No southern street cred here—in fact, it seems it’s up to the damn Yankee to defend Scarlett O’Hara. Gone With the Wind, both book and movie, have long been a guilty pleasure of mine. But thinking it through to respond to Bess’s post has made me realize there’s nothing to feel guilty about. Scarlett is a heroine before her time, and I wish more heroines were like her.
Yes, Scarlett is spoiled, vain, and selfish. But she’s 16 at the beginning of the novel, and most teens are pretty absorbed in themselves and oblivious to the needs and feelings of others. And yes, she is flawed, which means she makes some terrible mistakes. But without Scarlett’s flaws and mistakes, the story would suck.
As for ruining peoples’ lives, I have to say that it takes two. After all, Charles Hamilton let himself be stolen away from India Wilkes, and India herself decided to stay bitter about it. If she’d had half the guts Scarlett had, she would have said to hell with having to marry a cousin and found someone else. She’s a total loser.
Scarlett’s sister Suellen is a whiner who, when their fortunes change, cries and complains while Scarlett acts. Frank Kennedy chooses to dump Suellen and marry Scarlett, and he chooses to defend Scarlett’s honor. All Scarlett did was flirt with him. Can we blame her for men being easily manipulated? One thing you can say for Ashley is that he never fell for that shit. If the “human equivalent of soggy cornflakes” could resist Scarlett, why couldn’t the other guys?
And now we come to Melanie. If Scarlett had wanted Melanie dead, all she had to do is leave her in Atlanta for General Sherman to burn. But no. Scarlett has great courage—she stays with Melanie while Atlanta is under siege, delivers the baby, convinces Rhett to get her a horse and cart, and gets them the hell out of the city while Union troops are invading and burning it to the ground. And what is she at that point, 18? 19?
When Rhett abandons her in enemy territory (what a guy), Scarlett is alone, burdened with a helpless woman and a baby. Does she cry about it? No. Scarlett drags that damn horse and cart back to Tara, works her ass off feeding everyone, shoots a Union soldier dead to protect them, buries both her parents, and pretty much prostitutes herself by marrying Frank so she can save Tara and ensure her kin don’t starve.
Scarlett saved Melanie’s life, and her baby’s life, and Melanie never forgot that.
Yes, Scarlett pines for Ashley, but she has the courage to tell him she won’t bother him anymore when he finally tells her nothing will ever happen between them. Even in rags, Scarlett has pride and self-respect. She faces down carpetbaggers who want to buy Tara out from under her by throwing that handful of dirt at them and telling them that “this is as much of Tara as you’ll ever get!”
As Ashley tells her, what Scarlett loves most is Tara. Not Ashley, not Rhett, not any person. The land itself. And I love that about her. She has a single-minded purpose and goal, and it’s not just to be in love or get married or have children–even though she does all those things. It’s to save Tara. And she pursues that goal with ferocity, regardless of what society thinks of her and the price to herself.
My kind of heroine. (Cue the Tara theme from GWTW.)