A (Anti) Heroine I Can Root For

I’m currently reading Gone With the Wind for the 1038th time, and it really struck me how remarkably self-preserving the anti-heroine, Scarlett, is.

She’s grown up in fabulous wealth but when bad times come, she rolls with the punches. When Atlanta is being evacuated ‘coz the Yankees are coming, she drives a wagon full of helpless people through two armies because they’re in her way. She’s terrified, but the alternative is to give up, which is not Scarlett’s way.

When she gets back to her father’s plantation Tara to find that the security she though would be there is gone – her mother dead and her father crazy – she cries for a few minutes, then, realising crying will achieve nothing, and sets about finding food for herself and the people under her responsibility. When a rouge Yankee comes threatening Tara, she shoots him and buries his body, her only thoughts on the matter that his death brought them the contents of his wallet. When a whole troop of Yankees come to Tara, she stares them down.

When the taxes on Tara are raised sky-high she coldly marries her sister’s fiancee for financial security with the rationale better the many then the one. She hustles herself a living, demanding that her husband’s friends and debtors pay up, and selling stock to the Yankees. She hates the Yankees as much as they did when they tried to burn Tara, but she realises that spitting at them will achieve nothing as far as her financial security in concerned. She buys a lumber yard and shamelessly lies about her competition, sells shoddy wood as good wood as good wood as overpriced, and applies the same approach to her (late) husband’s store. In short, he screws over people who are smart enough to know better. And because they’re smart enough to know better, it’s difficult to have sympathy to them. A fool and his money are soon parted. Yet, she has sympathy for people in geuine need and people who have shown her loyalty; nothing will make her betray her loyal former-slaves, and she shows a deep sense of obligation for family members who I would have kicked to the curb for their ungratefulness.

And so she builds an empire, by fair means or foul. Now, a lot of those means are foul, and it’s often difficult to like Scarlett, although you can usually understand what motivates her. She has no patience with people who have gone through the same hell as she has, and choose to sit down and continue crying over it. When informed of a former beau’s fall from grace as a lawyer now forced to peddle wood for a living, she recalls her own hardships, pulling ploughs and picking cotton, and feels he deserves no special sympathy. When the bottom falls out of society, it’s each to their own, and those who won’t hustle, well, no sympathy for them. It’s a cold outlook, but in the context, you can understand how she thinks; why should I have sympathy for him? He can fend for himself, we all have to in these hard times.

I have yet to find a lead female as unapologetically flawed as Scarlett, which is why I keep reading the book over and over. I read it again after watching seasons seven and eight of Stargate: I nearly cried to sink into a female character so selfish, so flawed, yet so understandable – and even relatable – after forty-two episodes on Samantha Carter.

So when my friends ask me why do I relate so deeply to such a bitch, my reply is: I don’t. I relate to a woman who has hustle. I relate to a woman who sees the world for the unfairness that it is and calculates what she must do to survive. I relate to one of the few realistic, deeply flawed women I have ever seen in fiction.


  1. Gategrrl says

    Huh. And I compared Sam Carter to Scarlett O’Hara in a post at Sony – both women pining, wanting, a man out of reach (they think), but Scarlett the only one to realize what a trap that was, and who she *really* loved. I much prefer Scarlett to Sam, too.

  2. scarlett says

    Ah, so that was you. Beta wrote an article on it a while ago too. I really love that the book shows the consequences to her actions, rather then Sam going on her merry way, always being right regardless of the havoc she actually wreaks. I wrote a piece on the sequal about it.

  3. says

    I’m currently reading Gone With the Wind for the 1038th time

    Ha! I may be the only other person to have read it enough times to know that the book, my copy at least, happens to be exactly 1038 pages long.

  4. scarlett says

    mine is 1010, but pretty good for a number I made up randomly :p

    Ah, I love hanging out in a community where people don’t automatically associate ‘scarlett’ with ‘woman’ :p

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Well, Scarlett does good things and bad things. The book doesn’t cease to make sense if you find yourself objecting to some of her actions. With Sam, the stories really don’t make sense if you think she’s screwed up and the writers don’t, because she’s in an environment where screw-ups are generally addressed (the SGC being the very model of an ethical Air Force installation).

  6. scarlett says

    What I like about GWtW is that even if you object to some of her actions, you can usually understand why she does them. I think that the fact the consequences of her selfishness are shown – her lonliness, Rhett leaving – does a lot to make the situation more realistic. I like Scarlett because I can’t help but think, as atrocious as some of her actions are, in the same situation I might have done something similar, or at least thought about it. With Sam, she often does henious things and the consequences are never shown, eg, everyone fussing over her BECAUSE SHE LET REPLICATER GET AWAY WITH IMMUNITY TO THEIR PROGRAM!!!

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