Thursday, November 16, 2006

Frankly, My Dear...

Well, this entry is designed to serve a few purposes all at once, because I’m an all-at-once kinda guy, except when I’m not.

The first purpose is to establish that I am, in fact, alive and have not fallen off the edge of the world. I haven’t blogged in forever, mainly because things in my personal life have been chaotic and in flux, and it’s not very entertaining reading about somebody in that kind of mindset. Let’s just say it’s been a very rough year, with deaths, personal and professional turmoil, and at least two persons of my acquaintance suffering from very serious illness.

Now on to other matters. Selah has posted an appreciation – a tract, if you will – on the inspiration she derived from Margaret Mitchell’s characterization of Scarlett O’Hara. For Selah – and she puts it far more eloquently than I – Scarlett was a symbol of feminine strength in a world dominated by men.

Now, I won’t argue that the figure of Scarlett succeeds in the minds of many for exactly those reasons. God knows there has to be SOME reason that the character became, and remains popular, because it certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with her inherent charms or her stature as a person, because she’s quite an awful person most of the time. She’s vain, spoiled, manipulative, pushy, greedy, and more than a little cruel, and that’s not even taking into account the portions of her character that were shaped predominantly by the times, so I’m not talking about the racial elements, etc.

But, even worse from my perspective, Scarlett’s strength is established by placing her around and against the most cardboard of stereotypes. Her Deep South seems to be populated almost exclusively by nitwits, from the idiotic and weak men she manipulates into marriage (at least once screwing over her own SISTER in the process – I don’t get how that’s a feminist icon in action, but okay…) to the foolish and insipid Ladies Who Tea in the big cities and finally to the original androgyny she pines for, the Man with the Girl’s Name, Ashley Wilkes.

Scarlett appears, to this admittedly hard-headed male at least, to embrace the very worst of traits from both men and women, and her perseverance and frequent successes cloak her actions along the way. For Scarlett, the ends – that she’ll never go hungry again, that the taxes on Tara are paid, that she never has to cut up curtains to make a dress again – justify the means, any means. For me, I think this is the very worst thing for a feminine icon to be. Scarlett’s actions make the argument that the only way to succeed is to outdo men (and anyone else around) at grasping and scrabbling for more. She violates all the unspoken taboos of the society around her, and is roundly praised by readers for her independence; but aren’t at least some of the taboos there for a purpose?

I will now brace for the inevitable assault…


Selah March said...

No assault. Just a reminder -- I noted all Scarlett's faults in my tribute to her. She's a blackhearted little rogue, that one, and no mistake.

But I must disagree with the "cardboard characters" comment. I found a great deal of depth in both Rhett -- her nemesis and the true love of her life -- and Melly -- her OTHER nemesis, foil, and her only true friend. If you want to paint Ashley as a straw man, representing all the fanciful gallantries of the antebellum South, but unable to support his own family, I'm right there with you. But I believe the novel is ultimately about the Scarlett/Melly/Rhett trio. Ashley is merely the fool's gold Scarlett seeks -- her impossible dream.

Scarlett has all the faults you mentioned and more. But it was Scarlett, in her unwavering passion to do right by her birthright as a half Shanty-Irish colleen in love with the land, that saved the lot of them in the end. Melanie would have died in childbirth. Ashley, Melanie and their son would likely have starved. And Suellen, whom she used horribly, would have lost the home she clung to in the end.

I maintain that if the character had been written as male, no matter in what time period, she would not be as reviled as she is. Clint Eastwood in the role of Scarlett O'Hara -- a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

As for a feminist icon? I never said any such thing. I said Scarlett was a personal epiphany for ME, as I slogged through a girlhood surrounded by images of bruised, frightened, cowed women. She was none of those things, and I was inspired by her perseverance if not her methods.

And that's all I have to say about that. :p

Donald Francis said...

Well, I'll agree with that. Melly and Rhett are more fully drawn characters, and Scarlett's actions did save them all in the end.

But I disagree about how it would be viewed differently if Clint was in that particular kind of period piece.

The thing about those strong, silent male characters is that the human decency part of them - the interpersonal loyalty - is what redeems them in the end. Josey Wales may have shot a hundred and fifty men to death, for example, but the audience forgives that because he comes through for the old woman and her family in the end, and he is loyal to the old Indian and even the dog he dislikes. If Josey had somehow screwed over the old Indian and taken his woman, for instance, just because he wanted a roll in the hay? THAT would have made him a bad guy.

Selah March said...

But remember, by the time Scarlett married Rhett, Ashley was putty in her hands. He'd already made a grab for her once, back at Tara, and she saw that however much he wanted her, it was Melly he loved. So when he offered to leave, she said, "I won't have you and your family starve because I threw myself at your head. It won't happen again."

And it never did. There was honor in Scarlett. Twisted, prideful, selfish honor, but honor just the same.

Donald Francis said...

And that shows that the character was able to grow from the nasty sprite that stole her sister's fiancee for money. (Which I never understood - why not let him marry Sue Ellen and get the money from him as his sister-in-law?)

Selah March said...

That was definitely a weakness in the plot. Scarlett seemed sure that Suellen would never let Frank support Tara, because Suellen had always been so mean-spirited and spiteful, and had openly ridiculed Scarlett's desire to save the plantataion.

Remember, she originally went to Rhett for the tax money. Only when he couldn't give it to her and she panicked did she turn to Frank. And with Mammy's implied blessing, if you recall.

Mammy - the voice of Scarlett's conscience.

And okay...I clearly know WAY too much about this book...

Ruthie Black naked said...

Great blog.
People say I immitate SCARLETT O'HARA, since we're both bitches. But I'm as genuine as she was, since we were from the same neck of the Georgia woods, and we both were stars of novels.
I saw MARGARET MITCHELL meet her tragic death on the sidewalk outside the Fox theater in 1949. (The theater in Atlanta where the movie GONE WITH THE WIND had premiered). A taxi hit her as she was crossing the street, looking up at the theater's marquee where her name was displayed prominently. I tried to warm her of the taxi, but she didn't seem to hear me.

Donald Francis said...

OK, that was interesting...