A Lesson From Scarlett O’Hara

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Although Rhett Butler frankly—and famously—refused to “give a damn” about Scarlett O’Hara, why can’t we, to this day, even attempt to shelve the classic that the leading lady of Gone with the Wind has become? Perhaps the most iconic southern belle ever to grace the silver screen, Scarlett O’Hara is possibly even more renowned than the novel-turned-movie itself. She has redefined and redirected our view of women from the legendary South, with her frightening good looks and shrewd coquettish charm, and it may, in fact, be the controversy behind this sweetly-selfish nature of Scarlett that keeps her so close to our hearts.

Many who are familiar with Scarlett and her conniving yet compelling traits tend to side either with or against her. Just a mention of the name “Scarlett O’Hara” can start its own civil war within the minds of American women. However, it is this paradox of character that draws us to the Atlanta queen, simply because the cheeky persona that’s hidden beneath her corseted figure is far from perfect—it’s as real and as dimensional as our own.

Scarlett O’Hara’s true-to-life qualities fascinate us because, at a time when women were expected to wear the façade of a socially acceptable belle and keep their thoughts to themselves, Scarlett never dressed up her emotions. Even when it was considered inappropriate to share her affection for men, Scarlett affirmed her loving sentiments, just as when it was too early in the afternoon to reveal décolletage, she pulled her sleeves below the shoulders. Today, the courage with which Scarlett chose to follow her instincts continues to be an attribute of which we never see enough.

…at a time when women were expected to wear the façade of a socially acceptable belle and keep their thoughts to themselves, Scarlett never dressed up her emotions.

When Margaret Mitchell describes the heroine she fashioned in Gone with the Wind, she explains that although Scarlett’s “manners had been imposed upon her by her mother’s gentle admonitions… her eyes were her own.” Those piercing green eyes that captivated every man south of Charleston revealed an independent spirit that ran deeper than the simple “yes sir, no ma’am” attitude of other young Georgia belles. Scarlett’s eyes were the window into a world of her own making that, unlike the world of the antebellum South—along with its women—could not be tamed nor trodden.

Even with her unrivaled beauty, Scarlett’s independent eyes proved to be her most attractive quality; not only could others see within them a strength that was lacking in other girls, but those eyes allowed Scarlett to see a solution past every obstacle that stood in her way. After her beloved home, Tara, had been all but destroyed, Scarlett, in a gripping moment of realization, discovered the reality of her own independence. She vowed, with God as her witness, that she would never be hungry again. The South and its romantic illusion of damsels in distress may have succumbed to the war, but Scarlett, a rebel to the traditional ways of womanhood, succeeded instead. With her unwavering independence, Scarlett lived to be the only winner on the losing side.

Like Scarlett, we must face the often hidden truth that society is not always the best teacher. Every way in which Scarlett was “flawed” in the eyes of others played a role in her survival. Although flirtatious, she found husbands to finance her family’s land and feed her dependent sisters; although outspoken, she never settled for that which she did not desire.

As modern women, we should embrace Scarlett’s challenge to accept our own imperfections with a spirit of independence, one that separates us from the waning standards of society. The fear of being yourself should be no match against the fear of losing yourself and, even worse, allowing the world to lose you when you’re the only one it has.

…we should embrace Scarlett’s challenge to accept our own imperfections with a spirit of independence…

Now, what would Rhett Butler say about all this, if he did “give a damn?” Remember that while other men only loved Scarlett for her strength, courage and vibrancy, Rhett loved Scarlett completely—flaws and all. He found her flirtations charming; he smiled at her selfish ambitions. Perhaps, he accepted Scarlett at her worst because it paved the way for who she was at her best. The same passion that ignited Scarlett’s lust for life fueled her fire for survival.

So, whether you’re from the South and a southern belle at heart, or, maybe even a Scarlett living in the big city, never sacrifice the flaws and features that define who you are at your best. If we choose to forgo our individuality, or trade it in for a carbon copy laced with social graces, we may miss out on the Rhett Butlers of this world. But even if we do, and we may—for, like Scarlett, we’re nowhere near perfect—we’ll always have the chance to get him back. After all, “Tomorrow is another day!”

How can you, like Scarlett, embrace what makes you unique in a graceful, yet powerful, way?

Image by artist Nano (Silvano Campeggi) available on Ebay

Courtney is a writer and musician living in Orlando, Florida. She graduated from The University of Central Florida with a B.A. degree in English Literature, and enjoys all forms of writing, including nonfiction, literary analysis, and songwriting. A lover of the art of storytelling, Courtney also performs as a folk singer-songwriter, sharing her passion for the written word through music.

6 COMMENTS
  • Elisabeth Wilkes July 20, 2014

    I think the main lesson to be need to learn from Scarlett is that sometimes you need to take care of yourself to take care of others. While Scarlett does take it to the extreme, I think it is interesting to compare her to the entirely self-sacrificing Melanie. Melanie was the model Southern woman, and while I admire her greatly, she was confined by this. It is unfortunate that Scarlett had to, in the opinion of the town, “throw off” her femininity just to get anything done and moving. She had to be self-serving to be able to give anything back to the people she was responsible for in her life. Melanie was not able to do this work because she gave away so much of herself, that she compromised her health. Again, it’s heroic, but more in a martyrdom sense. If Melanie had taken care of herself a little more, perhaps she wouldn’t have been too weak to fight for her life at the end of book. She left behind a grieving husband and a growing boy because she felt she needed to fulfill the role of a southern lady and never want anything for herself. Scarlett of course could have stood to take a page from Melanie’s book from time to time, but sometime you have to look at the extremes to understand the happy middle.

  • Mary March 29, 2014

    I have to say I don’t agree with this degree of admiration for Scarlett O’Hara, who represented racist, classist attitudes, who manipulated and hurt other people to get ahead. I don’t agree with wanting to attract a Rhett Butler, who was a murderer and a rapist. Gone With the Wind was not a book about good people. It was a book about anti-heroes we can somewhat relate to, but I would not want to see anyone emulate them.

    • Anonymous February 1, 2015

      You are a freaking idiot Mary. Gone with the wind is the best book ever written, and Scarlett and Rhett are such a good characters, people can learn so much from them. Yes, they have flaws toi but why would Rhett be a rapist or Scarlett a racist?? I feel sorry for you because it seems like you don’t have enough brain and you’re not enough intelligent to understand a classic and beautiful book like this.

  • Sabrina Malagon-Rivera March 24, 2014

    Ms. Caggiano,

    You’ve done it again! What a beautiful work of art! This is my favorite movie of all times. You put into words all that I have ever thought of, about my favorite damsel in distress, Scarlett O’Hara, and why I love this movie so much. I so agree with your paragraph on Rhett Butler. He was the only one that always accepted the woman she was and truly loved her. He was amused by and loved her individuality, her flirtatious ways and even her selfish ambitions, as you so eloquently point out.

    I look forward to “tomorrow, another day” when we can all be enlightened and influenced by another one of your inspiring articles. Our young women today need so much to read that individuality opens door, and that as women, we should never settle, but instead fight for our dreams! Your articles express that sentiment so beautifully!

  • Laura Lynn Brooks March 21, 2014

    wonderfully written. I have long debated in women studies classes the pro’s and con’s of Scarlett O’Hara and this article proves one large pro. I may just frame this article and give it to my daughter someday.

  • Leslie Musser March 21, 2014

    I appreciate the implications of this article that is strong enough to influence, but subtle enough to not stir mayhem. The fire in Scarlett’s eyes was fueled by passion, mission, and extraordinary circumstances that required a hearty spirit. While her temper often flared, it is what was behind that temper that remains an influence. The independent spirit refused to settle for less than what she knew her life was worth. This is the impetus. This is the purpose we must pursue.

    http://www.onebrassfox.com

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