Scarlett O’Hara is More Than a Conniving Southern Belle Who Goes with the Wind

Published in May 1936, Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, is a romance/historical novel about the Old South, the Civil War, and the emerging New South told from the viewpoint of a white southerner, Scarlett O’Hara. It is a novel of survival, feminism and war, narrating how Scarlett O’Hara, the gently reared southern belle, faces the ravages of war and fights to preserve her home and family. It can be interpreted as an allegory about the Old South’s painful transformation to the New South. Its main character, Scarlett O’Hara painfully adapts to her changing world to survive and she exemplifies courage and endurance even to 21st century cynics. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.

Author Margaret Mitchell poured her southern upbringing and considerable narrative talents into Gone with the Wind. Born November 8, 1900, in Atlanta, Georgia, she absorbed the drama of the Old South from early childhood. She rode horseback with Confederate veterans and sat in the faded splendor of Victorian parlors listening to the ferocious female curators of the Lost Cause. She also attended suffrage lectures with her mother.

After attending Smith College, Margaret Mitchell returned to Atlanta to write for the Atlanta Journal and to spend ten years writing her only novel, Gone with the Wind. When she died in 1949, Gone with the Wind had become a best seller. Click here for Margaret Mitchell’s biography.

Gone with the Wind opens in Clayton County, Georgia, in 1861, shortly before the Civil War. Margaret Mitchell begins her story by observing, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.”

True to her Southern culture, Scarlett O’Hara learns early to use her feminine wiles to wheedle a new dress or a proposal of marriage from Ashley Wilkes. As Scarlett matures, Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler are the two most important men in her life and her interaction with them both is a central theme throughout the book.

When the Civil War devastates Georgia, Scarlett demonstrates survival skills and courage during the siege of Atlanta and the threat of losing Tara. Scarlett in a dress made of her mother’s green velvet parlor curtains and a hat decorated with feathers from one of Tara’s remaining roosters attempting to charm Rhett Butler into loaning her money to pay the taxes on Tara is a poignant example of her courage.

At the end of the novel, Scarlett realizes that she returns Rhett’s love and despite his assertion that he no longer loves her, she resolves to rekindle his love. Both the movie and the book end with Rhett’s iconic line, “My dear, I don’t give a damn,” and Scarlet’s determination to win Rhett back that she expresses by resolving , “I’ll think about it tomorrow at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Both the movie and the book recreate the pageantry of the Old South and the tragedy of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Who doesn’t remember the ball at Twelve Oaks and the burning of Atlanta? The book more graphically depicts the brutality of Reconstruction, and according to some critics both the movie and the book unquestioningly accept the twin evils of slavery and racism, although those were norms for the era. Click here to read the book Gone with the Wind. Click here for more information about the movie.

Instead of a manipulative, stereotypical southern belle, Scarlett O’Hara is a courageous feminist whose love for Tara, stubborness, and survival skills transcend the collapse o her world. Like all humans, she has weaknesses which include her vanity and her infatuation for Ashley Wilkes that blinds her to the real love that Rhett Butler offers her.

Scarlett O’Hara is not only a feminist, she is a transitional character. She comes from the defeated Old South just as Ashley Wilkes does, but unlike Ashley she is not defeated. Instead, like Rhett Butler, Scarlett is a symbol of the New South, brave, resourceful, determined, and unwilling to accept defeat even when it wrestles her to Tara’s red earth. .She survives to erase the hoof prints from the raiding Yankee cavalry at Tara.

One knows as Alexandra Ripley revealed in her 1991 sequel to Gone with the Wind called Scarlett, that Scarlett will successfully rekindle Rhett Butler’s love for her. Was there ever any doubt about it?

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