Scarlett O’Hara (full name Katie Scarlett Rollibard O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler) is the protagonist in Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind and in the later film of the same name. She also is the main character in the 1970 musical Scarlett and the 1991 book Scarlett, a sequel to Gone with the Wind that was written by Alexandra Ripley and adapted for a television mini-series in 1994. During early drafts of the original novel, Mitchell referred to her heroine as “Pansy”, and did not decide on the name “Scarlett” until just before the novel went to print.
Scarlett O’Hara is not beautiful in a conventional sense, as indicated by Margaret Mitchell’s opening line, but a charming Southern belle who grows up on a Clayton County, Georgia plantation named after Tara 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 two younger sisters are 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. Selfish, shrewd and vain, Scarlett inherits the strong will of her Irish father Gerald O’Hara, but also desires to please her well-bred, gentle French American mother Ellen Robillard, from a good and well respected Savannah, Georgia family. Scarlett believes she’s in love with Ashley Wilkes, her aristocratic neighbor, but when his engagement to meek and mild-mannered Melanie Hamilton is announced, she marries Melanie’s brother, Charles Hamilton, out of spite.
Her new husband dies early in the war of the pox, and Tara falls into the marauding hands of the Yankees. In the face of hardship, the spoiled Scarlett uncharacteristically shoulders the troubles of her family and friends, and eventually the not-so-grieving widow marries her sister’s beau, Frank Kennedy, in order to get funds to pay the taxes on and save her family’s beloved home. Her practical nature leads to a willingness to step on anyone who doesn’t have her family’s best interests at heart, including her own sister.
One of the most richly developed female characters of the time on film and in literature, she repeatedly challenges the prescribed women’s roles of her time. As a result, she becomes very disliked by the people of Atlanta, Georgia. Scarlett’s ongoing internal conflict between her feelings for the Southern gentleman Ashley and her attraction to the sardonic, opportunistic Rhett Butler—who becomes her third husband—embodies the general position of The South in the Civil War era.