Gone with the Wind is the infamous southern epic, known always for its grand beauty, grand romance, grand everything, but it gave us more than box office records and some of the most quotable lines in cinematic history. It showed us what war is, what it does to a country and to its land and its people. Other war films admit to the destructive nature of war, but always dress it up with talk of honor and bravery and standing to protect something. This film showed the truth. That there is no honor in the deaths of thousands and that whatever is being defended is hurt by war as well. Gone with the Wind also gave us a remarkable anti-heroine who the audience could truly love not in spite of her harsh characteristics, but because of them. With most lead female characters being compassionate, motherly, and generous, Scarlett O’Hara was a major deviation from the norm.
The film, like Margaret Mitchell’s novel, does not romanticize war. When the men at 12 Oaks are having their brandy and cigars, Ashley Wilkes speaks against war, explaining that it leaves nothing but destruction and serves little to no purpose at all once it finally ends. It illustrates the horrors of war in the rows and rows of dying soldiers Scarlett marches through, in the devastation and burning of Atlanta, and in the starving dirty faces of those whose cheeks were once plump and red with health and wealth. War always rides with his fellow horsemen and the film exhibits the handiwork of them all. War is always the worst case scenario and should never be regarded as anything less.
Perhaps the most iconic and beloved aspect of the film however is Miss Katie Scarlett O’Hara. She is a woman unlike any other before her in film or literature. Scarlett’s bravery, strength, cunning, and ferocity are what helped her and her loved ones survive the war and the struggles after, and not once does she apologize to anyone for what she did to provide a good life for herself and her folk. War wreaked havoc on everything it touched, but Scarlett didn’t let it win. Only she could take such horror and make something stunning out of it.
The war took away every luxury everyone in the South had and then it took away every necessity and God given right. Tara was ruined when Scarlett returned with Melanie and Beau. Her family was sick and starving as was the land. As she assesses damage and death, everyone turns to her asking what to do and she, the once pampered and selfish socialite, rises to the occasion as she declares that she will make sure she and her kin never want for anything even if she has to “lie, cheat, steal, or kill,” and she does it all. What sets Scarlett apart from any other “strong” female character ever shown in film (even to this day I would argue) is that she does not worry about her lack of softness or compassion as there is no doubt she possesses both. (Her dedication to building a wonderful life for her loved ones is evidence enough.) She keeps it close, only revealing it to those that deserve. It is not a trait that anyone coaxes out of her. It is one whose presence is earned. No one breaks down her walls. No one gets in unless Scarlett clears a path for them. She is completely and utterly in control of herself and her actions.
Through the display of Scarlett’s incredible strength and prosperity gained through a complete refusal to live up to the expectations set upon her by her community and the rest of society, women were given a hero untouched by the tailoring and oppression behind “being a lady.” Scarlett redefined the term. She gave it power and purpose. She is forever a symbol of empowerment and confidence.