Gale Hawthorne, Rebel With A Cause

Today, Guest Postapalooza begins! Our first post is from Satsuma, who is handing Gale Hawthorne a healthy dose of something he needs more from fans: understanding.

Just to clarify– We don’t write many character based posts, so any Peeta-biased sentiment suggested here comes mainly from other guest posts.

Anyway, enjoy!
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Gale Hawthorne, all fan artsy

I’ve noticed that Katniss and Peeta get a lot of attention around here, but Gale, not so much. So here’s my attempt to give the Boy With the Snares some love. Some of this was inspired by the recent debates along THG fandom these days, with some fans being very worried that Francis Lawrence and others involved in the Catching Fire movie, are paying too much attention to Gale Hawthorne as a
character, and giving others (well, TBH, ONE other, his “rival” Peeta) short shrift.

Certainly, Gale DOES seem to fit a certain mold of hero that is often showcased in movies and TV shows. The Handsome Rebellious Action Hero, who has women falling all over him (but lets romance take a back seat to the Cause) like an alpha male should, but is also a Family Man who loves his mother and family, both by blood and “adopted” in the case of the Everdeens. A “local boy made good” who moves up in the world, getting some well-deserved, cathartic revenge on his enemies on the way.

But while Gale seems to fill many traditional “action hero” tropes, it seems only a minority of fans see him as anywhere near heroic. SC manages to subvert those tropes, when another author might have painted Gale’s actions as completely justified, because “we’re fighting a war here” where there’s no room for mercy towards your enemies. Many stories that deal with rebellions against tyrants, portray the rebels as innocent, oppressed people throwing off their chains, who the audience can cheer for without reservation, even as they’re blowing up thousands of people.

What I find to be groundbreaking about the THG series, is that Suzanne Collins does NOT let the rebels off the hook, does not give the reader that cathartic moment when the enemy falls, and all becomes right with the world. She does not use the atrocities committed by the Capitol side to justify those of the rebels. Not only that, while good ol’ Alma is obviously the “other side of the Coin”, to Snow, and her evilness is shocking to some, I don’t think Collins meant for the whole war to be just a struggle for power between Snow, Coin, and their cronies, or for Katniss, Peeta, Finnick, and other soldiers to be mere pawns in their Game-of-Thrones-like schemes. I think Gale’s story specifically makes that much too simple an interpretation.

I never got the impression that Gale is meant to be a mere victim of Coin and her machinations, anymore than he is a mere victim of Snow and his regime. Gale makes his own decision to “take a page out of Snow’s book”, exercises his own agency in doing so, and deserves his share of responsibility for the consequences.

However, just because Gale is not meant to be a hero or a victim, neither is he a villain. If you look at matters from Gale’s POV, we know that he faced hardships all his life due to the Capitol oppressing the Districts, and was almost whipped to death for the crime of trying to feed his family. Not only that, when the Capitol bombed D12, he saw thousands of innocent people brutally massacred, with no way to fight back.

Let's not forget..

Let’s not forget..

Do I agree with his “fight fire with fire” attitude? No, but I can understand it, and sympathize with Gale’s thirst for revenge. Katniss does as well, when she imagines the scene after Gale tells her, in D2, of seeing children burned alive by Capitol bombs, bombs dropped by Peacekeepers from D2. For a moment, she wants “everyone in the mountain dead”. I think most fans wind up sympathizing with Gale, but not so much that they find his actions completely justified.

What’s also interesting is that, despite his actions, Gale winds up with what might be the happiest ending possible in the world SC has created. Yes, he loses Katniss’s friendship, but he isn’t dead,
maimed, or psychologically destroyed. He hasn’t lost his mother or his siblings and he seems to have achieved some material success with his “fancy job in D2”. Another author might have been tempted to “punish” Gale more as a way to make it quite obvious that He Did The Wrong Thing.

Now, I’m sure some readers did conclude that the ending of MJ shows there’s no point in trying to do the right thing, that the best way to live life is to just look out for your own welfare, and perhaps that of your family. That doesn’t seem to be the majority opinion, though. Seems SC was right to give her readers more credit, that they could understand that just because good deeds aren’t always rewarded, and evil deeds often not punished, doesn’t mean “there is no good and evil, only power” (to quote a certain character from Harry Potter).

Rebel!Gale

Rebel!Gale

Now, does Gale sleep well at night, or is he haunted by Prim’s death, perhaps that of others? We don’t know. We also don’t know the exact nature of his “fancy job” in D2, but it seems likely that he has a position in the “military-industrial complex” there. Did he go there as a conqueror, to rule over those in D2? Or did he realize that he DID have similarities to the people there, much like Katniss did earlier? We don’t know, and perhaps SC meant for this ambiguity to exist. Another interesting question is whether Gale would have agreed with Coin’s proposal for a Hunger Games involving Capitol kids. I’m really not sure myself. I think much depends on whether Prim’s death led him to question anything, or if he thinks it’s justified to “show them what it’s like to lose what they love”. (That’s a quote from a certain character in Game of Thrones.)

Now, all that being said, will Movie!Gale wind up being shown as more heroic than Book!Gale? Or more romantically desirable, to the point that movie watchers will wonder why Katniss lets him walk away? I suppose the risk is there, especially if they show Gale rescuing people in D12 at the end of CF, or perhaps being part of the tribute rescue mission in MJ. However, at this point I’m still pretty confident that Suzanne, Nina, Francis, and others involved will avoid that trap. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Satsuma

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23 comments

  1. I actually hope that the movies show Gale leading the survivors out of D12, and being part of Peeta’s rescue mission. I know that these are scenes that can potentionally improve his ‘action hero’ story, but they’re also things that he DID do, even if Katniss wasn’t around to witness them, and I feel like sometimes he doesn’t get enough credit for that. And if they do the D2 and Prim storyline – among other things – justice, I wouldn’t expect people to not see the problematic aspects of his (very real) character, or question Katniss’ choice to say goodbye. Gale’s action hero-ness had nothing to do with his relationship with Katniss, and those who don’t see that, well… Why do we even care about them? I’m sick and tired of people turning this into a competition between Peeta and Gale, when it’s not. Just because one character might be represented well, doesn’t mean the other will suffer. Just, ugh!

    Anyway, great article! Gale gets way too much irrational hate, so I enjoy reading pieces that don’t treat him as a villain.

    1. It’s really frustrating to me, too. Why does it all have to be a “Team” competition? Why is Gale getting some screentime and development a threat to Peeta? Why would Gale being represented with his good qualities and not just the bad ones mean that the viewers couldn’t understand what Katniss saw in Peeta? Doesn’t Peeta have a lot of good qualities of his own? Even looking at it purely from the perspective of the romantic plot, it doesn’t make sense. If people think that the only way to believe in a Katniss/Peeta romance is to portray Gale as an undesirable jerk and a villain (which is actually the annoying device that many romcoms do to the third part of the love triangle when they are trying to manipulate an audience into liking the main couple), well, that’s sad, and really undersells Peeta’s character and the Katniss/Peeta relationship. If the audience thinks that Peeta is not a great guy but that Katniss just picks him because the other guy is worse (for some reason – despite being someone who didn’t even want to be in a relationship in the first place), that’s hardly a triumph for your ship, or a well-portrayed romance, is it?

      I don’t really want to have people going out of the cinema saying: “Well, the story was good and I liked the main girl and the drunken mentor and others, but the young guys were just blah.” But the attitude that a lot of the Peeta-loving fandom seems to have adopted is to assume that Peeta would definitely be pushed to the background and watered down, so all they want is that Gale be pushed to the background, too? Or something like that? I’m not even sure.

      Or, do people think that Gale will simply be so desirable and lovable if he is portrayed doing the things he does in the book, that nobody could prefer Peeta to him? That would be an unlikely opinion for Peeta fans to have. And if it’s really like that, how come Gale is so much less popular than Peeta in the fandom? He’s the “handsome action rebel” who saves people in D12 in the books, too.

  2. I suppose I might be responsible for some of the guest post Peeta-biased sentiment! However, I really like Gale as a character. Gale can be seen as a foil for Peeta’s character – not because Gale is bad and Peeta is good, but because of the fire vs. dandelion in the spring element, among others.

    I am currently reading V. Frankel’s book on names and symbolism in THG and was fascinated to read that hawthorn root-wood makes “the hottest wood-fire known”. I like that correlation that Gale’s revolutionary spirit burns hotter than anyone else around him.

    The “Team” thing is very annoying to me as well. It feels silly and reduces the characters to a love triangle. IMHO, more of Gale in the movie can be a good thing, but I do feel strongly that Peeta’s character in the movie needs to reflect more of Book!Peeta’s qualities in order to be a more accurate adaptation. A friend who has not read the books said that Peeta seemed weak in the movie, like he just needed to be rescued by Katniss, whereas Gale seemed strong and mysterious. Ugh – hence, my desire for more Peeta.

    But I wouldn’t be happy with less of Gale either. I love the way Katniss is most herself in the woods with Gale. The bond of supporting their families. The brother-sister element that turns into more. The trust in each other. The ability to hunt together, and later fight together. The loyalty Gale shows over and over, such as getting Prim and Buttercup to the underground bunker, or saying Boggs face got in the way of his elbow when Katniss was trying to figure out the situation with the prep team. It is a very real and intense relationship, that suffers from the strain of war and the choices they both make.

  3. When I started reading this article, my initial perception was that it was going to be about bashing Gale and, frankly, I’ve read enough about the hate people spew in his direction to be absolutely fed up with it.

    However, I kept reading and I am really glad I did. You’ve made a good point as did the ladies in the comments. The books never were about “who does Katniss end up with” for me, because the love story isn’t the core element of the trilogy as I’ve come to know plenty of people believe (obviously a lot of them haven’t read the books or only skimmed them)… but that’s why I strongly hope that with the release of the next 3 (YEAH!) movies, the strictly only “movie-watchers” will come to find out and get to know what the book-readers already do know. And I really do hope they won’t turn any of it into a rom-com where the fans will wave their team flags and cheer for their favourite. Because it isn’t about the boys or the love… it’s mainly and firstly about Katniss and her struggle to stay alive and keep her loved ones alive (whether that is Prim, her mom, Gale, his family or Peeta).

    Seemingly though, we can’t escape the whole “team” issue… Thank you, Twilight! And frankly, I don’t get it. I’ve never been on any team whatsoever. If I make a choice it’s based on my own personal preferences. Based on whom I’d like more with the situation I am in right now. It’s not based on me slipping into Katniss shoes and making a choice. If I did, honestly, I wouldn’t even have a mind to make that kind of choice. I just know that I would choose Gale over Peeta any day. I could say now it’s because Gale is a more multi-layered character than Peeta is and that, if we apply stereotypes, Gale is the “bad guy”-type while Peeta is the guy every mother dreams of her daughter marrying one day, but… The Hunger Games isn’t a book about children killing each other. It’s a book of depth and many, many messages that would take quite a time to analyze. As the book and the story itself is multi-layered so are all of the characters in it. So, no, Peeta isn’t simply the good guy and Gale isn’t simply the bad guy. I prefer Gale though. Why? Because he’s the tall, handsome, dark and brooding guy? Or is it simply because I don’t enjoy when a guy is better at frosting cakes than I am that makes me turn towards Gale and not Peeta, baker and pastry chef extraordinaire? I honestly don’t know. I like Gale. I like him better than Peeta. But that’s only my personal preference. I like this hunter guy for who is, not because I think he’d be better for Katniss.
    Down with the “Teams”, vive la “I respect each character for their qualities”.

    1. I’ve never thought that Gale is the “bad guy” stereotype, or the “bad boy” stereotype as some say. The “bad guy” stereotype would be Snow, or Cato in the first book/movie, but the latter was also subverted, at least in the movie. There is no “bad boy” stereotype in THG, but Finnick seems to be that on the surface – but we soon find out that he’s really not.

      If we apply stereotypes, Gale seems at first glance to be the action/rebel hero stereotype, as Satsuma pointed out, but Suzanne Collins subverts that. His character arc reminds me a little of the character of Teddy O’Donovan from The Wind That Shakes the Barley (one of the two leads in the movie), in that he starts out as a classic rebel/revolutionary hero who fights against oppression and gets tortured by the villains, and who’s more straightforward and action-oriented and less prone to doubts than the other main characters, but who ends up being an antiheroic character as the Revolution starts “eating its children” (although Gale doesn’t go as far as Teddy does).

      I see Peeta as more complex than you do – for starters, he’s an unconventional male hero, and he’s got his issues – which Katniss doesn’t often understand since she tends to idealize him as her “boy with the bread”, but his arc in Mockingjay certainly made him a very interesting character.

  4. Thanks everyone for the great replies! I really don’t get too much into the shipping aspect of fandom, and in this post, I tried to focus on Gale’s own character arc in the books, not his status as a “Love Interest for the Main Female Character”.

    One reason I like Gale as a character is because he is so morally ambiguous and gray, and I think he’s meant to be that way. Not that other characters aren’t, of course, but for most of them, I can easily classify them as “on the white side of gray” (Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, Cinna, Finnick) or “the black side of gray” (Plutarch, Coin, Snow). Gale seems to be quite in-between.

    BTW, while I don’t ship Gale/Johanna as a couple, I do find her to be the only other major character who approaches the same shade of gray. Much like Gale, she is a victim of Snow’s regime; her comment about having “no one left I love” suggests she DID have family, friends, and perhaps lovers, murdered by Snow. Perhaps she even had to watch, as Gale had to watch people die in D12. Also like Gale, she can be quite conniving and ruthless, and, of course, she does endorse the revenge Hunger Games. (A decision Gale never gets a chance to make.) However, I just can’t bring myself to condemn her for it, and I also really wonder if she’d still have made that choice if she was mentally healthier, and hadn’t been so viciously tortured in the Capitol.

    Gale’s moral ambiguity also reminds me of some of the Careers, and I think that his winding up in D2 is very apropos.

    1. Well, I don’t think Snow could really be called any shade of gray – he’s quite thoroughly on the dark side. Just like Prim is firmly on the light side – but it has to be said that Prim was never put in a position where she would have been forced to become more “gray”, the way Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, Finnick, Johanna etc. were, thanks to being so young and having an older sister to protect her. Prim is therefore almost like a symbol of Katniss’ innocence – Katniss not only was keeping her alive since their father died, but made it possible for Prim not to have to do anything morally ambiguous.

      Regarding Gale’s role as a foil to Peeta that someone mentioned above, I think he serves just as much as a foil to Katniss, at least in Mockingjay, and this role is enforced by the fact that they have such similar backgrounds; for instance, in District 2 Katniss brings up the fact that both their fathers died in a mine accident, but this doesn’t have the same effect on Gale as it does on Katniss and doesn’t make him feel any empathy for the District 2 people who will die when the Nut collapses.

      On whether Gale feels guilt: when I was reading Mockingjay for the first time, I had no opinion on that; but when I reread it, I noticed something that I didn’t pay attention to the first time, that Gale didn’t visit Katniss in the hospital, which she brings up when he comes to see her. I think he did feel very guilty and just couldn’t bring himself to look at Katniss, all burned and traumatized over her sister’s death. (It reminds me of how hard it was for Katniss to look at Peeta in District 13, partly because she blamed herself for his imprisonment, torture and hijacking, although Katniss’ actual responsibility in that case was far smaller.) Now I’m more inclined to think that Gale didn’t leave just because he thought that Katniss wouldn’t forgive him, but that he himself felt responsible for what happened.

      However, the real question is, did he think that what he did was wrong in general, or did he just feel bad because what he did ended killing Prim and hurting Katniss? In other words, if you asked Gale, after everything: “Do you think it’s OK to use bombs that will kill some innocent people, if it helps you win the war sooner?”, what would he say? That I’m far less sure of. Most Gale fans I’ve talked to online seem to think that this is generally OK, and regard Prim’s death as a tragic accident but don’t blame Gale for it because they share his views about acceptable war tactics.

      1. I agree with you that Snow is pretty much totally dark, and Prim totally light, and I think that was SC’s intent. However, I have seen Snow defenders who believe that Snow was at least partially motivated by a sincere wish to keep the peace in Panem, without denying that he also wanted to hold on to his personal power.

        As for Prim, while most of the critiques I’ve read is of her is as a character (that she’s badly written, too flat, etc)., I have seen people criticize her for (1) pressuring Katniss to assume the Mockingjay role, though I don’t think she was really doing that, and (2) foolishly risking her life to aid the children of the enemy.

        While these critiques do tend to spark the “what books did you read” response in me, they are out there.

        Back to Gale. Since there certainly many people out there who share Gale’s views on what’s acceptable in war, I think SC meant for Gale to be a representative of that camp. (As well as an individual with a backstory that makes it plausible for him to hold those beliefs.) If that’s the case, then she probably did not mean for him to have completely changed his views, though he may have moderated them a bit. Her placing him at the end in D2, famous for producing Peacekeepers and Careers, also indicates that to me.

      2. Satsuma: I agree with you about Gale. He probably feels responsible for causing it to happen, but doesn’t think it was generally wrong to do, and would lose no sleep if it had been other people out there who got killed, not those he loved/cared about.

        Regarding Prim, I’ve somewhat revised my opinion on her after rereading the series. There are moments that do paint a more vivid picture of who she is – e.g. Katniss’ mention that Prim used to be sorry for the dead animals Katniss hunted and would ask if it was still possible to heal them. It makes me smile, and I can relate since I used to cry over every dead dog or cat or parrot when I was little, and even now I feel sorry for wounded and tortured animals; of course, the difference is that the Everdeen family would have starved if those animals were not really dead, so Prim was being irrational, but she was very little – just 7 when their dad died and Katniss started hunting. There’s also the fact that she also took as a pet and loved an ugly cat with half an ear missing, instead of some pretty kitten. Those are the little things that hint that she always had a desire to protect and heal the wounded and helpless that would translate later to wanting to be a doctor (of course, also influenced by her mother’s calling) and trying to help the wounded children in Capitol.

        “As for Prim, while most of the critiques I’ve read is of her is as a character (that she’s badly written, too flat, etc)., I have seen people criticize her for (1) pressuring Katniss to assume the Mockingjay role, though I don’t think she was really doing that, and (2) foolishly risking her life to aid the children of the enemy.”

        Regarding 1), Prim wasn’t pressuring or even trying to convince Katniss to be a Mockingjay. Katniss herself said that she wanted to be a Mockingjay in order to help the rebels to win the war, but that she was just worried that the rebels would execute Peeta when they won. Prim just pointed out to Katniss that she had a lot of power as a Mockingjay and would be able to protect Peeta, which gave Katniss the idea to pose her own demands to Coin as requirements for becoming Mockingjay.

        As for 2)… that’s not “what books did you read” as much as “your views on life and ethics are completely alien to me”.

      3. I think that Gale didn’t think what he did was wrong in general, just because of what he did in District 2, and with the way he acted when he finally did go see Katniss after the City Circle bombing. I was kinda pissed that he made it more about him but at the same time tried to not take any responsibility for it. Yes, we don’t know if it was his bomb or not, but he didn’t even recognize the likelihood that it could be and he focused more on insisting that there was no way to know. So I feel like he was implying that since there was no way to know, it’s irrational for Katniss to blame him but he knows Katniss is going to think so anyhow and that what he was upset about. Like he did feel bad that Prim died and Katniss is hurting, but mostly for himself, coz now he really has lost all chances with her. This is also how I feel about those who keep saying Gale did not kill Prim. No he didn’t, but it’s not about him. Like Gale, they missed the point that Prim died and Katniss lost her sister.

        I also find it troubling when some Gale fans seem to think his rationale was okay and totally acceptable, and I’m like, NO it is not!! But as pointed out, Gale represents some of our politicians and war tacticians today who has done exactly the same things Gale did again and again and they justify it as “for the greater good” and cite the just war theory. But like Katniss said, if we are doing things that sacrifices our children along the way, then what the F are we doing?

    2. Just came back to read all your replies and now… Can we talk about this some more?
      I oftentimes get the impression that people outright blame Gale for Prim’s death. And my position is along the lines of “He didn’t put a gun to her head and shot her”.

  5. I think my point of view has maybe come across wrong here. First off, if it’s between Peeta and Gale solely (not the entity of characters of THG), then this is what they could be stereotyped as. I am not saying I do, but I believe that this “breaking down” or rather “simplifying” these characters is the core of the whole “Team”-issue. I’ve seen quite a few people who”ve stated “Gale isn’t the right for Katniss because he’s bad, violent… he killed Prim.” All I meant to point out was that this is what the “Team”-issue comes down to. BUT, and I think we can all agree on this, THG isn’t about the romance, not at the very core of the book anyway. It’s more a less a sideline storyline, just another struggle Katniss is facing, even though it appears rather petty in comparison to the rebellion and fighting for her life.

    I also didn’t mean to make it sound that I believe Peeta is only a one-layered character. In fact, I do think he’s got more going on than just the “nice guy with a crazy infatuation”.
    Still, he isn’t my favourite character. However, I can still appreciate/respect him for who he is and his character traits.
    I also believe that the majority of characters have more going on that what is perceivable at first glance. Finnick is like THE example for that, but as is Cato.

    Sorry for any misunderstandings. 🙂

  6. I think SC made a great work painting the shades of gray that we find in real life, in our world.
    Because of that, I like Gale as character. I understand where he´s coming from, but I consider him a rebel, not a revolutionary. He thinks and acts as the people hate. If Katniss didn´t kill Coin, nothing would change for Panem, except the name of the dictator.
    I don´t know for sure if he would agree with another Hunger Games for Capitol children, but I think he would.
    Probably he feels guilty about the children who died with Prim, but apparently he didn´t search the truth about that; when Katniss asked if they used “his bombs”, he said “does it matter?”. I think it does; I think it should.
    Many fans are angry with Katniss because she didn´t forgive Gale, but did he ask? I don´t remember.
    Very interesting post and comments; thanks for sharing.
    English isn´t my first language, sorry for my mistakes, I wish I could write and express myself better.

  7. I agree with most of what is discussed in this article, but the issue of Gale getting more screen time in the movie is not about a zero-sum with Peeta (tho it realistically could be. The movie could only be a certain length and giving one character more screen time does take away from other characters).

    The additional scene of Gale the director mentioned was not about his individual character development, it’s the director giving him an additional goodbye scene with Katniss that did not happen in the books. That’s what frustrating about it. Adding this scene, in fact, plays into the cliched hollywood love triangle thing.

    1. Why would adding that scene play into the cliched Hollywood love triangle thing? Gale’s relationship with Katniss is important for Katniss and for the story. Does anything that fleshes out that relationship play into the cliched love triangle thing? I don’t think Gale’s role in Katniss’ life is limited or defined by that of being a love interest, or even that this is his primary role in her life. And why would it be so frustrating that there’s an additional scene that there’s not in the book? It’s not the only additional scene (we already see others in the teaser trailer, like the Snow/Plutarch scenes or the Katniss/Prim scene), there were also additional scenes in the first movie, and there are always going to be additional scenes in every book-to-film adaptation, because that’s a part of adapting book to screen. You can’t just film everything the way it is in the books, especially since we don’t hear Katniss’ thoughts in the movies. So, for instance, we would have no idea how she feels about Gale and what history they have together if we didn’t hear her thoughts.

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