The Peeta Complex

— April 22, 2011 (14 comments)
So there's this book called THE HUNGER GAMES. If you don't know it, go read it now. Seriously, it'll be worth it (the book, that is--I can't promise the same for this post).

You like it? It's one of my very favorites. That's important to know, because I'm about to bag on one of the characters, but do understand: I love this book.

So, Peeta. He's perfect, isn't he? Strong, sensitive, artistic, and willing to do absolutely anything for the girl he loves--even though she's never shown any affection for him (the opposite, actually) and has few redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Not that I don't like Katniss. She's an awesome survivor, and she takes care of those she loves. I just don't see what Peeta sees to make him repeatedly sacrifice everything for her.

It's not just Peeta. I've read a number of recent YA novels in which the protagonist inexplicably gains the affections of the Perfect Guy, and keeps them even though she's very clear that she loves someone else, or at least doesn't like him. Sometimes he wins her over, sometimes she feels she doesn't deserve him, and sometimes he tragically dies for her. Oh, so tragically.

It doesn't matter what happens to him, though, the point is HE IS IMAGINARY.

Just like real life Bad Boys are not often redeemable (sorry, ladies, they're just jerks), so real life Nice Guys will not wait years and years, sacrificing everything they have until the girl who obviously doesn't like them comes around.

Sorry, girls. There are nice guys out there, but we're not all strong and handsome, and most of us will move on once we've been spurned. (We're nice, not perfect.)

If you love the Perfect Guy trope, or you're writing it, don't worry. It's not Wrong, and I've never hated a book because of it, just rolled my eyes sometimes.

It's not hard to fix either: give the boy flaws. Peeta's problem was he was too perfect. His greatest weakness was his inability to see how perfect he was (which: really? not a flaw). Real guys are sometimes a little arrogant, a little vindictive, a little dishonest. It doesn't make us jerks or bad guys, it just makes us human, believable. Believe it or not, it works in fiction, too.

Have you noticed the Peeta complex? Does it bug you, or (like most things) is it just me? Let me know!

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  1. ohmygoodness! it really DOES bother me!!! i just can't understand why, why, why the flat characters! whether they are villains with no real motive or perfect guys! it's just... ugh!

    love doesn't mean anything if the object of your affection is perfect. it's the acceptance of their flaws, the recognition of their humanity, seeing their strengths beyond their weaknesses that fosters lasting affection. not an unread expectation of perfection in your partner.

    also. no one party should hold all the power in a relationship. that is a recipe for abuse- not romantic. and- ugh! i just an too discombobulated to go on, but ugh! yes. it bothers me. but you better believe that i ADORED the hunger games trilogy despite that fact, and that really says something! :)

  2. Ha, seriously? I didn't like Peeta at all. I thought he was passive-aggressive, pushy, and expected too much. Like because he loved Katniss, she somehow owed him feelings back. His reaction at the end of book 1 bugged the living daylights out of me. The end of book 3 made me want to claw my eyes out.

    Because he WAS pushy & emotionally demanding, but in such a "nice" way that it made Katniss look like a jerk for not reciprocating. Like it was her fault she hadn't had a crush on him since they were kids. And this is why gets me about the "nice guy" trope -- the idea that because he's nice, if she doesn't reciprocate it's somehow her fault and she'll be sorry. Bleh. Give me a break.

    Also, nice guys tend to create a false dichotomy -- "it's either me, or some jerk", because of course all other guys are jerks. :P In this case it bugged me more because Katniss had valid reasons NOT to have feelings for Peeta, and her alternative was not a bad boy, but someone who knew and understood her (even though they grew apart later).

    This is incoherent as a) I'm sick and b) this is a hot-button pet peeve. My apologies. ^^;;;

  3. I'm one of the few who wasn't much impressed with Hunger Games. I thought the concept was terrific, but the execution left much to be desired. Katniss didn't appeal to me at all. I agree about the Peeta complex, especially since I was one of those shy guys who could never approach the girls I liked, so never got to date any of them. No, we don't hang around forever, but move on to the next unapproachable woman!

  4. btw, I also agree with Lora's comment. Just because a guy is nice, that's not enough reason to expect a girl to like him back.

  5. What bothered me more than the Peeta complex was the underlying message that women are users. It's been awhile since I've read Hunger Games, but I remember that Katniss got on my nerves because she was outright using Peeta to survive (I know, I know, kill or be killed blah blah blah). I kept waiting for Peeta to burst out with a "Ha, ha! Used you back!"

  6. Great point, Adam. I see this quite a bit in YA and I also keep wondering why. And yep, it does bug me.

    I love flawed characters, the more wretched or imperfect the better. They are the ones I cheer for - not the shiny halo guys.

    Also liked The Hunger Games, as it reminded me a lot of the first Battle Royale (which I loved).

  7. It's fascinating to me how women and men see the male and female characters in these YA love stories so differently (I'm Team Peeta; don't shoot me). :) But I agree about the flawed characters. And it's not a simple thing, balancing the flaws with the strengths to come up with someone realistic (in a fiction sense) and empathetic (to pull in the reader) and possibly heroic (if they're the MC).

    How could Peeta have been made less perfect? I think a normal reaction of "hey, I just saved your life and you're still not into me? Push off!" would have helped. But could he have survived the Hunger Games as that kind of character? I think he would have given up after the tracker jackers.

  8. I'm in the middle of Catching Fire right now and I've wondered the same thing. Katniss is strong and level-headed, but when it comes to social skills she's a big ditz. I don't see why he would hang around. But I suppose she did take care of him in the first book, and he owes her for that.

    The idea, though, that anyone can be "perfect" is silly, and it would be nice to have some more man-flaws in YA.

  9. Male and female writers both tend to put in characters who are a fantasy. The hot girl who goes for the nerdy guy; the hot guy who goes for the clumsy girl. The gorgeous woman who bounds into bed with the male protagonist; the gorgeous man who waits patiently--usually in a hermetically sex-free state--for the female protagonist to make up her mind.

    I think these kinds of fantasy characters have more to do with our insecurities than with our actual desires, and you're right: people like this never exist in nature.

  10. "The hot girl who goes for the nerdy guy..."

    Aw, crap. You're right.

  11. Just found your blog--totally agree about Peeta. I loved The Hunger Games, but I found myself disliking Peeta because he was too perfect. I knew my Team Gale hopes and dreams would be crushed in the end, but I held on to them for that much longer b/c of his slight advantage in complexity.

  12. I’d argue that characters with the Peeta complex are usually flawed – they are often overly trusting and lack confidence, otherwise they would have been more forthright and either landed the girl or moved on. I do think that if these characters exist in a non-narrator form, the book is almost guaranteed to be targeted at teen females. The other giveaway here was when they gave names to Cinna’s styling assistants.

    Somewhat separately, until I read Hunger Games I’d never seen the coming of age of a girl to be so obviously attached to 1) establishing her independence through traditionally masculine roles (hunting, weapons, etc.) 2) Learning to use sex to receive presents and advance her own goals with limited emotional attachment and 3) Lusting after an unavailable guy who may not reciprocate.

    Guess the times, they are a’changin.

  13. This bothered me when I was reading the books (which was only last week, so it's very fresh in my mind!). Peeta really is too perfect. Which is a shame, because I did like him as a character... if only he'd been a little flawed (and no, trying to kill Katniss because he'd been brainwashed and half tortured to death doesn't count). And as you say, Katniss was a bitch a lot of times. I think I'd like to rewrite an ending where Peeta runs off with Prim :D

  14. Wow. I am seriously the only one who thought Peeta was not only NOT perfect, but emotionally manipulative and non-understating? I'll ... just go sit in a corner now ...