This guest post by Jennifer Hollie Bowles appears as part of our theme week on Female Friendship.
Gone With the Wind is one of my favorite movies of all time. Of course, it has its social ills, historical flaws, and damn if super-strong Scarlett doesn’t whine over men a lot, but I still love it. The dynamic relationships and subtleties of emotions and interactions captured on film is a classically beautiful adventure to behold. Yeah, so I dig the movie, and I’ve always been a fan of Scarlett, her southern spitfire, and her bold feminist acts.
I’ve seen the movie at least a dozen times. When I first watched it as an adolescent, I remember almost hating Melanie. She was so mealy mouthed and annoying. I was, however, not in tune with the more demure, mature, calm, centered, and otherwise introverted part of myself at the time. Flash forward five years, and I start to see Melanie in a different light. Flash forward a decade, and I love her as much as I do Scarlett.
Scarlett was often a bitch to Melanie, and even though Scarlett was a bitch to everyone unless she wanted something, she was an uber-bitch to Melanie on purpose—most of the time. Until Melanie needed her. Then she was the most helpful bitch in the world. Melanie, on the other hand, was the epitome of kindness and compassion to everyone—most of the time. Until Scarlett needed her. Then she was kindest you-can’t-say-no-to-me bitch in the world.
One of the most intriguing things about the extreme Scarlet-Melanie polarity is that their best and worst traits were ultimately highlighted through their friendship. Together, they show the manifested metaphors of fire and water. Scarlett maintained a world view of passion; Melanie maintained a world view of non-judgment. Every time that Melanie seemed weak and dispassionate, she rose to the occasion to exhibit passion with Scarlett, and every time that Scarlett seemed strong and judgmental, she rose to the occasion to exhibit compassion with Melanie.
Melanie’s character was filled with a rare sort of gratitude that most people utterly lack. She was able to read others and feel gratitude for their existence, no matter how different it was from her own (take her kindness toward the prostitute Belle as a prime example). She mentored everyone around her, and she was continuously counted upon to aid those in need. Melanie also had a very deep love for Scarlett right from the beginning. She revered (and perhaps envied in her own way) Scarlett’s hot-headedness, and she expressed her love for Scarlett throughout the film.
Scarlett, on the other hand, was filled with a rare sort of will power and drive that most people utterly lack. She would forge through any circumstance in order to not only survive, but thrive. She was counted upon to make things work when others failed. Scarlett had a very deep jealousy of Melanie, and she expressed criticism and indignation about Melanie countless times throughout the film. However, while the movie does not expose Scarlett’s unfolding realizations per se, we definitely discover Scarlett appreciating Melanie as the story progresses. Scarlett sees Melanie’s strength in an unforgettable scene where Scarlett kills a “Yankee” intruder. Melanie yells out the window and promptly makes up a lie about the gunshot so the others in the household won’t worry. Scarlett says, “What a cool eye you are, Melly.”
An amazing juxtaposition of their characters occurs later in the film. A couple of gossiping no-gooders find Scarlett and Ashley (Melanie’s husband) hugging. Oddly enough, it is the one scene in which Scarlett is not really being inappropriate with Ashley. Everyone in town knows about the hug, and everyone is bashing Scarlett for her shameful behavior. Rhett coerces Scarlett into wearing a gorgeous, sexy scarlet dress and drops her off all by herself at Melanie’s house for Ashley’s big social birthday party.
Both Rhett and Scarlett expect Melanie to publicly throw Scarlett out of her house for being inappropriate with her husband. Melanie does no such thing. She goes against the suggestions and wishes of everyone in the room and embraces Scarlett, doting on her with a plethora of kind, welcoming statements. She even asks Scarlett to help her receive guests, and then refers to Scarlett in the presence of Ashley as “our Scarlett.” Scarlett is obviously immensely grateful for Melanie’s character, friendship, understanding, and behavior in this scene, and Melanie is obviously driven by her own passionate motives to do what she wants, regardless of what others think—just as Scarlett would.
The implications for Scarlett’s ridiculous pining over Ashley and her friendship with Melanie is a complicated one. On the one hand, it seems as though Scarlett is driven by something she can’t put her finger on when it comes to her obsession with Ashley, and Melanie just happens to be his wife. Yet, if we observe closely, we find that Scarlett is as drawn to Melanie as she is Ashley, and near the end of the film, we see Scarlett identifying the highest ideals of a lost way of life with both of them. She loves and yearns for them both along with her love and yearning for lost southern culture because it is in her nature to want what is difficult, and in this case, impossible to attain.
If we get really psychological, we find that Melanie and Ashley are both representations of everything Scarlett is not. It is easier, however, for Scarlett to outwardly—project and individuate—through Ashley, the shadow male/animus archetype of her psyche, rather than the far too close anima/shadow female archetype of her psyche.
Regardless of how psychological or interpretive you want to get with Scarlett and Melanie’s friendship, it serves as an invaluable example for how women can accept, value, and interact with one another. For example, if a woman dresses more provocatively than you, perhaps, as Melanie stated, she is just more “high-spirited,” and she can’t help that the men just “naturally flock to her.” If a woman needs help during childbirth, nothing else matters but helping her, just as Scarlett helped her “Melly.”
It’s suggested all along that Melanie understood Scarlett, and Scarlett understood Melanie. It’s as if Melanie knew all about Scarlett’s pining for Ashley and the underlying reasons why she felt that way, and Scarlett knew all about Melanie’s knowing acceptance. On her deathbed, Melanie asks to see Scarlett, who is the last person she communicates with before she dies. Scarlett receives Melanie’s last words with respect, holding on to their guiding significance and meanings with deeply rooted trust. The entire dynamic of their relationship just makes sense at that point: their bond was unbreakable.
Jennifer Hollie Bowles is a widely published multi-genre writer, including satire, poetry, op-eds, erotica, horoscope columns, fiction, eco living blogs, how-tos, and beyond. She lives in the Greater Boston area with her amazing husband and their blissed-out pit bull. She enjoys cooking from scratch, teaching creative writing workshops, and providing unique services via www.holisticnook.com.