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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Movies & Madness: Scarlett O'Hara

Scarlett O'Hara is on the couch today. Let's see if you agree with my diagnosis. 

Note: This assessment will be done using the Scarlett O'Hara as portrayed by Vivian Leigh in the 1939 film, not the literary figure from Margaret Mitchell's book.

Scarlett had to be the center of attention. The beginning of the film shows that very well, with the classic picture of her in the middle of all the men, basking in their adulation. She said, "Now isn't this better than sitting at a table? A girl hasn't got but two sides to her at the table."

She was often seductive or provocative, using her appearance to draw attention to herself. Think of how she had Mammy trying to get her back into the same waist-sized corset she had before her baby was born, of how she took to the desperate measures of making a dress out of curtains in order to keep appearances up. She considers her relationship with Ashley more intimate than it was, telling him that he "led her on" and "made her believe that he wanted to marry her," all the while Ashley denies this.

Scarlett's emotions shifted rapidly, so therefore seemed to carry little depth. Rhett saw through this immediately, which endears him the viewer. This is not to say that Scarlett didn't feel emotions deeply. I believe she did. But her shallowness emerges when she's happy and smiling one minute then pouting the next. Some might think her to have Bipolar based on this, but that's the only characteristic that fits.

Scarlett was nothing if not dramatic. Her theatricality made the movie what it was. You can just hear her. "Oh, Ashley!" "Oh, Rhett!" "Oh, Melanie!" Wringing her hands, pacing, using words like "varmint" to degrade someone, fiddle-dee-deeing things of import--she often exaggerated. For example, at the beginning with the Templeton brothers are talking of war, she exclaims, "Fiddle-dee-dee. War, war, war; this war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream." She warns them that she'll go in the house and slam the door of they keep on.


She is highly suggestible, too, meaning others can easily influence her. When Mammy is trying to get Scarlett to eat before the barbeque so that she doesn't "eat like a field hand and gobble like a hog" when she's there and reflect badly on her family. Scarlett says that Ashley told her he likes a girl with an appetite, and all Mammy has to do in plant this seed: What gentlemen says and what they thinks is two different things, and I ain't noticed Mr. Ashley askin' for to marry you. Scarlett then starts stuffing food in her mouth like a starved person.

I've just described in bold every clinical symptom of Histrionic Personality Disorder. To have this diagnosis, you only have to have 5 of 8 symptoms, and have started showing signs of these symptoms by early adulthood in a variety of contexts, which Scarlett does. The one symptom I didn't mention was an vague, impressionistic pattern of speech. I couldn't think of a place where Scarlett lacked detail in her speech, as if trying to impress someone but not really having the knowledge or words to do so.

Histrionic Personality Disorder is in the same cluster as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and as you will read, Scarlet exhibits a few of those traits, but I don't believe she has the required five of nine to qualify. You can read my post on all the traits of BPD here.

Scarlett hurled a vase after being rejected by Ashley Wilkes. Yes, it's dramatic, as mentioned above, but it also borders on unstable. Borderline PD is characterized by intense, erratic, interpersonal relationships, which Scarlett definitely has, not only with Ashley, but Rhett also. These relationships usually fluctuate from idealization to devaluation. Hmm. Definitely fits! This also shows her difficulty controlling her anger, which BPD is also known for.

As most women might select shoes or purses, Scarlett had a tendency to select husbands. She marries Melanie's brother, Charles, to make Ashley jealous. He dies, but Scarlet fakes her mourning. (We all recall the scene where Rhett bids on her, and she accepts, going against societal norms for a grieving widow.) Then Scarlett manipulates her own sister's boyfriend, Frank Kennedy, into marrying her...and all she wanted was his money. This devastates Suellen. For diagnosis purposes, this shows two things: frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment and impulsivity.

Theodore Millon identified several subtypes of each personality disorder, and Scarlett would best be desribed as a cross between an Infantile and Theatrical Histrionic. Click on the picture for more detail. (Note: these subtypes are not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.)

Q4U: Does Scarlett being Histrionic fit? Does this ruin your perception of one of our favorite Southern Belles? Who should be next for a Movies & Madness assessment?

Wordle: signature

19 comments:

Keli Gwyn said...

What an interesting look at Scarlet. Talk about a heroine with some serious issues. She could have made a therapist rich.

Laura Marcella said...

Scarlett O'Hara is one of my favorite characters. I just think she's a spoiled brat, but her determination and courage is definitely admirable. Margaret Mitchell's writing and character development was brilliant!

Melissa Gill said...

I love Scarlett. She was a very complex character, mainly because she was so ignorant of her own depth.

Stephanie Faris said...

Narcissism, right? Seems like she fits the characteristics for it.

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

definitely some traits of it, stephanie. but i'd say it's not full-blown, though.

Miss Sharp said...

Madame Bovary?

Gia said...

I loved this post. Gone With The Wind is a favorite book and favorite movie. But it was always Rhett that I was drawn to. Can you do him?

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

hmm. modame bovary and scarlett have a few commonalities. i think scarlett was definitely bored with her life and wanted to spice it up. but while i always think of madame bovary as a tragedy, there is an element of hope at the end of GWTW. there is the tragic end to her and rhett (not counting the "sequels" to such a masterpiece), but there is hope. interesting.

and gia - rhett was a fascinating man, wasn't he? thanks for the suggestion. i just might have to put him on the couch.

Anonymous said...

I think she does meet all the facets of narcissistic personality disorder: (1) Leadership/authority, (2) Self-admiration/self-absorption, (3) Manipulativeness/exploitativeness, (4) Entitlement, (5) Lack of empathy. Some of her "histrionic" behaviors were more or less socially normative for women of her day and age. It's the element of narcissism that turned it into pathology. Just my .02.

Marie said...

The last chapter of the book, to me, screams "borderline." Histrionic is more likely, though. Either way, I couldn't stand her.

Kat said...

It's not that I don't think that Scarlett does not possess those qualities, but it's just that I find her more childish more than anything else. I think there's probably some sort of specific "disorder" for anything nowadays when really some people just get stuck in a rut and act more out of habit than anything else. I like the idea of a therapist scrutinizing Scarlet, but a diagnosis for a disorder that sounds like a scapegoat, kind of takes the fun out of it. I would be more interested to read about what sort of advice you would give her and questions you would ask her, and what sort of conclusions you would draw about her based on her behaviour, if she was really a patient of yours. (because hopefully that's not how you treat your real patients! just try to think of a personality disorder to diagnose them with haha)

lisa-ann mcmullin said...

What a woman! Now I see why I was drawn to her all these years, since little girlhood. :)

Anonymous said...

I dated a woman like this for about nine months and she kept quoting statements from the movie BEWARE OF THESE WOMEN THEY CAN TURN SADISTIC TRUST ME RUN FIR THE HILLS GET AWAY FROM THEM

Anonymous said...

Come on! Scarlett saved an entire family of snivelling cowards. She put on a false sense of bravey to pull everyone through. An admirable person with a great deal of courage!

Anonymous said...

First, "GwtW" is a coming of age book/film by the very obvious fact of Scarlett's age throughout the story (she’s 16 & by the end she’s 28 yrs old). There are many factors that contribute to how Scarlett acts, behaves, & feels/thinks in book & film. Remember, films portray just the surface of characters since it’s difficult to show feelings & emotions in true depth & meaning behind them, unlike in books we can get into the characters' minds; we don't know everything that characters think in films. At the beginning, Scarlett is a teenager & let's face it most teenagers are very selfish, it’s part of being a teenager, it is also a very human trait. While Ashley does not initially lead Scarlett on in the beginning, he does however spend the rest of the story leading her on. She constantly throws herself at him, & he even admits that he does love her in his own way, but he never makes a clean break (not even in the end) & never tells her that he doesn't love her & that she needs to get over him & leave him alone, which gives Scarlett hope & never allows her to move on from her obsession with him. Ashley never once helps Scarlett save Tara, & she constantly has to take care of him & his family, making Ashley an absolute coward (hiding behind the skirts of women). Even Rhett points this out: Ashley doesn't love Scarlett (she is a temptation for him) he LUSTS after her, & never puts her in her place b/c he is very flattered that an amazing & passionate woman like her would want him. Back to the growth of Scarlett: b/c she is never able to get over Ashley (until the end) I would say it (& the war itself) stunts her growth into adulthood. While the war hardens her, makes her become more resourceful, money hungry & money conscious, & an overall ambitious person; remember that Scarlett was just a kid herself at the beginning of the story & was forced to grow up, which perhaps did NOT allow her to grow in the healthiest way into adulthood. Despite her faults there was still a childlike innocence that Rhett loved to dote on by spoiling her like a child. Something people who knows the film but not the book may not realize that Scarlett's mother was a loving/caring person (someone Scarlett idolized, like she did Ashley, & often wished she could be more like) & often took care of others & did more of the business of running Tara than even Gerald O'Hara did, but in spite of Mrs. O'Hara being a generally good person, she spent so much time caring/healing for others, etc. that she neglected Scarlett & in turn was a very cold/distant/harsh mother towards Scarlett (which explains Scarlett's mothering abilities). She learned to be a cold/harsh/distant parent leading by her mother's example. Ashley was the type of man her mother would have hoped she'd marry & due to Scarlett's obsession with her mother & need to emulate her could also contribute to her obsession with Ashley. He also represented a big part of her past before the war and was her only connection to that past, which would explain her need to hold on to her obsession with him.

Anonymous said...

As for Rhett & Scarlett's marriage; I believe that they are = to blame for its downfall. Scarlett was wrong to chase after Ashley, but what about Rhett?! He loved her (no doubt about that) but he hid his feelings under harsh barbs/witty comebacks/spiteful insults/cruel words. He’d rather pick a fight with her rather than be patient & slowly/gradually draw her out of her Ashley-induced-shell. Rhett was 17 yrs older than Scarlett (33 @ beginning & 45 @ the end) & being older & wiser he too could have acted more mature instead of goading her on & fighting. He’s the mature one so he could’ve acted like it. (Ashley represents Scarlett’s last connection to her past B 4 the war, too.) Like many people (& knowing Scarlett's stubbornness) I believe that the hopeful ending of "GwtW" rings true & that after some time apart, Scarlett would’ve gone after Rhett & hopefully by this time both of them having grown up, she would’ve convinced him to give their marriage another go & things would’ve worked out.

Unknown said...

I really like the last comment a lot. I love the character of Scarlett, her survival instincts and intellect draws me towards her. She is what she is, a human being with faults of her own, but with some shinning qualities too. She was a beautiful woman and like most beautiful woman was narcissist and always got what she wanted. Her love for Ashley is justified for more often we are attracted to our opposites. Ashley never fully told her that he did not love her which he should have, but I think he was also fascinated by her to let her go. I always felt Rhett was a little unfair in blaming Scarlett for the failures in their marriage, for Scarlett had clearly told him that she was not in love with him at the time of his proposal. That he was in love with Scarlett was his problem, and he should have waited out and been a little more understanding towards Scarlett. But his ego got the better of him. Eventually Scarlett would have realized that she loved Rhett, which she did in the very end. I wish Rhett and Scarlett were a little more gentle with each other and a little less arrogant. So even if Scarlett, some day manages to get back Rhett, how will they live together with their edgy, passionate and violent personalities?

Riya Sarker said...

Throughout the novel GWTW, we see Scarlett struggling for survival, facing loss, financial crisis and she comes out victorious. But in the end of novel, she faces a deep crisis in her personal life - death of a beloved child, end of a consummate relationship, realization that she had wasted her love on unworthy people, lost people who genuinely cared for her. And she has to fight again to rise above all these setbacks. So whether she gets Rhett or not is immaterial to me, but I feel, by all means, she should get happiness. She, of all people deserves it.

Laura said...

Both Rhett and Scarlett have NPD , that's why the fire and ice relationship. I love them both

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.