Scarlett O’Hara: Heroine

My favourite book of all time is Gone With the Wind. I realise that it has its issues, not the least of which its problematic portrayal of slavery. However, it also gave me my favourite heroine. Ever since I read the book for the first time at the tender age of 16, I have been in love with Scarlett O’Hara. It never once occurred to me that other people might not like her as much as I. Imagine my shock and surprise when my sister said she hated Scarlett. And since that revelation I have heard more people say so.

I think this is grossly unfair, and also unjustified. The accusations leveled at Scarlett are that she is vain, self-centered, hard and immature. In my opinion, that is missing the big picture and I would like to set the record straight.

Scarlett is vain

When the story starts, Scarlett is sixteen years old. She is no different than the other girls in the book, who all only think about their looks. Throughout the book, as war rages and Scarlett is forced to fend for herself, she bemoans the loss of her looks. Does that make her vain? What about her sister who refused to work the plantation because “it would ruin her hands”? At least Scarlett didn’t let her worries about her looks stop her from saving Tara and ensuring her family survived the war. And her obsession with her looks after the war stemmed from how low she was brought during the war. It was a compensation mechanism.

Scarlett is self-centered

Right. Yes. Let’s see what happened to Scarlett throughout the story. She got stuck in Atlanta with her pregnant cousin because her aunt fled the house with no care for her nieces. She helped Melanie through a very difficult birth, then braved the perilous journey to Tara, only to discover her mother had died. Rather than despairing, she single handedly managed Tara, eking out an existence not only for herself and her children, but for her father, Melanie and her child and later many more who came to Tara in search of a rest. But sure, she was self-centered.

Scarlett is hard

After the war, Scarlett’s friends and family refused to acknowledge that their old world was gone. They sat around, lamenting the new reality, lost and adrift. Scarlett is the one who pulled herself together, got her useless husband’s business going and supported not only herself, but Melanie, Ashley and their child as well. She was a shrewd business woman and although her choices were not always right, she at least tried to make it in the world.

Scarlett is immature

I don’t get this. Scarlett is a damaged woman. She was thrown into a position of great responsibility when she was still very young. She had been pampered and was never expected to do a hard day’s work in her life. She was utterly unprepared for the war and her role in it. She was forced to survive and to keep her family alive. She may not exactly have reached the emotional maturity we expect women to reach today, but she was no child.

Scarlett is to be admired. She faced hardships none of us can even begin to imagine and pulled herself and her family through it. She rescued Tara, the only thing she ever really cared about. She had the misfortune to fall in love with the wrong man, and love kept her blind to his faults. She was woefully mistreated by most of the people in her life, even Rhett. He left her to go and fight a war he didn’t believe in, just when she needed him most. He showered her with gifts when they were married when all she needed was to be loved.

Had Scarlett been a man, she would have been admired greatly. She pulled her family through the war, saved her family’s estate and built up a successful business. I get why she was an anomaly in the eyes of the society she lived in. I don’t get why we still judge her in the 21st century.

*explodes in flames of rage*

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