I just finished reading Gone with the Wind. The first time I read it I was a teenager. I’ve lived through a lot in the two decades since. I’ve grown up (mostly), gotten married, and had three boys. My views of the world have changed, but my basic personality has not. That’s one of the reasons why this book is so hard to read. I see a little bit of myself in Scarlett. Not the callous way she treated people, but in her determination to do what she thought was necessary to survive, in her stubborn drive to succeed, in the way she carried the burdens of those around her on her shoulders. But for the grace of God, that is who I could have been.
I do sympathize with her, though. I’ve never known what it is like to worry that a cannon might rip through my house; I’ve never gone to bed so hungry I couldn’t sleep; I’ve never been afraid that the government might take away everything I had. So I don’t know if I would be just as ruthless as she. Maybe I would have been worse. She made decisions out of a selfish desire to protect herself. I would do anything to protect my boys. Perhaps we are all a little like Scarlett. We just hide it better.
This story is always described as a Civil War story, but really that is just the backdrop. The real story is about love – love of self, love of money, love of others. The first third of the book, Scarlett was so wrapped up in her safe southern world that the thought of anything powerful enough to tear that away from her was not even remotely conceivable. She believed she loved Ashley, but really she just doesn’t understand why he is the only man she can’t have all to herself. Not content with the attentions of all the other unmarried young men, she is like a child in a room full of toys, crying for the one his friend has brought. The next third shows Scarlett as she made hard choices in order to save Tara and protect herself from starvation. The final section details Scarlett’s journey to learning what loving others is all about. She realized that Melly was the only true friend she ever had. Scarlett finally feels unselfish love towards someone else and it turns her world upside down.
I admire Scarlett’s courage and acceptance of burdens that were thrust upon her. I don’t agree with how she handled her children or her husbands, but she had grit and because of that she survived. Because she survived others also survived. “Burdens are for shoulders strong enough to carry them.”
This is a cautionary tale. Its bittersweet conclusion warns us of the outcome of our choices. Rhett says, “You think that by saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ all the errors and hurts of years past can be remedied, obliterated from the mind, all the poison drawn from old wounds.” All of our choices have consequences. Scarlett learned too late that her love was focused on the wrong people and the wrong things. Her choices hurt others to the point that they gave up on her and turned their backs to her.
We are not told if Scarlett ever gets Rhett back, but I think she did. I imagine that Scarlett learned to value the good things in the people around her, sought forgiveness from those she had wronged, and remembered her mother’s teachings. I see her treating her children with more love and kindness than she ever had before. And then one day as she walked down the steps of Tara, she looked down the red dirt road. Dust flew up in the air from the hooves of a pair of horses pulling an elegant carriage. Scarlett shaded her eyes from the bright late afternoon sun and squinted up at the man driving the carriage.
The man pulled the horses to a stop and with a wicked grin said, “Well, Scarlett, did you miss me?”