Let me make a few of my assumptions clear before we start:
- The love triangleis important.
- In the context of the love triangle, Peeta and Gale are not people, they are literary devices used to represent the two paths Katniss could take as a character.
- The story could not have ended any way but the way it did.
Take a look at how the series starts and ends. The first scene is Katniss going to hunt with Gale and having a picnic in the meadow. The last scene is Katniss and Peeta watching their children play in the meadow.
Now look at the arc of each of their relationships. Both of them start the series in love with Katniss, or, more accurately, with the potential to love her. Everything’s in place, and it only takes a few key events to set the wheels in motion.
Think about Gale’s proposition at the beginning of the book. He wants for them to run away and live in the woods. Now, Katniss is willing to die to save Prim (as evidenced by her volunteering as tribute), so it goes without saying that if they were to run away, she would not leave without Prim. Let’s explore that timeline for a moment, shall we?
Katniss and Gale gather their loved ones and run into the woods. They are absent from the reaping. However, their absence does not change the random reaping selection, and the name out of the bowl remains “Primrose Everdeen.” Prim is not at the reaping, so the peacekeepers bust down the door of the Everdeen household to find the entire family gone. They send hovercrafts into the surrounding woods, and immediately find the Everdeens and Hawthornes fleeing the district. On the off-chance Prim survives, she is thrust into the games anyway without Katniss there to volunteer (because, as shown by Lavinia, those who try to flee their districts are either made into Avoxes or executed). The status quo remains in tact and Primrose Everdeen, too gentle to kill, is killed in the games.
Gale makes the same offer in “Catching Fire,” but the same problem arises. Katniss is so well-known that her disappearance would not go unnoticed by the Capitol, and she would be hunted down. Her family would be taken prisoner and used as leverage to make her cooperate with the Capitol’s designs, and, failing that, she would be hijacked and forced into it. Gale’s relationship with Katniss is an avoidance strategy. He wants them to run away from the Capitol and live on their own, despite the fact that, given the circumstances, they would be found and punished almost immediately.
Now, let’s look at Peeta for a second. He doesn’t want to be owned or controlled by the Capitol. His relationship with Katniss was indirect defiance of the Capitol, and it’s what sparked the revolution. Think about the crisis point: the nightlock berries at the end of the first games. Katniss could have chosen to kill Peeta. Let’s explore that timeline.
Katniss kills Peeta and goes home to district 12. Psychologically scarred, she goes back to District 12, does the victory tour, and ends up with Gale. However, unable to cope with killing the boy who saved her life, she turns to drink and ends up pushing everyone she loves away just like Haymitch.
Now, Katniss had a choice there. Peeta would not kill her, so she could choose between killing Peeta or killing herself. If she killed herself, Peeta would have followed suit, because of what his character represents.
Gale represents the status quo, how Katniss is at the beginning of the series. He is intended as a static character, who, despite loving Katniss, is functionally the same person in book 3 that he is in book 1. Peeta represents the path Katniss needs to take to free Panem and still come out alive. He is a dynamic character who is radically different in book 3.
Gale stays the same person throughout the series, but by the end of it, Katniss has changed so dramatically that she is not compatible with him. Her choice to cut Gale out of her life is a symbolic acknowledgement that the person she was before the games is gone forever. In fact, by the end of “Mockingjay,” Gale has lost his idealistic view of his kindred spirit and began to see her as a human. He fell out of love with her.
Now look at Peeta. Peeta is hijacked, destroying the Peeta from the first two books completely and creating a new one that was owned by the Capitol. Now, think of his purpose from a narrative perspective. If the love triangle represents the two paths Katniss can take as a character, then both Peeta and Gale’s only reason to exist is that they love Katniss. With Gale representing the Status Quo and Peeta representing a brighter future, their love for her is proportional to which path she is going to take.
So, over the course of the series, Gale stops loving Katniss gradually. He still likes her, but no longer views her as some kind of kindred spirit or soulmate. Peeta is completely changed, and stops loving Katniss completely, but eventually comes to love her again. Now, keep in mind that Peeta’s only reason to exist is that he loves Katniss. Hisentire purpose in life is taken from him, but he moves on and eventually becomes a fully functional human being again.
Now think of that as compared to what happens to Katniss. Herone goal in life is to keep Prim safe, and that is taken from her when Prim is killed. However, she eventually rebuilds herself and manages to free Panem anyway. What’s interesting is that Katniss and Galereally are soulmates at the beginning of the series, but are not by the end, whereas the opposite thing happens with Katniss and Peeta.
Now, turn that backwards. Peeta’s purpose in life is taken away by the Capitol. If Peeta corresponds to Katniss, and his love corresponds to Prim, then what does that make Gale? Gale, who, no matter how indirectly, caused Prim’s death? He may not have known what he was doing. He was just following orders, designing weapons for District 13, and he had no knowledge of what they would be used for, but this means that he (as well as the District 13 administration) correspond to the Capitol.
Now think about what the Hunger Games themselves are: They take away citizen’s children, the most important things in their world, and destroy them.
Gale represents the status quo. Any scenario where Katniss and Gale could have been together would have ended with Prim’s safety being taken away. It also would have resulted in Peeta’s love for Katniss being ruined, and the continuation of the Hunger Games. The Capitol was brought down, which would have (in a literary sense) allowed Gale and Katniss to be together, but Prim was already dead. Gale not only represents the status quo, but the Capitol itself. The only reason Katniss played along with the Capitol’s wishes was to keep Prim safe, and once she was gone, she couldn’t do it anymore. In the same way, the only reason Katniss would have run away with Gale would be to protect Prim, and when she was gone, she couldn’t be with him anymore.
Now, I like Gale a lot, but the story doesn’t work if Katniss ended up with him. The relationships between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale are specially written to mirror the story of Panem itself. Katniss couldn’t have ended up with Gale and still brought down the Capitol because Gale symbolized the Capitol and Peetasymbolized freedom. So the love triangle is important, but it only could have gone one way. That’s not to say I “ship” Katniss and Peeta. Under literary scrutiny, Katnisshad to end up with Peeta. It’s actually very tragic that she couldn’t have Gale without also keeping the Capitol in power.
Unlike the love triangle in a certain other series, where the two guys don’t represent anything other than two guys, and she could have chosen either of them and still told a coherent story.