It’s kind of intimidating to sit down and write thoughts about Gone with the Wind. A hefty novel, but close on the heels of the beast that was Tom Jones, I actually enjoyed this one! Very readable. The story carried me through the pages much quicker than I expected. All the conversations felt quite natural, the historical bits were interesting, wow I learned so much about the Civil War and Georgia in particular. Although when it got into politics my attention faltered, but that never lasted for more than a few pages, as Scarlett herself was bored by politics, so her mind skittered on to other things, too, ha.
This deeply felt saga all swirls around Scarlett O’Hara, daughter of an Irish immigrant father and mother from a refined family. Scarlett grows up in comfort, surrounded by beauty and prosperity, never thinking of much except commanding the attention of boys, or who’s got nicer clothes. Exactly the kind of person I would never get along with in real life, but so intriguing to read about. She shrugs off rumors of war at first, but when it finally happens, everything falls apart around her. Gradually, at first. Men discussing and arguing the maneuvers. Young men leaving, some never return. Material goods in short supply or very expensive. Older men enlisted when casualties deplete numbers in the ranks. Horrific stories of the ugliness of war. Scarlett loves the plantation her father owned but moves to Atlanta, for a long visit that becomes an extended stay that turns into years of living there. She helps with the war effort, resenting it but feeling obliged. Descriptions of nursing soldiers in the war hospital- more horrors. When Atlanta is besieged, she flees back to Tara with a handful of companions- to find the land razed, houses around her burnt to the ground, animals stolen or driven off, nothing left to live on. She literally faces starvation and is desperate to find a way to survive, no matter what the cost.
That deep fear never leaves her, even when things get better and the South starts to recover. Recover, but things will never be the same. I didn’t know, before, how much of this story would be about the rebuilding, the reforming of people’s lives when so much had been broken by the war. About how the economy was affected, how the rich people of society now lived in poverty but were proud of the sacrifices they had made, how newcomers came in to profit off the rebuilding, and so on. Scarlett grabs opportunities and is seriously frowned upon by others because her actions are “unladylike”. I had to admire her determination to never feel want again, to have security and even prosperity once more. I also felt some sympathy for her constant misunderstanding of other people, her bafflement at what society deemed proper behavior or how other people’s assumptions did not at all match hers (even those closest to her). But at the same time I did not like her very much. She did mean things to people who trusted her, just to get her way.
That’s the biggest part of the story, this tangled bitter love affair. From the very beginning, Scarlett has her heart set on a young gentleman named Ashley, who is a very bookish man. He struggles when times get hard, because he doesn’t know how to actually make a living, to work a trade, and he never really adjusts. Scarlett seems to admire him simply because he seems unreachable, she can’t really understand him and obstinately wants what she can’t have. When Ashley marries Melanie (because he’s far more perceptive than Scarlett and realizes they wouldn’t be good together) she actually ends up living in their household for years! I found that very strange. Meanwhile there’s this other guy, Rhett Butler, who is a rouge but an honest man for all that. Like Scarlett, he does what he pleases, but he makes no excuses and doesn’t care what society thinks of him. Honest to himself, I guess you would say. He can see right through Scarlett and bides his time until she will accept him- but Scarlett makes a mess of that, too. (It’s also appalling how much she ignores her own children, but that’s another topic altogether!)
Really it was fascinating seeing how well-drawn these characters were, how complicated their interactions, how curious their motives, what a commentary on the society that shunned or accepted them by turns. Then there’s all the stuff about slavery. This book is so romanticized in that regard. Protests all over the place that slave owners took good care of their “darkies” who were like children and needed them. Claimed that stories of runaway slaves being hunted by bloodhounds or savagely beaten were exaggerated. No qualms about separating married couples, or selling parents / children separate from each other though. Really it made me grit my teeth and think: they were treated like animals. And even when the text was trying to make it sound like this system that made the profits of huge plantations possible was okay, the degrading language, racial comments and insulting ways black people were described- just shameful.
If anything, at least it did give me an idea of how Southerners came about their viewpoint. I was able to see another perspective, even if I don’t agree with it, or even think it was depicted accurately. Again, so much I could say about this book, so much I’m not even hinting at, but I’m getting over a headcold and don’t have a lot of energy to write more. It did make me want to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, that’s next on my list of chunksters to attempt. (I wonder if Gone with the Wind was written in reaction to it- the characters mention Uncle Tom’s Cabin and criticize its negative portrayal of slavery!)
Borrowed from the public library.
I haven’t read Gone with the Wind in about 40 years, but I suspect that it would read differently today than it did back in the seventies when I read it. We all know now how unrealistic it was and all, but Margaret Mitchell was such a good storyteller that it is probably still very easy to get caught up in the emotions and experiences of the characters she made so famous. On the other hand, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is every bit as unrealistic…and probably not as well written, really…as Gone with the Wind. Both are propaganda pieces despite their opposite viewpoints on slavery and times.
I definitely felt the strength of the story, but am slightly uneasy that I don’t know enough history to discern how much of it was invented or glorified (I have to read some articles for that). I’m curious to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin as well, but have my reservations now. Again there, I won’t be certain how much is exaggerated.
There was a glitch with plugin updates on my blog yesterday- and it erased some of the comments! So sorry! (including mine).
Yes, mine went and I can’t remember what I said now, but I really enjoyed reading your comprehensive and excellent review, Jeane.
The war part of GWTW isn’t as strong as the Reconstruction part. I’m sure it resonated deeply with Depression-era readers.
This was my favorite novel for years, but now I have mixed feelings about it.
I think there might still be an issue with the plugin, at least for this post. I came to leave a comment, but it has Cath’s name, email address, and URL in the fields below. Not saving them, of course!
Anyway, thanks for the review on this one! I’ve actually never read Gone with the Wind, I’ve never even considered reading it, but your review makes it sound quite interesting (if frustrating around the slavery parts…).
I tested another post with comments already on it, and I didn’t see anyone else’s info, so I think it was maybe something just about this one.
That’s very odd! I will have to look into it, thanks. (strangest thing is, she wasn’t the last one to post before you, either)