It has stayed close to my heart, though, partly due to watching and rewatching the movie over and over again throughout the years, and mostly because of the multilayered affect it had in defining a great deal of who I am as I came of age.
Despite brief pauses to pass security or be embarrassed when a black person was close enough to see what I was reading (they can’t all feel the same as Audra McDonald), I pretty much subsumed myself into the saga of Scarlett O’Hara for hours of round-trip travel over the last week, speedreading through the Reconstruction of the South all day Sunday, back at home in New York, in order to watch the movie before the holiday weekend was over.
In addition to feeling enthralled by and in awe of the staggering brilliance of Gone With The Wind and the captivating drama that is Scarlett O’Hara, I was fascinated by the difference in my You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube videoexperience of it and her now compared it with in my not-too-remote-to-be-recalled youth. I realized that I’d read Gone With The Wind pre-adolescently, I was not yet consciously sexual and I did not relate to the sexuality that pulses right underneath much of the action of the story. I related to the inexperienced virgin Scarlett O’Hara better than I did to the woman awakened to her own libido later in the plot, and I didn’t really get her attraction to Rhett Butler, beyond the appeal of his wit or devil-may-care attitude or his money.
As I mentioned last week, I’m not generally an old movie fan (Gone With The Wind tops a short list of exceptions) and moreover, I remain unaroused by Clark Gable. However, this past week, reading the book, I shared Scarlett’s hots for Captain Butler. The stormy evolution of Scarlett’s attraction to Rhett is, of course, one of the main themes arcing over Gone With The Wind, and one of the main reasons I found myself so engrossed in the story this second time around. As I more fully appreciated Scarlett’s development from a spoiled princess into a mature, independent woman, I thought of the changes in me over the last 22 years (from a spoiled princess into a mature, independent woman) and how and why I’ve always identified with Scarlett so much.
For one thing, Margaret Mitchell (and later, Vivien Leigh) imbued the character of Scarlett O’Hara with a deeply unique inner life, a universe of beliefs and priorities and passions and compromises which render her as a character both a fully fleshed out, specific individual and also an open book for anyone to understand, whether they relate personally or not.
Well, I always related. There are a host of perhaps obvious, maybe even played-out, explanations for my connection with Scarlett, particularly in the vein of the gay-men-are-drawn-to-strong-and/or-vulnerable-women cliché. Guilty as charged, to be sure.
But what is it about Scarlett O’Hara that stuck such a deep chord in me that for 22 years, my stream of consciousness has aped her narrative, at least in tone, at least in my head?
Why have I exhausted myself for months and years pining for Ashleys, stringing along Charles Hamiltons and Frank Kennedys and remaining blind to Rhett? Why was it Scarlett’s resourcefulness I held in my heart as I sold all those books when I was hard-up for cash? Why did I choose for my first drag name, Harlot O’Scara (thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, tip your waiters…)? I think that Scarlett, and absolutely Vivien Leigh’s portrayal of her, showcases a kind of unflagging determination against odds, but unlike the garden-variety underdog survivor diva (and I’m partial to them too), Scarlett is an outsider from the inside; the crown princess of a majestic plantation, who is nonetheless, no lady. I think, even pre-pubescently, my sense of myself as being different was so potent and I think I admired Scarlett because she was simultaneously an outcast and a winner – she didn’t fit in with the other girls, but she ate barbecue with all of their beaux, she was often shunned by respectable society, but she prospered and partied throughout many difficult times, etc.
Scarlett O’Hara came into her own in a transitional time and blossomed into someone who could shine on her own terms as the new world was invented all around her. Even more than in 1987, (before gay marriage was on the ballot or gay characters were on the TV, when AIDS was exploding and walls were coming down) today, I’m deeply inspired by Scarlett O’Hara because she bridges a gap between eras and defines her future as she sees it, shaping a tomorrow which is truly another day.