I finished reading Gone With the Wind recently. While I’ve seen the film several times and never tire of Clark Gable’s suave Rhett Butler or Vivien Leigh’s seemingly flighty yet head strong Scarlett, I never took the time to read the tome. Perhaps the size of the book was so daunting that I never thought I’d get through it. Living in the south now as well as my kindle made it less intimidating and I confess that I was sorry the story ended.
Not surprisingly, the movie depicts a very small part of Margaret Mitchell’s saga despite its length. Elements including Scarlett’s other children and that the role the Ku Klux Klan played on her second husband’s death are just two examples that the movie dropped. What struck me most, however, was Scarlett’s development from shallow, detestable teen to reluctant savior of her family and Tara and, I dare to say, a feminist.
Scarlett is one of the most interesting and transformed characters in literature. Born a southern belle with nothing to worry about but beaus and her Ashley, Scarlett soon departs from her tranquil plantation life to Atlanta where the war soon intrudes on her pleasant life. In short order, Scarlett’s world falls apart and she begrudgingly becomes a midwife, caretaker, and very successful business woman.
Scarlett’s survivor instinct and carefully calculated actions are admirable and perhaps give a hint about how it was the women’s ingenuity that rebuilt the fallen south after the civil war. Scarlett survives the most difficult unforeseen obstacles yet rarely finds a problem impossible to solve. The only time Scarlett said, “I can’t” was when forced to play midwife for Ashley’s wife, Melanie. Marriage, murder, buying saw mills, were all motivated by the red dirt of Tara, her family plantation. Facing one tragedy after another, Scarlett planned (some may say calculated) whatever action necessary to accomplish her goal: the saving and rebuilding of Tara. The downsides of a plan did not concern Scarlett. “I won’t think of that now. I’ll think of it later,” was how she dealt with the inevitable fallout from some of her actions. Some viewed her as nothing more than a gold digger by marrying for money but Scarlett was more complex and intelligent than that. Yes, Scarlett’s character is selfish and devious but she was not completely without compassion. She was a farmer willing to get her hands dirty, a business woman and the owner of saw mills. Her need for Tara’s success was more important than weak human emotions. And her refusal to feel hunger again drove her as it drove so many others who survived poverty and tragedy.
Change is hard but events happen beyond our control. War, economics, loss of a loved one some times force us to alter our lives and we must adjust accordingly. It’s risky. It’s unknown. It’s just plain
scary. But when tough times hit, what is the alternative but to survive? I don’t recommend following Scarlett’s path of insensitivity, cruelty, and deception. Though by the end of the story, we learn that Scarlett’s eyes are finally open and, too late, realizes that Ashley was a weak man, Melanie had an inner strength and fortitude comparable to her own, and admitted that Rhett Butler was the only man for her.
Was Scarlett able to win Rhett back? It seems unlikely considering her atrocious behavior and his famous departing line, “I don’t give a damn.” But then again, Scarlett succeeded in every goal she set her mind to and I want to believe in happily ever after.
“After all, tomorrow is another day.”
Well said, Scarlett.