Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Little Bit Scarlett

My Grandmother was a Southern Belle. Truly. She was born and raised in a little town in Tennessee and she said things like "Oh my!" and "Ya'll Come Back Now, Y'hear?" She fell in love with my Grandfather, a skinny Italian boy with dark eyes and dark skin, at a train station during the war. They wrote intensely beautiful love letters back and forth (who does that??) until they could be together. Pictures of them together show a slender red-headed woman with a sassy expression and a tall Italian boy in uniform who was quiet and shy, but oh so proud of his bride.

By the time she was my grandmother her red hair had faded and was replaced with a drug-store red called "Strawberry Summer" (or something equally as cheesy). She was heavy, rounded, and had two chins, which embarrassed her relentlessly. But to me, she was feminine, soft to cuddle with, and knew all about makeup. I loved her. I later learned that she had a bit too much of Scarlett in her, and made my mom's life a little Hellish while my parents were married. But to seven-year-old me, that went straight over my head.

It was my grandma who introduced me to Gone With the Wind. I remember the day we watched it on her big box tv, me sitting on the orange-brown carpeting, much too close to the screen, mesmerized by Scarlett's enormous skirts and teeny tiny waist. I remember, at a few points, exclaiming, "Oh my god!" at parts that surprised or excited me. From behind, my grandmother's soft, Southern voice would say, "Don't take the lord's name in vain, dear."

Later, in 6th or 7th grade, I tackled the book. Now, you should now I was and am a voracious reader. So as a 13-year-old the book Gone with the Wind had two attractions for me. One, it was as big as my head with over 1000 pages and two, I still remembered watching the movie with my grandmother and so, while I read the book, I could see the colored pictures moving through my mind and hear Scarlett saying "Fiddle-dee-dee!"

The reason I decided to write this post (yes, there is a reason!), is because on my recent trip to Mexico, I decided to re-read GWTW. I borrowed a falling-apart copy from the library (because it's so much better that way!) and trekked it along on my carry-on.

What did I discover? First, it is still a damn good book. I was riveted. It is a soap opera on a much grander scale that makes you never want to the book down. Two, the historical components were so much more interesting the second time around. Learning about the Southern values and worldviews, the position of Southern women in their "weak but secretly strong" roles, and the perspective on the South as something that was doomed to fail, but yet represented something so beautiful and pristine to the people who lived here (all the while ignoring the dark undercurrents of the fact that their lives were supported by enslaving others). Finally, and what I actually what to blog about today, is the fact that when I read GWTW a second time, my own personal perspective of the characters had changed so dramatically. Remember that I was 13 the first time I read it and now am 31 (whoa, isn't that called a palindrome?). So, I am in fact, a different person, with different views on life. But, as a psychologist, I can't help marveling at how very differently I saw these people - their motives, their actions, and their values. Let me give you some examples:

Scarlett O'Hara


Of course we'll start with Scarlett. When I was 13, I was fascinated with her beauty and her femininity. I was crestfallen when she got sunburnt and blistered from working in the fields (the horrors!) and I was ecstatic when she rises from the ashes in her velvet-curtain gown. How beautiful!! But, mostly, I just thought she was a complete bitch. I thought she was mean to everyone around her and couldn't understand why she would do the things she would do. What was she thinking?? Also, I thought she was a complete idiot for the way she obsessed over Ashley. Couldn't she see that he didn't want her? Why was she so spineless? Suck it up, get over him, and be a stronger woman, damnit!!

This time around? I realized that Scarlett is so much more complex than all of that. She is fighting against societal rules that she sees as stupid, but still values because she was raised in that culture. She does things that hurt others, because that is the only way she sees to save herself, her family, and her home - Tara. She is fearful and silly...and so makes decisions that she later regrets. And Ashley? Well, now as a grown woman, I have a bit more empathy for the complexity of relationships. Ashley represented something different to her, something that she couldn't really understand. And poor Scarlett...what I didn't realize as an innocent girl of 13 who thought relationships were black and white, is that Ashley shamelessly led her on throughout the entire book! Now, to 13-year-old me, that was NO excuse for acting like a weak, shallow woman, but to 31-year-old me, I realize that things aren't always so simple.

Ashley Wilkes


Let's talk about Ashley Wilkes. As a girl, I thought he was a boring character. Simpering, helpless, and nowhere near as exciting as Rhett. But, I did think he was blameless in the whole Scarlett-Ashley obsession. Now, I realize I was right about the simpering and helpless part, but completely wrong about the blameless part. Ashley completely led Scarlett on the whole book! (Insert passionate indignation here!) So, not only was he too weak to actually DO anything about it, but he was betraying his wife the entire time. Wow. But, the one thing that I did appreciate about him the second time around, is that he is one of the only people besides Rhett Butler who can see through the bullshit of the South to see that their lifestyle is not sustainable and not morally right. The problem is, he doesn't care enough to do anything about it.

Rhett Butler


If this were a Twilight-love-triangle, I am definitely Team-Rhett. I have been since day one, when I watched him on my grandma's old TV, telling Scarlett he didn't "give a damn." But, although the reasons for my team allegiance have changed somewhat from girl-me to adult-me. As a girl, I thought Rhett was just the "bad boy" in a delectable way. I thought he led Scarlett along on a leash and toyed with her (oh, how sexy). I couldn't understand why he ultimately left her and HOW he could walk out on her. What was he thinking?
Now I realize that Rhett Butler's story is the most tragic story in the entire book. He falls in love with Scarlett, who couldn't give a "fiddle-dee-dee" and mostly just sees him as a means to an end. He waits patiently in the background, all the while managing to be there just when she needs him most, until she finally agrees to marry him with a "But I don't love you, Rhett!" He hides his feelings toward her so she won't feel guilty for not loving him. He then transfers his love to their daughter, whom he loses, ironically, based on my previous posts, in a horseback riding accident. Then, when Scarlett finally realizes she DOES love him (well, duh!), her pride stops her from telling him. And so, in his famous Frankly-Scarlett-I-Don't-Give-A-Damn moment, he walks away from her, in order to protect himself. *gaSp* Yep. I am officially team Rhett.

A side note: When I was in Mexico, I was perusing the hotel's take-one, leave-one library and found a book called Rhett Butler's People, a book that retells GWTW from Rhett's perspective. I am currently reading it and my little heart is bleeding all the more for poor, gorgeous Rhett.

Melanie Hamilton


Oh, little Melanie! Who Scarlett described as having no breasts or hips - the body of a 12-year-old girl - and not enough sense to hide the fact that she knew things about books, music and poetry. What did I think of her as a girl? Well, I couldn't give her the time of day! She was even more boring than Ashley! So useless, weak, and completely clueless to what was going on around her! She let Scarlett have an imaginary affair with Ashley right under her nose. She didn't realize that Scarlett couldn't stand having Melanie around, and through it all, she just smiled and talked about things like "sisterly love." Gag me.

Now? Well, now I realize that Melanie was the strongest character in the book. She is the only person who was strong enough to help Scarlett and to understand her. She protected Scarlett and stood by her when no one else would. She knew everything that was going on, but made choices to protect her family. Not to mention, she was educated and proud of it! Go Melanie. And the scene with Melanie, who had just given birth with NO doctor, NO medication, and probably significant tearing (remember those hips of a 12-year-old girl) in the middle of the Civil War, standing at the top of the staircase with a confederate sword, prepared to kill a Yankee soldier? Well, damn. That girl wasn't weak!

Ooookay. Now I somehow have written a huge post about Gone With the Wind. Not really sure how that happened? It seems very random (especially to those of you readers who have never read the book or seen the movie. You probably glazed over long ago. Did you even make it this far??). Maybe I just wanted to write about a post about something not related to pregnancy because I have flooded the blog with the P-word recently. Or maybe I was thinking about my grandmother. Either way, it's something I've been thinking about ever since I read the book again. It is so interesting how our perspectives can change so completely as we mature and grow. Do we begin to see people as more complex? Or do we give in more to stereotypes? What about the people in our lives that change with us? Are we able to step back and notice their change and appraise whether it is good or bad?

Do any of you have any childhood books or movies that you watched again as an adult? How did your perspectives change?

Gone With the Wind, Mexican Style

7 comments:

  1. I admit, I haven't read Gone With The Wind, but I have been known to read books more than once. I have a few books I've dragged with me on more journeys than I can even remember and they are worn from reading them so much. Each time I read them I am able to extract a new piece of knowledge or inspiration. It all depends on what is going on in my life at the time.

    Keep posting about the pregnancy though, I am truly happy for you and I want to read about how you are feeling!

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    1. I have those books too. Usually they are "kid books" that I read when I'm upset or need something comforting. Like, "A Little Princess" or "A Secret Garden" or the Narnia books. I also love Jane Austen novels as go-to books.

      Thanks for the encouragement to keep posting about the pregnancy! I'm feeling fine lately, not so tired this week and just feeling normal. A couple of minor panic-shock moments when it starts to sink in. I'm sure I'll be blogging about that soon :)

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  2. I am loving your 13 vs. 31 perspective on these characters. I never once thought of Melanie as strong but you are so, so right. You've made me want to read it all again!

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    1. Go for it! I really enjoyed it the second time through :)

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  3. This book has always been on my pending and ever growing to read list, and now I must go read it and watch the movie.

    Your grandma sounds awesome (I have also been thinking about both grandmas lately.... the ones who left us , that is) and I am dreaming of her hair, you know I have an obsession.

    I just re-read "Como agua para chocolate" (I recently bought it for the husband so he could practice his Spanish) and you are so right the characters are more complex than I thought as a teenager / young adult. I specially noticed that I used to have this love conguers all romantic view and I was rooting for Pedro and Rosaura the whole time, while now I see how he was kind of weak, and how on the contrary, the love of John to Tita seemed truer, more the real deal.

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    1. Amanda, so funny that you mention that. I had a similar experience with that book. I read it in college and then, instead of reading it again, I watched the movie (ha, I know). But I also redefined them. I think that the second time through things, with my more mature perspective, I tend to go harder on the men ;)

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  4. I love love love GWTW! And what's funny is that I recently re-read the book for...idk the 3rd time?? And I had a lot of the same revelations as you did about the characters! I totally fell in love with Melanie's character. =)

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