Gone With the Wind

Part of the pleasure in watching this movie for the umpteenth time is waiting for the great lines to come around. Butterfly McQueen’s Prissy: “Lawzy, we got to have a doctor. I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.” Scarlett’s vow, when she reclaims the family homestead:  “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”

Nothing compares to Clark Gable’s memorable kiss-off: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” I didn’t know this, but David Selznick was fined $5,000 for keeping this line in the film (it was also in the book) because it violated the Hays Code. And then we get poor Scarlett, spurned but not defeated: “Tara! Home. I’ll go home. And I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all… tomorrow is another day.”

This time around, though, I found myself thinking about the various ways each of the main characters copes in the aftermath of the devastating civil war. Melanie is the only one to have come through unchanged, still upholding the genteel values of the aristocracy, but she is too pure a spirit to endure. Ashley yearns to turn back the clock; he fought honorably defending his way of life but knows there’s no place for him in the new south. Rhett’s line, as he heads off to join the Confederate army following the Battle of Atlanta, really applies to Ashley: “I’ve always had a weakness for lost causes once they’re really lost.”

Rhett’s type will always come through unscathed. The surprise is Scarlett. She abandons her illusions one by one and is forced to confront reality. Not only does she adapt to the death of the old south, she thrives in this new environment. “I love you,” Rhett tells her at one point, “because we’re alike. Bad lots both of us. Selfish and shrewd but able to look things in the eye and call them by their right name.”

If anyone can win back her husband, it’s Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett.