Ultimately, it is the desire, not the desired, that we love.
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Seeing as how it is Christmas, I am spending some time in front of the piece of furniture I otherwise avoid – the auld telly. One of my favourite films of all time, Gone with the Wind, was on just yesterday.
I must have seen it a hundred times as a child. Those were the days of the Spice Girls and girl power, the economy was only growing and I was full of curiosity as to what it would be like to be an adult. I am not much of a vocal feminist, but Scarlett represented a kind of strong independent woman to me at the time. Naturally, I noticed that she has an unreasonable obsession with Ashley. I thought that that’s what they called love. Yes, Ashley was always a bit of a disappointment, but in my 10 year old mind, it made sense that love is love – and that’s it. Scarlett was obviously far from perfect: s a bit self-centred, a bit impulsive… But, boy, she kicked ass like no one else I’d ever seen before. I felt that the centre-stage relationship was between Ashley and Scarlett – and everyone else was a third-wheel of ill fate, the same kind that brought war and poverty to Scarlett.
Watching it now, it looks so different. Scarlett was an ambitious woman with more than a touch of insecurity and narcissism. There was no relationship. Her supposed love was in reality a crush that managed to solidify through Ashley’s response. Scarlett made the first move. There was a purpose to it, like with everything Scarlett did: she wanted to marry Ashley. Ashley told her he loved her, or rather, denied that he didn’t love her. She continued her infatuation for the rest of the film. It was fuelled by continued scenes where Ashley’s reluctantly reaffirms that he has a soft spot for Scarlett. I guess he didn’t want to hurt her – and he wasn’t lying either. It is obvious that Ashley is not the sort of man that Scarlett would naturally be interested in. There was always something odd about the extent to which she was drawn to him.
Scarlett was interested not in Ashley, but in how it made her feel to know that he loves her. The bitter sweet thought of a man trapped in a marriage to an almost perfect woman nevertheless constantly thinking of her, of Scarlett – that was what was playing on her mind constantly, yielding endless validation.
I only spotted this now, in my late twenties. The reason I believe it is true is that in the scene where Melanie dies – and lo and behold, Scarlett falls into Ashley’s arms, the following crucial dialogue unfolds:
Ashley: I can’t live without her, I can’t. Everything I ever had is… is going with her.
Scarlett: Oh, Ashley. You really love her, don’t you?
Ashley: She’s the only dream I ever had that didn’t die in the face of reality.
Scarlett: Dreams! Always dreams with you, never common sense.
Scarlett: lf you knew what I’ve gone through! Ashley, you should have told me years ago that you loved her and not me and not left me dangling with your talk of honor. But you had to wait till now, now when Melly’s dying to show me that I could never mean any more to you than than this Watling woman does to Rhett. And I’ve loved something that…that doesn’t really exist.
It’s bad enough to be infatuated – like Gatsby was with Daisy. However, it is much worse to be infatuated because of the belief that the subject of one’s infatuation loves them. Of course, there was an element of reciprocity adding fuel to Gatsby’s infatuation, but it wasn’t nearly as strong.
Gatsby was infatuated with Daisy from first principles; Scarlett was infatuated with Ashley as a reaction to what she perceived as his infatuation with her.
It makes more sense from an evolutionary point of view for a person to be obsessed with someone who already has a crush them , but it is also kind of… pathetic. It’s like the decision wasn’t even theirs. It is especially pathetic if they don’t have a crush on the infatuated person- and it’s only in their mind.
The dialogue above is so ironic. Ashley, the supposed dreamer, off with the fairies while Scarlett was saving Tara, saving Melanie’s life and just generally solving the most complex of problems, talked about Melanie as the one thing that was real. It finally hit her then that she was the one who was living in a dream. Ashley told her that they would never be happy together because they are so different. He saw reality much more clearly than she did – in this sense. On the other hand, Gatsby never even made it as far as Scarlett. What about Rhett – was he infatuated? I think he was hopeful, but still kept an eye on reality.
It’s tough denouncing Scarlett from her “super-woman who was unlucky with men” status to “needy super-woman who ruined things because she was too silly to see the truth” status. At least now, it makes more sense.