In Defence of Gale Hawthorne

by Michelle Chandra

Now, I know what the title says and I just want to put a disclaimer out here before it starts: I am NOT a Gale apologist. In light of the current Hunger Games renaissance, I’ve been seeing an ungodly amount of edits on TikTok on Everlark with Taylor Swift’s ‘The Great War’ playing as an anthem to their love story, edits of Johanna and Finnick, and my personal favourite meme: Gale Hawthorne, the Prim Reaper. 

However, alongside these fun meme-y edits, comes the rise of character discourse regarding the novel’s most complex characters like President Snow, Coin, and Heavensbee. However, I haven’t really seen the same amount of careful consideration and analysis on Gale. So here’s my take: 

Gale Hawthorne… isn’t really all that bad. But before I continue, here are some grounding rules:

  1. I am not condoning his violent actions

  2. The love triangle never really existed. For Katniss, it was always Peeta. This article isn’t a grounding declaration that Katniss should’ve ended up with Gale instead 

  3. I want to explore the nuances of Gale Hawthorne in good faith

Gale is a perfect example of how institutionalised inequalities can breed desensitisation. He occupies an “ends justifies the means” framework that is true and real to the lived experiences of people who lived under oppressive and authoritarian governments. We know that Panem is set in the far future following the fall of civilization in North America and Collins’ novels are rooted in historical realities. We see this rhetoric within liberation groups throughout history. When your entire life has been shaped by violence and brutality – even with the point of having televised death tournaments laurelled as glory every year – that then impacts the way you view violence. Because violence is such a hallmark in the creation of the world of Panem following the failed rebellion, to Gale, it is only through violence that they can physically restructure society. Violence in and of itself is a tool for liberation and there are merits to that. 

Katniss, to a lesser extent, held herself to this type of apathetic framework before entering the games and falling for Peeta. Apart from her sister, and to a lesser emphasis, her mother, Katniss lacked a lot of perspective within the 1st book and only truly opened herself up to see humanity in others after continuous exposure to people she misjudged such as Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason. Moreover, it was only with the Victory tour, where she had to deliver speeches to the family of the fallen tributes, that she was fully and truly faced with the reality that the tributes had a family, a home, a life, and humanity.

Gale never had to experience any of that. In fact, most of what he experienced – the girl he loved being ‘forced’ to maintain a mask, his district placed under brutal policies with Romulus Thread, the shutting down of the black market, and thereby ending his only means of income in supporting his family and at last, the destruction of his home district – has only nursed the hatred he has for the Capitol. Where Katniss’ empathy expands following the violence and brutality she is thrust into, Gale’s empathy for those he deems as allying with the enemy diminishes. In order to achieve his goal of a free Panem, he subscribes to a very Manichean worldview. Because his losses have been so deeply personal to him, his double bombings are motivated by a personal vendetta. While Katniss is motivated by her need to protect her loved ones, Gale, on the whole, is motivated by rebellion and justice. 

What I love most about Gale’s character is that it serves as a foil to Peeta and Katniss, acting as a vehicle to posit questions like ‘How are we able to retain our humanity and recognise the humanity of others when the world tries to strip us of both?’ In a broken world plagued by injustice, how can we navigate humanity when rebellion and war are so poignantly necessary?