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Melanie Wilkes is my copilot - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Zoethe

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Melanie Wilkes is my copilot [Aug. 31st, 2015|12:06 pm]
Zoethe
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.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: teaa
2015-08-31 04:55 pm (UTC)
Absofuckinglutely! Hear Hear!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-09-01 03:06 am (UTC)
Yay for Melanie fans!
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[User Picture]From: yshaloo
2015-08-31 05:24 pm (UTC)
I'd never looked at it that way, but you are totally right.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-09-01 03:07 am (UTC)
Getting someone to see this side of it just makes my day. Thanks for commenting!
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[User Picture]From: wolflady26
2015-08-31 08:10 pm (UTC)
Indeed! Although it would seem from outwardly appearances that Scarlett is the top dog: gorgeous, witty, great with men, etc., what she really wants, and never realizes, is to be Melanie. That desire is shown outwardly through her passion for Lesley, but it goes much deeper than that. While Scarlett is desperately scheming, Melanie achieves as much more more with grace, kindness, and dignity, leaving Scarlett behind every time.

I do love Scarlett, but I love Melanie, too.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-08-31 09:38 pm (UTC)
I love Scarlett for being such a reprehensible creature and yet somehow so fascinating. It's a writing feat that is just plain brilliant.
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[User Picture]From: wolflady26
2015-08-31 10:20 pm (UTC)
I see her as really wanting to be good: powerful, protective, respected, loved. But she lacks the maturity to have patience and empathy to get what she wants, so instead she uses manipulation and harshness. I admire her a lot, while also seeing her flaws.

And you're right, it is amazing writing.
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[User Picture]From: funwithrage
2015-09-01 03:16 pm (UTC)
I've always seen Scarlett as a casualty of war, in her way: at the start of the book she's a bit on the Mean Girl side, and a bit delusional re: Ashley*, but she's also sixteen. And then her world basically ends, she has to become really good at the strictly-physical-survival thing, and everything about her nature becomes pretty well focused on that, with Ashley as the One Good Thing left. I sort of figure, if life had gone on normally, she'd have grown up and gotten over both him and herself within a year or two--probably still wouldn't have quite been the respectable feminine ideal within her society**, but would have been a much more functional adult.

The fact that Melanie doesn't go that way has a lot of things (different base personality, no thwarted infatuation, physically weaker and less vital, etc) but also she's a little older at the start, and two years actually can mean a lot when it's the difference between sixteen and eighteen.

I actually think the two compliment each other nicely, in a D&D party/adventurer pairing kind of way, with Scarlett mapping roughly to fighter and Melanie to cleric.

*Albeit everyone is, including him.
** Which is kind of okay, insofar as her society is both horribly sexist and horribly racist.
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[User Picture]From: caudelac
2015-09-01 01:38 am (UTC)
Yes. If she were a man, she'd be called an anti-hero.

And I adore Melanie.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-09-01 03:07 am (UTC)
Yeah, she would. And Melanie is the best. Glad to have fellow Melanie fans!
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[User Picture]From: ba1126
2015-08-31 09:05 pm (UTC)
Great analysis!!I give you an A+ !!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-08-31 10:02 pm (UTC)
Why thank you!
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[User Picture]From: sacramentalist
2015-08-31 11:25 pm (UTC)
This is one of the best posts I've read in a long while. A+
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-09-01 03:03 am (UTC)
Thank you!
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[User Picture]From: stripedsocks
2015-09-01 03:31 am (UTC)
I agree with you 1000% and always have. Melanie Wilkes is the bomb diggity and the true hero of the story.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2015-09-01 03:34 am (UTC)
She's Scarlett's Sam, really.
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[User Picture]From: pachamama
2015-09-01 06:31 am (UTC)
This, this, oh absolutely this!
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