One of my favorite cinematic moments comes from Gone with the Wind. Scarlett O’Hara, a wealthy socialite, finds herself penniless and hungry. Twelve Oaks plantation has burned to the ground, and the crops are completely destroyed. Out of sheer desperation, she digs for radishes in the slaves’ garden.
Viewers already know that Scarlett’s not particularly adept at interpersonal relationships (understatement). She feigns the need for a fainting couch, but this Southern girl’s got grit. If past is prelude, she won’t stay down for long. We know we can count on her to hatch a plan, and then give her all to make it happen.
And so she does. Scarlett shakes her fist at the dark sky and promises, “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." (video clip)
She drops her materialistic affectations, rolls up her sleeves, and works toward financial independence. The former Southern belle pays a heavy price for her “unladylike” behavior; but for perhaps the first time in her life, social acceptance doesn’t matter to her one whit. To be sure, she flails around a bit. Old habits die hard. But our heroine eventually recovers her self-worth, and realizes the value of true love.
I first saw this movie when I was about eleven years old. In my preteen, drama-prone mind, I viewed Scarlett’s downtrodden situation as a parable for my own hardscrabble life. My stomach twisted as I watched her fall to her knees and dig frantically for food. As she raised her voice and shook her fist at the sky, my soul cried with hers. And I made a similar promise—minus the part about stealing and killing.
I flashbacked to this movie as I watched the news this morning. My heart aches when I think about the financial realities many people are facing. I am anguished by the thought of people—children, especially—who may find themselves homeless and starving. Each of us will probably undergo our own character transformations as the as-yet-untold story of this economic disaster unfolds. As God is my witness, I pray that we can forge our better selves in the crucible of this economic crisis.