Unbroken: Life Lessons from the Original Bad Girl Scarlett O’Hara
By many measures, Scarlett O’Hara from the book, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell was a Bad Girl.
She married her sister’s only boyfriend, slapped her staff, shunned book learning and did not appreciate diversity—not in the least. Yet, despite all these faults, she is a heroine for many because of her tenacity to survive against all odds and her bold modern spirit.
This past holiday season, we took Gone with the Wind with us on our long car trip to see family. And with our kids, now aged 16 and 12, we’ve found that in-car fighting is reduced when we read out loud.
In the book, as in the movie, the main character Scarlett O’Hara survives the Civil War and Restoration all while wishing for a man that does not love her (Ashley) and missing out on the one that does (Rhett).
Here are a few lessons on living from the flawed but unbreakable Katie Scarlett O’Hara:
- Don’t worry what others think. Early in the book, Scarlett’s admirers were many including every beau in the county. However, many of her female peers disliked her for that very same reason. Scarlett made herself miserable at the start of the Civil War, when she married impetuously just to stop tongues from wagging about her heartbreak over Ashley. This led to a very sad period for Scarlett while she recovered from the birth of her son and had to wear mourning clothes for a man she didn’t love. Later when she bucked the convention of mourning for three years and danced with Rhett, her life started to come out of depression.
- Own your own destiny. As a character of her time, Scarlett grew up with strict constraints of a social structure that taught her it was a woman’s goal to catch a man. As an ambitious woman, Scarlett was indeed very good at this goal. It took the events of the Civil War when her family’s home was ransacked by Northern forces for Scarlett to learn to stand on her own two feet. When she had no way to feed her family, she vowed (with God as her witness) to “never be hungry again.” At that point, she started taking responsibility for running her family plantation/farm and feeding her family.
- Fake it till you make it. After the war and after burying her father, Scarlett was desperately trying to pay the taxes and keep the plantation. Still constrained by her time when men owned the property, she was broke and needed a cash infusion... from a marriage or from a man. She decided to ask Rhett for money. To convince him she wasn’t desperate—which she was—she tore down the curtains of Tara and sewed a dress with Mammy. Though she couldn't convince Rhett to give her the money, she managed to look confident enough to hook her sister’s beau Frank Kennedy into marriage and paying off the debts. It seems that waiting for her sister to marry Frank was taking too long and didn’t guarantee the debts of Tara would be a priority.
- Do what you are good at. Scarlett was raised in a time when women were taught to act like "air brains" and defer to men. She always thought this nonsense and told Mammy early in the story, “I’m tired of pretending I have no sense and that men are smarter.” Later when in Atlanta, she looked inside herself and identified her strength of having a “good head for numbers.” She then had her greatest success when she built up Frank’s sawmill business herself by relying on her own strength.
- Pick yourself up. Life is a journey and sometimes you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start again. From starving in the potato field to the end when she is cast aside by Rhett, Scarlett is a pro at picking herself up. This unbreakable spirit may be what makes her a heroine to so many. In life, that’s a good skill to have—no matter the era.
Margee Moore is a marketing professional, mother of two and blogger at sleepingwiththelaundry.com.