Gone with the Wind: Worldly Change Changes the Life of a Character


This week’s theme movie is Gone with the Wind (1939). It was great seeing it again on the big screen. It’s amazing how well-structured the characters surround the theme of “survival” as described by the novel’s author, Margaret Mitchell. Each of the major characters’ core values complement each other in a way that plays the breadth of each one’s dynamic range.

Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) especially shows how a character can be stretched one way and the other in response to a constantly changing environment—and how a character can drastically change without losing the fundamental nature of their character.

Scarlett’s One Word (core value) seems to be “Life.” She is often described as having a passion for life and even in her oft-quoted mid-point soliloquy she holds up her hand to the heavens and commits herself to her One Word: “As God is my witness, as God is my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this…As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!

“Life” is an especially appropriate word considering the theme. As a result, she is able to survive and come to a conclusion that is ambiguous, and still surprisingly satisfying to the millions of female fans who have elevated Scarlett to icon status (despite the throngs of critics who also find her to be racist, unredeemable, weak and even sociopathic).

In any case, the life of this character is a paradigm of what obstacles a real person can face living in a world that is constantly changing and upheaving around them. She is also a testimonial of how you must be willing to do change in order overcome those obstacles.

The rest of the major characters balance out the narrative argument:  Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) exemplifies the value of “Heart,” that is, the essence of life in an individual that fuels their personal desires and feelings. He shows this in a wide range of tones including courage, passion, a change of heart, and even heartlessness (“Frankly, my dear…”)  At one point he asks Scarlett, “Is it true, my dear Scarlett, that you have actually grown a true woman’s heart?” Although it is said in irony in that moment, it’s a true measure of his attraction of her—for as the heart attempts to overcome the stormy nature of life, it must acknowledge that it needs to first find a passion and respect for it.

“There’s one thing I do know… and that is that I love you, Scarlett. In spite of you and me and the whole silly world going to pieces around us, I love you. Because we’re alike. Bad lots, both of us. Selfish and shrewd. But able to look things in the eyes as we call them by their right names.”

Rhett Butler

Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and his wife, Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) round out the perpendicular perspectives of “Survival.”  Ashley is caught between his attraction of Scarlett’s passion for life and his idealistic aims of “Honor,” a value that he sees crumbling in the ashes of the Old South.  Melanie, on the other hand, personifies the value of “Kindness,” or the gentleness that gives the benefit of the doubt by seeing the pain and struggle of life through another person’s eyes.  As Melanie is wont to say to everyone, “No, you misunderstood Scarlett.”  Melanie is the one who understands herself that kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, and yet life is a force that goes beyond the judgments of society, culture and personal prejudice.

Scarlett’s Life Changes When She Realizes She’s Lost Her True Heart’s Desire

All these characters values exist in context to each other along a spectrum of human experience. As shown in the diagram above, on one end lies the human soul’s desire for transcendence above the squalls and tempests of this world. That is where we first find Scarlett, living a genteel existence on the verdant fields of Tara, her father’s Southern plantation. In that world, ladies are pampered by docile and colorful servants until the time that a refined suitor appears to whisk her away to a land of barbeques and balls.

Yet within moments, that world is threatened by the looming savagery of war—a war that modern students may not realize was the bloodiest in all of American history—and Scarlett is set on a journey of change that leads her through destruction and rebirth to a moment where she has to face the harsh reality that the man she truly loves has just walked out on her.

If you’ve seen this story, then you know this moment was preceded by a realization that the man Scarlett had been pining for all along, Ashley, was only worth something because of the kindness that he had brought into her life. All of this happened in the middle of the story, however, as she was constantly being put in a position where she had to be kind to her rival, Ashely’s wife Melanie, in order to be kind to Ashley.

And there we can see the true love relationship in Gone with the Wind—between Scarlett and Melanie on her death bed. For in that moment, Scarlett (Life) had to face the reality of death and feel the pain of the loss of one she had learned to love despite the ideals that stood between them.

And with that personal moment a picture is painted against the backdrop of a dying civilization and its uneasy growing pains as it rises from the grave. A fitting metaphor for a Northern victor emboldened in the rightness of its historic cause and its brother, a Southern civilization that was broken, defeated, and gone with the wind. And a lesson for those of us alive now that those who bend for the sake of another will bring life again to tomorrow; while those that break due to an idealistic fervor in the gales of adversity will blow about like dust back into the dirt.


Our faith should bolster us as we take on the winds of change. Or as Christ said to his disciples on the night He was betrayed, “Do not lose heart. For I have overcome the world.”

When our hearts become hard, we break. Although he was the son of a righteous God, he chose to lay down his life in love to keep the relationship.

So take this week to ask how the world is changing you, and how your faith is allowing to you bend but not break.

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