Lifestyle | Musings

7 things Scarlett O’Hara Taught Me About Life

I am a huge fan of the Gone with the Wind book (including the “sequels”) and the movie. Most particularly, Scarlett O’Hara. So much so that I used to read essays and college thesis papers that deconstructed the novel and detailed character analyses of Scarlett!

The character of Scarlett O’Hara within the Gone With the Wind book and movie is a product of a time that depicts ethnic and racial prejudices that were wrong then and are wrong today, I decided to keep this post up without noting this denouncement would be irresponsible. If we are to create an antiracist future, we must first acknowledge and understand our history, including personas like Scarlett O’Hara.

7 things Scarlett O’Hara Taught Me About Life

Many women, particularly feminists, would question my admiration for Scarlett O’Hara. She was selfish, manipulative and petty among other things, but she was also a rebel, determined and loyal (at least to those things she felt deserved her loyalty). She did not accept the conformities of society and did what she damn well pleased. She was direct and not afraid to express her opinion even though it would probably get her in trouble. She was passionate about what was important to her without ever experiencing physical passion until she met her match, Rhett Butler. There is a lot to be said of Scarlett and there were definitely life lessons that Scarlett O’Hara imparted on me:

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Your dream guy may not be the right guy.

Scarlett never really loved Ashley (something she eventually admitted to herself), yet she pursued him relentlessly at the expense of experiencing real love with a guy who “got” her. How many years did Scarlett and Rhett lose with her mindless pursuit of the wrong guy? The guy (or gal) that you think you are meant to be with may, in fact, be the worst possible partner for you in the grand scheme of things. When it comes to love, many people are so busy listening to their hearts, they forget to listen to their gut. Your gut, your intuition, that little nagging voice inside, is your best friend in the whole world, and if you learn to listen to it you will be far happier and spared from a lot of bad relationships and worse situations.

Don’t screw your friends.

Scarlett did not have many friends, probably for good reason, but the one friend she did have was Melanie. It was actually Melanie who was the bigger friend for putting up with all of Scarlett’s antics, including trying to steal her husband. Scarlett’s behavior definitely taught me how uncool it is to screw your friends, something I can say with confidence I have yet to do. And although I don’t have a huge collection of friends, I prefer quality over quantity, I know that I can count on each and every one of them in good times and bad. An important asset in life. One that you should not risk.

Even deeply flawed women deserve happiness.

Scarlett never made excuses for who she was. She ignored social norms, manipulated everything that crossed her path, hurt a lot of people, but she is just a woman in search of love and a roof over her head. Everyone deserves love and affection. There is always some good you can find in people. Sometimes it is just a matter of not having met the right partner in life, the one that looks you in the eye and tells you, you are ok.

Things are not always what they seem.

Gorgeous green velvet dress? Or the living room curtains? Don’t judge by appearances. Don’t judge period. The other lesson from those curtains: use what you got, be creative, be innovative. Be bold.

Fiddle-dee-dee.

Or as I translate the mantra, “it is what it is.” When faced with a situation or conversation she was not particularly happy with, Scarlett would dismiss it with a “fiddle-dee-dee” as if to say: “I hear you, and since we can’t do anything to change that, let’s not dwell and let’s move on.” There is something in life that you cannot change, so you can bang your head up against the wall until you bleed or you can find a door to walk through and get on with life. Some would say that used that as a tool in order to not deal with difficult situations, I say she was just smart enough to recognize what can and cannot be changed.

Never give up, you can survive anything.

But when faced with obstacles that can be changed, but seemed unachievable, there was no one more determined than Scarlett O’Hara. Through war, bad marriages, near-rape, and starvation, Scarlett always found a way to survive. She had an end goal, Tara, and she never let anyone or anything push her off her path towards securing her Tara. She did what she had to do, she sacrificed, lied, cheated, stole, and whereas, that probably wouldn’t fly today, and I am not 100% on board for the whole “end justifies the means” I do admire and appreciate her drive and yes, her positive attitude. If she had withered up in a ball and cried, if she had given up faith, she would have never got what she wanted.

Tomorrow is another day.

And lastly, this. No matter what happens to you, or doesn’t happen to you. Tomorrow is another day. Start fresh. Live as if that day is your last. Be nice to people. Be generous. Profit from every action you take, every decision you make. Don’t dwell on the past, or too much on the future. Live for the moment and know that each day is a gift.

Well if you got through all that and are left wondering what the hell is she talking about? Read the book, see the movie and soak it in.

Run along now and bring me a mint julep!

Oh wait, before you go, do you have any life lessons learned from a movie?

If you’ve never read any of the Margaret Mitchell authorized continuations of the story, I highly recommend them! There’s Scarlett, the sequel from Alexandra Ripley, Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig which parallels Gone With The Wind, and Ruth’s Journey, also from Donald McCaig, which is a prequel. All great reads!

I blogged about the lessons I learned from Star Trek, Julie & Julia, Sex and the City and now Scarlett O’Hara, how about you?

Special thanks to Gulya for allowing me to use her beautiful image of the Scarlett O’Hara doll. An actual picture of Scarlett O’Hara costs $500!

Illustrations commissioned from Linden Eller.

For a visual summary of this post, check out my Scarlett O’Hara web story!

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7 things Scarlett O’Hara Taught Me About Life7 things Scarlett O’Hara Taught Me About Life7 things Scarlett O’Hara Taught Me About Life

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24 Comments

  1. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I love your tagline 🙂 I started reading Gone With the Wind last Christmas but never finished – this post inspired me to pick it back up!

  2. I LOVE this.

    You know what I really love about the book? How you find out right away that Scarlet is not actually the beauty she is in the movie, yet she acts like she is, so everyone views her that way.

  3. My interpretation of Scarlet’s famous phrase was more about procrastination – as in ‘ugh, I’ll just deal with this tomorrow’ – I read this book when I was 13 on a 45 foot sailboat with my best camp friends on a week-long trip around Lake Superior. It was the fattest paperback EVER – and frequently as I finished a page, it blew right off the binding and into the lake…one of the best books EVER.

  4. As one of the only people on earth who has never read the book or never seen the movie, I appreciate your post so much. Now I can take this advice and never feel like I’m missin’ a thang!!!!

    1. @Deb, I didn’t watch the movie until I was in my late 20’s, after which I read the book and the two additional books that continued the story. I actually like the books better. Scarlett is such a strong women, she is sort on inspiring. If you ever have extra time, I recommend trying out the book.

      1. There are no books that continue the story because the story is complete in and of itself. That said, I’m not an ostrich. The Mitchell Estate probably allowed the two books to be written for the money. Margaret Mitchell would never have allowed them to be written, not ever. The ending of GWTW is the asme as the ending of Crime and Punishment. The reason there are additional works is due to the fact that Scarlett O’Hara is greater than the novel, in a way. Like Hamlet, for which there is no sequel, such as, I don’t know, Hamlet in heaven or something. Please do not mention any of the so-called sequels again ever. They do not exist. Like a sequel to Catcher in the Rye, for God’s sakes?

  5. Wow, I never put all of that together, and sadly I never read the book, but did see the movie. You’ve inspired me to dust off a copy and relive all of these great lessons. There’s some great takeaways in here! Go Scarlet!

    1. @Kelly, I love the book (actually more than the movie) and have read the follow-up books (other authors won competitions to be allowed to continue the story) and there was a recently a prequel release too!

  6. i actually never watched gone with the wind! i grew up in a really strict house.. so i was only allowed to watch PBS until high school. we’ll have to watch it one of these days. i can relate in that i’m deeply flawed in a lot of ways and going after the wrong men in the past.. i don’t know that i would ever go after a friend’s husband.. and screwing people over so that the end can justify its means..

  7. “Even deeply flawed women deserve happiness.”

    I like that one. We’re all a little screwed up in our own special ways, and we all deserve to be happy. (I mean… like, 99.9% of us, at least) 🙂

  8. The film I watched when I was a kid and didn’t understand it anyway, but now I’m just nearly finished with reading the novel first time, Ebook on the iPad – I wonder why Scarlett is described in so many places as if she was, well, just stupid? Like, somebody tells her a decision wasn’t ‘ratified’ and she ‘tried to look intelligent’ – I thought – What?… Or somebody mentions a word and she ‘wasn’t sure what it meant’ – actually, I opened the dictionary app then, to find out for myself what it meant, haha… For somebody unable to think in metaphors or to understand much about what’s going on in people somehow she masters the skill of manipulation surprisingly well…There are quite a few lose ends in her character for me, and I’m still trying to connect those dots and to understand the whole picture. I think it’s quite intricate, I wish I could really understand all of it, because I love the book which I find really unique!

    1. @Klaus, I think there were a lot of open answers left to her character, some of which I think I gained deeper insight on in the book called Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. It is touted as the sequel as there was a competition to write this novel and I actually liked it quite a lot. There is now a prequel that just came out by a different author called Ruth’s Journey: The Authorized Novel of Mammy from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind by Donald McCaig – I haven’t read it yet but I am curious!

      1. Thanks very much for the reply, I’ve got the vaguest memory of hearing about that sequel somewhere a long time ago – I must acquire and read it soon, it seems like the kind of book I want after having read GWTW in the first place. Thank you for pointing out those books!

  9. can you help me…
    I read but forget when Scarlett told Butler : ( not sure the whole sentence is right , I remembet the means only ) The whole world can not beat us…but we can be beaten by digging into the past…
    Thanks.

  10. I struggle with the character of Scarlett. She seems to me to be a horridly self-obsessed, self-servicing narcissist willing to use anyone that would serve her purposes. She was manipulative, spoiled and selfish. She rarely if ever thought of others unless it was out of some twisted sense of responsibility but that ‘care’ (as limited as it was) never comes across as originating from love. I also struggle with one other aspect of her character and that is her good looks. Imagine for a moment that she wasn’t attractive and men didn’t flock to her like love sick guppies. What if she were plain and unadorned but with the same temperament, would she have been able to get away with what she did? Would she be revered as she often is or would other words come to mind, more with the intent to vilify her and call her behavior out for what it was? Society often tolerates from those that have pretty faces (and figures) much more than they would from those whose faces are not considered so attractive – and all of that changes with the times and the fickleness of fashion. If I were a mother offering up an example of what NOT to do, what not to become, it would be Scarlett. If my daughter became like her I would suffer no small grief and I can’t help but wonder would people who admire her want their child to be like her, would they want to be friends with someone like that? Would one ever trust or share confidences with someone that would most likely use that information to serve some selfish purpose if given the chance? It surprises me how many people see that as strength and not an abuse of personal power. I don’t get it. I really don’t.

    1. @Laura, you are SO right! People who are deemed pretty or beautiful do often get away with a lot more. I do think she would not have had as much “success” if she had been a plain-jane! Really great point!

    2. @Laura, Laura, I couldn’t agree more. I watched GWTW yesterday for the first time and it left me feeling all sorts of disturbed which lead me to googling it. There was absolutely not a single redeeming quality to her. I’m such a strong advocate for women empowerment and that’s what I had hoped for in Scarlet but I only found her to a deeply manipulative self serving character mostly in self sabotaging ways and very hurtful to others and yet without a shred of remorse. Some seeming strength is simply fear and weakness mascarading as such and I wish better for women around me.

      1. @Tendai, thanks for continuing the conversation around this topic, and agree with your comments, the Scarlett O’Hara character viewed with a lens of today’s real-world events affords us such clarity when it comes to how women and been portrayed and celebrated in fiction, or the arts as a whole.