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.