Love Triangles in YA: Is there a point?

The use of the love triangle in YA is no new phenomenon. No reader can ever forget the infamous heart-wrenching Jo-Laurie-Amy debacle in Little Women. Presently, the genre is still reeling from the craziness caused by the Edward-Bella-Jacob fiasco from Twilight and was recently challenged by the Gale-Katniss-Peeta trifecta from the Hunger Games trilogy. The love triangle however, is a not a fully functioning cliché. Although entertaining, they constantly complicate the status quo by putting our protagonists in harm’s way. Simultaneously, there is always a victimization of a third party (i.e. Gale, Peeta). So what’s the point? Do we really need love triangles in YA?

The formulaic relationships in which we categorize Bella and Katniss in send readers a complicated message about females and the concept of soul mates. Given that both series’ focus relies on an implemented “choice” of a soul mate rather than relying on fate, the love part of these love stories is thrown under the bus. The fact that Gale even exists in the Hunger Games trilogy proves how predictable and unnecessary the addition of the third side of the triangle can be. Wouldn’t it have been just as intense (possibly more) if Gale and Katniss were the ones pitted against each other in the arena? Gale does not serve much of a purpose in the trilogy except to stand as the old best friend that complicates things between the meant-to-be couple in the novel. No matter how appealing the other side can be, we know our female protagonist will make the non-practical choice, resulting in them being in harm’s way (i.e. Peeta living puts her in danger with the Capitol; Edward wants to eat Bella). A classic example of this is Charlotte in Susanna Rowson’s tale, Charlotte Temple. She is reared with all the great morals and should know right from wrong, but Charlotte is still seduced by Montraville. As Sarah Blackwood points out in her article, “Our Bella, Ourselves,” “Charlotte [hangs] around this guy who’s no good for her…” (1). It’s the need to illustrate forbidden desire that causes Charlotte’s tragic demise.

Bella is a modern day Charlotte Temple; she sees before she thinks. She immediately falls in love with Edward for his impeccable good looks and charming demeanor thus Edward becomes Bella’s first victim. She desires Edward so greatly she dismisses all potential consequences of their love coming to fruition. Bella herself is just an object for Edward to devour. “[She] is passive to the point of immobility” (Blackwood 1). But even though she rarely acts, she becomes the cause of all the danger the series presents. Regardless, her presence becomes irresistible to Edward affirming John Berger’s notion on presence in his article, “Ways of Seeing.” “A woman’s presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her…presence for a woman is so intrinsic to her person that men tend to think of it as an almost physical emanation, a kind of heat or smell or aura (5). Even after realizing that he can suck the life out of Bella from temptation, Edward decides to pursue his love for her and puts himself in eternal danger in doing so.

When Jacob—the best friend who can offer her so much more in life—comes into the picture Bella decides to string him along for fun, making him her second victim. She cannot function without depending on a male figure thus Bella’s manipulations delegitimize Jacob. Katniss does the same in her treatment of Gale. He never had a true chance with her because the greatest love Katniss possesses is the love for her family. Katniss represents a strong-willed woman who will do anything for her family. She is an alpha to Bella’s beta. Katniss’s main concern in Hunger Games is her family’s survival. However, she manipulates and victimizes just as much as Bella to gain her way; the only difference is that the love that drives her is a different kind of love. Katniss doesn’t believe she needs to be an object of affection. She desires to be different and independent. “Every one of [her] actions—whatever its direct purpose or motivation—is also read as an indication of how she would like to be treated” (Berger 6). By romantically linking her with another person, the author contradicts the treatment her character would innately desire. But if Katniss is not motivated by self-interest YA readers will not be engaged. Thus, the author utilizes the cliché love triangle. Technically, Hunger Games doesn’t even need romantic love as part of its narrative, but in order to be able to empathize with it, romance needs to be some sort of motivator. Does Katniss need the typical happily ever after? Not really. And once you force her to fit into a stereotype she’s not meant for, her established kick-ass image of independence is nullified.

Love triangles can seem pointless at times, but they do provide great entertainment by making YA stories more dynamic. They unite and divide fans simultaneously. The Team Edward/Team Jacob phenomenon has brought about the highest demand of the boy-meets-girl-meets-boy cliché in a long while. And now, Team Peeta/Team Gale has become the new fan obsession. Even though love triangles can be unnecessary at times, can we imagine Twilight without Jacob and Hunger Games without Gale? These third parties help characters like Bella and Katniss find themselves and gain valid insight, whatever it may be. Just like killing off Alaska in Looking for Alaska enlightens Miles and causes him to question his way of living and perceiving life, love triangles in YA force the characters to make hard choices. A love triangle, when written right, can become the most fascinating part of a story for it stimulates readers. Our protagonists’ internal struggle to make the right decisions is a sentiment we can all relate to.

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