I first picked up Gone with the Wind when I was in middle school. I have since picked through the Civil War tome and read and re-read passages, chapters and the entire novel on countless occasions.
Upon first reading (ok, the first few readings – at least), I viewed the story as a romantic tragedy. But, upon successive readings, the romance began losing its prominence in my imagination, and I became more focused and impressed with Scarlett O’Hara accomplishments – supporting many members of her family and friends, a successful business woman, etc. Yet I was also increasingly antipathetic of Scarlett’s transgressions – lying, stealing, cheating and lack of concern for the murder she committed.
However, by 2013 and 2014, I picked up the book few more times, once again with a fixation on love. Except this time, I walked away thinking that this was a love story with a fitting ending. Scarlett O’Hara was left at the end of the novel with the only things, yes things, that she could truly love – the red patch of dirt called Tara and Mammy.
Yes, I am counting Mammy among Scarlett O’Hara’s possessions. Although, technically freed due to the Emancipation Proclamation and the Union winning the Civil War, Mammy’s life did not materially change afterwards. She remained a constant and servile presence to the O’Hara clan and later to the Butler household without any mention of her being paid or asserting her independence.
On Scarlett loving her land and her ‘people’
Scarlett’s defining characteristics were her ability to persist, her selfishness and her inability to understand any other human being other than herself – and even her understanding of herself was rather shallow.
Realizing her limitations, I think it was fitting that she still has a parental figure to offer her love and support in the figure of Mammy. During the course of Gone with the Wind, Mammy silently observes Scarlett commit a number of social infractions, sins and outright cries and even assists her white mistress during some of her schemes. Yet, despite her outrage and disapproval, Mammy continues to offer love and support to her favored pet. More importantly, Mammy provides a great deal of love and support without asking or seeming to need for anything in return from Scarlett – an essential quality for any person involved in a relationship with a woman as thoughtless and selfish as Scarlett.
O’Hara’s ability essential nature to ask for and not be concerned about the needs and wants of others beyond the material realm is why her love for Tara, is one of, if not the only, functional relationships of her life. The red, rolling clay hills provide peace of mind, memories of better times, prestige and potential future wealth for Scarlett. Time and again, the mere thought of being home, offers some measure of solace even in her most anguished moments. Tara, although an inanimate object, silently “takes care of Scarlett.” However, Scarlett also tends to Tara’s needs- providing maintenance, money, etc. And because land does not have more than ostensible needs, Scarlett’s inability to understand another person’s way of thinking would not be a major hindrance in this “relationship.”
So, losing a lover who was as compatible with her as Rhett, possibly he was the “love of her life”, was definitely a serious blow to Scarlett. In the movie, she was so distraught that she collapsed on the stairwell, crying. But she was able to stand back up, but this time without the delusions that had plagued her for over a decade and with a new found appreciation and awareness of who she is and what she has. Not the happiest of happy endings, but I have come to see that there is some sense of satisfaction to be gleaned from Gone with the Wind’s ending as it is written.