Scarlett O'Hara

Scarlett O'Hara, as she appears in Gone With the Wind.
Appears in Gone With the Wind (book)
Gone With the Wind (film)
Homeland Georgia
Hometown Tara
Family Ellen O'Hara
(mother, deceased)
Gerald O'Hara
(father, deceased)
Charles Hamilton
(1st husband; deceased)
Wade Hampton Hamilton
Frank Kennedy
(2nd husband; deceased)
Ella Lorena Kennedy
Rhett Bulter
(3rd husband)
Eugenie "Bonnie Blue" Victoria Butler
(daughter; deceased)
Katie "Cat" Colum Butler
(daughter in Scarlett)
Race Caucasian
Age 16 - 28 (Gone With the Wind)
c. 30s (Scarlett)
Affiliations Confederate States of America
Fayette Female Academy

Katie Scarlett O'Hara is the main character in 1936's Gone With the Wind novel by Margaret Mitchell, along with the film adaptation in 1939. She also appears in in the 1970 musical Scarlett and the 1991 book Scarlett, considered a vastly inferior sequel to Gone with the Wind written under contract by Alexandra Ripley and adapted for a television mini-series in 1994. Initially, author Margret Mitchell referred to her heroine as "Pansy" until just before publication.  Upon advice from her editor, who felt readers would relate to the fiery character better under a  more dramatic name, she changed the name to "Scarlett".

Character Development

In the novel's opening line Margaret Mitchell declares that Scarlett O'Hara is not beautiful in a conventional sense. Instead she is described as a charming Southern belle who grows up in Georgia on a Clayton County plantation named Tara, named after the historic Hill of Tara in Ireland, in the years before the American Civil War. Scarlett is described as being sixteen years old at the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861, which would put her approximate birth date in early 1845. She is the oldest of three daughters, her younger sisters being the lazy and whiny Susan Elinor ("Suellen") and the gentle and kind Caroline Irene ("Carreen"). Her mother also gave birth to three younger sons, who were all named Gerald Jr. and died as infants.

Shrewd and vain, but lacking in insight or analytical skills, Scarlett inherits the strong will of her Irish father Gerald O'Hara, but deeply desires to please her well-bred, gentle French American mother Ellen Robillard, from an aristocratic Savannah, Georgia family. Scarlett is secretly in love with Ashley Wilkes, son and scion to the neighboring plantation Twelve Oaks. Despite the wisdom of her father and her Mammy who insist that Ashley would make her a poor husband even if he were willing to flout convention to marry her, Scarlett is determined to try to win him. The attempt is a humiliating failure, made worse when she realizes her confession, rejection, and resultant temper tantrum were all witnessed by the smug Rhett Butler. When Ashley's engagement to meek and mild-mannered Melanie Hamilton is announced, out of hurt and spite she retaliates by marrying Melanie's brother, the shy and mild-mannered Charles Hamilton. Only a few weeks into the war her new husband dies, not in combat but of measles.  

Soon after, Scarlett disgustedly finds herself pregnant from her brief, ill-fated marriage, and in time gives birth to a son she names Wade Hampton Hamilton. She does not fit well into either molds of grieving widow or blissful young mother. Upon advice of her mother she moves to Atlanta to stay with Melanie and her ineffective, childlike Aunt Pittypat. Following a Christmas visit from Ashley, Melanie too becomes pregnant, but lacking Scarlett's robust constitution, the pregnancy goes hard on her. Scarlett's patience, never her strong suit, is tried to the limit as Melanie's failing strength requires near constant nursing. She goes into labor just as General Sherman begins his advance on the City.  Scarlett, unable to get the overburdened local doctor to come help with the birth and learning that her personal slave, Prissy, has lied about her own knowledge, reluctantly stays by Melanie's side. Her rough and insincere encouragement somehow help Melanie through. Scarlett inexpertly but effectively delivers her son.  The labor, birth and lack of either sanitary or knowledgeable care take a terrible toll on the new mother but in the face of enemy invasion immediate evacuation is essential. Panic-stricken, Scarlett immediately--not for the first time or the last--turns to Rhett for help.

With Rhett's guidance and thieving skills she acquires what is probably the last horse in Atlanta, a diseased old thing, as well as a rickety wagon. Thus begins a nightmarish trek back to Tara for Scarlett, Melanie, the newborn, Scarlett's toddler son, and Prissy. Harassed by troops on either side, hungry and prey to the weather, insects and rough roads, the wretched group painfully traverse the twenty five miles to Tara. Alas, Tara has fallen into the marauding hands of the Yankees. All the valuables, all gold, harvested crops and livestock are gone.

In the face of hardship, the spoiled Scarlett shoulders the troubles of her family and friends, but the near starvation and backbreaking, endless work change her forever. She grows hard and calculating. An attack from an enemy deserter forces her hand and she shoots him in self-defense. Sick as she is, Melanie assists Scarlett in hiding the body and cleaning up. Although on the surface Melanie is as sweet and loving as ever, hard times have wrought changes upon her character, too.

As the remainder of the former Southern army troop home, some familiar faces return. A former overseer and his new wife, poor white Emmy Slattery (whose name is synonymous with her loose-moraled character) come "calling" with an eye to purchase Tara for themselves, Scarlett learns that her home will soon be put up for auction due to tax debts. Now hardened, she is willing to do whatever she has to, including selling her body to Rhett, to raise the tax money. Her plan is a dismal failure as Rhett sees through it right away and eventually the not-so-grieving widow marries her sister's beau, Frank Kennedy, for the funds to pay the taxes. Her hardened, practical nature has driven her to steal her own sister's beau. It doesn't end there. After Rhett leaves her because he thinks she doesn't love her, she goes and finds him and with the death of Melanie, Ashley asks Scarlett to marry him Scarlett says, "I'm sorry I love Rhett" without knowing Rhett is listening he decides that he still wants her. Scarlett finally gets Rhett back and promises to love him and says she will have as many children as he desires. They soon have a girl who they name Melanie and a boy named James.  

As one of the most colorful characters in literature, Scarlett challenges the prescribed women's roles of her time. She pays a steep price in the form of ostracism by her Atlanta acquaintances. The story's driving force continues to be Scarlett's ongoing internal conflict between her feelings and the expected behavior for a woman of her age and class.

 Searching for Scarlett

The 1939 film version of Gone With the Wind Scarlett O'Hara is strongly similar to the character in the original novel in looks, character and behavior but there are some noticeable plot differences. In the book, Scarlett gives birth to three children: Wade Hampton Hamilton, Ella Lorena Kennedy, and Eugenie Victoria "Bonnie Blue" Butler. In the film version only Bonnie is featured. 

Almost universally, the studio and the public agreed that the part of Rhett Butler should go to Clark Gable. The exception being Clark Gable himself. Casting for the role of Scarlett was a little harder. The search for an actress to play Scarlett in the film version of the novel famously drew the biggest names in the history of cinema, such as Bette Davis (whose casting as a Southern belle in 1937's Jezebel took her out of contention), and Katharine Hepburn, who went so far as demanding an appointment with producer David O. Selznick and saying, "I am Scarlett O'Hara! The role is practically written for me."  David replied rather bluntly, "I can't imagine Rhett Butler chasing you for ten years." Jean Arthur and Lucille Ball were also considered, as well as relatively unknown actress Doris Davenport. Susan Hayward was "discovered" when she tested for the part, and the career of Lana Turner developed quickly after her screen test. Joan Bennett was widely considered to be the most likely choice until she was supplanted by Paulette Goddard.

The young English actress Vivien Leigh, virtually unknown in America, saw that several English actors, including Ronald Colman and Leslie Howard, were in consideration for the male leads in Gone with the Wind. Her agent happened to be the London representative of the Myron Selznick talent agency, headed by David Selznick's brother, a co-owner of Selznick International Pictures. Leigh asked her agent to put her name into consideration as Scarlett on the eve of the American release of her picture Fire Over England in February 1938. David Selznick watched both Fire Over England and her most recent picture, A Yank at Oxford, that month, and from that time onward, Leigh had the inside track for the role of Scarlett. Selznick began highly confidential negotiations with Alexander Korda, to whom Leigh was under contract, for her services later that year. Leigh was informed of Selznick's interest, and told that she would not need to screen test for the role at present as he would view her movies.

For publicity purposes, David Selznick arranged to first meet Leigh on the night in December 1938 when the burning of the Atlanta Depot was being filmed on the Forty Acres back lot that Selznick International and RKO shared. The story was invented for the press that Leigh and Laurence Olivier were just visiting as guests of Myron Selznick, who was also Olivier's agent, and that Leigh was in Hollywood hoping for a part in Olivier's current movie, Wuthering Heights. In a letter to Selznick's wife two days later, he admitted that Leigh was "the Scarlett dark horse," and after a series of screen tests, her casting was announced on January 13, 1939. Just before the shooting of the film, Selznick informed Ed Sullivan: "Scarlett O'Hara's parents were French and Irish. Identically, Miss Leigh's parents are French and Irish.

In any case, Leigh was cast—despite public protest that the role was too "American" for an English actress—and Leigh eventually won an Academy Award for her performance. Some similarities between Scarlett and Vivien Leigh, the actress who played her are striking: Both were ambitious, both wanted little to do with motherhood. both swore they would never again have a child.  Scarlett and Leigh came from similar Irish/French backgrounds.  Both were hailed as great beauties--although author Margaret Mitchell made sure to state that Scarlett was no beauty in the traditional sense.  Neither lasted well in long-term, traditional relationships and found friendships equally hard to sustain.  However, Vivien Leigh suffered from complex mental illnesses that are difficult to picture plaguing the indomitable Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler.


In the 1994 TV mini-series based on the sequel Scarlett, the character was played by English actress Joanne Whalley.

In the Margaret Martin musical Friday, the role of Scarlett O'Hara was originated by Jill Paice..

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