“Hardships make or break people.” ― But what about kindness Scarlett?

When I first read Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind”, I was completely blown away by this historical saga of a coming-of-age story of survival, of endurance. Despite the length of the book which was over 1000 pages, the pace never turned sluggish. I finished it in less than a week. Then, I eagerly waited for other members of my book club to finish reading it, so we could’ve a discussion. Everyone, as expected, loved the book but not for the reasons I imagined they would love. I was appalled to realise everyone else loved it because of Scarlett’s proto-feminist badass characters.

Surely Scarlett was strong, passionate, and brave. She was self-willed and a survivor. But she was also cold, calculative, and utterly manipulative. She was shallow and insensitive. She, for the entire part, could not respond to genuine emotions of those who loved her, pursued Ashley Wilkes throughout her three marriages for reasons that at most could be called inconsequential and vain. She literally seemed incapable of feeling genuine emotions. Her behaviour was considerate only in case of matters non-vital.

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Scarlett O’Hara was a spoiled, selfish girl in the beginning. The adversities of the Civil War turned her into a hardened, scrupulous individual. Whereas, Melanie never lost her humility despite going through the same set of adversities as Scarlet went through. It was really shocking to realise that many people dismissed Melanie’s goodness, her self-sacrificing nature, and her gentleness as a weakness of character.

For me, Scarlett came out as a negative character. I disliked her all through the book. I was relieved to know that even in the end, Mitchel didn’t change her. Because I don’t think a person can really change, not the soul at least. Change of attitude, behaviour, habits, interest do occur; that’s just personal growth over the period of time. But a person’s soul, the inner core deep down, it never changes. I loved Mitchel for that. She took a negative character and made it her protagonist. Now if we look at general definition of a psychopath, a psychopath is a person with a psychopathic personality, which manifests as amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, etc. If not a complete psychopath, Scarlett, definitely, exhibited enough personality traits to be put in the category of partial psychopaths. Many people would argue that she was considerate enough, however, her consideration was limited to superfluous matters. The things that mattered most, she couldn’t care enough.

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In an interview with a Sunday Journal, broadcasted on radio in 1936, in answer to a question about Scarlett’s character, Margaret Mitchel clarified how hardship, poverty and sorrow of the war changed Scarlett from a selfish, egocentric, but otherwise normal Southern girl to a hardened adventuress. That officially should clear the matter for those who perceive and suggest that Mitchel wrote a flawless character in Scarlet.

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Until a few years earlier only the term ‘feminist’ was considered trendy; the era where a woman was celebrated for her accomplishments. Nowadays, the term ‘badass feminist’ has become a trend. The term ‘badass’ was originated in 1950s: from the adjective bad + ass. Badass is defined as either — a tough, uncompromising, or intimidating person or — a formidably impressive person. Nowhere, it’s defined as selfish, egocentric, corrupt person.

Badass feminism implies celebrating the women for their kick-ass attitude, but seemingly, it is purposely, insistently, and widely misrepresented and misunderstood. Instead of idolising a selfish and awful protagonist like Scarlett how about idolising Charlotte Bronte’s Jane of “Jane Eyre” or L. M. Montgomery’s Anne from “Anne of Green Gables” or Louisa May Alcott’s Jo from “Little Women” and of course Melanie! The list goes on and on. It’s disheartening to think how people in general prefer a Scarlett over a Melanie.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Jillian says:

    Mitchell intended Melanie to be the heroine of the novel. I read somewhere* that a psychologist wrote an article discussing Scarlett’s sociopathic personality not long after the book’s publication, and she was thrilled — as in, YES SHE IS A SOCIOPATH HOW DO PEOPLE NOT SEE THIS. She did feel that Scarlett had a few fine qualities — protecting her own, keeping her promises, always getting back up, but she was stunned when so many claimed to love Scarlett. Before she began Gone with the Wind she was reading a medical book about cold women. She was fascinated by psychology and put that interest into her depiction of Scarlett. Mitchell had strong principles as well as spirit: she would have identified with Melanie kindness more than Scarlett’s coldness, in my humble opinion.

    *I believe my source is The Gone with the Wind Letters edited by Richard Harwell. I’ve read a lot on Mitchell so it’s hard to keep track. I am about 98% certain that’s the source though! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. neenabrar says:

      That seems to be right. Scarlett’s basic egocentricity and her inability to understand others’ actions in accordance with principles they value makes her a very convincing character exhibiting some of the psychopathic traits.
      As you said Jillian “Mitchell had strong principles as well as spirit: she would have identified with Melanie kindness more than Scarlett’s coldness, in my humble opinion.” I totally agree with that. Mitchell never changed Scarlett’s character. Despite continuous ups and downs, Scarlett stayed the same person throughout the book. Mitchell seemed to have acute understanding of human psychology. That tallies with the fact how she was fascinated by psychology and put that interest in depiction of Scarlett’s character.

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  2. “Instead of idolising a selfish and awful protagonist like Scarlett how about idolising Charlotte Bronte’s Jane of “Jane Eyre” or L. M. Montgomery’s Anne from “Anne of Green Gables” or Louisa May Alcott’s Jo from “Little Women”” – I agree… I didn’t like Scarlett when I read this novel, and didn’t like how it ended partly because I was waiting for her to be redeemed in some way (I assumed she could change, would change…!). Jo March is one of my favorite literary heroines 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. neenabrar says:

    I’m glad there are many who thought exactly like me.

    Like

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