Friday, November 19, 2010

Scarlett and Melanie: the Southern Female Paradox

Continuing yesterday's post about the life lessons in GWTW,  today let's take a look at the two lead female characters, Scarlett O'Hara and Melanie Hamilton Wilkes. 

Men always think that women want to be Scarlett and in some ways I guess we do, I don't think any of us would turn down being the most beautiful woman in the room if we had the chance.  Any woman worth her salt however will tell you that when she watches this movie she is secretly thinking "I wish I were more like Melanie." While the film is actually a coming of age story for Scarlett, Melanie is something to aspire to.  She isn't as lovely as her sister-in-law or feted for her charm and beauty but as the story unfolds we see something worth more than all of that. We see her character, kindness, and grace under pressure.  She is actually a very good representation of Christian charity and femininity, without insecurity or weakness.  There isn't a catty bone in her body. She is comfortable in her own skin. She is  has nerves of steel despite her tender exterior. No one is allowed to speak unkindly of anyone else in her presence...oh girls, we all need to work on that one, don't we?
It is Melanie that we see pick up on and play along with a lie (which tells us she's smart) coolly when necessary to protect those she loves. We see her always thinking of and speaking of others with the benefit of the doubt and a spirit of love. It speaks volumes of her when she not only accepts Belle Watling's gift for the "cause" but later steps into her carriage at risk to her own reputation to treat an outcast of polite society with dignity and kindness. She is the picture of compassion in this scene: 

Belle Watling: "And, Miz Wilkes, if you ever see me on the street, you -- you don't have to speak to me. I'll understand..."
Melanie: "I shall be proud to speak to you. Proud to be under obligation to you. I hope -- I hope we meet again."

While Scarlett gets attention, Melanie gets R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

We see her refuse to embarrass Scarlett at Ashley's birthday party even though everyone is waiting for it and no one would have rebuked her for it.  One can only imagine Scarlett's reaction had the situation been reversed. But the best recognition of her character comes from Mammy. When the Yankee Captain arrives at the house while the women think the men are at a political meeting, and wants to know if they are there, Melly says they are not.

"Are you sure?" He asks.

"Don't you doubt Miss Melly's word!" Says Mammy (in possession of an admirable character herself) sternly. 

That's something to be known for isn't it? To live in such a way that people would know you to be a person who spoke the truth in love, always.  The coquettish antics of the heroine are what most people remember from the film (and the book, which is even better) but alongside and often lost, is a very charming depiction of something worth aiming for; a fictional role model from the past for real, modern women...Southern or not.

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