Are there role models for boys in “The Hunger Games”? Andrew Smiler presents a guide to the men and boys of the popular trilogy.
Spoiler Alert: This article is based on the entire trilogy and reveals some plot twists
Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” presents us with a dystopian world in which the Capitol maintains authoritarian control over the 12 districts of Panem, closely administering all production, distribution and communication. Every year, a teenage boy and girl from each district are randomly selected to participate in a competition to the death: The Hunger Games. The Games are broadcast to the entire population and are controlled in great detail by the Game’s masters; they end when there’s only one “tribute” left alive. The victorious tribute gets a nice house to live in and more food than other members of the population. For the year following that win, everyone in the district gets extra food.
The story follows Katniss Evergreen, a 16 year old girl from district 12, who volunteers to compete in place of her younger sister. Katniss and her sister live with their mother; their father was killed in a mining accident several years earlier. Although she’s still in school, Katniss hunts illegally to supplement the family’s meager government controlled rations.
The story is told exclusively from a feminine perspective: Katniss’. Yet most of the other major characters are teenage boys or adult men, which means there’s plenty of room to look for role models. Here’s my evaluation of those characters, based on the trilogy, starting with the adolescents:
Gale Hawthorne is Katniss’ best friend and hunting companion. Bonded by the deaths of their fathers and their ability to hunt and trap live game, they’re as close as two teens can be. It’s clear they care for and love each other, but it’s not until later in the trilogy that we—through Katniss—are certain if that’s friendship or romance.
Is Gale a Good Man? He cares for and provides for his family, and he clearly cares about Katniss. Like many American men, he’s not good at verbalizing his feelings. While that may prevent him from being truly happy, I don’t think it keeps him from being considered good. His biggest potential flaw is his apparently never-ending hatred for the Capitol and his willingness to shed blood in overthrowing it. Those make sense within the context of Panem, and although Gale’s violence is clearly channeled toward the government, he’s willing to kill non-combatants who are caught in the proverbial crossfire. That’s not ideal, but overall, he seems like a good man to me.
Peeta Mellark is the male tribute from District 12, and thus Katniss’ functional partner during the Hunger Games. Peeta has long had a crush on Katniss.
Is Peeta a Good Man? Yes. He’s willing to sacrifice himself for those he cares about; initially Katniss and later Haymitch. Some of that is his love for Katniss, but some of that is also pragmatic; if either of them wins, district 12 benefits. Peeta’s skills are primarily defensive, not offensive. It’s not at all clear that he could intentionally kill anyone, which he’ll need to do in order to survive and thus win the hunger games. He’s also got a good sense of what’s going on, within the competition, within his relationships, and within the larger political context. Overall, he’s a good man.
Cato is the male tribute from district 2. A “career” tribute, he comes from a district that actively supports the Capitol; he’s been training and hoping to be chosen for the Hunger Games for years. Cato is vicious and bloodthirsty; Katliss ends his life after he’s incapacitated and is slowly, painfully dying.
Is Cato a good man? Killing others and clearly enjoying it, it’s hard to see him as anything other than a monster. Of course, his parents and his culture have encouraged just this sort of behavior, so it’s not as though it’s entirely his “fault.” That said, there’s no way to consider him a good man.
Haymitch Abernathy: A former tribute and the only living victor of the games from district 12, Haymitch has spent the last 24 years mentoring every child from district 12 tribute who’s been unlikely enough to follow in his footsteps; they’ve all been killed. He’s also a drunk.
Is Haymitch a good man? He’s clearly doing the best he can with what he’s got. Like many of the surviving victorious tributes we get to know in the books, he suffers from PTSD as the result of his experiences within the Hunger Games. He also carries some guilt for all the district 12 tributes he’s mentored—or should have mentored—that have been killed within the games. Haymitch could have been a good man, but never really had a chance.
Cinna is the chief stylist for Katniss and Peeta, responsible for creating their look during the spectacle that precedes the games. He’s also a member of the underground/resistance.
Is Cinna a good man? He’s the only male adult Katniss likes, probably because he’s the only one who doesn’t try to control her in any way. He gives her very little advice about anything, except some very basic suggestions about how to behave in public. Cinna actively contributes to the public perception that Katniss and Peeta are romantically involved, a story Katniss isn’t particularly thrilled about but agrees to, and a story that ultimately saves her life (and Peeta’s). I honestly can’t decide if Cinna is good or not. On the good side, he’s the only male adult who seems to respect Katniss and her choices, and his actions help save her life. On the bad side, he uses her—or at least, her public image—without her consent.
Finnick Odair is from district 4 and won the 65th Hunger Games at age 14. Readers met him in the first book, but moviegoers won’t meet him until the 2nd film. Katniss’ initial impression of Finnick is that he’s handsome, well built, stubborn, and a raging egotist. We also learn that he has a reputation for sleeping with residents of the Capitol during the Games. In the second and third books, we discover that he’s friends with Haymitch, and that he’s deeply in love with the severely impaired Annie Cresta, victor of the 70th Hunger Games. Katniss eventually learns to trust Finnick, and he becomes one of her protectors.
Is Finnick a good man? Although he seems more “functional” than Haymitch, it’s clear that Finnick also suffers from PTSD as a result of his experience in the games. We learn that he is willingly having sex with any Capitol resident he finds interesting, primarily trading his body for secrets that he funnels back to the resistance. I think spying is necessary but morally dubious, but his deep love and ongoing care for Annie, as well as his efforts to help Katniss cope with her own PTSD symptoms, earn him the rank of good man.
Caesar Flickerman hosts the Hunger Games, including the interview show in which the population meets the tributes and the games themselves. In many ways, he’s the public face of the government and we’re given the impression that he’s held that job for many, many, many years.
Is Caesar a good man? As the longtime spokesman for a government that routinely puts 23 teenagers to death, he’s actively complicit and responsible for those murders; it’s not as though he’s a lighting technician or housekeeper. I don’t care if he’s a good father, he’s got a lot of blood on his hands. Caesar may not be evil, but he is definitely not a good man.
President Snow is the bad guy. He presides over the nation of Panem and the Hunger Games.
Is President Snow a good man? A dictator who wields immense power, President Snow is willing to do whatever he believes is necessary to retain power. Every year, he kills 23 teenagers in order to keep the population cowed. Later, when fighting breaks out, his military makes no effort to avoid civilian casualties and actively attempts to strike at the underground’s hospital facilities. In his efforts to undermine the rebellion before Katniss becomes aware it exists, he tries to woo her to his side. It doesn’t work because he toys with her concern for Peeta and her own family. President Snow is not a good man.
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