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Scarlett is the protagonist of the novel, but we are never sure whether we like her or not. We admire her spirit, her determination to survive, her creativity, and her loyalty to Tara. But she frustrates us with the foolish chances she takes, with the way she tries to manipulate the people who love her, with her poor ability to judge human nature. In the end, we want her to finally grow up and to return Rhett's love for a happy-ever-after resolution. When the ending is anything but happy, we are torn between thinking she got what was coming to her and feeling sorry for her. We despise her for her duplicity in marrying Charles for whom she has no use whatever and later for stealing her sister's fiancé so she can get the money for her taxes. It never occurs to her to try a direct approach first. If she had explained the tax situation to Frank and had asked him for a loan, he probably would have given her the money.
In Scarlett's defense, she does what she was raised to do, just in a different environment. We are told early in the novel that girls were expected to act like air-brained coquettes before they were married and afterward were expected to manage households that could have numbered a hundred people or more. She inherited her aptitude for math from her mother and her strong will from her father. When she bought her first mill, it was with honorable intentions; she wanted to put a new roof on Tara and have enough money so the imposition of taxes would never again be a threat. But her desire for money is never satisfied. The more she has, the more she wants, whether she really needs it or not.
As for Scarlett's love life, she has the good sense to show disdain for the artificial manners with which girls were expected to behave toward the opposite sex. They were taught such things as: a hearty appetite would never catch a man. Thus, when going to a party, they would stuff themselves with food at home. Then they would be able to eat only the daintiest morsels at the party. Also, women were taught to act ignorant, to hang on every word a man said as if she knew nothing herself, in order to make him feel superior. They were never to say what they actually thought. Scarlett has no use for all this play-acting, although she practices it when it will be to her benefit. She does, however, have a practical way of looking at southern customs, so it doesn't bother her a great deal when other ladies gossip about her for not acting like a lady.
Scarlett loves Ashley because, of all the young men she flirts with, he is the one who seems to have the strength of character she admires. The Tarleton boys are foolish and irresponsible and all too willing to hang around waiting for her favors. Some of the others gather around her like a flock of birds hoping for some teasing word or batted eyelash. She plays the game, but has no notions of love with any of them. They are just friends, and if she can use them to tease the other girls, she'll do it.
Ashley alone seems to have remained aloof from her although they have apparently had enough encounters to make her fall in love with him and to give her the impression that he cares for her. She is immature enough to think that flirting with other men will attract him, and she has never told him that she loves him. Instead, she thinks she is dangling him on the end of her string, making him anticipate the moment when she will accept him. Thus, she is caught completely off guard when he marries his own cousin Melanie that she doesn't even know he cared about.
The difference between Ashley and the other boys is that Ashley is well educated, intellectual, artistically and musically talented, and does not put himself at the mercy of every pretty face. He is also tall and handsome, and somewhat aloof. Scarlett doesn't understand anything he talks about, but she is drawn to his dignity and his old world charm. She says that she created a dream and put him into it, but don't we all try to find mates who fit what we think we want. He was her dream, and when the dream was destroyed, her love for him was destroyed with it.
Scarlett's greatest impatience is with weakness, but she judges by what she sees on the surface and thus misses the inner strength of several of the people in her life. Her initial hatred for Melanie is partly because Melanie marries Ashley, but also because she sees her as a weak, helpless, plain little fool. She takes advantage of Melanie's belief in her very early, but secretly scorns her for being so gullible. The friendship develops between her and Melanie because Melanie shows that while she may be quiet, she is anything but weak. She is able and willing to stand up for what she believes, even facing the most domineering of the Atlanta women. She is also able to manage Scarlett when she feels the need to do so. This is the strength that Scarlett respects.
Scarlett's best and worst characteristic could be called "procrastination." She thinks she can put off acting like a lady until she has money, but never realizes that money doesn't make one a lady. However, she is able to handle the worst tragedies by thinking about them "tomorrow." She perfected the concepts "tomorrow is another day," and "things always look better in the morning." In many ways, it's not so much that she puts things off, but that she deals with the problems she can resolve at the moment and puts the other problems aside until she can create a solution. She creates her own problems, but doesn't whine about them. If she can't fix the problem, she simply ignores it.