationship. He remains a pillar of support to Katniss and is the person she always feels she can trust above all others.
The triangle formed between these three characters is a driving force throughout the series. Emotions are strong, yet because of their current situations nothing more than friendship can develop.
Since the intended audience of Collin’s book are teenagers, the sexual dynamics are somewhat minimized. The first person perspective from Katniss indicates that the intended readers are female, even though the book proved to be successful for both sexes. There are no psychical romantic relationships throughout the book, not that the characters would have had time, after all survival was foremost in their mind! Sexual repression is a key theme throughout the book(Penny ). Katniss was force to suppress any feminine traits in order to avoid appearing weak to her competitors. She was also forced to suppress any romantic notions she felt towards Peeta or Gale (Collins ). A teenage audience can relate to the confusion the characters feel regarding their sexuality (Ward, and Harrison 3-23). After all one cannot always have what they want no matter how much they want it. Sometimes other circumstances prevent romances from forming. Discovering one’s sexuality and finding one’s place in society through either traditional or non-traditional roles are all part of growing up. Katniss’ selfless message to be abstinent for the greater good of her family promotes a good message (Ward, and Harrison 3-23).
The tribute certainly effect how relationships were formed throughout the book. The tribute took Katniss away from the stability she felt in her relationship with Gale and placed her with Peeta, with whom she could never tell what was real and what was an act for the audiences viewing the Hunger Games. Befriending Peeta was likely essential for Katniss’ survival. Even females as skilled as Katniss appear to be at a disadvantage in the games. Haymitch tells Katniss, “You know how you stay alive? You get people to like you.” (Collins ). This advice encouraged Katniss to begin a relationship with Peeta to incur survival gear from her benefactors (Collins ). Whether imagined love or real the relationship allowed both of them to make it through to the end of the games.
With the land divided into separate districts, the characters in “The Hunger Games” are all victims of inequality (Collins ). The capital is a prosperous city over flowing with wealth, while Katniss and her friends are subject to the impoverished district 12. Even though this story takes place in the future, society has appeared to revert back to early gender roles and men and women work hard to survive with no protection from social injustice. Gender roles are pre-feminist movement. Survival of the fittest is at work. The weak and the poor either get stronger or die. This is a lesson that has been engrained into Katniss’ very soul and changes who she is. Martin states that gender role is often equated with social standing. (Martin ). The low status level of Peeta may account for some of his gender reversal, it is noted that he also has a mother and father that provide for him, and thus he doesn’t have as strong of a need to provide as Katniss does. Martin also states that it is often more acceptable for a woman to move into a male gender role than is the reverse. Katniss never accepts her social status and her circumstances require her to take on a different role for her families’ survival.
The Capitol play predominately in the formation of the relationship between Peeta and Katniss. Their love affair is construed for entertainment purposes. Without this interference it is unlikely that they both would have survived for there would have had to be only one winner for the games. They would also have not received any sponsors. By Peeta playing upon his weakness and Katniss downplaying her strengths they were able to better garner sympathy from the viewing audiences and build a fan base from their proposed love. Martin states, “Girls who show moderate levels of cross-sex behavior are not treated differently by their peers whereas boys who show moderate cross-sex behavior are rejected by their peers; they were criticized more often and receive less positive feedback.” (Martin ). This may explain Peeta’s need to appear more masculine to the hunger games viewing audience.
Even though the couple have an attraction towards each other and shared experiences, they are unable to develop these feelings for the fear that they might later have to kill one another to survive. When faced with killing one another at the end of the games, they defy the Capital by threatening to take their own life with the poisonous berries. They take the pretend love affair constructed by the Capital and turn it to their own benefit. This puts the Capital in a precarious situation; they cannot anger the viewing audience by insisting on their death. Katniss is also realizing the importance of Peeta when she states, “And while I was talking, the idea of actually losing Peeta hit me again and I realized how much I don’t want him to die. And it’s not about the sponsors. And it’s not about what will happen when we get home. And it’s not just that I don’t want to be alone. It’s him. I do not want to lose the boy with the bread.” (Collins) Her more feminine side shows the farther along she gets in the game, she takes on the role of healer and partner.
Katniss frequently relates that she doesn’t feel that she will ever get the chance to live a normal life (Collins). She feels that she has been damaged by the hardships and brutality she has witnessed. She has a very twisted view of love because of the tribute. She says. “Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me. Entrails. No hissing. This is the closest we will ever come to love.” (Collins) She feels a fear that she will never become a wife or mother because of this lifestyle. Katniss’ concern speaks of our fear to follow our desires for fear of being weak.
The society depicted in this book is a patriarchal one (Jones 7-11). Governor Snow rules over all of the districts with an iron fist. He seems to have no concern about anyone except himself. His character illustrates clear patriarchal tendencies, as he belittles Katniss(Collins ). It is clear women are objectified and stereotyped in this dystopia. Women seem to be without a voice. However it must be said that men of lower social class are also looked down upon, although not to the extent of women. Katniss represents the only real strong female character in the series. Most other women are depicted as victims, such as Katniss’ broken mother(Collins ). Katniss continues to surprise everyone with her tomboyish ways and feisty attitude. The men in the Capital seem unable to fathom that a female can be an actual contender in the games. The development of the fake relationship between Peeta and Katniss was needed for this reason(Collins ). Society could believe that a girl could fall in love with a competitor but not that she could win on her own.
In summary, the sexual dynamics of “The Hunger Games” indicates reversed gender roles and a suppression of sexuality as a survival instinct. Peeta and Katniss undergo changes throughout the novel in regards to their acceptance of their gender.
This dystopian future serves as a warning to all that in order to maintain true freedom, we must follow our own paths, this includes the freedom to express gender and sexuality without fear of judgment. The characters within “The Hunger Games” were forced to conform or become outcasts. Greed and bigotry prove to be the greatest evils of society. Oppression and the need to survive have shaped who these characters have become.
Collins, S. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc, 2012. Print.
Jones, L. “Penn State University Press.” Penn State University Press. 3. (1991): 7-11. Print.
Martin, C. “Sex Roles.” Sex Roles. 22.3 (1990): n. page. Web. 6 Dec. 2012.
Penny, L. (2012): n. page. Web. 3 Dec. 2012.
Ward, L, and R Harrison. “American Psychological Society.” American Psychological Society. 232. (2005): 3-23. Web. 6 Dec. 2012.