My friend Bart spent yesterday evening on Facebook, live-tweeting his experience of watching Gone With the Wind. He made the argument that it is, for the most part, incredibly feminist and progressive. He concentrated on Scarlett, of course. But to me? The real badass is Melanie.
People miss this, because Melanie is kind and quiet, and because our main POV character is Scarlett. Scarlett doesn’t get Melanie until the very last. But when she does, she realizes that Melanie was her true champion all along.
So let’s break it down. The first time we see Melanie, she’s all mousy in dove gray, and Scarlett attempts to make her jealous and convince her that Ashley is a lying scoundrel. Melanie hears what Scarlett says, and her reply is the sweetest, “Well bless your heart, aren’t you the cutest thing?” dismissal of Scarlett’s venom. She pulls Scarlett’s fangs, and our little belle doesn’t even realize it.
Melanie is never physically strong, but she’s the one who keeps going at the hospital. She’s the one who’s got the guts to assist the doctors while Scarlett runs away.
And when they get to Tara and Scarlett shoots the potential rapist in the face? Melanie’s the one who’s all, “You go, girl, let’s loot the body.” She keeps her head, keeps the rest of the family away with a quick lie, and keeps Scarlett focused on dealing with the body.
Melanie is the one who, in the midst of a very judgmental society, accepts the generosity of a prostitute when all the other “good” women sneer at her. She’s the one who is not just willing but proud to acknowledge her gratitude and debt to Belle Watling.
It’s not that Melanie is weak-willed. No, when India Wilkes catches Scarlett in the arms of Ashley and scurries off to tell Melanie, Melanie is all, “Bitch, get out my face, out my house, you dead to me.” And that’s the end of India. Ashley’s sister has to wait until Melanie is on her deathbed for dispensation. Melanie rules with iron.
And that iron is surrounded in a velvet so soft that most people don’t realize the iron is under there. At the Atlanta ball scene, Melanie–who can’t be more than 20–is considered such an important pillar of society that her endorsement of unconventional behaviors makes them acceptable. While people may regard her acknowledgement of Belle Watling as naive, no one looks down on her for it. Melanie calmly lies to the face of soldiers, cool enough that butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, and they believe her because she has always been genteel. She saves Scarlett’s reputation–and Bonnie’s future in society (had she lived) by her acceptance of Scarlett into her home.
Melanie’s kindness and gentleness gave her the latitude to be ruthless as hell and get away with stuff that no other woman could. And everyone around her loves her–even Scarlett.
Yeah, Scarlett’s got all the flame, blazing on the surface. But Melanie? Melanie’s the hot coals at the base of the fire, where the real work gets done.