I first saw Gone With the Wind in 1968, when my mother insisted that I must see this film. I knew nothing about the plot or the players and felt that spending nearly four hours in a theater was a colossal waste of time.
As the title swept across the screen, I sat mesmerized. I watched Scarlett O’Hara win hearts with a toss of her dark curls, flash her willful green eyes at disaster and vow to think of some way to get Rhett Butler back. Smitten by this romantic story, I identified with Scarlett’s love for Ashley. I, too, was a 16-year-old suffering pangs of unrequited love.
Three years later when the film revisited my hometown, I realized the first of Gone With the Wind‘s four lasting lessons: You can’t make somebody love you. That helped me to discard childish notions of loving someone from afar and, like Scarlett, helped me realize that ignoring real love causes sorrow and regret.
When I was in my twenties, I saw Gone With the Wind again. Then, I was living away from home, toiling at a job I hated. As I sat in the theater, I focused on Scarlett’s new life, unfolding in Atlanta. She flaunted social custom by appearing in mourning garments at the bazaar. She set tongues wagging by accepting Rhett’s invitation to dance. She dared to wear the hat that Rhett brought from Paris.
At the film’s final moments, I was overcome by this story of self-realization. Throw off the corsets of convention, Gone With the Wind stated, believe in yourself and become your own person. Girded by this second lesson, I started exploring a new yet unsure career as a writer. When my first book was published, I understood that, like Scarlett, you must be the person your spirit knows you to be.
Gone With the Wind paid another call when I was in my thirties. Then, I was hurting from a failed marriage and the death of my father. As I sat in the theater, I focused on Scarlett returning to Tara to find her mother dead and her father mad with grief. She vowed in the garden to “never be hungry again.” She picked cotton until her hands were worn; she stirred soap until her arms ached. She gained sustenance with the gold coins taken from the Yankee deserter.
At the film’s final moments, I felt comforted by this story of survival. No matter what life hands you, Gone With the Wind whispered, if you are brave, if you are determined, if you let nothing stand in your way, you can survive. Buoyed by this third lesson, I worked two jobs while taking college courses and continued with my writing. I was brave, even when it was hard. I was determined, even when it seemed as if my goals were unattainable. I let nothing stand in my way, and, like Scarlett, I survived.
When I was in my forties, Gone With the Wind appeared again. I had a new life as a writer, a life I never dreamed of when I first saw the film. I had a man to love who loved me, and I was blessed to have my 82-year-old mother still going strong.
Then, when Gone With the Wind returned to theaters, it was I who insisted that we must see this film. As my mother and I sat in the theater, I focused on Scarlett and Rhett visiting Tara after their New Orleans honeymoon and on Rhett’s recognizing that Scarlett’s strength comes from Tara’s red earth.
At the film’s final moments, I discovered Gone With the Wind‘s fourth lesson: home and knowing where you come from. Scarlett, weeping at the foot of the staircase, hearing the voices of her father, Ashley and Rhett, knows what she must do: go home to Tara.
No matter where your path in the world leads, Gone With the Wind confirms, you remain tethered to home through your family and friends, through the lessons and values you acquired as a child. When my shoulders buckle from cares, I remember my father’s unceasing encouragement and think of my mother’s unwavering confidence in me. I square my shoulders and face those burdens with renewed courage. I know that no matter where I go, I carry home in my heart and, like Scarlett, that is where I get my strength.
Others may disparage this iconic 1939 film for their own reasons. For me, I will always love Gone With the Wind.
Copyright © 2015 Pauline Bartel
Blog Bio: Pauline Bartel is the author of The Complete GONE WITH THE WIND Trivia Book (2nd edition) and an expert on the film and its history. Visit the website (www.paulinebartel.com/resources/books/books-available) for further information. Follow her on Twitter @PaulineBartel and “like” her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheCompleteGWTWTriviaBook).