I acquired my copy of Gone With the Wind a few years back, not sure how many years but it has a Border’s Books sticker on the back so I know it was quite some time ago. The first time I picked it up, excited to dive into the classic depths of Margaret Mitchell’s thousand page long journey, I put it down again after only a few pages. I guess I wasn’t ready at the time, but when I picked it up just a few days ago I found myself staying up past my bed time to read just one more chapter and carrying the heavy volume in my purse just in case I had a spare moment to down a few pages.
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton Twins were.
From the outset, Scarlett is not very likeable. She is vain, manipulative, selfish, stubborn and willfully ignorant of the culture surrounding her. The talk of Civil War bores her and she doesn’t intend to bother her self with such things. No, ma’am. Instead, she focuses her attentions on getting the man she is convinced she loves to marry her though he is clearly never going to do so, no matte what his affections for her are. However, her plans are stopped in their tracks, over and over again as the world she has been raised in changes without her asking it to and she is forced to change with it or lose everything.
While Scarlett may indeed be all the things I described above, she is also strong, profoundly loyal, resourceful, and daring. In a time when the expectations on women, especially self-proclaimed Southern Belles was to sit and home, raise children, tend to the slaves and her husband, Scarlett O’Hara dares to get her hands dirty beside those slaves. She dares to do what she has to do to keep her home, her family and her lifeblood safe. Beyond all of her faults, you cannot doubt for one second that Scarlett goes out and gets shit done, no matter what people say.
And then there is the famous Rhett Butler. He is part pure southern gentlemen, charming his way in and out of whatever he pleases, and part sarcastic … well… asshole. i mean, really. At times he is in incredibly charming jerk, to put it bluntly. The kind of jerk that makes girls blush in anger and embarrassment, while simultaneously gaining their affection. Infuriating.
All your beaux have respected you too much, though God knows why, or they have been too afraid of you to really do right by you. The result is that you are unendurably uppity. You should be kissed and by someone who knows how. – Rhett Butler
Gone With the Wind is much, much more than a romance novel. It is a historical novel in two ways – published in the 1930’s and taking place in the 1860’s there are two layers of cultural understanding that we must appreciate. While there is much in the novel that will make any person uncomfortable such as the superfluous use of the n-word and the almost unreadable dialect that Mitchell wrote the slaves dialogue with – we must know that this is a product of the time in which the novel takes place. I don’t know that it is meant to be insulting or a caricature, but I do hope that it was in some way meant to paint an honest picture of the south at that time. Does it make me cringe? Absolutely – as it should. But, it offers something that my public school history classes did not – and view of the other side of the coin. While I have no doubt that the end of slavery was inevitable and indeed necessary, I am unsure that the viciousness and violence towards the southern civility portrayed throughout the novel was justified. In fact, I’m certain of it. It feels important to mention because there are many things going on in the world today that cause us to generalize groups and say all of them are one way or another and it comes from both sides – we must take a few steps back and recognize that no matter what side someone is on, just because they belong to one group, job, location, etc, does not mean that they are inherently bad or wrong. Some just don’t know any better, or they are too comfortable and set in their ways to know or do any differently. They are a product of their environment and the environment does not encourage change. It is a shame that after more than a hundred years we are still fighting the same battles.
I also found particularly interesting that the North/Union seemed to be the Republican party and the South/Confederate seemed to side more with the Democratic – because in today’s culture they are decidedly opposite. Also that Mitchell does not paint the prettiest picture of president Lincoln, which is plainly the opposite of what I was taught. It just goes to show that there are two sides to every story and that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. It also, I think, shows just how this novel has had staying power for the last 75 years. It has stayed relevant because human nature has not changed.
I’ve gone on quite a rant up there, but I feel like it was important to say and to follow up with a saying I’ve always felt true – “You catch more flies with honey, than you do with vinegar.” In my personal experience, kindness goes a lot farther than viciousness and cruelty. Burning things to the ground only breeds a need for vengeance, where as kindness encourages people to be open and to return that kindness to the next person.
In terms of the writing itself, Mitchell proves to be a master of her craft. Some of her sentences are astoundingly breathtaking, so much so that I found myself reading them twice over to appreciate their beauty. For example, the description of Ellen O’Hara, Scarlett’s mother:
She would have been a strikingly beautiful woman had there been any glow in her eyes, any responsive warmth in her smile or any spontaneity in her voice that fell with gentle melody on the ears of her family and her servants. She spoke in the soft slurring voice of the coastal Georgian, liquid of vowels, kind to consonants and with the barest trace of French accent. It was a voice that never raised in command to a servant or reproof to a child but a voice that was obeyed instantly at Tara, where her husband’s blustering and roaring were quietly disregarded.
I mean really, that passage is like melted butter on a roll fresh out of the oven. While many of Mitchell’s descriptive passages are long-winded, the glide over you easily and you don’t mind how long they go on because you can sense the carefulness with which she chose each word. She manages to deliver some of the mouth scathing dialogue I’ve ever read as well.
Let her talk,” cried Scarlett. “I’m enjoying it. I always knew she hated me and she was too much of a hypocrite to admit it. If she thought anyone would admire her, she’d be walking the streets naked from dawn till dark.”
While some might say her long forays into the politics surrounding Scarlett at the time might be long-winded, unnecessary or boring, I found them rather interesting. Seeing the war and troubles through the eyes of the losing side is much different then what may have been written down in our history books, although one must also recognize that Mitchell may have taken some liberties with her rendition of the war.
In the end, I find myself feeling a bit sad with how Scarlett’s journey ends, for it takes her far too long (nearly all 959 pages), and innumerable losses to realize what truly matters in her heart and at that point it has already passed her by leaving her in its wake. If only she replaced her mantra through out the books “I’ll think of it another day”, with “There’s no time like the present.”
My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.25 Stars
Number of 1-star reviews: 15,572
My Review on Bookdigits