In the annals of classic literature, there are many famous females who possibly would do well in the world of business. Certain Jane Austen protagonists, such as Elizabeth Bennet and Emma Woodhouse, come to mind. However, there is one fictional fraulein who would have made an outstanding Fortune 500 CEO; she was written by her author to be a stone-cold survivor.
If you can put aside the fact that Gone With the Wind (GWTW) is thought by some to be a patronizing, racist remembrance of the antebellum South, Scarlett O’Hara stands as the novel’s almighty force of free-market capitalism. Read and digest the lessons of a “Miss” who was no lady from age sixteen on:
“‘As God is my witness, as God is my witness, the Yankees aren’t going to lick me. I’m going to live through this, and when it’s over, I’m never going to be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to steal or kill – as God is my witness, I’m never going to be hungry again.'”
This bit of dialogue has been immortalized and mocked many times since its literary origins in 1936. She didn’t yet know how she would accomplish this goal, but Scarlett made up her mind in a raggedy vegetable patch that no matter what, she and her family would survive.
As it turns out, she would both kill ( a Yankee soldier breaking and entering into Tara) and steal (from her sister Suellen, from business competitors) to meet her main objective. When facing tough circumstances, you’ve got to be like Scarlett and recalibrate your mind toward survival and its companion, success. I don’t condone the murder and theft tactics…
“He thought as he stared at Will in the shadowy hall that he had never known such gallantry as the gallantry of Scarlett O’Hara going forth to conquer the world in her mother’s velvet curtains and the tail feathers of a rooster.”
Gallantry is usually associated with knights in shining armor. In this case, it’s associated with a former Southern belle who needs $300 for the additional taxes levied against her “sacred cow” and home, Tara. Rather than relying on any of her remaining menfolk, Scarlett relies on herself and her ability to rouse others (to help her make a new dress) before she travels to Atlanta on her cash-seeking mission.
And when she couldn’t get what she needed from Rhett Butler, she bewitched sister Suellen’s intended (Frank Kennedy) by being in the right place at the right time. She then married him and convinced him to write that $300 check. Talk about a belle with balls!
“‘Listen, Rhett, and see if this doesn’t sound like good business to you…There aren’t many sawmills around here now, and the way people are rebuilding – why, we could sell lumber sky high…Frank would buy the mill himself if he had the money. I guess he was intending buying it with the money he gave me for the taxes.'”
Scarlett O’Hara decides after the war to expand her second husband’s middling general store into a lumber and sawmill empire! Despite her tempestuous relationship with Rhett, she seeks his good counsel to confirm that her plan will be a money maker. In many ways, Rhett Butler is Scarlett’s business mentor, and if you can bend the ear of a successful businessman who admires strong women, why wouldn’t you?
This quote from Rhett Butler nicely sums up why Scarlett O’Hara was a barracuda of a businesswoman to be reckoned with during the Civil War’s Reconstruction Era:
“‘You got out and hustled and now your fortunes are firmly planted on money stolen from a dead man’s wallet and money stolen from the Confederacy. You’ve got murder to your credit, and husband stealing, attempted fornication, lying and sharp dealing and any amount of chicanery that won’t bear close inspection. Admirable things, all of them. They show you to be a person of energy and determination and a good money risk.'”
Despite any misgivings you might have about reading GWTW, here are two good reasons to do so: The book itself is a wonderfully written piece of literature, and Scarlett O’Hara is a hoot in hoop skirts. For a related link regarding Scarlett’s admirable ambition, check out an earlier article written by Karen Grigsby Bates for NPR. Other Scarlett O’Hara goodies include the famous Carol Burnett sketch that parodied those moss-green curtains and Molly Haskell’s 2009 book, which deep-dives into GWTW with a focus on the movie version.
If you actually read this entire blog post (thank you!), did you think it too long? If you liked it, what other famous literary heroines or heroes would you suggest I “slice and dice” for a future business-oriented post? Until next time, gentle reader…
Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business writing, editing, and research company. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing copy. Call her (856-810-9764) or email her (firstname.lastname@example.org) for a no-obligation project quote today!