While reading articles for my final paper, I came across a lot of divided opinions on whether Anna Karenina, Dido, and Scarlett O’Hara should be considered guilty. Many critics are quick to point out that they broke society’s rules, but does that mean they should be judged? In Dido’s case, it is difficult to say whether she even had a choice. She was pushed into her affair with Aeneas by the intervention of the gods. However, looking back on her story from a modern perspective, cupid’s arrow does not seem like a good enough excuse to put your personal happiness before the welfare of your kingdom. Dido breaks a vow of loyalty to her late husband and has nothing to show for it. Is love a good enough excuse for her actions?
Anna Karenina, perhaps even more than Dido, is responsible for her own situation. She chooses to start an affair with Count Vronsky, even stealing him from her own niece. Yet Tolstoy makes it all too easy to sympathize with her character. It is difficult to condemn her without reservation, even when her actions hurt so many other people.
Scarlett O’Hara, too, is in a mess of her own making. She repeatedly manipulates men into falling for her. But her youth, charm, and vigor make it difficult to hate her. Besides, she is trying to survive during a war that threatens to tear apart her entire world. Can self-preservation excuse her actions?
Perhaps the main reason some critics are reluctant to pass judgement on these women is that their stories are so tragic. They get enough venom and blame from their societies. If they ended up happy, it might be easier to think that they didn’t deserve triumphant endings. But it is hard to lay blame and guilt on a character who seems to be the victim.