Why is Peeta Mellark an unlikely hero in The Hunger Games?
Unlike the “careers,” or tributes from wealthy districts who train constantly to fight, Peeta Mellark is the lowly son of a baker. Additionally, he is artistic, sensitive, and has a gift for words. Although these qualities make his character a likely candidate for romance, they do not seem to fit the description of a hero who must fight to the death. Not only is Peeta an unlikely victor when compared to the other fighters, but is also a foil to Gale’s character. In contrast to Peeta, Gale is a natural hunter, athlete, and true revolutionary at heart. These qualities would make Gale a more appropriate choice as a fighter from district 12.
However, despite his shortcomings, Peeta has other qualities which make him heroic in many ways. First and foremost, Peeta has an unwavering loyalty to Katniss which stems from his friendship as well as his love for her. Most importantly, Peeta can be compared to what literary scholars call “the Christ figure.” A Christ figure “should display more than one correspondence with the story of Jesus Christ depicted in the Bible…Christ figures are often martyrs, sacrificing themselves for causes larger than themselves.” Rather than give in to the cut-throat nature of the hunger games, Peeta fights the authorities in an unconventional way—by sacrificing himself for Katniss. This self-sacrificial action was foreshadowed even before the games began. When they were training, Peeta expresses his desire to keep his dignity in spite of the games:
“I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only…I want to die as myself. I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not. I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol that they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.”
Peeta may not physically fit the stereotype of a hero but steals the readers’ hearts with his loyalty, intelligence, and what many would refer to as “heart.”
Peeta is an unlikely hero because he had no training and no skills.
Unlike all of the other tributes, Peeta feels that he has no strengths or talents. He cannot shoot a bow and arrow like Katniss, and does not have extensive training like some of the wealthier tributes.
When Haymitch asks what Katniss’s skills are, Peeta describes how good she is at hunting because she always hits her prey in the eye. Annoyed, Katniss describes Peeta’s one skill: he is strong.
“…I’ve seen you in the market. You can lift hundred-pound bags of flour…” (p. 89-90).
Peeta laughs this off, because people are not going to be throwing flour at him. Yet in addition to his strength, Peeta turns out to have talent in painting and camouflage. He is also loyal and crafty. He manages to convince the Careers that he is working with them in order to keep them away from Katniss.
Peeta falls in love with Katniss, and helps her win the Hunger Games even when he is injured. He is a hero because he would do anything for her, and he thinks nothing of himself.