There are those of us who LOVE to read, collecting books as a child might comb a shore looking for sea shells.. Then there are those who would rather do anything else in the world than voluntarily read a book, no matter how entertaining that book might be.
As a person who relates to the former group, I have a hard time understanding the latter. There is such treasure to be found in a book– and even more to be found in sharing the book.
One of my all-time favorites is Gone with the Wind. I loved the movie long before I ever cracked open the book. I wanted to be Scarlet– beautiful, sophisticated, poised, and determined to get her way. And get her way she did, by george, no thanks to that mealy-mouthed Melanie Hamilton. Except, of course, in the end when Rhett didn’t give a damn that she really, truly loved him and not Ashley. Poor Scarlet. You really feel bad for her. So used to getting her way, and here she is, running after Rhett in the morning fog, to no avail. But then I read the book. Whoa! You get a completely different view of things when you read the book. I love the reaction I get when telling people that Gone with the Wind is my favorite movie– so many people have never actually watched the whole thing, but have a lot of assumptions about it. Even fewer have read the book, and so it’s fun to share with people my love of the story, and hope that my experience with the story will encourage them to take the time to either read the book or watch the movie (or both) and see if they agree with my perceptions.
So, why didn’t Scarlet get her way in the end? Because Melanie had died, and wasn’t able to make it happen. My big take-away after reading the novel was that Scarlet was not the one calling the shots. Pale-faced, meek and mild Melanie Hamilton-Wilkes was actually the puppet master of the story. Yes, she was frail and homely, but what she lacked in strength and beauty, she more than made up for in brains. I think about the scene where Ashley tells Scarlet he’s taking a banking job in New York, and Scarlet pretends to cry because she had hoped Ashley would help her run her lumber business. Melanie enters the room and sides with Scarlet– after all, Scarlet saved her and Ashely’s son’s lives! Scarlet wins! But did Melanie really want to leave the South and head North so soon after the Civil War? Leave her family and friends for the busy city life? Probably not. But the dutiful, meek Melanie would never assert herself and argue with her husband about his plans to provide for his family. Melanie capitalizes on Scarlet’s selfishness several times throughout the story. That’s not to say that Melanie is manipulative or disingenuous– quite the contrary. She is every bit the demure and thoughtful woman she is portrayed to be in the movie. But there is an intelligence and determination that seems to get lost behind the dramatics surrounding Scarlet. Remember that it was Melanie who shot the deserter. Melanie who was in charge of the women doing needlepoint while their men raided the miner’s camp– no one had even bothered to tell Scarlet what was going on, even though it was her stubbornness that led to the raid in the firsts place.
Melanie emphasizes the extreme importance of secondary characters in a story. I think it could be argued that Melanie and Scarlet are actually co-heroines of the story, though Scarlet receives all the fan-fare. Take out Melanie, and the story stalls and nose-dives. And that is why, in the end, Scarlet didn’t get her way. Oh, Melanie tried to grease the skids, so-to-speak, but without her physical presence and influence, it was not likely to proceed the way she hoped. That could very well be while the attempt to ghost-write a sequel to Gone with the Wind was not very successful– there was no Melanie, and no character to fill her role in such a way as to subtly move Scarlet in the direction she wished to go.
Can you think of another such story where a “secondary” character could actually be more important than the so-called main character?