On the Hunger Games trilogy
The Curious Case of Primrose “Everdeen”
By V. Arrow
On the first day of kindergarten for Katniss and Peeta, when Prim was between six months and one year old, Mr. Mellark told his five-year-old son that he had been in love with Mrs. Everdeen, but that she “ran away with a coal miner” and he “had to” marry Mrs. Mellark.
Why was this still so salient and so fresh in his mind that he shared it with his five-year-old child?
It’s easy to extrapolate that the reason for his confession was in the schoolyard that morning, being kissed good-bye by the girl in a red plaid dress. However, it’s not the only reason fans have considered.
The question of Prim’s parentage is a significant point of analytical fandom debate. Is blonde-haired, blue-eyed Prim really the “passes”-for-merchant biracial daughter of dark-haired Mr. Everdeen? Or should Prim really be Primrose Mellark? There are staunch supporters on both sides of the issue.
Katniss does not at any point overtly suppose that someone else could be Prim’s father, aside from noting the differences between her and Prim’s coloring, much less that Prim’s father is Mr. Mellark. But Katniss, as a first-person narrator, is unreliable; our understanding of Panem is limited by what Katniss herself knows and feels.
Katniss is the consummate “Daddy’s girl” and loved her father deeply, which colors much of her narrative regarding her family. And Mr. Everdeen died when Katniss was young enough that Katniss does not seem to have a sense of her parents’ relationship independent of their relationship to her. Her mother “must have” loved Mr. Everdeen very much, Katniss notes at one point, but she has never spoken to her mother about their marriage. Katniss’ own feelings about her father inform her opinions about her mother’s feelings.
However, despite Katniss’ control of the narrative, there are details about her world that can be seen through her unconscious, or incidental, narrative: the details she sees and conveys to readers but does not question or otherwise remark upon. On those, readers are left to draw their own conclusions . . . and we do!
After Katniss volunteers in Prim’s place, Mr. Mellark visits her as she waits to leave for the Capitol. He seems moved to the point of silence, and presents Katniss with a gift, cookies:
Someone else enters the room, and when I look up, I’m surprised to see it’s the baker, Peeta Mellark’s father. I can’t believe he’s come to visit me. After all, I’ll be trying to kill his son soon. But we do know each other a little bit, and he knows Prim even better. When she sells her goat cheeses at the Hob, she puts two of them aside for him and he gives her a generous amount of bread in return. We always wait to trade with him when his witch of a wife isn’t around because he’s so much nicer. I feel certain he would never have hit his son the way she did over the burned bread. But why has he come to see me?
The baker sits awkwardly on the edge of one of the plush chairs. He’s a big, broad-shouldered man with burn scars from years at the ovens. He must have just said goodbye to his son.
He pulls a white paper package from his jacket pocket and holds it out to me. I open it and find cookies. These are a luxury we can never afford.
Perhaps just out of affection for Katniss’ mother or appreciation for Katniss’ sacrifice. But perhaps because, unwittingly, Katniss has just spared him from having to watch two of his children die in the arena.
“Thank you,” I say. The baker’s not a very talkative man in the best of times, and today he has no words at all . . .
We sit in silence until a Peacemaker summons him. He rises and coughs to clear his throat. “I’ll keep an eye on the little girl. Make sure she’s eating.”THG37-38
Some of the most compelling pieces of evidence for Prim’s potential Mellark lineage come from the subtle ways that the Mellarks have become integral to the Everdeens’ family life and the similarities between Prim and the Mellark men (but not Mrs. Mellark, with her unspeakable cruelty; it could even be inferred that both Prim and Peeta got their gentle natures from Mr. Mellark for precisely this reason: both Mrs. Everdeen and Mrs. Mellark are written very negatively, as emotionally distant and, in Mrs. Mellark’s case, physically abusive).
On the morning that opens The Hunger Games, Katniss and Gale, of course, go to the woods to hunt for their daily provisions to trade. However, before they get to work, they enjoy a meal provided for them by two like-minded people: Prim, with her cheese, and Mr. Mellark, with his bread.
On the table, under a wooden bowl . . . sits a perfect little goat cheese wrapped in basil leaves. Prim’s gift to me on reaping day.THG4
It’s real bakery bread, not the flat, dense loaves we make from our grain rations. I take it in my hands, pull out the arrow, and hold the puncture in the crust to my nose, inhaling the fragrance that makes my mouth flood with saliva. Fine bread like this is for special occasions . . . “[Mr. Mellark traded it for] just a squirrel. Think the old man was feeling sentimental this morning,” says Gale. “Even wished me luck.”THG7
Given that Peeta, the youngest Mellark son, is almost old enough to age out of the reaping and his two older brothers have already completed the process, why would Mr. Mellark be “feeling sentimental” on the morning of the seventy-fourth reaping ceremony?
Could it be because of whose first reaping it happens to be–Prim Everdeen?
The squirrel could also represent a clue about Prim’s parentage. Because squirrels are so identified through the Hunger Games’ narrative with Katniss and the Seam, the fact that Mrs. Mellark hates them but Mr. Mellark enjoys them and “will trade for them if his witch of a wife isn’t around”THG52 could suggest, metaphorically, a dalliance between Mr. Mellark and Mrs. Everdeen (resulting in Prim) as much as it does Mrs. Mellark’s deeply ingrained hatred for all things Seam.
Although Katniss revered her father, her understood and understated respect for Mr. Mellark–via her appreciation and awareness of his breads–is evident in the text. And Katniss’ description of the meal planned for the evening after the seventy-fourth reaping ceremony serves to tie together the Everdeens–foraged food, strawberries, stew–and the Mellarks–bakery bread: “We decide to save the strawberries and bakery bread for the evening meal, to make it special we say.”THG16
Further evidence for Prim being Mr. Mellark’s daughter comes from oversimplified fictional-world genetics. And I want to put a caveat here: this is grossly oversimplified pseudoscience. I’m employing it not to erase the immense complexity and nuance that goes into genetics but because the majority of the storytelling in the Hunger Games is accomplished through foreshadowing, foils, parallelism, extended metaphor, and symbolism, rather than scientific or nuanced economic reality. (Think of the simplistic “Sinking California” theory most likely used in determining the geography of Panem and the not-so-rigorously-scientific details like near-magical healing ointments and muttations.) Given that, an oversimplification of genetics does not seem out of the question.
We know from Katniss that she and Prim do not share the same coloring. Katniss looks like Mr. Everdeen and the other residents of the Seam. Prim looks like Mrs. Everdeen and other members of the merchant class; Katniss describes her as looking “out of place” in the Seam with her blonde hair, pale skin, and blue eyes.
If intermarriage between the Seam and the merchants is as rare as the evidence of Panem’s racial segregation would suggest, then one can assume that both Mrs. Everdeen and Mr. Mellark’s genes are homozygous recessive (blonde/pale/blue), stretching back between (roughly) ten and thirty-six generations, and that Mr. Everdeen’s genes are homozygous dominant (black/dark/[gray]). Here are simple Punnett squares for the children of Mr. and Mrs. Everdeen:
The odds of Mr. Everdeen and Mrs. Everdeen giving birth to a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned child are almost 0 percent.
In contrast, the odds of Mr. Mellark and Mrs. Everdeen giving birth to a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned child are nearly 100 percent.
That’s why my mother and Prim, with their light hair and blue eyes, always look out of place. They are. My mother’s parents were part of the small merchant class.THG8
Peeta Mellark . . . I watch him as he makes his way toward the stage . . . Ashy blond hair that falls in waves over his fore-head . . . Blue eyes.THG25-26
The odds (no pun intended) are pretty overwhelming that Prim is half-Mellark–or at least not half-Everdeen.
Because real-world genetics is more complicated, although it’s not likely for a many-generation dark-haired, dark-skinned father and a many-generation light-haired, light-skinned mother to give birth to a light-haired, light-skinned child, it’s still possible. We don’t know for sure that Mr. Everdeen doesn’t have any recessive genes for blond hair and light skin, and in fact, in our world, such strictly homogenous genes are deeply implausible. Although there are other species that have homozygous genes–Siamese cats, true-bred Dalmatians, many varietals of flowers–human beings’ genetics are not so pure without horribly extensive inbreeding.
In reality, a race like the Seam’s, in which (per Collins) “many races” have mixed, would always have a breadth of natural variations in skin tone, eye color, hair color, and facial structure. A set of biracial sisters like Katniss and Prim could–not with a huge degree of likelihood, but certainly plausibly–look as different from one another as they are described. British twins James and Daniel Kelly and Marcia and Millie Biggs prove that natural-born, naturally conceived siblings of mixed parentage can present visually as two different races. However, in Panem, the people of the Seam are described as a unified race with singular presentation: olive skin, straight black hair, gray eyes. It is Katniss and Gale, not Katniss and Prim, who “could look like siblings.” The merchants are described with similar consistency: blonde-haired, blue-eyed, fair-skinned.
Katniss may tell us that “[her mother] must have really loved [her father] to leave her home for the Seam.”THG8 And Mrs. Everdeen may have spent years in a heavily depressive state, including a year of what Katniss describes to be near catatonia after Mr. Everdeen’s death, lending credence to her feelings for him; her love must have been strong for her to feel such grief. But it’s important to note here that it is Katniss who ascribes Mrs. Everdeen’s withdrawal to depression; it could just as easily have been caused by guilt.
This is an issue that will draw supporters on both sides of the fandom forever, and that’s wonderful.