Psychology in Literature

Love in The Hunger Games

Author/Editor: Jennifer J. Lacelle
June 29, 2021

Historically, stories are a part of human nature. People have been telling narratives for centuries, orally and written, as a way of making sense of the world and relating to each other.

Generally speaking, it’s easier to recall fictitious stories and lyrics over dry, menial facts. There are a few reasons for this, apart from narratives being ingrained in society.

  1. Emotions are more easily remembered and recalled
  2. Relatability to characters helps create a bond
  3. Stories have a clear start, middle and end

So, what about love? Is it everything stories depict? Do we know when we’re really in love or if we’re experiencing infatuation or misattribution of arousal? That is where we begin playing with the brain.

What is Psychology?

In a small nutshell, the study of the human brain, consciousness, and experiences is psychology. While it’s still considered a relatively new science, there have been vast discoveries made in this field over the past several years.

Psychology is about behaviours: describing, explaining the why, predicting future actions, and controlling or changing it.

Psychologists and psychiatrists are not to be confused though. The latter are actually medical doctors who specialise in mental illnesses and might prescribe medications to patients.

Psychologists, however, cannot prescribe medications. They can diagnose emotional and mental disorders, and conduct testing and assessments of both emotional and cognitive operations. Their task is really about helping people understand, and offering treatments and therapies to aid in mental health.

The Hunger Games (spoilers)

The trilogy, written by Suzanne Collins, tells the tale of Katniss Everdeen (a teenager) who lives in a dystopian country called Panem. There are 12 districts, plus the capital, in this fantastical world. Each territory is responsible for yielding different products, such as lumber or mining. The higher the number the poorer the zone, and Katniss comes from the last and least cared for of the sectors.

Every year the country holds what is called a “reaping” where one girl and one boy (12-18) from each district is sent to the hunger games; a gladiatorial arena where they fight each other to the death for the amusement of the capital.

In the first book, Primrose Everdeen’s name is pulled and Katniss can’t handle the idea of her little sister dying in the arena. So, she volunteers to take Primrose’s place and ends up leaving district 12 with Peeta, the male tribute. Before she goes, Katniss pleads with her best friend Gale, who is in love with her, to keep her family safe.

As we move through the story, the audience meets all kinds of characters and plots, and everything Katniss does is to survive and make it home.

The author also creates a potential love-triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. Before they step into the arena, Peeta admits publicly to Panem that he has a crush on Katniss.

She goes through tremendous turmoil during the games and it changes her perspective of the world, and she begins to change and transform dramatically. Katniss begins breaking down her walls because she wants him to survive too, forming a bond.

Why is Katniss suddenly starting to realize she cares about him?

Psychology: The Misattribution of Arousal

Here comes the love triangle. Before entering the arena, Katniss and Gale formed a very strong bond. They endured hardships together growing up, which supports the idea that they could fall in love someday. They were both lower castes within the district, whereas Peeta, was more in the middle class of the 12th district.

So, would Katniss have fallen in love with Peeta if not for the precarious situations they were forced into together?

Stanley Schachter developed a two-component theory about emotion, which plays a part into the idea behind misattribution of arousal (MOA).

In order to feel emotions, there must be a physiological arousal (reaction) and a name for the emotion. Let’s say you come face to face with a lion and your heartrate jumps.

Lion in your face + increased heart rate = fear.

Scenario + physiological reaction = name of emotion.

In 1974 a study was done by Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron where they placed a woman beside two types of bridges: one was sturdy, stable and fortified, while the second was less stable, rickety and scary. Naturally, one will cause the pulse to increase more so than the other because of the potential for bodily harm.

What happened during this experiment was that the woman spoke with men at both locations and gave them a number to call. The conclusion determined that more men called her if they had crossed the scary bridge over the stable one.

In other words, their pulse heightened and they attributed that increase as attraction to the woman, rather than fear when crossing the unsafe bridge. This created misattribution of arousal.

Crossing the scary bridge with pretty woman + increased heart rate = MOA, instead of fear.

Relation to The Hunger Games

In the books, Katniss must pretend to love Peeta while inside the arena.

Citizens in the capital are able to send life-sustaining gifts to those competing in the arena. They do so by selecting tributes they like or admire. Thus, by playing on the citizens’ emotions, it’s easier to obtain said gifts. This is why Katniss pretended to fall in love with Peeta.

Now, as the story moves throughout the series Katniss and Peeta are continuously put into situations where their lives depend on each other. In the second book, they both end up back in the arena for the Quarter Quell (75th) Hunger Games.

This forces them to once again pair up and try to survive the games, even though they’ve hardly spoken to one another since the first time going into the arena.

Needing each other to survive + increased heart rate = potential for misattribution of arousal.

Much like real life, when people endure frightful scenarios together, they are more likely to become allies and more trusting.

Think of every movie or show you’ve watched where two strangers are clumped together. As the story progresses, these people begin relating to one another, opening up and even become friends. If the story is between a man and woman, then generally they depict a romantic relationship ensuing. Is that realistic? Perhaps, think of situations in your own life.

With this deduction, it would be logical for Peeta and Katniss to eventually fall madly in love because what would normally be attributed to fear, the increase of heartrate in dangerous situations, is now being expended toward one another.

So, would Peeta and Katniss have fallen in love otherwise? Probably not.

Does that make their love story any less romantic? No, but if you go back and read (or watch the movies), then you might notice small things that will make you go, “Oh! I know what that is.”

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