Cristina Hartmann, Lawyer by day, writer by night.
Yes, Katniss loves Peeta. Her love, however, develops slowly and painfully.
One interesting aspect of Peeta and Katniss' relationship is the evolution. The two start off as virtual strangers, then they enter into an uneasy friendship that finally progresses into love.
When Katniss and Peeta first shake hands at the reaping, they know very little about each other. Katniss knows that Peeta is a kind-hearted wrestler son of the baker. Peeta doesn't know much more about her.
As they both face the Arena, they develop a strange friendship. An unnatural friendship between supposed enemies. No tribute can afford to befriend another tribute, as it would become a liability in the Arena. Yet, their friendship survives.
The friendship becomes even stranger when Peeta positions them as star-crossed lovers. They have to maintain a facade of romantic partners when they're still growing as friends. A bit of pressure, I'd say.
Throughout the books, Peeta and Katniss' friendship is too uncertain for love.
Too many strikes pile up against a romantic connection throughout the books. Gale complicates things for Katniss. The Capitol's push for a romantic angle undermines Katniss' agency. Peeta's love for her confuses and burdens Katniss. Plus, there's the whole war thing.
My point is that there are too many external factors pushing against them for love to blossom before the last few chapters.
At the end, however, all these obstacles disappear. Gale traipses off to District 2. The war ends and the Capitol becomes no more. Only when these obstacles fall away, can Katniss contemplate Peeta in a romantic way.
At the end, Katniss falls in love with Peeta's optimistic nature.
Peeta maintains his sunny disposition despite his sufferings. In a way, his fate was worse than Katniss'. He lost his entire family. The Capitol hacked his mind and transformed him into a different person. Still, he clings to the happiness that he ekes out in District 12.
As Katniss describes Peeta, he is sunlight in the meadows -- hope in the darkness. He's a perfect antidote to Katniss' natural and warranted pessimism and gloom.
Kat Li, Quora Marketing Analyst
- Katniss never treats Peeta as true partner on her own level. Throughout the first book, she deliberately playacts as a woman in love because she knows that's what Haymitch wants and that's what gets her fed. In the second book, she makes a deal with Haymitch to keep Peeta alive without telling him. She also keeps important information from him until he finally explodes with frustration. In the final book, she never trusts him either -- she refuses to give him the poisoned pill, she fights him when he won't let her kill himself.
- Throughout the series, she refers to him as the "boy with the bread". This is how she really thinks of him -- as a provider. After years of starvation and struggle, she is not emotionally capable of loving him except as a provider of food and safety.
- Similarly, Gale also hits the nail when he observes that Katniss will choose whomever she can't survive without. Gale is in love with Katniss and knows her best and this is his summary: Katniss isn't looking for love, she's looking for survival.
- When Peeta asks Katniss, "And did you love me?" even he recognizes her answer ("Everyone says I did.") as not being an admission of love. Katniss has never been able to lie nor hide her feelings -- we should take this inability of hers to say that she loved him as the truth.
- "All those months of taking it for granted that Peeta thought I was wonderful are over. Finally, he can see me for who I truly am... and I hate him for it." (Mockingjay 232). Without the strength and steadiness of Peeta's love, Katniss' flimsy, makeshift feelings can't stand on their own. Once you strip away Peeta's side, you can see that what's left on Katniss's side isn't love of the same caliber.
- She occasionally feelings "stirrings" of passion when she kisses Peeta, but really, this sounds more like 17-year-old hormones at work.
- Katniss lost her father at a young age, and, basically lost a mother at the same time. She had to grow up fast and had no one to take care of her or love her unconditionally... until Peeta showed up. To Katniss, Peeta steps into the parent role. When they're not on good terms, what she misses the most about him are his strong arms at night, chasing away her nightmares... sort of sounds like a parent, no? Whenever she is facing some obstacle and feels weak or powerless (i.e., visiting Rue's district on the Victors' Tour or deciding how to proceed after losing most of her team on the run to the Capitol), she turns to him to tell her what she needs to hear.
Alan Nicholas, Attorney.
I love the two diametrically opposed answers from Cristina Hartmann and Kat Li, and I think they both have merit, but I'm a big Bill Clinton fan, so I'm going to present a Third Path (sorry, something I read like in the last 24 hours, verbal slippage).
First, I think it's pertinent to point out that the above mentioned answers are considering "love" in a certain context, as a feeling of romantic attachment and affection. I would argue that love is a choice, an action, rather than an emotional reaction. That to love, one chooses to stand by another, through thick and thin, and chooses to devote oneself to the other, regardless of what they may feel.
So, if we consider love as an action, as opposed to a feeling, then first and foremost, the answer to this question would be yes. But I'm going to delve a little further. Katniss is far from a passive character. She acts, and she survives, but when she acts, is she being reactive or proactive?
I believe that there are two true proactive actions taken by Katniss. One is assassinating the President Coin, the other is choosing to love Peeta at the resolution of the three novels.
During the first novel, The Hunger Games, Katniss reacts to everything. She reacts when her sister's name is called, by standing up and taking her place. She reacts in the games in order to survive. She reacts to the hints that Haymitch sends in regards to how she should act towards Peeta, creating a false romance in order to save them both. She acts, but it is reactive.
During the second novel, Catching Fire, again she is reactive. She is reacting to the mess that she feels she created at the end of The Hunger Games. She reacts to the different dangers faced during the games. Another way to point out her reactive nature is shown in the fact that she is not let in on the plot to escape the second Games. She does not know that there will be an escape attempt. She is still along for the ride. This is thematic in the first two novels.
During the third novel, she begins to be proactive. I stated that there were only two proactive actions I could point to earlier in this answer, but you could argue that her decision to don the mantel of the Mockingjay in the third novel, Mockingjay, is also a proactive decision. I do not feel that it was because there was a large push in that novel to make sure that you knew that she felt she did not have a choice. But she did have a choice in how she would act as Mockingjay. Still, in general, I think that is a reactive as opposed to a proactive stance. Once, she enters the capital, she in many ways does become proactive, but is still reacting to the dangers around her. Nonetheless, by this time she has taken some control over her destiny and her essential character has changed from a reactive to a proactive character. Finally, she assassinates President Coin -- reactive or proactive?
I will argue proactive. I do not believe she killed Coin because of her sister's death, for two reasons - 1) she could never be sure it was Coin who ordered the actions resulting in her sister's death and 2) the lack of emotion she displayed when she killed Coin. I believe that after two weeks or however long it was of the new Presidency, she saw enough to make her decide that Coin was no better than Snow. She knew Snow would die regardless, but she knew she was the only one who would have the opportunity to kill Coin, so she proactively decided to do just that.
Now, the heart of the argument (or is it the argument of the heart?), Peeta. Peeta's love is initially a feeling, an emotion, overwhelming, that inspires his loyalty and devotion. But at the end of the trilogy, it is something else. By the end of the trilogy, he does not trust his emotions, does not trust his memory, and to a large extent, does not trust Katniss. But he makes a choice. He chooses to stand by her. At this point he has seen her at her worst (whether it's because of his brainwashing or because of her kind of mental breakdown in the Capital). This decision CANNOT be made because of his initial "love" at hearing her sing, his initial loyalty and affection, because he cannot trust those memories or feelings completely. Instead, this love has to be a choice to invest in someone, Katniss, completely.
This same choice is presented to Katniss -- choose to invest completely in Peeta, or do not. Again, she has seen him at his worst. She has seen him worship the ground she walks on. She has seen him gnashing his teeth at her throat in desperation to kill her. She has seen the boy with the bread, but she has seen the boy who cannot control his hardwired impulses to kill her. She knows that this is not the boy with the bread anymore. It is not the boy willing to die for her during the games. It is not the boy willing to die to kill her during the revolution. This is a new man, and she has a choice, invest in him, or do not. She chooses to invest in him. She chooses to love him.
If we look at The Hunger Games in this spectrum, we see a very positive message that goes against the popular norm. The popular norm of love is some amazing feeling that surpasses everything you could possibly feel and leads to marriage, kids, etc. Very few novels, movies, television shows, etc, portray love as a choice. Even when a man or woman stays with their counterpart after some grand betrayal, it is not portrayed as though they were making a conscious decision, but rather as a result of this overwhelming love.
I don't wish to downplay the emotion of "love," but rather to point out a counterpoint to the emotion -- the action of "love." The action of love is what can keep marriages together and keep them strong, keep the husband and wife evolving and growing. The emotion of "love" is what can tear marriages apart (when not coupled with the action), because the heart feels what the heart feels... and the heart is a fickle organ at best. Affections and adorations change, mutate, evolve, shift, and without the action of love to strengthen the emotion...
Katniss does love Peeta. She loves as an action, not as an emotion. This is not to say she doesn't have affection and desire and other emotions connected to Peeta, she does. But her choice is what defines her love and she chooses Peeta. She chooses to love.