It wasn't until I finished the book that I understood Scarlett. She's desperate for Ashley beyond delusion.
Scarlett decided she was in love with Ashley because of one day when she was 14 and saw him as a M.A.N. And she convinced herself that Ashley loved her in return. Oh, he may have married someone else but he really loved Scarlett. I mean, just because someone marries someone doesn't mean they're in love. (Oh wait, that's actually true.) But Scarlett even convinced herself that when Soldier Ashley wrote to Melanie, his WIFE, as long as he wasn't mushy that meant he was still secretly in love with Scarlett. (Oh yeah, Scarlett sneaked into Melanie's room and read all of Ashley's letters.)
She reminded me of a woman I once knew who, upon hearing that the man she'd decided she was in love with slept with another woman said, "Maybe he was thinking of me." She seriously believed that. Why do women do so much rationalizing? I will admit I've fallen prey to it occasionally but some women could be in the Olympics of Denial.
We do such a poor job of teaching young women their intrinsic worth and of teaching them to make wise choices about relationships. I've said it before but it bears repeating: as soon as a woman is through with a man and throws him back there's another woman on the opposite bank reeling him in. It must be fear of being alone. What else could it be? And why are we so afraid of being alone? In other times and even today in developing nations I can understand the need for a partner to help put food on the table. Why have our emotions and actions failed to keep up when we are certainly capable of making a living? I mean, I understand the desire to be in love--I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the desire to have someone--just about anyone--rather than be alone. Are we so unhappy with ourselves? Or do we merely need to be constantly entertained? You know the kind of person I'm talking about, the one who, while you're sitting on the beach says, "Put down that book and talk to me!" Jane Austen included characters with the need to be constantly entertained in her novels (she wrote easy to relate to characters, that's for sure).
I'm not certain Margaret Mitchell intended for readers to be sympathetic to Scarlett. I suspect she wanted to tell a story, and I haven't even discussed the politics yet. We're meant to admire Scarlett's steely resolve yet disapprove of her character, I suspect. But then, I'm generally not a fan of examining the author's intentions. It's how the book affects us personally that matters.