Scarlett is the protagonist
of the novel and the events and characters are seen mostly through her eyes.
Born into a wealthy plantation family, Scarlett longs to be a "great lady" like
her aristocratic and saintly mother, Ellen, but in fact takes more after her
father, Gerald, a willful, self-made man of practical Irish peasant stock.
Scarlett is headstrong, selfish and ruthless. Before the war, she takes care to
hide these qualities under a veneer of ladylike charm and her efforts are mainly
directed to attracting men away from other women. When the war leads the
O'Haras to lose their wealth, Scarlett has to find a new role. She gives up
pretending to be the demure Southern belle and allows the calculating and
domineering aspects of her character free rein, utilizing whatever means are
necessary to become a wealthy and successful businesswoman. Determined not to
lose her family plantation, Tara, the one constant love of her life, she
triumphs over huge adversity to save it and turn it into a viable farm. During
the difficult period of the war and subsequent Reconstruction, Scarlett
financially supports her family and household, including the Wilkes family.
Scarlett first marries
Charles Hamilton to wreak revenge on Ashley Wilkes, whom she has loved from
childhood but who has infuriated Scarlett by marrying Melanie Hamilton.
Scarlett has a son, Wade Hampton, by Charles before Charles dies in the war.
Subsequently, Scarlett marries Frank Kennedy, another man whom she does not
love, in order to pay the taxes on Tara. She and Frank have a daughter, Ella.
Scarlett scandalizes Frank by her insistence on running her own businesses, but
he is too weak to stand in her way.
Scarlett alienates much of
Southern society with her "unwomanly" behavior and unscrupulous business
practices, but does not care for the opinions of others. The only person who
both sees her for what she is and loves her is Rhett Butler, who becomes her
third husband. Scarlett and Rhett have a daughter, Bonnie, who becomes their favorite
Scarlett is so self-absorbed
that she has little insight into other people. She spends most of the novel in
love with Ashley Wilkes, a man who is both completely different from and
utterly unsuited to her, and thus fails to notice that Rhett Butler is similar
to her, is a perfect match for her, and loves her intensely. Though Melanie
Wilkes believes that Scarlett supports her and her family out of altruistic
motives, in fact Scarlett only does it for Ashley. Scarlett's fixation with
Ashley drives much of the plot. It fatally undermines her marriage with Rhett
and she only comes to see Ashley's faults and Rhett's strength when she has
already lost Rhett's love. Scarlett is also blind to Melanie's true nature for
most of the novel, feeling contempt for Melanie's outward frailty and timidity
and failing to recognize her great inner strength. Scarlett only realizes how
much strength she draws from Melanie and how much she relies upon her when
Melanie is dying. Melanie only sees the good in people, and she remains
Scarlett's staunch defender in the face of much criticism and resentment from
Scarlett symbolizes both the
Old and New South, and her fate parallels that of the South during the war and
Reconstruction period. Her clinging to Ashley represents the Old Southern part
of her, whereas her attraction to Rhett represents the New Southern part. Both
Scarlett and the South have to overcome terrible hardships and adapt to the
changing times in order to survive. They must set aside the Old Southern values
of chivalry, the importance of 'good' breeding, integrity and kindness in favor
of the New Southern (influenced by the North) values of entrepreneurship,
ruthless opportunism and financial success. Scarlett adapts extraordinarily
well because her hard, ruthless character finds a match in the nature of the
times; it could be said that she was designed for this age.
Rhett is the dark, dashing
and disreputable son of a wealthy old Charleston family. Disowned by his family
and expelled from West Point for dishonorable behavior, Rhett is something of
an outsider in genteel Southern society. Cynical and brutally honest, he
delights in puncturing pomposity and hypocrisy by telling the truth as he sees
it, caring little about what others think of him. When the war breaks out, he
does not immediately follow the patriotic young men into the army, but becomes
a blockade-runner and later, a speculator, in line with his opportunistic
conviction that there is as much money to be made in the destruction of a
civilization as in its rise. By the end of the war, Rhett is one of the few
wealthy people in the South.
Rhett recognizes a kindred
spirit in Scarlett and quickly falls for her. Alone among her acquaintances, he
sees through her every trick and deception, but loves her anyway. One of the
tragedies of their relationship is that he is unable to tell her of his
feelings. Instead, he hides behind a veneer of sardonic humor and bland
indifference that Scarlett is too insensitive to penetrate. At the end of the
novel, he reveals how much he has loved her and explains his reticence: "You're so brutal to those who love you, Scarlett. You take
their love and hold it over their heads like a whip." Another reason why he
keeps his emotions under wraps is Scarlett's obsession with Ashley. This
finally wears out his love for Scarlett and at the end of the novel, he leaves
That Rhett has a
good heart under his cynical shell is clear from his many selfless acts. He
risks his own life to save Ashley and other Atlanta men during a Ku Klux Klan
raid, and his devotion to his daughter by Scarlett, Bonnie, becomes legendary
among the people of Atlanta. Most importantly, he supports and helps Scarlett
in many ways. Rhett lends her money to buy the sawmill, and when the rest of
Atlanta is condemning her for her unwomanly behavior in running her businesses,
he is the only person who encourages her. She comes to rely on him as the only
person to whom she can talk with total honesty, though typically, she fails to
understand that his unflagging support and understanding are signs of his love
for her. She also spends most of the novel only seeing Rhett's disreputable
aspects, dismissing him as a "scoundrel" and "not a gentleman." This also
becomes Atlanta society's view of him when he is engaging in speculation,
profiteering, and trading with the Yankees at the expense of the South. Only
Melanie is his constant champion, maintaining that he is much misunderstood and
better than people think him.
In many ways,
Rhett has feminist instincts. He helps three women start or expand their
businesses - Scarlett, Belle Watling, and Mrs Merriwether - at a time when
'decent' women were not supposed to engage in trade. Also, he finds it
incomprehensible that women are supposed to disappear from society when they
the New South, the values of entrepreneurship and ruthless opportunism that the
South is forced to adopt under the influence of the North in order to survive
the war. Most of the time, he refuses to conform to Southern patriotic
expectations and is openly contemptuous of them. However, on two occasions,
Rhett reveals that he has more of the Old Southern gentleman in him than he
cares to admit. The first occasion is after the Yankee bombardment of Atlanta,
when he leaves Scarlett to make her own way back to Tara and goes to join the
Confederate army at a time when defeat seems imminent. The second occasion is
at the end of the novel, when he again leaves Scarlett, this time to make peace
with his prominent Old Southern family and to recapture something of the
refined life of a Southern gentleman. Rhett's unexpected patriotism
symbolically suggests that however much the South adapts to the values of the
changing times, at its heart, it maintains the dream of graceful living that
characterized the Old South.
Ashley is a Southern
gentleman born into the wealthy family that owns Twelve Oaks plantation. Though
he is attracted to Scarlett, he recognizes that she is very different from him,
and marries Melanie Hamilton, who is very like him. Ashley stands in contrast
to Rhett for most of the novel. He is honorable, courteous and skilled in the
gentlemanly pursuits of the arts, poetry, and riding. After the war, unlike
Rhett and Scarlett, he fails to adapt to the changing times and his weaknesses
become more obvious. He dreams of the old days, when life had a beauty and
grace that has been swept away by the war. Scarlett supports him and his family
at Tara, but he proves a poor farmer. Then she sets him up in business as
manager of her mill in Atlanta, but he fails to make a profit. He sacrifices
his honor by accepting Scarlett's charity, and never recovers his self-esteem.
Ashley further compromises
his honor by admitting to Scarlett that he loves her and kissing her. He later
says that he regrets not marrying her. Ashley's actions in marrying Melanie
rather than Scarlett and continuing to foster Scarlett's love for him seem both
lacking in courage and disrespectful to both women. Only Rhett sees this
clearly throughout, though after the scandal breaks about Ashley and Scarlett's
embrace at the lumber yard and Ashley simply hides behind Melanie's honor,
Scarlett too begins to wonder whether Ashley has played the "manly" part.
Only when Melanie dies does
Ashley realize how much he loved her and depended upon her strength. Now that
Ashley is deprived of the prop of Melanie, Scarlett finally sees him as he is,
a weak man, even a child who needs to be looked after. She sees that it is not Ashley
whom she has loved all these years but a creation of her imagination.
Ashley represents the Old
South and those Southerners who yearn for the days before the war. He is
unwilling or unable to change with the times and thus is one of those who are
"winnowed out" by the war. Scarlett's fixation with him represents that part of
her that clings to the past. Finally, she realizes that pining for the lost
world of the Old South makes people weak and unable to act, and is able to let
go of Ashley.
Melanie Wilkes (previously Melanie Hamilton)
Melanie marries Ashley
Wilkes, an action that makes her the target of Scarlett's jealous hatred.
Melanie is a woman of great integrity, inner strength and generosity. She is
loved for these qualities by almost everybody except Scarlett, who only sees
Melanie's timidity and physical frailty and feels contempt for her. During and
after the war, Scarlett looks after and supports Melanie because she has
promised Ashley that she will do so. Melanie only sees the good in people, and,
blind to Scarlett's ulterior motives, chooses to see her actions as altruistic
and heroic. Melanie stands beside Scarlett at all times and becomes her
staunchest defender and ally, even when the rest of Atlanta is criticizing
Scarlett. Melanie's courage and loyalty during the hard times of the war and
Reconstruction eventually make Scarlett realize that Melanie has been a great
source of strength to her. Rhett too relies on Melanie's support when Scarlett
lies close to death after her miscarriage, admitting truths about his feelings
for Scarlett that he cannot reveal to Scarlett herself. He calls Melanie "a
very great lady."
During and after the war,
Melanie becomes the kingpin of various patriotic and charitable causes and the
center of genteel Atlanta society. As Scarlett and Rhett become more unpopular
because of their association with Yankees, Scalawags and carpetbaggers, Melanie
acts as a buffer between them and social disgrace. When Scarlett is discovered
embracing Ashley at the lumber yard, Melanie single-handedly saves Scarlett
from social ostracism by publicly standing by her and insisting that any
household that welcomes Melanie must also welcome Scarlett.
Melanie symbolizes the Old
South, but in a different way from Ashley. Whereas Ashley is lost in dreams of
the old days, Melanie is intensely practical and faces danger head-on. Examples
are when she emerges from her sick-room with Charles's sword, determined to
defend Scarlett and Tara from the Yankee soldier; and when her quick-thinking responses
to Rhett's cues help save Ashley and other Atlanta men from hanging after their
participation in the Ku Klux Klan raid. Melanie acknowledges that Ashley lacks
her practical side when, on her death-bed, she asks Scarlett to look after him.
Gerald is Scarlett's father
and the patriarch of the plantation of Tara. He immigrated to America from
Ireland after killing an English government agent. He won Tara in a card game
and built it up into a successful cotton plantation. Gerald is shrewd, charming
and kind-hearted, but he is also headstrong, selfish and refuses to listen to
the voices of caution - qualities that Scarlett inherits from him. He is
devoted to his wife, Ellen, and never recovers after her death during the war,
descending into a state of senility. A staunch Confederate, he dies after
discovering that his daughter, Suellen, has tried to trick him into signing an
oath of allegiance to the victorious Yankees. He is so upset that he gets drunk
and, like Bonnie, is thrown to his death while jumping his horse over a fence
with the cry, "Watch me take this one!"
Ellen is Scarlett's mother.
A descendant of the aristocratic Robillard family, she marries Gerald after her
father forbids her to marry the love of her life, her cousin Philippe. She
proves to be a highly competent manager at Tara and effortlessly commands the
respect and obedience of all the employees and slaves. Dignified, refined, and
compassionate, Ellen represents an impossibly high standard for Scarlett to
live up to. While Scarlett longs to be "a great lady" like Ellen, she finds
herself going against her mother's teachings in the face of the harsh reality
of war. Scarlett never resolves this conflict between what she believes Ellen
would do and what she herself wants to do, and generally puts off thinking
Ellen dies during the war of
typhoid, which she contracts while nursing the "white trash" Slatterys through
the disease. Gerald never recovers from her loss.
Careen is Scarlett's gentle
and religious-minded youngest sister. She falls in love with Brent Tarleton,
but when he is killed in the war, she enters a convent in Charleston.
Suellen is Scarlett's
selfish younger sister. She is courted by Frank Kennedy before Scarlett steals
him from her. After the war, Suellen becomes dissatisfied with her relative
poverty and tries to trick Gerald into signing the Iron-Clad Oath of allegiance
to the Yankee government so that they can claim a large sum of money in compensation
for damages to Tara. Gerald is so upset that he gets drunk and is thrown from
his horse to his death. Many family members and neighbors blame Suellen for
killing Gerald and betraying the Confederate cause. At Gerald's funeral, Will
shields Suellen from their resentment by announcing their engagement. Will and
Suellen marry and run the farm at Tara.
Described as an "old maid in
pants," Frank Kennedy is Scarlett's second husband, whom she marries in order
to pay the taxes on Tara. Scarlett steals Frank away from her sister, Suellen,
whom he had been courting for years. Scarlett also buys a sawmill that Frank
had planned to acquire, using his money. Frank is a kindly but weak man whom
Scarlett is able to bully into submission to her will. He feels mortified by
Scarlett's insistence on running her own businesses during their marriage, but
is unable to stand up to her. He is killed while taking part in a Ku Klux Klan
retribution attack on two men who assaulted Scarlett.
India is Ashley's sister.
India never forgives Scarlett for stealing Stuart Tarleton from her. She
witnesses Scarlett and Ashley embracing at the lumber yard and gossips about
the incident. This causes a split within the Wilkes family, dividing Ashley
from India and Aunt Pittypat from Melanie, and in the wider Atlanta society.
Honey is Ashley's sister.
She plans to marry Charles Hamilton before Scarlett steals him from her.
Charles is Melanie's brother
and Scarlett's first husband, whom she marries to wreak revenge on Ashley for
marrying Melanie. In doing so, Scarlett upsets Honey Wilkes, whose beau Charles
was. Charles is a timid and bland young man who makes little impression on
Scarlett before dying of measles while in military service in the war.
Aunt Pittypat Hamilton
Aunt Pittypat is Melanie's
aunt. She is an old maid who is as helpless as a child and is prone to fainting
at the slightest difficulty. Pittypat is so incapable
that after the death of Charles and Melanie's parents, the
slave Uncle Peter moves into the void and brings up the children himself. Pittypat's
helpless character is reflected in her physique: she is overweight, always
breathless from too-tight stays, and has tiny feet that are inadequate to
support her weight, so that she is unable to walk more than a block.
twins are two young men, sons of Mrs Beatrice Tarleton, who are friends of
Scarlett before the war. Scarlett flirts with them even though Brent is
Carreen's beau and Stuart is India Wilkes's beau. Both sons are killed in the
Tarleton is the mother of Brent and Stuart Tarleton. She is a keen horsewoman
and enjoys talking about horses with Gerald.
is the matriarch of the Fontaine family, who own a plantation near Tara. She is
a wise but irascible old lady who gives Scarlett advice about surviving hard
Mammy is an old slave who
was nurse to Scarlett as a child and before her, to Ellen. She
is intensely loyal to the O'Haras and chooses to stay with them after the
abolition of slavery after the war. Mammy is a stern tutor to Scarlett on
matters of etiquette and morals. Both Scarlett and Rhett are keen to keep her
Pork is Gerald's first
slave. He is loyal to the O'Haras and chooses to stay with them after the
abolition of slavery after the war.
Dilcey, a slave, is Pork's
wife and the mother of Prissy.
Prissy is the daughter of
Pork and Dilcey. She is a young, lazy and foolish slave who is prone to lying.
She falsely tells Scarlett that she is skilled in midwifery. When it becomes
clear that she was lying, Scarlett has to deliver Melanie's baby herself.
Uncle Peter is Aunt Pittypat's
loyal slave. After the death of Charles and Melanie's
parents, Uncle Peter brings up the children himself. He manages most of Aunt
Big Sam is the
foreman at Tara. He saves Scarlett from her attackers in Shantytown.
is a young woman whose poor family lives in the swamp bottom near Tara. The
family is looked down upon by the richer neighbors, and even by the slaves, as
"white trash." Ellen contracts typhoid while nursing the family through the
disease. After the war, Emmie marries Jonas Wilkerson and infuriates Scarlett
by turning up at Tara in ostentatious style and offering to buy the place.
is the Yankee overseer at Tara. Gerald fires him after he gets Emmie Slattery
pregnant. After the war, Jonas runs the Freedmen's Bureau and marries Emmie
Slattery. He raises the taxes on Tara to try to force Scarlett to sell the
plantation to him. As a result of this, Scarlett marries Frank.
Belle is the town
prostitute. She has a long-standing relationship with Rhett, who supports her
business financially, and when Scarlett bans him from the marital bed, Rhett
seeks comfort with Belle. She provides Ashley Wilkes and other Atlanta men with
an alibi for murder after a Ku Klux Klan raid. This prompts mixed feelings
among some members of genteel society, who resent owing the lives of their men
to a prostitute.
Will is a
one-legged Confederate soldier from a poor family whom the O'Haras nurse back
to health. Scarlett quickly notices his competence and allows him to stay on at
Tara and run the farm. He takes a liking to Carreen, but when she joins a
convent, marries Suellen instead so that he can remain indefinitely at Tara
without provoking gossip. With Tara safe under his management, Scarlett is free
to move to Atlanta.
Archie is a
one-eyed and one-legged former convict who was released from prison for
agreeing to fight for the Confederate army. Melanie employs him to drive
Scarlett around town and act as her bodyguard during the dangerous
Reconstruction period. Archie does not like Yankees, black people, and women.
He disapproves when Scarlett employs convicts in her mill and resigns from her
Bonnie Blue Butler
Bonnie is Scarlett's third
child, by Rhett Butler, and the favorite of both parents. Like Scarlett, she is
headstrong and spoiled, and like Rhett, she is charming. Rhett is devoted to
Bonnie and when he is rejected by Scarlett, he pours all his love into the
child. He even reinvents himself as a patriotic Democrat and pillar of the
community in order to smooth Bonnie's path in Atlanta society.
Bonnie's strong will proves
fatal, as she demands to be allowed to jump her pony over a dangerously high
bar and is thrown to her death. Her death is reminiscent of Gerald's, and they
die with the same words on their lips - "Watch me take this one!" After
Bonnie's death, Rhett and Scarlett's marriage collapses.
Wade Hampton Hamilton
Wade is Scarlett's first
child, by Charles Hamilton. Wade inherits his father's timid disposition. He is
traumatized by the Yankee bombardment of Atlanta.
Ella Lorena Kennedy
Ella is Scarlett's second
child, by Frank Kennedy. She takes after her father, being both ugly and silly.
Beau is Ashley and Melanie's
only child, born during the burning of Atlanta by the Yankees.