Scarlett's O'Hara's final words in Gone With the Wind may be the most recognizable, and quoted, in film history. Even those who haven't seen the film know the reference, a phenomenon evidently assumed by art critic Robert Hughes when he closed his recent eight-part video history of American art and architecture, American Visions with this of all lines.NOTE 1 That the film is "popular" and has been literally since its premiere in December 1939 may be all too obvious, but less clear is the meaning and sources of this popularity. My claims are, first, that America's relationship to Gone With the Wind is more complex than "popularity" suggests and might be characterized as one of love/hate--for the subject matter, the characters, even for the film's notoriety. Second, this love/hate relationship is rooted, I believe, in the ways in which American myths, particularly those related to sex and gender, are both referenced and then violated in this film, particularly in the character of Scarlett O'Hara.

What seems to bother many viewers, including critics, is that Gone With the Wind is Scarlett's story. Typical was film critic Otis Ferguson, who wrote, "Scarlett is too many things in too rapid succession; the exact point of her aspirations is confused; there is so much sobbing and color and DeMille display, such a mudbath of theme music, that a clean realization of character or events is out of the question."NOTE 2

The seeming inability to understand Scarlett's character is at the heart of both the dynamics of Gone With the Wind and responses to it. Scarlett makes viewers uncomfortable because she exposes the underside of regional and gender myths while embodying basic American (male) values transformed (but not transplanted) during an era of drastic economic change. The central, consistent, and apparently disturbing, theme of Scarlett's ambiguous gender identity can be seen in three interrelated aspects of her life: her relation to gender roles and other people; her relation to economic ideals and realities; and her relation to the war.

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Page One: Introduction  |  Page Two: Scarlett, the Feminine and the Masculine
Page Three: Scarlett and Tara  |  Page Four: Scarlett and the War
Page Five: Scarlett and Another Day

Photo credit: © 1939 Turner Entertainment Co., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.