Scarlett O'Hara, perhaps the best example of the true, rational pragmatist from either of the two, novels, continually redefines herself in the situations she encounters. Scarlett is romantically drawn to both Ashley Wilkes, her romantic ideal of the South, and Rhett Butler, the man most like Scarlett in temperament and desire for action. Scarlett feels most at odds with Melanie Wilkes, who is more successful than Scarlett in finding balance in an ideologically divided New South.
As the person left responsible for her childhood plantation, Tara, Scarlett perhaps most resembles Thomas Sutpen from Absalom, Absalom! Both characters literally reinvent their selves and their plantations, dragging their families with them as they go.
In the following passage, Scarlett has just returned to a war torn Tara and discovered her father, Gerald O'Hara, unable to cope with the death of his wife. For Scarlett, the corn whiskey she drinks is a communion with what she holds dear about the South, and in drinking it, she weds herself to Tara's renewal.
(from chapter 24 of Gone With the Wind)
The long road from Atlanta to Tara had ended, ended in a blank wall, the road that was to end in Ellen's arms. Never again could Scarlett lie down, as a child, secure beneath her father's roof with the protection of her mother's love wrapped about her like an eiderdown quilt. There was no security or haven to which she could turn now. No turning or twisting would avoid this dead end to which she had come. There was no one on whose shoulders she could rest her burdens. Her father was old and stunned, her sisters ill, Melanie frail and weak, the children helpless, and the negroes looking up to her with childlike faith, clinging to her skirts, knowing that Ellen's daughter would be the refuge Ellen had always been.
Through the window, in the faint light of the rising moon, Tara stretched before her, negroes gone, acres desolate, barns ruined, like a body bleeding under her eyes, like her own body, slowly bleeding. This was the end of the road, quivering old age, sickness, hungry mouths, helpless hands plucking at her skirts. And at the end of this road, there was nothing--nothing but Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton, nineteen years old, a widow with a little child.
What would she do with all of this? Aunt Pitty and the Burrs in Macon could take Melanie and her baby. If the girls recovered, Ellen's family would have to take them, Whether they liked it or not. And she and Gerald could turn to Uncle James and Andrew.
She looked at the thin forms, tossing before her, the sheets about them moist and dark from dripping water. She did not like Suellen. She saw it now with a sudden clarity. She had never liked her. She did not especially love Carreen--she could not love anyone who was weak. But they were of her blood, part of Tara. No, she could not let them live out their lives in their aunts' homes as poor relations. An O'Hara a poor relation, living on charity bread and sufferance! Oh, never that!
Was there no escape from this dead end? Her tired brain moved so slowly. She raised her hands to her head as wearily as if the air were water against which her arms struggled. She took the gourd from between the glass and bottle and looked in it. There was some whisky left in the bottom, how much she could not tell in the uncertain light. Strange that the sharp smell did not offend her nostrils now. She drank slowly but this time the liquid did not burn, only a dull warmth followed.
She set down the empty gourd and looked about her. This was all a dream, this smoke-filled dim room, the scrawny girls, Mammy shapeless and huge crouching beside the bed, Dilcey a still bronze image with the sleeping pink morsel against her dark breast--all a dream from which she would awake, to smell bacon frying in the kitchen, hear the throaty laughter of the negroes and the creaking of wagons fieldward bound, and Ellen's gentle insistent hand upon her.
Then she discovered she was in her own room, on her own bed, faint moonlight pricking the darkness, and Mammy and Dilcey were undressing her. The torturing stays no longer pinched her waist and she could breathe deeply and quietly to the bottom of her lungs and her abdomen. She felt her stockings being stripped gently from her and heard Mammy murmuring indistinguishable comforting sounds as she bathed her blistered feet. How cool the water was, how good to lie here in softness, like a child. She sighed and relaxed and after a time which might have been a year or a second, she was alone and the room was brighter as the rays of the moon streamed in across the bed.
She did not know she was drunk, drunk with fatigue and whisky. She only knew she had left her tired body and floated somewhere above it where there was no pain and weariness and her brain saw things with an inhuman clarity.
She was seeing things with new eyes for, somewhere along the long road to Tara, she had left her girlhood behind her. She was no longer plastic clay, yielding imprint to each new experience. The clay had hardened, some time in this indeterminate day which had lasted a thousand years. Tonight was the last time she would ever be ministered to as a child. She was a woman now and youth was gone.
No, she could not, would not, turn to Gerald's or Ellen's families. The O'Haras did not take charity. The O'Haras looked after their own. Her burdens were her own and burdens were for shoulders strong enough to bear them. She thought without surprise, looking down from her height, that her shoulders were strong enough to bear anything now, having borne the worst that could ever happen to her. She could not desert Tara; she belonged to the red acres far more than they could ever belong to her. Her roots went deep into the blood-colored soil and sucked up life, as did the cotton. She would stay at Tara and keep it, somehow, keep her father and her sisters, Melanie and Ashley's child, the negroes. Tomorrow--oh, tomorrow! Tomorrow she would fit the yoke about her neck. Tomorrow there would be so many things to do. Go to Twelve Oaks and the MacIntosh place and see if anything was left in the deserted gardens, go to the river swamps and beat them for straying hogs and chickens, go to Jonesboro and Lovejoy with Ellen's jewelry--there must be someone left there who would sell something to eat. Tomorrow--tomorrow--her brain ticked slowly and more slowly, like a clock running down, but the clarity of vision persisted.
Of a sudden, the oft-told family tales to which she had listened since babyhood, listened half-bored, impatient and but partly comprehending, were crystal clear. Gerald, penniless, had raised Tara; Ellen had risen above some mysterious sorrow; Grandfather Robillard, surviving the wreck of Napoleon's throne, had founded his fortunes anew on the fertile Georgia coast; Great-grandfather Prudhomme had carved a small kingdom out of the dark jungles of Haiti, lost it, and lived to see his name honored in Savannah. There were the Scarletts who had fought with the Irish Volunteers for a free Ireland and been hanged for their pains and the O'Haras who died at the Boyne, battling to the end for what was theirs.
All had suffered crushing misfortunes and had not been crushed. They had not been broken by the crash of empires, the machetes of revolting slaves, war, rebellion, proscription, confiscation. Malign fate had broken their necks, perhaps, but never their hearts. They had not whined, they had fought. And when they died, they died spent but unquenched. All of those shadowy folks whose blood flowed in her veins seemed to move quietly in the moonlit room. And Scarlett was not surprised to see them, these kinsmen who had taken the worst that fate could send and hammered it into the best. Tara was her fate, her fight, and she must conquer it.
She turned drowsily on her side, a slow creeping blackness enveloping her mind. Were they really there, whispering wordless encouragement to her, or was this part of her dream?
"Whether you are there or not," she murmured sleepily, "good night--and thank you."