What would Scarlet O’Hara do? It’s been months since I finished the book, but there hasn’t been a time when I haven’t aspired towards her strength, steadfastness and down to earth rationality of self-preservation. She can solve a situation with a tirelessness and a fierceness of spirit that shows Scarlet O’Hara as a survivor. But she was not always like this.
Though “Gone with the Wind” is an epic tale of societal breakdown, it is Scarlet’s epic tale of self-discovery and personal development. The people adapt to rise once again to rebuild what is lost – representing raw human spirit and perseverance. She adapts in order to survive. Her defiance is comparable to Melanie’s inner strength of mind, but weak constitution. Softly spoken and kind Melanie who finds no fault in others and loves Scarlet beyond reason. It is Melanie who is the saving grace in the novel, the sticky glue that binds them together. She may not be as physically strong and active as Scarlet, but her presence is almost spiritual, believing in a cause that is beyond reason and often brings her unhappiness. It is not until she is gone, does Scarlet learn to appreciate Melanie’s reliable presence in her life.
‘Tomorrow is a new day’ she reminds us; the famous lines in the novel. Tomorrow is a new day to think, to fight. And so it seems that Scarlet too believes that prolonging thought, blocking out is a strategy to cope with the problems she faces.
But it is okay. We all do it. And as Scarlet hides her emotions, she develops an exterior shell to protect herself so she does not have to think; to feel. In life, we often feel like falling apart. We feel like nothing makes sense, overwhelmed by situations beyond our control. But we pick ourselves back up again. We keep on persevering because as humans, that’s what we do to as a survival instinct.
“Gone with the wind” by Margaret Mitchell is said to be a classic, epic romance story. However I feel that any romance is secondary to the concept of home and a sense of belonging, via the backdrop of the American Civil War. The comfort, safety of her mother’s love and guidance push her onwards through the war torn south. So what does Scarlet actually have to face that contributes to her strength as a character? Through the trials of delivering a baby alone while a battle rages outside, 3 loveless marriages and three children whom she feels no love for, losing her home and supporting 13 + people on her farmland, witnessing the death of her family members and her livelihood, running out of food and fearing death- these are all mental and physical tortures that no person should have to go through; but do so as parts of the rites of life. She has no choice but to overcome them, if not for herself, for the others that rely on her support.
The experiences we have contribute to who we are. Scarlet transforms from a frivolous, superficial and spoilt daughter (not crimes to be sure), to a capable, hardened and strong yes- but also calculating, mercenary and most notably; a selfish woman. Scarlet transforms into a creature of chance and opportunity. Her quest for money and material things consumes her and wrecks any relationship she hopes to have. She is outwardly strong and capable but at what price?? She has no love for her children and has hardened her heart that is too late to be rekindled. It is not until she has lost all she holds dear does she note her priorities. But like any character we learn to care about, we accept her for her good qualities, but also her faults.
So what did I learn from the novel? The characters tireless endurance to get back up and face the next problem. To find excess strength you didn’t know you possessed. Scarlet is comparable to the idealistic and philosophical Ashley. She thrives in the new world, he does not. The only thing that weakens her is her unrequited love for him, he cannot adapt or even survive in the changing South. Though he questions the battle he is fighting, he continues to do so to ‘reclaim’ the old world and what is lost.
We cannot afford to be so self-centred in this materialistic world. It is detrimental- yet still we focus on ourselves. There are some lessons we can take away from it and act as a reminder and comparison to our own lives. There are also two sides of a story. For example I was shocked reading about the KKK. In the narrative, they are sons, husbands, main characters whose will is to defend their family. Scarlet’s own husband is a member. The man she loves is one also. So how can this be? It doesn’t make their actions alright. But once you start to realize two sides, what spurs people on to do what they do and why- it is nothing but a shade of grey between the black and white of clarity. Sure, life is not so clear cut.
But what about the modern world? How many of us are Ashley & Melanies- idealistic philosophers at heart who mourn the old world and ponder on the change happening around us? The dreamers. And who are the Scarlet & Rhetts- risk takers, practical opportunists who adapt to change and thrive? Or maybe we are a combination of both.
In fact, how many of us want to change? Even if we feel like giving up, do we? It is so easy to want to push away, somehow destroy the pain in our lives. Run away. But it is strength, to accept and overcome it, to deal with it head on and conquer the fear.