As a fan of The Hunger Games on Pinterest, I come across a lot of cool fan theories and fan art about the series, which is, of course, the main reason why I'm on there. Sometimes, though, I catch stuff that I don't agree with, and sometimes, I see things that make me upset. The main one is as follows:
As a major Peeta fangirl, someone with a mental illness, and a social justice advocate, this ticks me off. I started seeing it first after the Catching Fire movie came out, and it made uncomfortable, right from the start. As we got through the two Mockingjay movies, and as I became more versed in social justice talk, I realized exactly what it was that was so problematic about it, and, as I said, got mad.
While I understand the sentiment (Peeta being hijacked was one of the most brutal parts of the entire series, if not the most), it comes from a misinformed and ableist place and is actually very hurtful. If you were someone suffering from a mental illness, particularly PTSD, and you saw people talking like this, how do you think you'd feel?
Most of the characters in The Hunger Games end up suffering from PTSD as a result of the trauma of the Games and the war both. This is accurate and purposeful. After all, one of the central themes of the series is that war has a terrible cost on even those who survive it. This comes largely from Suzanne Collins' own experiences having a father in the military.
The PTSD ages the characters and leaves them struggling from nightmares as well as bouts of depression for the rest of their lives. As Katniss notes at the end of the series, in order to keep her spirits up, she sometimes has to actively 'play a game' where she lists all the good things in the world. Many other characters, such as Haymitch, turn to self-medication to deal with the mental and emotional wounds that their experiences have inflicted upon them.
But people don't talk about these characters in the language they use for Peeta, this toxic idea of "the real Peeta" being a relic of the past by the end of the series. Peeta's PTSD as a result of his experience, is, after all, much worse, at least initially. He goes through something no other person has been known to go through: being tortured through tracker jacker venom to the point that he loses his understanding of reality and turns on those he loves with violent rage. His recovery, for a large part of Mockingjay, is uncertain in a way that it isn't for the other characters.
Still, Peeta is suffering from the same base problem as the rest of the characters. As he begins to recover and learns to manage this PTSD, he becomes much the same as they are in symptom, though he appears to suffer stronger daytime flashbacks than his peers. So why do people keep insisting that we never get "the real Peeta" back? Why are they so determined to turn Peeta's PTSD into something impossible to overcome?
This attitude is incredibly damaging. To state that a human being is not capable of coming back from a terrible trauma as themselves, to insist that this mental illness, PTSD, corrupts a person beyond the point of them being "real", demonizes a vulnerable populace of human beings. Peeta did not "lose" himself, he did not become someone not Peeta. Peeta struggles from a severe mental illness brought on by circumstances beyond his control, and he does so, ultimately, with great grace and capability. He carries on living as a baker and a painter, and, unlike most of the other characters, obtains the very thing he wanted most at the beginning of the story: Katniss's love, leading to a strong family of his own. Despite his PTSD and his upbringing as the child of an abusive parent, all indications are that Peeta retains his compassion and is an incredible father and husband.
It takes work for him to get there. He has to fight his past experiences and the effect they've had on him in a physiological and mental way constantly. It's an illness, though, and illnesses do not remove our integral person-ness. Is Peeta exactly the same as he was at the beginning? No, and that is in some ways tragedy, especially given his original hope that the Capitol wouldn't change him. But Katniss is not the same person she was on page one of The Hunger Games either. They've both grown as people due to their experiences. That's how life goes. I'm not the same person I was a couple of years ago. You probably aren't either. But that doesn't mean that I'm not the "real" me, or you aren't the "real" you.
This idea that Peeta's "real" self has been lost thanks to his PTSD is one that the book itself even addresses. In fact, Katniss falls into this misconception initially, as she grieves the Peeta she feels she's lost to the hijacking and becomes reckless, believing that the boy she was fighting for has now disappeared and all that's left is her vengeance. If you'll recall, Haymitch remonstrates her pretty harshly for that, asking her to think of what Peeta would have done had she been the one hijacked. Prim, too, steps in, and insists that Katniss not give up.
This attitude is a much better one to have. Mental illness and traumas change people, but they don't remove our self. I have OCD, and that's an important part of me, but I am not my OCD, and even when I'm struggling most with it, I am still here. I am still me. That's a vital distinction to make. So too with Peeta. Katniss's growing belief that Peeta still is himself is a large part of what gets her and Peeta both through the rest of the story. Peeta's ultimate recovery would not have happened had Katniss and the others in their unit decided that the "real Peeta" was gone. They wouldn't have even tried to help him make the distinction between "real and not real" had they believed he wasn't "real." And thus the sweetness among the bitterness of the series's end would have been lost, for real.
I'm not an expert on PTSD, so don't think I'm speaking for PTSD patients. I don't know exactly what stereotypes and misconceptions they face that need to be fought. I don't know what microaggressions they have to deal with that make them consistently uncomfortable and cause them to feel upset and dehumanized in their daily lives. But I do have mental illness experience, and I do know that this is an injustice. Stop stop STOP saying that "the real Peeta" has gone. He's right there, in all the pages of those book, straight through the end. The torture he went through, his resultant PTSD, it's a part of him, but it isn't him. He's still there and he is himself.
For a fandom that will live and die over this quote:
I think that's an essential concept to understand.
Thanks for reading, guys. I'll see you again on Wednesday! Comment below if you have any thoughts to add.
Images via Pinterest, welcometodistrict12.com, thehungergames.wikia.com, and jabberjays.net.
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