This is an adaptation of an essay of mine which I wrote for a class this past year. Personally, I prefer the novel over the film but please keep in mind that I STILL LOVE THE FILM.
A great source of inspiration for Hollywood has been in the adaptation of plays and novels. One of Hollywood’s greatest films from its greatest year, 1939, was adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel, Gone with the Wind. Through different modes, both media exhibit Scarlett’s will to survive, but the film does not record Scarlett’s character development as thoroughly as the novel. The novel gives her more depth because the reader has access to her inner thoughts. The film version of Gone with the Wind makes Scarlett appear more heartless than she is. This article will set out to prove that her full development as a character is stunted in the film because the viewer cannot know her thoughts. Instead, the film tries to communicate her thoughts through cinematography, montage, and colour. These techniques of the film medium are used to express Scarlett’s desires in moments of intense emotion, but the viewer misses out on knowing her specific opinion on certain events.
Close-ups are used throughout Gone with the Wind in moments of intense emotion to compensate for the loss of internal thoughts. One scene where the close-up lacks the detail of the novel is the most critical scene of all – when Scarlett admits to Rhett she has loved and depended on him all along but never realised it. The film closely follows the dialogue in the novel but neglects to give voice to Scarlett’s thoughts:
“She was thinking: ‘But Rhett is my soul and I’m losing him. And if I lose him, nothing else matters! No, not friends or money or – or anything. If only I had him I wouldn’t even mind being poor again. No, I wouldn’t mind being cold again or even hungry’” (Mitchell, 1019).
Had the film included this contradicting cry of woe, viewers who did not read the novel would have believed Scarlett’s confession. This statement is completely contrary to her character who vowed to “steal or kill” to avoid living through hunger and poverty (Mitchell, 421). The use of close-up simply does not convey this message. Vivien Leigh brilliantly portrays a woman who just lost her best friend, daughter, and husband in a short period of time, but the same sympathy the reader would have felt does not translate completely to the film. Film is effective in showing the viewers the woe in Scarlett’s face, but the camera cannot transcend flesh and reveal the pain in her heart.
Another technique the medium of film embraces, the montage, results in Scarlett appearing hardened and unkind with no explanation.
According to the special features of the seventieth anniversary box set of Gone with the Wind, the running time of the film would be 168 hours if the entire story were adapted – that is seven days! Since the focus is on Scarlett, details of the Civil War are omitted through a series of inserts of text which briefly summarise the terror the Yankees unleash in Georgia during and after the war. The text used in the inserts are not found in the novel.
The omitted content skips through the numerous experiences with poverty and oppression that make Scarlett fearful, angry, and determined to live. Since most of the war is literally dissolved through montage, the viewers do not understand the development of hatred Scarlett feels for the Yankees as she witnesses the death of her friends which breeds determination to win the battle of collecting wealth. The viewers miss out on feeling the terror as the Yankee soldiers set Tara and her cotton fields on fire in the novel. The viewer is also denied the opportunity to see the cold, foggy dream of hunger and disorientation that fills Scarlett with the fear of being poor and cold. Mitchell interprets the change in Scarlett after the war:
“She could not ignore life. She had to live it and it was too brutal, too hostile, for her even to try to gloss over its harshness with a smile…harsh contact with the red earth of Tara had stripped gentility from her and she knew she would never feel like a lady again…” (Mitchell, 599-600).
Another montage is also used to explain how Scarlett became wealthy in the aftermath of the war – a section of the story that takes up a lot of pages in the novel. All of these events, and Scarlett’s reaction, are lost through the condensation of the plot through montage. To compensate for this, some of her desires are exhibited through the colour of a definitive feature of Scarlett’s character – her wardrobe.
Colour is used to communicate what cannot be said verbally in the film. The filmmakers of Gone with the Wind took advantage of this technique in two ways. First, to translate Scarlett’s intentions and desires through the colour of her wedding dress. Secondly, they used colour to try to sway the viewers’ opinion of Scarlett by changing the colour of a certain dress from green to red.
Both novel and film clearly explain Scarlett marries her first of three husbands, Charles Hamilton, to spite her love interest, Ashley Wilkes – first cousin and brother-in-law to Charles. The novel mentions her wedding dress was once her mother’s, but fails to describe its appearance. In this situation, costume designer Walter Plunkett’s vision compliments Scarlett’s grief over her hasty decision.
The dress was not the traditional white, but the darker cream colour that it is representative of Scarlett’s impure act of spite. The off-white colour of the dress also symbolises the loveless marriage both Scarlett and her mother before her entered. The colour of the dress comes close to communicate how Scarlett felt about her new life in the novel:
“The thought of this strange boy whom she hadn’t really wanted to marry getting into bed with her, when her heart was breaking with agony of regret at her hasty action and the anguish of losing Ashley forever, was too much to be borne” (Mitchell, 133).
Of course, this insight into Scarlett’s heart could not be verbally or visually recreated onscreen due to the Production Code, so the message of the cream-coloured dress would have to suffice. Another way colour is used demonstrates how colour symbolism can reinforce the filmmakers’ and some viewers’ opinion of Scarlett as a heartless woman.
One enormous discrepancy between the novel and the film is the change of colour in the famous dress Scarlett wears to Ashley’s birthday party. Originally, it was green, which was a favourite colour of Scarlett’s to wear. Walter Plunkett changed the colour to red – a colour with the connotation of power, strength, and sexuality.
The significance of this dress relates to a scandalous event that took place earlier that day. Scarlett gave Ashley a sympathetic hug “without passion, without tenseness” when they were caught by his sister, India (Mitchell, 915). The novel reflects Scarlett’s genuine innocence by having the dress be green – a colour she wore often that symbolises her craving for the growth of her wealth and her desire for people to be, as she often says, “green with envy,” towards her. Even though the dress “was cut low over the bosom and…on the bustle was a huge bunch of pink, velvet roses,” the “jade-green” colour does not assume guilt as the red dress in the film does (Mitchell, 919). Plunkett’s red, feathered version of the dress symbolically seals Scarlett’s guilt to the viewers – making her character appear more wayward than she is. The bold red colours do not give Scarlett a chance to pardon her innocent mistake. The film makes no effort to adapt her remorseful thoughts through the colour of the dress which would justify her actions and character more so.
In conclusion, Scarlett’s potential character growth in the film is stunted by the loss of her inner voice in the translation from the novel, causing some the viewers to be unsympathetic towards her. The use of the close-up fails to communicate Scarlett’s true feelings for Rhett at the end of the plot. A few close-ups during the ending scene do not explain Scarlett’s willingness to face hunger, the cold, and poverty to be with him – things she fought against throughout the whole story. As a result of montage, the audience is denied the detailed reason for Scarlett’s transformation from Southern Belle to embittered woman. Colour reflects Scarlett’s intentions but also takes advantage of her silenced inner voice to present her to the viewers in a red dress that creates a message contrary to her actual intentions mentioned in the novel. By the end of the film, some viewers are indifferent or against Scarlett because they were not made aware of the thoughts and the full details that justify her actions and decisions. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but at twenty-four frames per second, there is not always enough time to include all the words, and the experience of witnessing character development is halted.