Date of Award

8-2012

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

History

Advisor

Andrew, Rod

Committee Member

Burton , Orville Vernon

Committee Member

Grubb , Alan

Abstract

Scarlett O'Hara may well be one of the most well known Southern women of all time. Outside of the world of fiction, Mary Boykin Chesnut is probably the most famous woman of the Confederate era. There are striking similarities between both women, not only in terms of their experiences but also their reactions to these experiences, as well as their striking personalities. Because of these similarities, it is quite easy to draw parallels between the two women, and surprisingly, this subject, although it has been suggested, has not been explored in greater detail.
Mary DeCredico's introduction to her biography of Mary Boykin Chesnut states, 'the record of her life could have served as a model for Margaret Mitchell as she created her much-loved heroine. Mary had the charm, intelligence, and independence that Scarlett exhibited again and again.' After e-mail correspondence with DeCredico, I found her statement to be rooted in the remarkable similarities of the women, but no other study comparing these two women exists. My research, especially concerning Margaret Mitchell, has not turned up a definitive answer as to who Mitchell based Scarlett on.
The purpose of this thesis is to test the hypothesis that Scarlett O'Hara is in fact based on Mary Boykin Chesnut. It is impossible to find a definitive answer to this question, especially considering that while she was still alive, Margaret Mitchell vehemently denied that any of her characters were based on a real person. She describes Scarlett only as a woman who has lived through the destruction of the Southern world she knew and rose from its ashes as a new woman. After Mitchell's death, her husband John burned all her letters. Only theories exist as to who Scarlett is based on. My goal is to extrapolate the theory that Chesnut was used as a model, and give specific examples of their parallel experiences, personalities, and reactions to show that the life and actions of Mary Chesnut and Scarlett O'Hara are similar enough to conclude that it is indeed possible that Mitchell used Mary's life to create Scarlett.
Although it seems impossible to know where Scarlett came from, I argue that Mary Boykin Chesnut and Scarlett have similar experiences, reactions to those experiences, and similar personalities to warrant further study. Mary Boykin Chesnut's diaries reveal intimate details of her life, her inner thoughts, and her actions. Mitchell's Scarlett acts, thinks, and speaks in hauntingly similar ways.
This thesis is a presentation of my findings as to the similarities of the two women, and how they at times conformed, and at times chafed against traditional roles of Southern females. In short, this thesis explores how Mary Boykin Chesnut was used as a model by Margaret Mitchell for Scarlett O'Hara in her novel Gone With the Wind.

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