Gerald: “Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land, doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”
Though Scarlett is too brokenhearted to pay attention to the advice Gerald gives her during the opening scenes of the film, it is one of the few bits of shared wisdom that seems to actually have an impact on her over the course of the film. All of Scarlett’s actions prove she is motivated mainly by self-interest. From her image-soothing marriage to a man she barely knows to her lifelong quest to steal Ashley from Melanie, the only clear beneficiary of anything Scarlett does is Scarlett herself. Somehow, finding Tara as a looted shell changes something in her, and she becomes willing to fight for the plantation as she will for nothing else. Scarlett is willing to forego her previous fineries and make her hands raw, working like a slave in order to keep Tara going. She is even willing to debase herself in front of Rhett—the one man who has always been able to see beneath her carefully managed surface—in order to hold on to Tara. When she becomes wealthy, she makes sure to devote enough money to see that Tara is returned to its former glory.
Gerald’s words also offer an inherent hopefulness to the characters who don’t have their own land. The entire structure of the Old South has collapsed beyond repair, and everything that once made their homeland what it was has vanished, as the film’s title suggests. For some, like Ashley, this loss is enough to make them give up entirely, drifting along the rest of their days as they remember everything that once was. But as Gerald’s words remind them, the characters in the film have not been left entirely destitute. The South itself still remains, the land damaged but not destroyed by the fighting there. As long as the people pay proper homage to the land, they can’t be beaten.