The name is not just a name, it is a symbol. 'Oh scarlet oh hara !' Margaret Mitchell was not playing around the weak hearted when she envisioned and gave life to this character that has ever since been immortalized by a staggeringly vivid performance by Vivien Leigh , the legendary British actress. The book of course, is the classic tale of a civilization ‘Gone With the Wind’ with Scarlett O’Hara at the centre of it all, the eye of the whirlpool in which she sucks in all people who ever matter to her and who eventually succumb to her ubiquity.
Vivien Leigh proved as the only person who could have take on this character so perfectly, and her own persona has beyond doubt added to the screen image of this masterpiece. Quite contrary to the defeatist little coy dancer, Myra, that Vivien plays in Waterloo Bridge, this remarkable character by the name of Scarlett O Hara is a conceited optimist, a go – getter who has so much energy and life that no room would be unaffected in her presence. She exudes herself into all surrounding things and quite without her knowledge, all things bend towards her, just like a field of sunflowers towards the sun. And just when one starts to think she could be the most remarkable person, Margaret Mitchell goes on to ruin every little reputation that could form in our minds by making her such a faulty and marred character, full of follies, fury and conceit, that she edges on being an object of hatred. Here is a selfish robust girl who cares about no-one but herself, many a times quite unknowingly. We watch with helplessness as she steers her life ruinously and recklessly all for someone, she has so naively talked herself into loving; the unattainable and married Ashley Wilkes. It doesn’t come as a surprise that every man she lays her eyes upon, is undoubtedly affected and appears as a helpless weakling before her.
Scarlett’s never say die spirit, takes her through the roughest times as we see a childish little schoolgirl transforming into a hard hearted, strong, and a ruthlessly matter-of-fact lady. She survives her war, hunger, and public detest. And she has no one but herself to give all the credit for it. It is a cruel portrayal the survival of the fittest, and fitting enough she turns into the predator and not the prey. From dancing in public as a widow, to acting as a midwife in times of riots, to plowing her own fields and doing business with the enemies to raise money, to riding her own horse carriage when it was considered unacceptable for ladies to even ride alone in public, there is nothing that she does not do to keep the promise she made to herself at during the hardest time of her life, ‘ that she would never go hungry again’.
Of course the whole world would topple on one side with such a strong unchecked force. So along comes Rhett Butler, the anti-hero, the deserter who is as conceited , as selfish and as hot blooded as Scarlett, but with more years behind him and with shrewd wisdom that is good enough to check Scarlet’s rampage. Only a diamond cuts a diamond; “sirf loha lohe ko kaat saktha hai”, as Thakur says in the Bollywood classic, Sholay. So Butler is the unlikely antimatter to our O’Hara matter. It is a welcome surprise that we are not in for any predictable romance blooming between them, but a peculiar love hate bond, which leaves each of them bitterer than the last.
Yet, after three marriages and a child, she is still a robust child, who wants to get back her 18” waist. She says she was never meant to be the marrying kind. She naively confesses that she can frankly love nobody else but herself. One could only affectionately laugh at this little child’s admission of her weakness and say ‘my poor girl, it took so much to get you to know yourself, but there, you’ve finally realized!’
It is a bitter sweet admiration between Scarlett and her readers. You never know when you start loving her, and the next moment she’d do something, you would absolutely hate her for. She is a living flesh and blood conjugation of our minds and aspirations, so real, that reality seems fake before her. Red as wine and warm as the sunshine on cotton fields, she is a true toast to life and a tribute to man, flawed and imperfect and beautiful.