Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Classics Review: Five Reasons to Give a Damn About Scarlett O'Hara by Lauren Ennis


In 1939, the American public got what it had been craving after three years of anticipation; a film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War epic Gone With the Wind. Despite the initial skepticism of readers, who were convinced that no film could live up to the expectations of the novel, the film was an immediate success. Over time, Gone With the Wind has truly lived up to the expectations of its epic status and become firmly ingrained in American popular culture. Unfortunately, as tastes in film and cultural mores have changed, one of America’s most widely known films has also become one of its most misunderstood. The film’s heroine, Scarlett O’Hara has particularly borne the brunt of the public’s scorn, leading modern film goers to dismiss her as vindictive or shrewish without having ever seen the film. This review is dedicated to the iron willed Scarlett O’Hara-Hamilton-Kennedy-Butler, and all of the world’s Scarlett’s who are too complicated and independent to be ignored.

This Miss is no lady
1.     SHE’S A MODERN WOMAN: Unlike the heroines of many films both past and present, Scarlett is a multidimensional woman who defies the rules of stock characters. While Hollywood’s all too common “damsels in distress” spend the majority of their screen time either waiting to be rescued by or selflessly dedicating themselves to a male character, Scarlett remains firmly untamable. For instance, early in the film a teenaged Scarlett complains to Mammy that she does not understand “why does a girl have to be so silly to catch a husband”. This statement shows that she is not like the other women in the film (or in many other films) in that she resents being forced to “dumb down” and alter her personality in order to impress a man. She displays further modernity in her pursuit of neighbor Ashley Wilkes when she disregards the social mores of her time and takes on the dominant role in her interaction with him. Later, after her first husband dies of pneumonia, she again refuses to let society determine her fate and emerges from mourning as vivacious as ever, much to the shock of her fellow Confederates. She further bucks Atlanta’s strict social system when she openly fraternizes with war profiteer and social maverick Rhett Butler. Rather than adhere to the superficial dictates of society, Scarlett defies her role as a dedicated war widow, and instead pursues an active life in which she chooses what she does and with whom she does it.


2.     SHE’S BUSINESS SAVVY: Following the ravages of the Civil War, Scarlett finds herself faced with adult responsibilities for the first time. The most daunting of these responsibilities is reviving the family plantation, Tara, after her mother’s death and her father’s mental breakdown. Rather than wasting her time lamenting her losses, she immediately sets to work harvesting the limited resources that remain, and budgeting to make them last. She quickly takes on the role of mistress of the plantation, and even swallows her pride to perform strenuous work in the cotton fields. Despite her progress, she soon realizes that she will have to look beyond her limited land in order to satisfy increasing tax fees under Yankee occupation. She realizes the advantages of the ‘dumbed down’ behaviors she loathes, and dedicates herself to winning over the affection of mild mannered businessman Frank Kennedy (despite his engagement to her sister). Following her second marriage, Scarlett is not satisfied with mere contentment and determines that it is Frank’s business, rather than his money that can help her most. She then takes on an increasingly large role in her husband’s lumber mill until she becomes the unofficial head of the business. Through her tireless efforts, she eventually transforms the mill from a small business with minor profits to a virtual monopoly worth a small fortune.


If looks could kill she wouldn't need a shotgun
3.     SHE CAN SHOOT FROM THE HIP (LITERALLY): While many heroines can talk a strong game, few can truly ‘walk the walk’ quite like Scarlett. Throughout the film, she is confronted with situations that test her cunning and grit. During the siege of Atlanta, she manages to deliver Melanie’s baby without any medical assistance after the majority of the city has already fled. With Rhett’s help, she then takes Melanie, the baby, and her gratingly incompetent slave, Prissy, and transports them to Tara. Before their journey is halfway through, Rhett makes a last minute decision to support the dying Confederate cause and deserts Scarlett to enlist. She is then left to fend for herself and her companions as they travel across the war ravaged countryside. Later, she is confronted by a Yankee deserter, who makes his intentions towards her clear. Rather than flee or scream for help, she becomes her own savior and shoots her would-be attacker in the face without batting an eye. When confronted with the Yankee’s impossibly high taxes, she refuses to allow them to seize Tara. After consulting an inept Ashley, she determines to take action herself and sets out to charm Rhett into providing her the money. Although reduced to rags, she thinks on her feet and creates a lavish dress from the plantation’s curtains that showcases her creativity, even if it does fail to convince Rhett.


4.     SHE’S LOYAL: Viewers’ most consistent complaints about Scarlett are her ‘selfishness’ and ‘ruthlessness’. Contrary to this perception, however, Scarlett does display fierce loyalty to those whom she deems worthy. For instance, when she first returned to Tara, she could have easily sent her family to live with distant relatives, where they would be guaranteed hospitality free of charge. Rather than shirk her responsibilities, however, she instead opts to not only remain on the plantation, but also take on the majority of the duties that come with it. She then proceeds to devote herself to providing for her family through back breaking manual labor, and financial savvy. She even risks moral debasement and social ostracization when she offers herself to Rhett as his mistress in exchange for the necessary tax money for Tara. She also displays a begrudging loyalty to Melanie after she promises Ashley to look after Melanie and their baby while he is away at war. Although she could have left for Tara before the Yankees arrived in Atlanta, she chose to stay behind and assist a bed-ridden Melanie, despite the danger. Above all, Scarlett maintains constant loyalty to the memory of her parents in her efforts to not only revive Tara to its former glory, but also bring it to a new, even greater success.


After all, tomorrow is another day!
5.     SHE ALWAYS RISES AGAIN: Like a mythical phoenix, Scarlett is reduced to near ashes by life over and over, but she always rises again. She survives losses that would crush an average person and still manages to keep going. Before the film’s intermission, she has already outlived her first husband, and arrives home to find that her mother has died. She also witnesses the mental deterioration of her father, who succumbs to dementia following the death of her mother. She survives the horrors of war and the agony of enemy occupation. She eventually suffers the loss of both her daughter and best friend towards the end of the film, but still manages to look towards tomorrow. Even the loss of her marriage to Rhett, the one person who truly understood her, does not lead her to accept defeat. Through her relentless determination to face life on her own terms she personifies both resilience and independence, making her a true heroine of American culture. It is little wonder that her story became a black market hit in numerous oppressed countries, including nations occupied by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, as she continues to provide inspiration and hope to those facing adversity. She may have had to lie, cheat, steal, and kill, but she survived to see another day. For this reason, Scarlett O’Hara is a true heroine for the ages who we owe it to ourselves to give a damn about.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks so much for your feedback! I always reread this book whenever life gets me down. After all, tomorrow is another day!