Scarlett O’Hara is a timeless heroine, too busy looking to the future to worry about the past. With the first few chapters taking pains to log every small detail of the antebellum’s South’s teenage maneater, we travel more than ten years taking bounds as her story moves on. Slow at first, with entire chapters dedicated to an afternoon, as if the time of hoop skirts and slavery would last just as long, until at the end of the book where months and years can slip away from one chapter to the next.
I read the book much in the same way — a chapter here, a chapter there, until near the end of the over thousand pages I was staying up until 3am to read what would happen next.
Scarlett, whose emotional journey never peaked beyond that of a 16-year-old girl uninterested in any education that would not secure the man she believed would be her rightful husband made every mistake that that someone of the female gender could possibly make — marrying badly, mistreating the people who cared for her, chasing stupid dreams. She didn’t suffer from one or two mistakes, but rather suffered from a lifetime of stubbornness balanced out between three influences: Her fat, short Irish father Gerald, her gently-raised mother Ellen and her black Mammy. Had Scarlett lived fully taking after the style of Gerald or Ellen she would’ve been happy enough; if she had taken the advice of the Mammy that raised both her and her mother, she would’ve been saved years of heartbreak. Her troubles are all self-inflicted despite many, many warnings.
A plain woman, Scarlett’s self-absorption kept her in one of Philip K. Dick’s nightmares, where she took comfort in that no matter where she went, things would always be the same, and that any trouble could be pushed on a tomorrow that would never arrive. Meanwhile, the South itself suffered the same vanity, one echoed by her beloved Ashley Wilkes who knew that the loss of the Civil War would mean his dreamlike world was gone forever, despite that it was the only world he was suited for:
“… I thought: When the war is over, I can go back to the old life and the old dreams and watch the shadow show again. But, Scarlett, there’s no going back. And this which is facing all of us now is worse than war and worse than prison…”
Suitability and fit are echoed over and over, from Scarlett’s corsets to Mammy’s fretting about what isn’t fitting for a lady to do.
Nearer to the end, Scarlett gifts Ashley a full set of Shakespeare. If only she had had the time to read the Scottish play and realized that Lady MacBeth, once unsexed, would still be on the losing side of the war.
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