Deconstructing Scarlett

Scarlett OHara has been part of American literature and lexicon since 1936. She survived the original Nazis, the criminalization and dissolution of the KKK, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, BLM, and MAGA. But still, she remains intact, the literary symbol of the antebellum South, beautiful, graceful, determined, feisty, invincible. She continues to live in our romanticized notion of the South, floating about in her hoop skirt, followed by her devoted Mammy, who apparently preferred servitude to freedom. When not dressing, feeding, or cleaning up after Scarlett, Mammy was also supposed to clear uppity blacks and carpet baggers off the sidewalks, so Scarlett, exercising a white privilege even Civil War could not erase, might pass unimpeded. The South and America, are in many ways, Scarlett OHara. In our enchantment with magnolia covered plantations and Southern belles flirting behind fans with dashing. Confederate soldiers, we continue to deny that this lifestyle was only possible because slaves labored their lives away in the hot Georgia sun so Mr. OHara could ride his horses, and the Wilkes family could host barbecues where slave children were forced to stand for hours fanning the sleeping white girls. Mitchell called her tale one of “knights and their ladies.” That is the first lie. The Confederacy was not a noble movement defending the gracious, chivalrous traditions of the South. It was a traitorous army defying the federal government’s insistence that the dehumanizing, evil practice of slavery could not be expanded and not be defended. Too bad that the lush, privileged, Southern lifestyle with all its charming customs and conventions could not survive without slavery, but slavery or the misery of other people was never Scarlett’s concern. Her only concern was that she “never be hungry again” and that her wealth and privilege continue, no matter what deaths, deceit or ruthless acts were necessary. Perhaps her relentless, but futile love for Ashley Wilkes was a good analogy. She loved Ashley because he represented a way of life that she loved and longed for. She looked past the obvious fact that Ashley was a weak man, who, unlike herself, was incapable of overcoming the loss of his unearned white privilege and obsolete lifestyle. She wasted her life seeing something in Ashley that wasn’t there, pining for a time that was gone, and maneuvering to get something that was never hers. In the end, when all is destroyed- Melanie dies, Scarlett finally realizes that Ashley never loved her, nor did she ever really love him, and Rhett leaves in disgust- then we finally see Scarlett in rare, momentary reflective despair. Did The South ever have this epiphany? Has America? Have we ever acknowledged that the privileged, white economy romanticized in its many forms, can never be accomplished without sacrificing others? Scarlett’s last literary thought was to remember her dad’s words that Tara, the land, was the only thing that lasts, the only thing that really matters. No, Scarlett, you are wrong again. You still don’t get it. It is not the only thing that matters. The people who live on the land, not just the privileged whites, but that white trash Emmy Slattery, the brothel keeper, Belle Watling, Mammy, Prissy, and all the field hands, all matter just as much as you do Scarlett/ Southerners/ White Supremacists, and if you don’t get that, frankly, I don’t give a damn.

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