Scarlett O’Hara: The American Dream?

           While watching Gone With the Wind, I was not overwhelmed with the memory of the Lost Cause.  Instead, I was more apt to see the American Dream play out in a different era.  The O’Hara’s, as an established family, begin the film as wealthy, successful plantation owners complete with the cultural standards of having that wealth.  Viewers see the slaves, the social roles of men and the different expectations dependent on age, the social roles of women and the different expectations dependent on age, and the requirements in order to live the leisurely life of the wealthy Southern elite.  The O’Hara family are already living the American Dream.   

            As the Civil War begins, the life the O’Hara’s were accustomed to begins to change.  This change is an evolution of change.  It does not happen outright, but it takes a journey from a life at the top echelon and gradually moves step by step down into the destruction of life as the O’Hara’s have ever known.  Scarlett is not personally impacted by the War’s destruction until Sherman’s army is on the outskirts of Atlanta.  While she was away from Tara, Scarlett is still enjoying the rewards of her status while living in a nice home with servants, never really going without. 

            Scarlett is also exposed to a new social role as she ages and is responsible for nursing wounded Confederate soldiers back to health.  As the film progresses, Scarlett is forced to take on more and more responsibilities.  When Melanie is bed-ridden during her pregnancy, Scarlett is forced again to increase her level of responsibility.  We watch as Scarlett struggles with her new responsibilities, both mentally and physically.  But, Scarlett doesn’t back down.  She resolves to move forward towards her goals, regardless of others.  By sheer determination, Scarlett returns to Tara with those that she is now responsible for in tow. 

            Back at Tara, life is not secure.  Scarlett is surrounded by destruction and faced only with unending hard work.  Scarlett uses her talents and skills to rebuild a version of her former life at Tara.  Scarlett’s means of finding success are not always ethical, or moral.  But, Scarlett shows that she is willing to do anything to return her family to the top echelon in the social order of Southern society.  Finally, when Scarlett is finished, she has pulled herself up by her boot straps, or hoop skirt as the case may be, and has created a different version of success for herself.  At the close of the film, Scarlett is wealthy and again living a life of leisure, mixed with her independent business ventures that help keep her satisfied. 

            If we view the film from the perspective of the Lost Cause, Scarlett’s life is not an adequate example.  She does not fight for her home, hearth, and country.  She fights for herself.  Scarlett’s motives are very self-centered, even selfish.  If we view the film from the perspective of the American Dream, where anyone through hard work will have social mobility and can be successful in society, Scarlett shows she has adapted in order to achieve her hard earned successes.  So, I pose the question, is Scarlett’s life a reflection of the Lost Cause or is she a vivid example of the American Dream?

  1. charlesanselmo said:

    I am not so sure that it an example of the American Dream. I believe it is more along the lines of the “Lost Cause”. Scarlett’s character finds herself in a terrible situation and how is it that she rises from among the poor? Deprived of her slaves and an income gained off the sweat and tears of her slaves she returns to what she knew best – exploitation. Her marriage to Mr. Kennedy was simply to use his station in life to better herself and to begin her Lumber business. She had no real affection for him in the film and she never even realized that he didn’t return from the “political meeting” in which he lost his life. This lumber business in turn used a form of slave labor to reap a profit (convict labor). While watching the film, I saw Scarlett as a manipulator. Throughout the film she had the affections of many people and was willing to trample everyone around her for her own selfish reasons.

  2. A great post Sir. The plantation way of life was built upon a legal system (pre-Emancipation) of investments, sacrifices, and risks. Slavery was encouraged under the Union flag of the US though the historically ignorant finger blames the South as the empire of oppression and segregation. For the rural masses of farmland thirsted for cultivation, the young entrepreneurs took advantage and built an aristocracy of immense wealth, pillared palatial homes, lavish fashions in frills and ruffles, and wide plantations of cotton, sugar and slave labor. Those that see the South as an evil empire are quick to lose their angst credibility when visiting a large plantation, such as those that are part of the Natchez Pilgrimage, as nearly everyone that visits will sigh, “I wish I lived in one.” We all know what afforded the planters these magnificent white castles, blooming immaculate gardens, sprigged mint juleps, scores of personal servants, and billowing dresses spread over wicker and satin cushions in a lazy afternoon under a luxurious verandah….Before 1865, this was indeed “the American dream.”…

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