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Written by Timothy Sexton
The Obliviousness of Humanity
Shakespeare was right: the course of true love did never run smooth. Never has it taken so long for two characters to go through so much for one half of the couple to realize too late that they have been staring true love right in the face the whole time without realizing. The full unabridged text of Gone with the Wind clocks in at 418,053 words (or just 37,000 fewer words than The Lord of the Rings give or take) and it takes nearly 418,000 of them for Scarlett O’Hara to realize that she’s been wasting them all chasing after Ashley Wilkes. Even then, however, the course of true love isn’t likely to get any smoother since she comes around to this revelation just minutes after Rhett Butler abandons her. In a larger sense, of course, Scarlett serves as the ultimate symbol for themes associated with the rocky road to romantic happiness. While it is very easy to knock Scarlett for being so incredibly blind to the obvious, the unpleasant reality is that everyone has been equally blind to the obvious. With that in mind, Scarlett also becomes a thematic symbol for the insane oblivion to the inevitability of a war to decide once and for all that slavery was not just un-American, but inhuman.
One of the great myths of America is that democracy forever annihilated the rigid class construction engendered by European aristocracy. At the center of the narrative progression of the Wilkes and O’Hara family from Cotton King to starving peasants is the very distinctly drawn hierarches serving to separate citizens by race, gender and economic status. The most obvious representation of this theme is the line separating slaves from slaveholders, but the novel examines issues of social classes in much more subtle ways as well. Scarlett spends much of the novel rebelling against gender expectations and restrictions, but that stark outsider status is paralleled alongside Rhett’s own rebellion against the expectations of Southern gentlemanliness. One of the most striking examples of the complexity at work in this insular 18th century society that itself stood in rebellion against expectations of common decency is how Mammy—for all intensive purposes on the absolute bottom of the social ladder as both a woman and a slave—expresses a superior sense of disdain toward the O’Hara’s much poorer farming neighbors, the Slatterys, echoing with full commitment the view expressed by her “owners” that this family is just “poor white trash.”
Tenacity v. Pigheadedness
The original title chosen by author Margaret Mitchell for novel suggests the vital significance that the theme of tenacity played in its composition and the fact that the title still stands as the last words of Scarlett O’Hara: “Tomorrow is another day.” Once again, Scarlett is the personification of this theme, but tenacity in going after what she wants until she gets it is simply a microcosmic symbol of the Antebellum South itself. Scarlett shows tenacity in her pursuit of Ashley while along the way she is tenacious in pursuing a line of other men for a variety of different purposes. She is tenacious on a smaller scale in her achieving her bewildering and seemingly impossible goal of getting back home to Tara at the worst possible moment. On a larger scale, she is tenacious in achieving her goal of never going hungry again. That tenacity transforms a distraught young pampered princess who has lost almost everything into a businesswoman every bit as tough as the men she must deal with. The realization that her resolute determination to make Ashley Wilkes love her has actually been an exhibition not of tenacity, but of obstinate pig-headedness in pursuit of an unworthy and even shameful and degrading ambition mirrors with a sort of quietly observed precision the obstinate refusal of the Confederacy to give up their pursuit of the shameful and degrading ambition to retain slavery as the status quo.
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