Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gone with the Wind - Ashley

Ashley Wilkes is probably the most despised character in Gone with the Wind.  The common opinion is that he's a boring sap, and everyone hates him for being, indirectly, the cause of the beloved Rhett's unhappiness.

As you may have guessed at this point, I have rather a different opinion of Ashley Wilkes.  Before I go any farther, I shall honestly confess that I was totally in love with Ashley in the beginning of the book, and I hated nasty old Rhett.  (Yes, I'm rather a slap-judgment kind of person.  At that point in the history of my relationship with Gone with the Wind I had not delved into the chemistry and reasoning and underlying faults and tragic flaws and....well, you get the picture.)  Even after I had read the whole book (twice) and thought long and hard about the characters, it was hard to lessen my knight-in-shining-armor idea of Ashley Wilkes.  I guess I have more in common with Scarlett than I thought...

I've done a lot of thinking about Ashley, and I've come to the conclusion that he's a pattern tragedy figure, with the classic all-destroying tragic flaw.  (Okay, so maybe Seton's required analysis of Animal Farm did teach me a lot about tragic characters.  Seton students, you might know what I'm talking about.)

I think Ashley's tragic flaw is really his inability to let go of his pre-war life.  All he wanted was to continue being a country gentleman, surrounded by books, his beautiful plantation, and his daydreams.  Once the Civil War was over and everyone's life was upside-down, none of that was left.  He had to work hard, in an ugly, unfair world, and he was quite unhappy and rather unskillful in this setting.

It is true that Ashley lacked backbone.  He lacked the ability to let go of his physical love of Scarlett, and he lacked the ability to take on his new life after the war destroyed his old life.  I can forgive him his "tragic flaw", though, because I completely understand how it could come about.  Sometimes I wonder if Margaret Mitchell meant Ashley to be a kind of representation of the Old South - cultured, mannered, and completely broken by the war.

Despite this flaw, I still don't see how anyone could completely detest him.  He's warmhearted and chivalrous, and he realizes the importance of honor.  (Oh, and by the way, despite the way the movie portrayed him, he's terribly good-looking.)  He's almost the quintessential gentleman.  I say almost because, in my opinion, the quintessential gentleman should be strong enough to bear adversity well and be a support to the women around him.  This, Ashley was not.

Ashley Wilkes is, as even Scarlett recognizes, a very complex person.  Like Scarlett herself, you can't completely hate him.  (Can you?  If you really understand his character?)  This is what makes Gone with the Wind such a compelling novel.  It's not just the plot, it's not just the writing; it's the characters.  Their personalities and just plain realness is what really makes the book.

Before I forget, here's a link so that you can buy the book, if you've become interested:

Last but not least, what do you think of Ashley Wilkes?  Do you agree with my analysis of him?  Oh, and would you like me to finish this series with an analysis of Melanie, or do you think that she's straightforward enough that she doesn't need to be analysed?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!


  1. Plus, Ashley was planning to free all the slaves anyway when his Father died and he was the master of Twelve Oaks. If the war hadn't happened, I think he would have turned Twelve Oaks into some kind of Mason-Dixon trancendentalist hot spot.

  2. I like Ashley as well, and always have. He was well aware that he and Scarlett were not a match, and very kindly and clearly explained that to her right from the beginning. Also, in the book it states that, although he did escort her to balls and dinners, he never "made love" to her, meaning, in that vernacular, he never told her he loved her, or kissed her. When she was so furious after his rejection, it was because she knew this was true. Ashley was dreamy, but he was from the Southern aristocracy, the "idle rich" who had slaves to do all the hard labor. He was, as many Southern gentlemen of that time were, well-educated, well-traveled, and well-mannered. He knew that Melanie was a better fit for him, and he would have chosen her even if it wasn't a family custom to marry his cousin. During the entire barbecue scene, the book tells us that, even though Scarlett is flirting madly to attract his attention, he sits at Melanie's feet, and talks to her quietly, never giving Scarlett a moment's notice. He's well aware of her beauty, and admires her fire and spirit, and acknowledges that he lacks these qualities. But, he makes the right choice, and he knows he has. He admits his weaknesses, but tries to do the right thing. He fights, though he abhors war, he becomes an officer, though he doesn't seem capable of military distinction, he even splits rails after the war, because it's what has to be done. And, he never makes advances toward Scarlett. She constantly pursues him, and "throws herself at his head" as she admits in the book. At the end of the novel, Scarlett curses him for not telling her he didn't love her and for stringing him along, but she refused to see the obvious: Ashley chose Melanie. He married her. He didn't ever cross the lines of friendship with Scarlett before his marriage. From that time on, he was a married man, and that should've been the end of it.

    Of course, he and Scarlett were not a match, but he knew that from the beginning. Ashley believed in honor, even though he gave in to Scarlett's passion when she threw herself at him. But he didn't proposition Scarlett, he didn't seduce her, he didn't abandon Melanie and run away with Scarlett. And perhaps, like Scarlett, he didn't realize how much he loved Melanie until the end of the novel. I'm not saying he didn't have his weaknesses, but people vilify him so much on these websites. I think he was, essentially, a kind, cultured and yes, honorable man who didn't belong in the physical and cultural ruins of the post-war South.


Your comments make my day! I read every single one of them, and I'll usually check out my commenters' blogs, if I don't follow them already. I try to reply to my comments, but please don't be offended if I don't make it to yours. Procrastination habits do extend to comment replies, unfortunately.

Of course, courtesy is necessary. I will delete any comments which do not meet my requirements.

Thanks for making the effort to tell me your thoughts!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...