Jamie Fraser: A fallible man who learns from his mistakes

Jamie Fraser

Please join me in wishing a very happy 303rd birthday (believe it or not!) to James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, who was born on May 1, 1721. Many thanks (again!) to Diana Gabaldon for creating such an amazing character, and to Sam Heughan for bringing him to life on TV!

Also, it's Beltane today, so the portals are open. Be careful if you go near any standing stones, and be sure to carry a wee gemstone with you, just in case!

I decided to do something different in honor of Jamie's birthday this year. As I did for Claire a few months ago, I chose to focus on a particular aspect of Jamie's character. Hope you enjoy it!


If you haven't read ALL of Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER books, there are Major Spoilers below. Read at your own risk!


Like all of the major characters in Diana Gabaldon's books, Jamie Fraser is a fallible human being. He would be the first to admit that he's not perfect, let alone the "King of Men", as some have called him. He makes mistakes, but he learns from them, and tries to make amends as best he can. As my brother said to me recently, after we'd gotten into a heated argument and were trying to reconcile, "It's not the mistake that matters. It's the recovery." I think Jamie exemplifies this attitude, throughout the whole series.

Here's a look at a number of incidents over the course of his life that illustrate what I mean.

I like the brief glimpse we got in OUTLANDER of Jamie as a cocky, smart-mouthed teenager, who learned the hard way about the importance of treating women with respect.

“I made a number of ungallant remarks concerning [Mrs. Fitz's] appearance. Funny, but most ungallant. They amused my companions considerably. [...] I didna know she’d heard, until she got up at the Hall gathering next day and told Colum all about it.”


"Then Colum said no, if I was goin’ to behave like a child, I’d to be punished like one. He gave a nod, and before I could move, Angus bent me across his knee, turned up the edge of my kilt and blistered me with his strap, in front of the entire Hall.”


“Well, I wasna allowed just to go quietly away and tend to my wounds, either. When Angus finished wi’ me, Dougal took me by the scruff of the neck and marched me to the far end of the Hall. Then I was made to come all the way back on my knees, across the stones. I had to kneel before Colum’s seat and beg Mrs. Fitz’s pardon, then Colum’s, then apologize to everyone in the Hall for my rudeness, and finally, I’d to thank Angus for the strapping. I nearly choked over that, but he was verra gracious about it; he reached down and gave me a hand to get up. Then I was plunked down on a stool next to Colum, and bid to sit there ’til Hall was ended.”

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 22, "Reckonings". Copyright © 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

What a humiliating experience for a sixteen-year-old! To his credit, this seems to be a lesson Jamie took very seriously. Over the course of the series, we've seen many examples where he treats women with kindness and civility.

Another example of Jamie learning from his mistakes occurs after the incident where he takes a strap to Claire. Even though he believes he did nothing wrong (and looking at the situation from his cultural context, he didn't!), he can see she's still furious, and he has to find a different way to get through to her if he's going to restore their mutual trust in one another.

I have always liked Diana Gabaldon's explanation of Jamie's reaction, in a post on Compuserve in October 2006. The entire post is worth reading, but I'll just quote a bit of it here.

[It's] the fact that she resists him, in a context where he already feels that he _has_ to do this that makes him determined to assert himself--whereupon she continues struggling and fighting, bites him, scratches his face, and generally speaking, fails utterly to submit. He can overpower her physically, and does, but she never _does_ give in.

He finds that surprising--and interesting. He also obviously realizes that he's hurt and humiliated her; he meant to, surely, but still regrets the necessity of having done so, and does his best to offer balm to her feelings by acknowledging them, telling her stories of his own experiences in order to make it clear that he does understand what she feels like.

So he shares all these stories with her, and what does Claire do? She threatens to "cut out your heart and fry it for breakfast" if he ever lays a hand on her again! Clearly, talk alone isn't going to convince her to forgive him. So Jamie does the only thing he can think of under the circumstances. He swears an oath modeled after the one the MacKenzie clansmen swore to Colum, to show her that he's taking this very seriously indeed.

He held the dirk by the blade, upright so that the rising sun caught the moonstone in the hilt and made it glow. Holding the dagger like a crucifix, he recited something in Gaelic. I recognized it from the oath-taking ceremony in Colum’s hall, but he followed it with the English translation for my benefit:

“I swear on the cross of my Lord Jesus, and by the holy iron which I hold, that I give ye my fealty and pledge ye my loyalty. If ever my hand is raised against you in rebellion or in anger, then I ask that this holy iron may pierce my heart.” He kissed the dirk at the juncture of haft and tang, and handed it back to me.

“I don’t make idle threats, Sassenach,” he said, raising one brow, “and I don’t take frivolous vows. Now, can we go to bed?”

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 22, "Reckonings". Copyright © 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

And he's stayed true to that vow in all the years since.

The next example illustrates the way a decision made in haste, even with the best of intentions, can have unforeseen, life-altering consequences. Jamie saves young Rabbie MacNab from his abusive father, but only through the use of force.

“I’m glad you managed it,” I said, taking Jamie’s arm to go in to supper. “With little Rabbie MacNab, I mean. How did you do it, though?”

He shrugged. “Took Ronald back of the brewhouse and fisted him once or twice in the soft parts. Asked him did he want to part wi’ his son or his liver.” He glanced down at me, frowning.

“It wasna right, but I couldn’t think what else to do. And I didna want the lad to go back wi’ him. It wasn’t only I’d promised his grannie, either. Jenny told me about the lad’s back.”


He hunched his shoulders, with that odd half-shrug, something I hadn’t seen him do in months. “He’s right; the lad’s his own son, he can do as he likes. And I’m not God; only the laird, and that’s a good bit lower down. Still…” He looked down at me with a crooked half-smile. “It’s a damn thin line between justice and brutality, Sassenach. I only hope I’ve come down on the right side of it.”

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 31, "Quarter Day". Copyright © 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Unfortunately, Jamie's actions that day, beating up Ronnie MacNab, led to MacNab's betraying Jamie to the Watch, which in turn led to Jamie's arrest and imprisonment in Wentworth.

To me, that impulsive action -- getting his way by demonstrating that he's bigger and stronger than the other man -- was a sign of Jamie's relative youth and inexperience. Yes, he saved young Rabbie, but at a tremendous personal cost to himself. <understatement!> I think Jamie learned from that incident. As he has matured over the years and come to understand more about what it takes to be a leader of men, he's less likely to settle disputes by force.

On the other hand, even in middle age, Jamie is a violent man, especially when provoked, and he's certainly capable of jumping to the wrong conclusions! Consider his actions in DRUMS OF AUTUMN, for example, when he beats the crap out of Roger, under the mistaken assumption that he was the one who raped Brianna, without giving him a chance to explain.

“I’ll ask only the once, and I mean to hear the truth,” he said, quite mildly. “Have ye taken my daughter’s maidenheid?”

Roger felt his face grow hot as a flood of warmth washed up from chest to hairline. Christ, what had she told her father? And for God’s sake, why? The last thing he had expected to meet was an infuriated father, bent on avenging his daughter’s virtue.

“It’s…ah…well, it’s not what you think,” he blurted. “I mean, we…that is…we meant to…”

“Did ye or no?” Fraser’s face was no more than a foot away, completely expressionless, save for whatever it was that burned, far back in his eyes.

“Look--I--damn it, yes! She wanted to--”

Fraser hit him, just under the ribs.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 46, "Comes a Stranger". Copyright © 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Later, when Jamie learns the truth, he's devastated at the realization that Stephen Bonnet raped Brianna, because he was the one who allowed Bonnet to go free, not long after they first met him.

He stood as though rooted into the floor, fists clenched into his belly like a man gut-shot, trying to hold back the inevitable fatal spill of his insides.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 50, "In Which All is Revealed". Copyright © 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

To Jamie's credit, he does everything in his power to rectify the situation, to bring Roger back and to mend his relationship with Brianna. After the initial shock wears off, he doesn't wallow in guilt or waste time berating himself. Instead, he does everything he can, over the next several years, to try to track down and capture Bonnet, to eliminate the threat he poses once and for all.

Speaking of mistakes Jamie has made over the course of his lifetime, his decision to wed Laoghaire certainly qualifies. "It was a great mistake, the marriage between us," Jamie tells Claire in VOYAGER. He's right about that, but it takes some time for him to understand why. Jamie is normally very good at "reading" people, but I think he never really understood Laoghaire, until their confrontation at Balriggan in ECHO.

Granted, she was never an easy person to get along with (to say the least!), but it seems to me that Jamie didn't try very hard, during the time they were married. They didn't communicate well at all. They had almost nothing in common, and their personalities were so different that Jamie couldn't stand to be in the same room with her for more than a few minutes at a time. He couldn't even figure out how to please her in bed, which had certainly never been a problem for him before.

“I thought it must be a mislike for men in general, or only for the act. And if it was so … well, it wasna quite so bad, if it wasna my fault, though I did feel somehow I should be able to mend it.…” He trailed off into his thoughts, brow furrowed, then resumed with a sigh.

“But maybe I was wrong about that. Perhaps it was me. And that’s a thought that sticks in my craw.”

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 99, "Brother". Copyright © 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Years later, when Jamie goes to visit Laoghaire at Balriggan, intending to apologize, he discovers that Laoghaire has taken a lover -- Joey, the hired man -- and seems far more affectionate with him than she ever did with Jamie.

“Him?” Jamie said incredulously, nodding toward the crumpled Joey. “Why, for God’s sake?” Laoghaire glared at him slit-eyed, crouched like a cat about to spring. She considered him for a moment, then slowly straightened her back, gathering Joey’s head once more against her breast.

“Because he needs me,” she said evenly. “And you, ye bastard, never did.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 78, "Old Debts". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

The realization stuns Jamie. He'd been providing for Laoghaire's welfare for years, sending large amounts of alimony that he and Claire could barely afford, and yet I think he honestly had never considered her emotional needs before. For a man who is generally so attuned to the feelings of other people, particularly women, that must have come as quite a shock.

And then there's Lord John Grey. Jamie is usually such a good judge of character, but his strong aversion to John's homosexuality sometimes prevents him from seeing past it to discern John's true motives. Jamie was angry enough to contemplate killing John on the road to Helwater, and it took him a long time to understand and accept that John had his best interests at heart.

And he had not [sent Jamie to Helwater] for revenge or from indecent motives, for he never gloated, made no advances; never said anything beyond the most commonplace civilities. No, he had brought Jamie here because it was the best he could do; unable simply to release him at the time, Grey had done his best to ease the conditions of captivity--by giving him air, and light, and horses.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 16, "Willie". Copyright © 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Still, the relationship between the two of them has always been complicated, to say the least -- much more so in recent years. Jamie's relationship with John has been filled with tension ever since Claire had sex with John, but Jamie seems unable to move past it, let alone to reconcile with him. Jamie defined the problem succinctly in BEES:

“Aye, I ken what happened. He laid ye down in his bed, spread your thighs, and swived ye. Ye think I’m ever going to hear the man’s name and not think of that?”

(From GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 35, "Ambsace". Copyright © 2021 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

In almost any other situation, Jamie would be able to set aside his own feelings and find a way to resolve the conflict, but here, he just can't. Part of it is sheer stubbornness, I think, but a much greater part is his unwillingness to accept either John's sexual orientation or the fact that John had sex with Claire (while thinking of Jamie, which makes it even worse!) I'm convinced that John would be willing to try to reconcile, but Jamie seems adamant that he doesn't want any further contact, at least for now.

I think Jamie is making a big mistake in trying to shut John out of his life, and I hope he comes to realize that, and makes an effort to repair their relationship, before it's too late. My hope is that the rescue mission to save Lord John in Book 10 will help Jamie to see that he does still value his friendship with John, even after everything that's happened. Jamie's not ready to do that yet, but I hope he will be before the series comes to an end. I really want to see this conflict with John come to a satisfactory resolution, so that Jamie (and the rest of us) can move past it at long last.


As I said in the beginning, Jamie Fraser is not the "King of Men", just a flawed, fallible, imperfect human being like all the rest of us. He's a stubborn man, but not so stubborn that he can't admit when he's wrong! I really like this quality in him, and I think it's one of the things that makes him such a compelling character.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please leave a comment here or on my Outlandish Observations Facebook page, and let me know what you think!

Happy Birthday, Jamie!


Christine H. said...

Hello Karen,
My name is Christine Haas, I am French and live in Germany (Lower Saxony). I am a fan of the Outlander books and the TV show. I discovered your website on the Internet and regularly read the very interesting and beautiful articles you write there. Thank you for your great work.
I really hope you can understand my English, it's just school English and unfortunately English isn't one of the languages I like to speak...
Best regards

Juliana said...

Thank you for your work on Outlandish Observations, Karen. It is so well done; knowledgeably, thoughtfully and lovingly. I check this site every morning before I begin my day!!

Alison S said...

What a great topic for this blog Karen!. I have always thought Jamie’s strength was that he was fallible and very real as a mere mortal. All the things you have mentioned; the impetuosity of youth, the stubbornness, the personal doubts and the ability to learn from his mistakes, all contribute to his awareness and perceptiveness of situations and people and his growth as a man. Diana’s writing explores all these things about Jamie with lots of other very human, humorous and relatable aspects of his personality.

I think Ron Moore used the phrase ‘king of men’ in a tongue in cheek sort of way because Jamie seems to be a bit of a super hero in the TV version. TV fans have taken that to mean that he epitomises all of the best male characteristics including certain good looks. Sam’s representation of him combines much of this with his own physical attractiveness but the vulnerability and doubt don’t come out as much as they do in the books. There are a few quite uncharacteristic actions in the films too, that ‘book Jamie’ fans would have to query. The killing of Lt.Knox comes to mind as does the wearing of the British redcoat at the battle of Alamance. Cinematic licence I suppose.

But I digress … Jamie is a wonderfully complex man which many of us can recognise and admire and if we’re lucky, we might see much of him in those men whom we love.


Elle said...

I found your site a couple of years ago and I always find your insights both fascinating and intuitive. I have often wondered about the scene where they are walking the horses while Jaime tells Claire of all his actions that lead to thrashings. I would love to read Diana’s comments on compuserve but the link you put in didn’t work. (I tried it several times). Any chance you could try to put up the link again?
Thanks! Elle

Karen Henry said...


I fixed the link. Sorry about that! Please try it again.


Margaret Vives-Austin said...

Hello Karen!
Thank you for your insightful commentary. I have always thought those moments when Jamie fails to think a situation through and talk, rather than simply act and take a big chance on making a mistake because he lets his emotions target the best of him as when he acts the most like Claire. I find that Claire jumps to conclusions very frequently without thought for the consequences of her subsequent actions. Jamie tends to be very thoughtful when he reacts with a few notable exceptions, whereas Claire frequently stubbornly ignores thought and simply reacts to her own detriment on numerous occasions. I think it’s why Jamie is more admirable and loveable and Claire less easy to like. It is my strong hope that Jamie reconciles with Sir John, because their love for each other is one of the best things about their respective stories.

Jan said...

Excellent as always!! Had me glued and interested from the beginning! You picked Great sections! Thank you!!

Ildiko said...

Hí, Thanks for your summary. I'm a hungarian old-woman and don't speak very well but I ove Outlander and Jamie Fraser. I have only one comment: as I see Jamie exactly is "The King's of Men" because "He is a stubborn man, but not so stubborn that he can't admit when he's wrong" - like the men usually.

Thank you!

Marjorie Kientz said...

I have been with you from the beginning!! 1990,s books first, then series!! This is the best description of Jamie, you nailed it!!!

Rocki76 said...

What a wonderful summation of Jamie's character. No, of course he's not perfect-he'd be utterly boring if he was! I love that he's passionate, and opinionated and stubborn! That makes him real!

Anonymous said...

I have been with you from the beginning!! Pagalall

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