In “Gone with the Wind” all characters participated in the competition for “Most contemptible person”. The four main characters competed in being low and repulsive but created a completely perfect novel. The battle was tense but the winners already have been determined. Here they are.
1. Rhett Butler – coward, weakling, arrogant, shallow, dishonorable. Rhett is the undisputable winner. He knew only one direction: downwards. In the beginning, we had time to enjoy his brattiness while he floated on the swamp level not too obnoxious but not wonderful either. I don’t blame him for the fact that he did not care about the war. Not everyone should care. And he was right that the others were fools. But they were fools with dignity and that escaped him.
While Rhett was denying the values of the Southerners, he was simply annoying. The tragedy came later. Suddenly, Rhett realized that he actually cares about the Confederation. And the lowest bottom was hit. What kind of a person can be shameless enough to go to a war which he ignored and mocked? When you desecrate something and later you realize its perfection, you have no right to dishonor it by joining it. Did Rhett actually think that he was worthy of standing next to those who had died for the cause for years? Eight months. This is how much time he spared for the battle. Where was he when Darcy needed shoes, when Stuart and Brent fell on the battlefield, when Ashley was captured, when Phil died? Yes, Rhett was also brave when he was blockade running and was even useful. But he didn’t care. And later he did not have the right to pretend that he was one of the Confederation’s warriors. His decision to join the battle was not a change but just another act of disrespect for the South.
It should be noted when exactly Rhett decided to join the army. He thought it was logical that three helpless women, one child, one baby and one sick horse will survive amidst the horror of the retreat. His argument was simply that this was convenient for him and that Scarlett will make it. The fact that she did make it and that no one died that night was a matter of luck. It does not change Rhett’s irresponsibility. He tried to make up for his betrayal of the South with a betrayal towards Scarlett.
Rhett mocked women for following the social models and liked Scarlett because she was the only girl who rebelled against the stereotype of a fragile useless Southern lady. And in spite of that, he kept accusing her of having strength of character and pride. He advised her not to look at men as if she were challenging them to a duel but to stay submissive and to bow her head. A man with self-respect would never notice a woman who is not ready to defeat him in a duel. When he was in prison, Rhett refused to marry Scarlett when he saw her hands. Her rough, chafed hands which had bled from work. If there was only one thing worthy of love in Scarlett at that moment, it would have been precisely those hands.
After that, Rhett continued to explore the area of lowness, reaching the underbottom. He was acceptable only when he saved the Ku Klux Klan members from the Yankees but this was nothing more than making the right decision and it could not have compensated the actions from his future and his past.
Rhett did not care about the Southerners and in respect to them he was only obnoxious. But in respect to the people he claimed he loved he was a total squit. Rhett loved Bonnie. And for this reason, he transformed her into a spoiled, unfeeling, egoistic little girl with no perception of reality. Yes, Bonnie was great. But only because she was four. Imagine what kind of a monster she would have become.
Rhett wanted Bonnie to be accepted in the same society he had rejected and despised his whole life. He wanted her to be a part of the Confederates whom he considered foolish and naive. Rhett saw the Southern society as a low pigwash for himself but as a desired goal for his daughter. I do not want to make a chart of who should be the most offended by this: Rhett, Bonnie, or the Southerners. In the end, Rhett killed Bonnie with his spinelessness and weakness. The inability to say “no” cannot lead to anything else but death.
The lowest point which Rhett reached was when he told Scarlett that she may be lucky enough to miscarry her baby. It did not matter whether Scarlett cared about the child. Even if she did not want it, Rhett could not have allowed himself to say this because he cared. He abased himself, his dignity, his children, Scarlett, and his love. With one sentence Rhett renounced everything he is and everything he claimed he loved. This sentence cannot lead to anything else but death either.
Rhett was supposed to be energetic, courageous, challenging life to duels and triumphant with his ability to live even in the most difficult moments. But he was actually just an ordinary coward. In the end, he explained that everything he did was out of love for Scarlett. I did not believe him. Love does not lead to fear, pretences, betrayals, self-denial, and pointless destruction.
2. Ashley Wilkes – useless, incapable, stupid, completely invertebrate. Being a total wimp was not enough for Ashley to win the competition. He, who seemed to be dignified and honorable and had interests in literature, music, and philosophy, was fit only for being an echo of other people’s greatness. He was not capable to create or build anything.
Ashley was an insult to the word “honor”. To fight in a war as an already defeated warrior is not honorable. To join Ku Klux Klan when this means to deny your own self is not honorable. Do betray your wife even only in your thoughts is not honorable.
Ashley was not able to take a stand in any of the times when the circumstances required it. He let Scarlett go to Atlanta to find money although he suspected how exactly she planned to do that. When he had to take his life in his own hands, he let two crying women determine his fate. When he was caught embracing Scarlett he did not defend her or himself but hid behind Melanie’s skirt.
Ashley was not fit for the new era. There is nothing wrong with that. There are people who are born for calm times and it is logical for them not to survive in the conditions of chaos and fierce competition. However, Ashley let the new order squeeze life out of him slowly without fighting back or at least dying with dignity. He transformed into a shadow, always longing for the past and without a hope for the future.
Ashley, however, was the most tragic person in the book. He had the misfortune to be loved by two endlessly stupid women. When Scarlett and Melanie decided that he had to manage the sawmill, they killed him. They smashed his dignity, crushed his will, and forever suffocated his soul. And they did not even understand. Ashley transformed into a dead man sentenced to roam the land of the living against his will. A person dies when every opportunity to take care of himself has been denied to him and he has been left only to the care of others.
Ashley had a more noble aspect as well. His search for beauty, his skills at war, his leadership qualities and his values are reasons for regret that he did not develop them. He was too weak and too spineless to save the beauty in himself and therefore he does not deserve compassion. Ideologically, Ashley was right about many things – no to war, no to Ku Klux Klan, no to the use of prisoners in the sawmills. But yes to what? To the pointless existence which will never lead to progress? Not agreeing with what’s wrong is not enough. One must create rightness.
3. Scarlett O’Hara – shallow, selfish, empty-headed, cruel, greedy. Scarlett triumphed as a person because she decided to conquer the world instead of letting it kill her. Adapt and survive – this was her strategy and she implemented it faultlessly. She decided to be a master of her fate and her actions were a pleasure to follow. Amidst the biggest hardships, she rose her head, sharpened her nails and attacked. And this is why she deserved all of her victories. But every time she won the tragedy began. Scarlett was always a lioness in the dirt and a worm on the throne.
Scarlett was a spoiled idiot who could not see any of the truths in front of her because she was too busy watching her own reflection in the mirror. But then the war came and she transformed into an overman. The Yankees are coming – this sentence poisoned the blood with fear and sent shivers through the bones. Scarlett heard it a million times in her head but did not care. She remained in Atlanta and helped Melanie give birth although she did not have to. For her it was natural to run, it would not have been a betrayal of her values and no one would have had the right to blame her. But Scarlett chose good and love at the moment in which it really mattered. And this was enough.
With major efforts, Scarlett went through the retreat saving several people. The only thing which pulled her forward was the thought of Tara. And when she reached it, the illusion ended. She did not have the home, the mother, the father, the slaves, and the reality of the past. She only had herself and her own hopelessness. Scarlett was sublime when she cried behind the cotton huts. Alone, having lost her world, defenseless, crushed, demolished to the ground. But she found the strength of the earth in herself and rose. Scarlett became Tara’s mistress not because she owned it legally but because she gave it her heart. It was clear that she would not let anyone take it away from her. Tara deserved every sacrifice. And since each of Scarlett’s humiliations was in the name of Tara, they transformed into a high virtue.
Scarlett shot the soldier in cold blood. He was an intruder in her Tara, an enemy who had come to take a bit more from her nothing, this person automatically received a death sentence. The scene with the group of Yankees had greater importance. Instead of a gun, this time Scarlett defended herself only with pride. The woman standing completely vulnerable on the stairs with a child hiding behind her and with a baby on her hands was an all-powerful overman. Beneath her, the Yankees with their numbers, their weapons, and their strength were powerless worms. Scarlett kept her dignity and for this reason, she did not lose the sword or Tara.
The decision to marry Frank was unpleasant but the only possible one. Tara had to survive and that was more important than Suellen’s whining. The management of the sawmills was also not a question to be judged on the moral-immoral axis. If wanting to live is immoral, then everyone should be like this. I must mention the fact that Scarlett achieved a remarkable level of perfection when she was hiding her pregnancy from Rhett. If she had not thrown up, he would never have guessed.
Later, Scarlett continued with her old habits. In every favorable aspect of her life, she acted like a piece of trash. Her crawling before the Northerners, her bragging with the new house, her completely pointless life – all this is the story of a character who does not deserve a comment. The use of prisoners in the sawmills was beyond the borders of monstrosity. There is no forgiveness for such a deed and the only thing that saved Scarlett was the fact that she did not need forgiveness. But then the difficult moments came: Gerald’s death, Suellen’s betrayal, the insults towards uncle Peter, Frank’s death. And every time Scarlett stood up strong and unshakable in her own way which deserved respect.
In the relationship between Scarlett and Rhett, the key moment was the one in which she realized that she wanted the child and that she could love him. The pride and the rightness once again clashed in a battle whose arena can only be found in Scarlett’s soul. But then Rhett came back and threw ugliness in her face. The two of them continued living as before, bypassing each other between different illusions of love.
Scarlett’s relationship with Ashley was more interesting. Scarlett is a spoiled rich girl that thinks only about money, dresses, and suitors. And at the same time, she feels platonic and endlessly loyal love for Ashley. Yes, she never realized what was he really like. But in her devotion, faithfulness, and care for Ashley there was something too beautiful not to be true. She had chosen the uncomfortable love instead of playing with Stuart or Brent or spending Rhett’s money. She faced her greatest fears and defeated her biggest flaws just because she had given Ashley her word. This was not an ordinary fad and her feelings did not disappear for over ten years. The only thing which stopped Scarlett’s love was the reality. But the statement that the reality is stronger than love is not true. Scarlett reached the bottom in her last conversations with Ashley and Rhett but luckily for her, the book had ended in the previous scene.
After seeing Ashley for the first time she had two options. To admit that her love was not what she thought she was but to realize that it is still there, stronger than ever and defeating reality. Or to renounce herself and her lifelong driving force and to run to Rhett. For unknown reasons, she chose the latter.
4. Melanie Wilkes – weak, helpless, dumb, insignificant, wimpy, naive, useless, with no perception of truth, incapable of seeing what’s real, desperately, insupportably vulnerable. And last but not least, completely perfect. Melanie is a doormat but a doormat containing an iron threat in itself.
This woman was inexplicably stupid. Each of her judgments about Scarlett was completely wrong. She always justified her actions with noble motivations. And if somebody had told her why Scarlett gave away Charles’s ring or why she remained with her for the birth of Beau… she would not have believed it. When everyone told her that there is something between Ashley and Scarlett she did not agree. She saw honor and dignity in Rhett although he did not possess these qualities at all. Melanie believed in thousand lies even when the truth was right before her eyes. The reality in which she lived was so different from the true one, that you can only respect her for preserving it intact. Her reality was stronger than the objective reality. That’s why her beliefs were more important than what really happened.
We have to ask ourselves is it so bad if someone is stupid. Generally speaking, no. But Melanie’s stupidity was not harmless. It grew so much that it started killing. The first victim was Gerald. If Miss Melly had done anything besides crying in her room while Suellen was taking him to the Yankees, maybe he would not have died. But Melanie simply could not believe that Suellen was serious in her intentions. And this was only the beginning. Ashley would never have started working in the sawmills if Melanie had not insisted. She did not see Scarlett’s motives or the consequences for Ashley. She destroyed the person she loved the most in the world.
For Melanie, the good people were those who helped her and her family and that was it. She was not capable of seeing the bigger picture. She was perfect when she accepted Belle Watling and Archie. But it cannot be claimed that this was a result of her “ability to see the goodness in people” as she considered anyone good as long as he did not threaten her beloved. Her kindness towards those rejected by society was nothing else but borderless naivety. Her inability to see the bad, however, was a problem. There is nothing wrong with loving people like Scarlett and Rhett but you have to be aware that they are soulless hypocrites seeking only personal benefits.
And despite all of this, Melanie had an unconquerable power which smashed everything in its way. In the name of her love, Melanie was ready to stand against evil and against every unworthy goodness. Melanie would have defeated the Northerner with the sword just because he had dared to threaten her family. She was also brave enough to stand up against the Southerners when their virtues, generosity, and morality did not match her own standards. Melanie not once betrayed herself or the people she loved. The war which destroyed everything in the surrounding world did not touch her inner world. The steely fragility defeated the ordinary strength and the doubtless faith crushed every mediocre truth.
Melanie’s strength was proven by the fact that she remained true to herself until the last moment. Her decision to get pregnant was the clearest expression of her personality. It showed her endless naivety and stupidity because she truly believed that everything would be fine. But that child was the most important thing in her life and she had to follow it. She gave her life in the name of being herself and that was the most dignified thing she could have done.
After we saw the first places, we should take a look at the other characters who qualified for the competition. Here they are: the Southerners, the Yankees, the negroes.
The Southerners were shockingly despicable with their fakeness, preciosity and sick moral code. Wearing an immodest dress in the morning is better than eating at the neighbors’ house. The white masters cannot criticize the negroes for the insolence towards them because this would mean that they listen to them. The woman must be more stupid than her husband and if she is not she must hide her intelligence. Often fainting is very recommendable as it is an expression of femininity. And so on and so forth. The Southerners were totally pathetic but they were dignified in their patheticness. They defended their way of life and faced its fall with their heads held high. The so-called liberators got lost in the shine of the South’s pride.
The Yankees had started a liberating war but transformed into pathetic marauders who plundered everything on their way. Yes, there were two or three people who started the war with noble motivations. But the participants were petty criminals not worthy of touching the Southerners’ family relics with their dirty, greedy fingers. In the end, they humiliated the negroes much more than any slave-holder.
The negroes were at the centre at the war but did not take a stand in it. They did not care that someone came to set them free and they did not help the Northerners. They did not care that the others killed their masters either and they did not help the Southerners. For them, freedom was to take money which did not belong to them and to assault white women. An outside liberator cannot help those who are still slaves in their mind.
There are a few characters who deserve special mentions in the competition for contemptible individuals: Suellen, Charles, Frank, Aunt Pitty, India Wilkes, Prissy, Jonas Wilkerson, Emmie Slattery, Johnny Gallagher, Belle Watling, Honey Wilkes, Alex Fontaine, Mrs. Tarleton.
People who did not qualify: Ellen, Mamie, Gerald, Archie, Will Benteen.