Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Scarlett O’Hara, a Georgia belle. Gently bred on Tara plantation and the wife of Charles Hamilton, she finds herself, through the fortunes of war, a widow and the mistress of a ruined plantation with a family to feed. With an indomitable will to survive and an unquenchable determination to keep Tara, she improves her fortunes with the aid of her own native abilities and opportunistic marriages to Frank Kennedy and Rhett Butler.
Ashley Wilkes, Scarlett O’Hara’s sensitive, sophisticated neighbor, with whom she fancies herself in love. His genteel sensibilities and quiet resignation are a poor match for Scarlett’s practicality and strong will, which she realizes in the end.
Rhett Butler, a cynical, wealthy blockade runner, Scarlett O’Hara’s third husband. Knowing Scarlett for the unscrupulous materialist that she is, he nevertheless admires her will to survive and is plagued with a love for her, which he finally overcomes just as she discovers that it is Rhett and not Ashley Wilkes that she loves.
Charles Hamilton, Scarlett’s first husband, whom she marries for spite.
Frank Kennedy, Scarlett’s second husband, whom she marries for money.
Melanie (Hamilton) Wilkes
Melanie (Hamilton) Wilkes, Ashley Wilkes’s...
(The entire section is 274 words.)
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Themes and Characters
When Margaret Mitchell began work on her novel in 1926, few people suspected that in just a few years the bottom would fall out of the stock market and the world would be plunged into nearly a decade of economic depression. As it happened, the theme of survival by any means and against any odds spoke directly to a generation struggling to put food on the table and meet mortgage payments. From the novel's opening scene, when Gerald O'Hara explains to his daughter that love of the land is a distinctly Irish trait, to its conclusion, when Scarlett vows to return to Tara, Gone with the Wind suggests that Scarlett draws her strength from the soil.
This theme was a potent one for the audience of the 1930s. America was then far more rural than it is today, and a much larger portion of the population either lived on a farm or had been raised on one. During the Depression, many farmers were unable to pay off their mortgages and banks were forced to foreclose on their land. Those who had lost their farms could well understand Scarlett's attachment to her home and the desperate effort she was willing to expend to save Tara. Scarlett's speech upon her return to Tara, its fields ravaged by Sherman's passing army, has inspired readers with its message of hope, albeit hope tinged with desperation: "As God is my witness, as God is my witness, the Yankees aren't going to lick me .... If I have to steal or kill—as God is my witness, I'm never going to be hungry...
(The entire section is 584 words.)
The total Gone With the Wind "experience," as one could call it — the combined impact of novel and film on the United States and the world over the past fifty years — has made folk heroes out of the main characters. The love story of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, the love of Scarlett for Ashley Wilkes, her resentment toward the noble Melanie, the cynical realism of Rhett, and the determination of Scarlett, are all well known to millions. The single character who has captured the imagination of the readers has been Scarlett, who has been psychoanalyzed and imitated endlessly. Collectible dolls showing her in her barbecue dress from the early scene at Twelve Oaks, movie posters featuring her and Rhett, references to her personality and behavior — all these abound.
Scarlett's personality is usually revealed best in scenes with Rhett, whose refusal to accept her hypocrisies guarantees that they will be brought to the reader's attention. Rhett's realism makes him unpopular with various people throughout the novel, beginning with the moment when he first mentions that the South has nothing with which to go to war but "cotton, slaves, and arrogance," a view which Ashley comes to share. Rhett's realism is probably what is behind his own realization that he needs to return home to his roots at the end of the novel, that he needs them far more than he had ever realized. His air of superiority and command, undercut by his love for Scarlett and especially...
(The entire section is 324 words.)
Vain, flirtatious and utterly self-absorbed, Scarlett O'Hara makes an unlikely heroine. Other qualities, such as her courage and perseverance, ameliorate her bad points and make her an entertaining character. Although not particularly perceptive about people, she has a knack for seeing the reality of things, making decisions and following through on them no matter what she has to do. It is Scarlett on whom the whole family relies after the war. Her determination to save Tara becomes almost an obsession with her.
One of the most famous scenes of the novel is when Scarlett goes to Twelve Oaks plantation to look for food. Twelve Oaks has been burned to the ground, and the crops have been destroyed, but there is still food left in the slaves' garden. After digging for radishes, Scarlett makes a promise to herself, "As God is my witness, as God is my witness, the Yankees aren't going to lick me. I'm going to live through this, and when it's over, I'm never going to be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to steal or kill—as God is my witness, I'm never going to be hungry again." This is a turning point for Scarlett, when she gives up all the trappings of the Southern belle and aggressively pursues financial security.
Ironically, even though she longs to be a lady like her mother, everything she must do to save Tara makes her anything but a lady in the eyes of Southern society. Furthermore, she falls in love with Ashley because he's a...
(The entire section is 303 words.)
Rhett Butler meets Scarlett for the first time at the Twelve Oaks plantation party and is immediately attracted to her high-spirited nature, eventually falling in love with her and convincing her to marry him. Tall, dark, and handsome with a hint of scandal about him, he succeeds in angering Scarlett when she discovers he eavesdropped on her impassioned conversation with Ashley at the party. Convinced he is no gentleman, Scarlett rebuffs him when he begins visiting her in Atlanta, but his charming manner and sense of fun usually win her over. His cynicism and pragmatism concerning the Civil War lead him to become a blockade runner instead of a soldier, an occupation that makes him rich, and supremely attractive to Scarlett. His uncanny ability to read Scarlett completely is a source of constant irritation to her because she can never gain the upper hand with him as she does with other men.
After the death of Scarlett's second husband, she agrees to marry Rhett, though their marriage is not happy. Scarlett's persistent adoration of Ashley gradually wears Rhett down. After she and Ashley are caught embracing at the mill, Rhett, in a jealous, drunken rage, savagely seduces her by sweeping her off her feet and carrying her up to the bedroom—one of the most famous love scenes ever written. By the time Scarlett realizes her true passion is for Rhett and not Ashley, it's too late. Bonnie, the daughter Rhett doted on, is dead, and he has given up on Scarlett....
(The entire section is 294 words.)
An ex-convict and former Confederate soldier who is taken in by Melanie.
A former Confederate soldier, Will Benteen is on his way home from the war when his comrade leaves him at Tara because he's fallen ill with pneumonia. The O'Haras nurse him back to health and to show his gratitude he stays to help rebuild Tara. Although only a small "cracker" farmer, Will soon becomes instrumental in managing Tara. He eventually marries Suellen O'Hara.
The spoiled, but adorable daughter of Scarlett and Rhett Butler. She dies tragically at the age of four when she is thrown from her pony.
One of Scarlett's old friends who is forced to marry the Calvert family overseer after her family loses everything.
An O'Hara slave, Dilcey married to Pork and mother of Prissy.
Hugh is Mrs. Elsing's son and the unsuccessful manager of one of Scarlett's mills.
Friend to Aunt Pittypat, Mrs. Elsing is one of Atlanta society's most upstanding old ladies.
A shrewd old lady, part of the Fontaine clan, Grandma Fontaine gives Scarlett advice about surviving difficult times.
Johnnie is one of Scarlett's mill managers who abuses the workers in order to generate high profits.
(The entire section is 1554 words.)