Disclaimer: SPOILERS AHEAD!
There are few story templates that are as inspiring as the rags-to-riches one. This is one template that is universally accepted and well-received by human beings, irrespective of nationality, religion, race, or any other such artificial constructs of distinction. And it is not a bit surprising why we collectively gravitate towards stories that follow this template, for humanity’s very foundation hinges on survival—the first ever success mankind tasted.
In modern times, aspirants derive motivation from rags-to-riches stories, while achievers, especially those who fought all odds to reach great heights in life, use them as a route to memory lane. No matter on which self-identified rung of the success ladder one stands, a rags-to-riches story is heart-warming, enlightening, and most certainly, motivating.
Very recently, I had the pleasure of reading two glorious novels that poignantly depict what it takes and means to beat all odds, confront hardships, and successfully survive amidst chaos: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck.
This article compares and contrasts the lead female characters of both novels—Scarlett O’Hara and O-Lan—and tries to convey how their portrayals reflect women’s pivotal role in the survival of families in reality.
The primary theme of Gone with the Wind might not be survival, but survival is very much integral to the plot—as is the case with The Good Earth too. Though the novels travel on seemingly parallel lines, they do become perpendicular at one point, and that is the intersection called survival.
At the very basic level, the similarities between both novels are stunning in themselves. Both were written by female authors. Both released in the same decade. The Good Earth came first, in 1931, whereas Gone with the Wind released in 1936. However, the latter was in the works for nearly a decade. Civil unrest plays a major role in changing the fortunes of the female protagonists.
On the other hand, the differences between the two novels are equally stunning. First and foremost, and most obviously, Gone with the Wind is set in the Occidental world, whereas The Good Earth is set in the Oriental world. Buck’s classic is a rags-to-riches tale, whereas Mitchell’s is technically a riches-to-rags-to-riches tale.
Coming to the comparison of the female protagonists, let’s look at the differences first because the similarities are more in number.
When it comes to personality and appearance, Scarlett and O-Lan are at diametrically opposite ends. Scarlett is a pretty belle who is the cynosure of men throughout the county. Almost all men of marriageable age earnestly try to woo her. She is the oldest daughter of a rich plantation owner. She belongs to a family that owns slaves.
On the other hand, O-Lan is a slave herself, and one who had seen nothing but abuse in her master’s house. If you create a checklist of parameters that define popular notions of physical beauty (that existed then), O-Lan probably wouldn’t be able to tick off even one check box. Scarlett has a mammy who ensures the corset and basque Scarlett wears on special occasions accentuate her beauty. On the contrary, O-Lan’s own mommy does not bother to tie her daughter’s feet, despite being fully aware that doing so was considered “beautiful” then (This practice is called foot binding and was practiced in China in the previous millennium). Basically, Scarlett is groomed as much as possible, while O-Lan is neglected all her life.
Scarlett could have married any man she wanted. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that men literally queued up to impress her and eventually marry her. No such admiration for O-Lan. However, she is fortunate in that at least a poor farmer was willing to take her hand in marriage. Scarlett is a heart-breaker, whereas O-Lan is, well, a broken heart.
Moving on to the similarities…
Both women possess an unwavering love for their land. Due to unavoidable circumstances—in Scarlett’s case, marriage; and in O-Lan’s case, famine—both women are displaced from the land on which they grew up. However, this love for land is not inherent in either women, but inherited—in Scarlett’s case, from her father, Gerald O’Hara; and in O-Lan’s case, from her husband, Wang Lung. Given their circumstances, both women could have chosen to live away from “home” for the rest of their lives, but neither of them does so. After the war ends, Scarlett decides to move back to Tara, the plantation on which she grew up. Similarly, O-Lan and family return to their village, from their place of refuge in the town, after the famine ends. And both women, in their respective settings, start from scratch, work tirelessly, and build an empire out of nothing.
Next, both Scarlett and O-Lan are street-smart. Shrewd to the core, both women do not let “petty things” such as ideals cloud their decisions. On one hand, O-Lan encourages her sons to beg for money, and even teaches them how to beg convincingly. Further, she steals jewels from the rich house when the entire town revolts against wealthy folks.
On the other hand, Scarlett goes a step ahead, and steals her own sister’s beau away from her. However, both women substantiate their actions, without displaying even an ounce of remorse. “It’s for the good,” they say, and true to their words, a hell lot of good arises due to those actions. No denying that.
Bravery is another trait these fictional soul sisters have in common. When Wang Lung’s neighbours come to plunder his house, acting on rumours that he has secretly horded grains and food, O-Lan is the one who stands up to them and makes them go away. Scarlett displays essential courage too; most importantly, at the hour of need. She doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on an enemy soldier who comes to loot her mansion. Time and again, both women keep proving that their families are their biggest priorities.
At this juncture, I’m reminded of two other strong, fictitious female characters. Both of them are closer to home this time. One is the mother of the two little boys in the Tamil movie Kaaka Muttai. The other is the lead female character from the Tamil novella Jannal Malar by Sujatha.
One common thread binding these two women is that their lives are impacted by the actions of their husbands. In Kaaka Muttai, the boys’ father is in prison for some unknown reason. The mother is forced to slog as much as possible to make ends meet and keep the family boat afloat.
Similarly, in Jannal Malar, the lead female character, the protagonist’s wife, takes up sex work in order to earn enough money to feed both herself and her kid. She takes up the profession as a last resort because she doesn’t make enough money trying to sell things such as soaps and agarbathis. Her husband too is in prison, serving time for burglary and such crimes.
We can find a similar thread binding Scarlett and O-Lan too. The inaction of close male characters pushes these women’s limits. Scarlett’s love interest, Ashley, isn’t good at lumber trade. He’s a man of refined interests, which, at times of crisis, are not worth a single penny. Therefore, Scarlett effectively is the head of the family. However, thanks to his keen intellect, Ashley recognizes the fact that it is because of Scarlett that he and his family have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof above their heads. He even expresses his gratitude for her kindness. And like I mentioned earlier, O-Lan steals jewels from the rich house, the source of their massive fortune later in the novel. Being the quintessential idealist, Wang Lung does not do the dirty job, but understands that his wife’s actions are necessary. Unlike Ashley, Wang Lung realizes the greatness of O-Lan only after she passes away. It’s too late by then.
In real life, we keep hearing of so many women combatting key issues, such as their husbands’ alcoholism, gambling, and overall acute irresponsibility. Not all women have the option of walking away from such irresponsible and/or abusive husbands. Sadly, in many such cases, women are left with just shattered dreams and broken hearts. More so, if they have children. Nevertheless, like Margaret Mitchell and Pearl S Buck show through Scarlett and O-Lan, survival instinct is inherent to women, regardless of where they’re born. And that’s exactly the reason we see so many families broken yet tight. In some rare cases, we also get to see children from such settings faring well in life overall. Thus, women, a lot like background applications in a computer, silently perform important functions and weave many a rags-to-riches story.
The writer of this piece - Vinay, is my colleague from work who is Technical Editor with my company. A computer graduate by education, Vinay is stellar writer. A quirky man with an insane sense of humor - there is no better way to describe him!
Thanks for the brilliant write up Vinay!
The sealed box Teal finds in the street contains more than just a mystery...
What if to be with the man of your dreams…you had to give up your life? On the verge of losing her job, side-lined journalist Teal is forced to travel to the South Pacific to profile a powerful businessman. But with her almost-but-not-quite fiancé Bear discouraging her every step of the way, she may not be able to save her career or her relationship.
When corporate criminals invade paradise, Teal teams up with a former boxer turned marine-biologist to investigate. As she discovers the true intentions behind their new canning operations, she must either accept the plum promotion that will save her career or—with Perry—defend the island with more than her life.
Something in the Water, An Ocean Romance is available on Amazon.
About the writer :
Ben Starling is passionate about marine conservation and boxing, both central themes in his work. His interest in marine life has taken him across three continents over the past three decades. He is Oxford University's only ever quintuple boxing Blue (varsity champion five years running), was Captain of the university boxing team, and coached and competed until a few years ago. He is 6'3"and 192 lbs. Ben graduated with a Master of Arts and a Master of Philosophy. He was born in the USA but has lived in the UK since childhood. www.ben-starling.com
First of all, tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started writing?
I was always drawn to the power of stories to transport you to another world, expose you to new situations, thrills, people, challenges, loves…and the questions they pose. The legacy a good book leaves behind can last a lifetime.
Something in the Water was inspired by the loss of my partner at forty-five years of age to ovarian cancer, just thirteen weeks after her diagnosis. In the aftermath, an old friend challenged me to turn that grief into something positive.
Remembering a conversation with a charismatic Polynesian fisherman (I visited there once) about his people’s vision of death and the afterlife, I began to write. Through the written word, I hoped to explore and capture several extraordinary events that happened around the time of my girlfriend’s death. The novel and the series kind of took off from there…
Can you tell us about Something in the Water?
It starts off as a conventional love story but develops in an unexpected way. I foolishly set myself the monumental challenge of trying to address the ultimate question about love….
What I ultimately wrote was a combination of personal experience and research, including that conversation I had decades ago. You know how every now and then you discuss a subject with someone and you never forget what was said? Well, I always knew that particular conversation was important. I just didn’t know at the time where it would lead.
Does your inspiration come from anywhere else?
I owe a debt of gratitude to my late Great Dane (sadly is no longer with us). I’d just finished the first draft of the manuscript and I had a dream that she ate it. Shredded it in fact…with her tail wagging as I chased her around the room. A pretty obvious message, I thought, that the manuscript needed more work!
So you kept going?
When I woke, I took a deep breath, went for a long walk, and didn’t look at what I’d written for two weeks. I occupied my time swimming, running, weight-lifting and did some of my marine-themed art while I allowed my unconscious mind to unravel some plot problems and strengthen a number of scenes. Then it was back to work with renewed energy and creativity.
How do you create a character?
Most writers will tell you to look at the people you know, and then use elements of their characters. I wouldn’t disagree with this, but I also like my characters to be robustly independent of each other, so that their interactions are more entertaining. Once again, time is important – they need to be allowed to grow as the writing process continues.
In my first draft, I establish the core elements of a character and then, through subsequent drafts (yes, there were several!), I develop their quirks, passions, style of dialog etc.
Random question: Are you a good chef, Ben?
Afraid not. I do chuck things in a slow cooker and eat the bubbling mass at the end of the day. I admit to being bored of the same old favourites but the problem is, I’m too lazy to read cook books. It served me right when I was given a jar of black beans which I soaked, but didn’t know I was meant to cook. Some impressive stomach cramps!
What will your next meal be?
I’m eating while I type. The bag says “cashew nuts” on it, but we all know cashews aren’t nuts!
Where will you be ten years from now?
On a beach, holding hands with the woman of my dreams, staring out to sea, with a feeling, better, a conviction that we are turning the plight of the oceans around. There are things that can be done, but they will require a lot of work. It’ll be worth it though!
What can we look forward to next from you?
Something in the Water will be supported by a series of short stories that reveal the backstories of the major characters in this world. They are a varied collection of individuals, each of whom is pursuing their own agenda. I decided some time ago that it would be fascinating to explore their backstories at formative times in their lives—the times that made them the people they are in my novel.
The first in the series, Something in the Air, is available now free at my website as well as free on Kobo (also available at Amazon). It focuses on war hero Daniel Dragan, when he returns from Vietnam.
The second short story in the series, Something on the Fly, will be released in the Spring!
Something in the Water - available on Amazon http://bit.ly/SITWbtour2am
Something in the Air –
Something in the Water – Chapter 1 begins…
New York, September
He didn’t look like the hotel guests, the business people, or the tourists. He didn’t move like them either.
He brushed past me as I climbed off my Vespa, stilettos in hand, outside the entrance of the Waldorf Astoria. Had he smiled at the radiance of my scarlet ball gown? Or was he amused by my battered Converse sneakers?
As a valet approached to take my scooter and helmet, I spotted my boss, Malcolm, waving hello from the lobby. He was approaching the glass doors that separated us when I noticed a small wooden box on the ground. Two steps later, I had picked it up. Who could have dropped it?
No one was close by, so I turned. The only man who’d passed me was already a half block away, gliding beside the cars that waited for the lights to change at the end of the block. Was it his?
What I knew for sure was that now wasn’t the time to be tracking down the little box’s owner. I should hand it in to reception and concentrate on the evening ahead. For a few seconds, I relaxed as I studied the hotel’s confident, soaring opulence—a world unknown to me before my arrival from Nantucket four years ago. The smooth texture of the box, however, drew my thoughts back to it. Was there something valuable inside? What if it did belong to that man, and he never returned to collect it? I turned the box over—and caught my breath.
“How on earth…?”
Malcolm emerged in front of me. “Hello, darling, you look absolutely—are you okay?”
I thrust my sparkly evening shoes into his hands, and hitched up my shawl. I was about to give chase when a convertible Ferrari lurched to a stop beside me.
“Going my way, babe?” its driver shouted, over the thrum of the engine.
But my dress was redder, and I got the better start.
You can find the rest of Something in the Water, Chapter 1 at http://ben-starling.com/chapter-one/
Look out for the review! To be posted soon!
Nothing is more heart-warming than kisses from the pet who adores you and the man who loves you, so snuggle up with VALENTINE PETS & KISSES â an anthology of fourteen sweet romances from USA Today bestselling and award-winning authors â and strike the perfect mood for moonlit walks and candlelight dinners with your pet and sweetheart.
Check out descriptions and excerpts from two of the stories featured in the anthology!
Trembling Hearts - Suzette Riddick
Recluse Jason Carr is living in rural Virginia after an accident leaves him physically scarred. While taking a stroll and minding his business, the spunky Lezlie Sharpe literally crashes into his life, stealing the heart of his beloved pooch, Trooper. Now, forced to share living quarters, will Lezlie capture Jasonâs heart too?
Whatever smart aleck retort she had ready to sass at him died on her lips. The dog's owner was a mountain of a man. Her eyes traveled his entire length. He had to stand at least six-five with shoulders nearly spanning the width of the doorway he occupied.
She let out a long, slow breath. Lord have mercy he didn't have a shirt on. And those pajama bottoms were riding low on his hips. She tried forcing her eyes not to stare at the dark hair on his chest tapering down toward his pelvis. But failed miserably. Her bosom rose and fell with each breath she inhaled and exhaled. Her fingertips were itching to caress his golden brown, chiseled, tight abdomen.
She bit her bottom lip to keep from moaning as her eyes traveled up to his stony face. The faded jagged scar slashed across his right cheek gave him a dangerous, but oh so sexy look. She could tell at one time he was what her grandma referred to as âprettyâ boy handsome.
She continued to gape at him, her eyes blinking, wondering where in the world he had been all her life. The pain in her head was warring with the butterflies in her stomach.
The butterflies were winning.
Valentino, Be Mine - Tina D.C. Hayes
Kaylee Rose is thrilled when a neighbor moving out of the country asks if she'll consider taking in her teacup Yorkie, Valentino, but there are a few strings attached. When she finds out a man she can't stand is the other caretaker, she's forced to deal with the arrogant jerk until they decide who gets the pampered pooch permanently . . . or risk losing the dog to a heartbreaking fate.
Kaylee hoped punctuality weighed somewhere in their evaluation, because whoever Carter was, he or she was fifteen minutes late the last time Kaylee checked her watch. Not that she minded. It was a little intimidating to meet the other potential owner. What if Valentino liked Carter better?
As if he sensed her worry, the Yorkie wiggled around in her arms and licked her cheek again. She draped him over her shoulder, a position she knew from experience that he enjoyed, and nuzzled her cheek against him.
Something behind Kaylee caught Ruthieâs attention. A silly grin twisted her mouth as she threw her hand up in an exaggerated wave. Unless this Carter person was a complete moron, they were pretty hard to miss, since they were the only people in that part of the park.
âCarter, over here!â Ruthie stood and flapped her arms even more.
OMG. Either Pamâs personal assistant had finally lost it after years of dealing with her perfectionist boss or there must be a celebrity walking up behind them. Kaylee was afraid to look. She racked her brain for any movie stars named Carter but couldnât come up with a single one. From the blush on the other womanâs face, she was pretty sure Carter was a man, and if not a famous one, he must be drop dead gorgeous.
Valentinoâs tail wagged in Kayleeâs face as he barked his hello and squirmed against her shoulder. A masculine laugh sounded before Carter greeted them. âGood morning, Ruthie.â
Kaylee ran her hand through her hair and pushed a section of bobbed blonde locks behind her ear before she turned around to meet him.
Sunglasses hid his eyes, but she could definitely understand why the PA was acting like a teenage girl backstage at a One Direction concert. Carter was smoking hot.
Suzette Riddick is a wife, mother and nurse practitioner who enjoys writing romance novels with a touch of reality.
Tina D.C. Hayes writes romantic suspense and cozy mysteries while her pampered pooches and parrots stand guard against writer's block.
Tina D.C. Hayes