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The Hunger Games and the Hero with Heart

Emerging Archetypal Themes: 
The Hunger Games and the Hero with Heart
Cathy Pagano

            Since the patriarchy is giving way to a new sense of equality and partnership between men and women, I don’t want to give you the impression that The Hunger Games is only about the new feminine Hera.  It is also about the new masculine Hero.  Uranus in Aries is waking us all up to a new sense of identity, a new sense that we are all the heroes and heras of our own destiny.  And that destiny involves being there for each other, with respect and ingenuity.

            I was going to use the books and movies of The Lord of the Rings to talk about the image of the new masculine hero.  Tolkien presents us with so many characters to choose from.  There is Strider/Aragon, the hidden king who is protector and warrior, lover and king.  There is Gandalf, the wizard who puts forth all his power to protect and defend his companions and Middle Earth.  There is Gimli and Legolas, the dwarf and elf who become boon companions through their defense of the realm in its fight against the dark lord, Sauron.  And of course, there’s Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin, small heroes who accomplish what the mighty ones cannot do.  Tolkien’s characters exemplify all that is good and true in human beings when we are faced with ultimate evil.

            Peeta, the hero in The Hunger Games, does not have the magical powers of Gandalf nor the endurance of the hobbits.  What he does have is the determination to help and protect Katniss with his life until his death.  Peeta is an example of who a new masculine hero might be and what a new masculine hero might do.  And yet, this hero isn’t so new at all.  Ancient warriors have fought to the death to protect those they love.  Even a God was willing to give up his life so that we all could have eternal life.  So in a way, Peeta represents a renewal of the archetype of the masculine hero.  Like the dummling youngest son in fairy tales, he forges ahead into his adventure leading with his heart.  That’s what helps him to win the day.  He’s the hero with heart!

            Peeta is a kind and caring young man, despite the harshness of his own life.  He has compassion for Katniss when she’s hungry, even when he doesn’t have the courage to hand her the loaf of bread his mother would rather feed to the pigs.  He takes delight in his work, decorating cakes, and uses his artistry to help him survive during the Games by blending into the background.  He made his arm look like a tree trunk!  How clever is that?

            After seeing The Hunger Games a second time, I came to understand how humble and loving Peeta is.  Yes, he’s half in love with Katniss, but in reality, it’s just a fantasy, since he never acted on feelings.  But from the moment he gets picked in the lottery and sent to the Games, he knows in his heart of hearts that he will die.  He says so right from the beginning.  And yet he spends all of his considerable charm trying to make sure that Katniss wins.  

            Peeta’s smart.  He listens to what is expected of him and does it with a cheerfulness that is contagious.  He waves to the crowds as their train pulls into the Capital, already understanding how important it is for people to like him – to like Katniss.  He pulls Katniss up to the window, getting her into the spotlight.  Peeta begins to weave the story of his love for Katniss by taking her hand in their chariot of fire, never doubting that it will benefit her.  He tells the story of his infatuation for her at his interview.  He builds a picture of young love that will make these savage people of the Capital root for Katniss during the Games.  And he does it all with sweetness, innocence and feeling. 

He is a man of Heart.

In a way, he takes on the woman’s caretaking role, leaving Katniss to be seen as the Warrior Maiden.  And of course, she is the very picture of a follower of the Greek goddess Artemis, the virgin huntress, who doesn’t shrink from killing a man who trespasses on her private bath.  Peeta never doubts that Katniss will kill him if she needs to win.  He offers himself as a sacrifice so she can go home.  Of course, Katniss is more than just a warrior, she is also a mother – figure, kind and caring, but we expect that from a woman.  These virtues haven’t been highly valued by most men, although that is changing now.  Just watch new dads with their children and you can see how men’s hearts are opening and their minds changing.  Just as Katniss volunteered to sacrifice her life by taking her sister’s place, Peeta silently volunteers to protect Katniss with his own life.

It takes courage to be willing to be perceived as a traitor.  That’s what Peeta does so that he can keep an eye on the group of players who are determined to find and kill Katniss.  He goes with them so he can make sure she stays safe.  When they finally turn on him, he doesn’t want Katniss to risk her life by getting him the medicine that will save him.  His own selflessness brings out Katniss’ protective instincts.  He is one of hers.  Just as he is for her in all things.

What makes a hero a hero?  Bravery is part of it – look at what our first responders did at the Twin Towers.  Self-confidence is a big plus in a hero.  A super-power never hurts either.  But Peeta doesn’t think he has these qualities.  His heroism comes from his good heart.  And that makes all the difference.
From the Bard’s Grove,
Cathy Pagano
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