Gone with the Wind...
...And back again.
Today, I took a moment to think about some of the main characters from the classic novel, Gone with the Wind. Of course, I’m hands-down one of the biggest fans of the movie—and the book, of course, but I’m talking Clark Gable here, people—and I probably think a little too much about it than I should.
But this time, something really stood out to me. Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Melanie Hamilton, and Ashley Wilkes are the characters upon which Margaret Mitchell placed the most focus—and for obvious reasons. One thing that she couldn’t make a point of at the time was how her characters align with the people—and the culture—of today.
At first glance, it seems that all the characters are truly quite alike—all four of them are Southerners and each supported the Rebel Cause (although some not exactly willingly). Melanie, Ashley, and Scarlett grew up together on cotton plantations, giving them essentially the same morals, values, and beliefs. Ashley and Melanie are both down-to-earth, and Scarlett and Rhett are both, as the latter puts it, selfish people.
One thing that takes a little bit of soul-searching—of theirs and ours, too—is noticing how different they are. And how they are each just like us, the real people of today.
Ashley is the quintessential Southern gentleman, the embodiment of the antebellum South, and a perfect example of the long-lost Georgia aristocracy. As he and Rhett make points of from time to time, he is rooted in Georgia and his plantation. He has morals that Rhett certainly doesn’t—although he doesn’t practice them quite well mentally. He believes in the Cause...not to retain slavery but to preserve the way of life he holds dear, to keep the “olden days” that he knows alive and well for years to come. To put it simply, whilst all the nation wages a war and the world changes, he continues to live in the past.
Some of us are just like Ashley—in smaller areas of our lives and others much bigger. Wanting to remember the past is indeed a good thing, but living in it holds you back from changing in the ways you need to, accepting the inevitable, and remaining strong when your world and life does change. Just like Ashley had a difficult time adjusting to the South after the Civil War, so do those who hold fast to what has already passed instead of making good what has come.
Scarlett, on the other hand, is the downright polar opposite. Sure, she and Ashley were raised exactly the same. Sure, she loves her Tara just as much as he loves his South and his Cause. Sure, sure, sure...but something is drastically different in the way she thinks and lives. Instead of holding onto the past, she embraced the future. She was progressive in her thinking—and I don’t mean just that she wasn’t against the railroad. She thought ahead in her life, about how she could make more money, buy a larger house, gain more power. She didn’t dwell on the war or who was fighting it—she only cared about what came next and where she would be when it did.
Progressive thinking is good in the ways holding onto the past isn’t. But leaping for the future and forgetting what made that possible—the past—keeps you from enjoying the present, the only time that you’re guaranteed. The things that Scarlett focused on—herself and money—fought for precedence in her life until they won. In the end, she lost her chance to love Rhett and lost her children—some to the grave and others (Wade and Ella Lorena) to her own neglect.
Melanie proves to be completely different than both her husband and her sister-in-law. Yes, she appreciates and remembers the past. And yes, she looks forward to the future and prepares her family for it. But her main focus is the here and now. Instead of worrying about who will win the war and where that will leave her, she cares for all of those fighting it. Instead of caring about her reputation and position in society, she shows love to Belle Watling and Scarlett. She cares about her family—even the rotten members of it—and others around her.
The way Melanie lived is one abandoned by most people. We focus too much on the things that don’t matter—the things we’ve lost and the things we don’t have yet—instead of what we do have. We give more of our lives to a job, education, hobbies, politics, etc. and neglect our families and our faith.
Lastly, Rhett Butler is different from each of these three in his way of living. He doesn’t give any thought to the past—though he has quite the interesting one, so to speak—nor to the future. He is completely complacent in life and where he is in it. If the Yankees win the war, who cares? If the Rebels do, what does it matter? He has enough money for a game of poker and that’s that. If things stay the same, then he’ll be fine. And if everything changes, he go right along with it. But what, you ask, makes him different from Melanie and her present-thinking? Did you see?
All Rhett cares about is himself. This too is a corrupt mindset. He focuses on himself—and if he’s good, then so is everything else. The sun rises and the sun sets on yet another day.
What way of thinking have you adopted? Are you like Ashley, living in the past and unable to embrace the present and the future—like Scarlett, progressive and selfish—like Rhett, careless and complacent—or like Melanie, whose focus is upon the present and what truly matters? How can you change that mindset to become a better person?
(Originally published December 9th, 2019.)