Post 3: a question of guilt

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.

Comments

  1. smgoyocalat says:

    Hi Rachel,
    I think your research topic is really interesting! Of the stories you read, I’ve only read the Aeneid so I cannot comment on the other two. Since you have read many articles analyzing Dido and her role, I am curious about your conclusion on her guilt. Could you maybe link an article or two that you felt were particularly persuasive?

    Personally, I find that her character is written as a victim of her circumstances and cannot be blamed for her actions. Dido is made to fall in love with Aeneas. From the moment Venus realizes that Juno might incite her favored people of Carthage against the Trojans and sends Eros to make Dido fall in love with Aeneas, Dido has become a pawn of the gods. Before this she was a responsible and fair ruler focused on her political responsibilities, even welcoming the Trojans generously and agreeing to aid them in rebuilding their fleet. Once Eros strikes Dido, she falls madly in love with Aeneas and thus is no longer truly herself. If Dido had been in full control of her actions, I would agree that she has no excuse. However in the setting of the Aeneid, fate is inescapable and the gods freely meddled in human life to resolve their petty rivalries. Dido is a victim of this meddling and her infatuation with Aeneas is unnatural. She takes him as a lover and lets her responsibilities fall by the wayside, something wildly out of character in regard to her previous behavior. While we will never know if Dido would have fallen in love with Aeneas without the gods’ involvement, she most likely would not have become so infatuated with him that she would neglect her responsibility to Carthage. Therefore, it is as a result of this unnatural infatuation that she finds herself pregnant, with her city in shambles, having lost the support of her citizens, and facing military threats from the suitors that she had previously turned away. In her frenzied state after realizing Aeneas’ abandonment and her dire situation, the only way out she sees is suicide and solidifying her role as a victim of the gods’ interference.