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[196] Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

gonewind1She stood up straight and looked at the house on the hill. She had thought, half an hour ago, that she had lost everything in the world, except money, everything that made life desirable, Ellen, Gerald, Bonnie, Mammy, Melanie, and Ashley. She had to lose them all to realize that she loved Rhett—loved him because he was strong and unscrupulous, passionate, and earthly, like herself.” [946]

How long does it take someone to realize love shown to him (her)? Under the hand of Pulitzer Prize winner Margaret Mitchell, the epic novel takes its not-so-beautiful but obstinate heroine through unimaginable changes that Civil War had wrought on all Southerners. One war, two loveless marriages, many fatalities. It was in Southern women, most vehemently and conspicuously through Scarlett O’Hara, that the deep hatred the war engendered came to nest for real in the years of Reconstruction. Through poverty, widowhood, and starvation of these women, one can perceive the hard truths of the war firsthand. Although the Civil War and its aftermath might not be as Mitchell has portrayed in Gone with the Wind, the book allows one to bath in the pleasures of reading itself.

Tara is Scarlett O’Hara’s world—sheltered, privileged, prim, and ordered. Her entire nature shines with the joy of being pretty and sought after and frivolous in the early chapters and one can see her character darkening gradually throughout the novel. From a proud eighteen year old who lives in the bubble and whose primary concern is one Ashley Wilkes, a man whom Rhett designates right-on as someone lost in time. Someone whose delicate and intellectual faculty is no use for his time. Someone who is not forward at the moment nor is he hopeful in the future. Scarlett rises to meet challenge after challenge as the war destroys the entire world she was born to as a daughter of the South. Therefore, the war that liquidates her from comfort makes her who she is: someone who strives at all expense (even if it means cotton-picking) to reclaim the lost security and luxury.

Hunger gnawed at her empty stomach again and she said aloud, ‘As God is my witness, the Yankees aren’t going to lick me. I’m going to live through this, and when it’s over, I’m never going to be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to steal or kill, as God is my witness, I’m never going to be hungry again. [426]

In the midst of interminable hardship, she continues to focus on what she must do to create an image of herself as successful and desirable. In her determination to do what it takes to survive, and to protect her family, she assumes leadership and becomes a fierce taskmaster. When a Yankee soldier appears in Tara, she has no scruple about killing him.

Although survival has dictated many of her choices, Scarlett might have gone too far as she is prepared to lie in order to achieve the success she craves. She persuades Frank Kennedy to marry her with the ulterior motive of sing his money to launch a lucrative business. She literally cuts corners morally when necessary to insure economic well-being and financial stability. She spares no moment of hesitation to consider feelings and scruple. Later she borrows money from Rhett Butler to buy a sawmill and demonstrates her gift for deceptive business practices. Even Rhett, who is known for speculating money and bankrolling prostitutes, concedes that Scarlett O’Hara wants money more than anything in the world. While she collaborates with the occupying army and prospers by embracing pragmatism and eschewing honor, Scarlett might have overlooked her loss in human relationship, as Rhett has foreshadowed.

‘Yes, I want money more than anything in the world.’
‘Then you’ve made the only choice. But there’s a penalty attached, as there is to most things you want. It’s loneliness.’ [635]

Scarlett has laid herself open to criticism so often in small matters throughout the novel. Long has breached are the traditional etiquette and behavioral code that her mother has so punctiliously inculcated in her. When she decides to marry Rhett, shortly after Kennedy’s death, the face of the town is set against her. Whatever her birth and family connections were, she is now in the category of a turncoat, a traitor. It dawns on her the importance of allies and her lack of them. While she loses most of her contacts, Melanie, whom everyone loves and respects, remains on her side. But Scarlett’s enduring fantasies for Ashley, and Melanie’s forbearance only amplify the meanness, the two-faced disloyalty, and the hypocrisy that are in Scarlett.

The cynicism of Rhett Butler becomes the pillar of the New South. That he never lets an opportunity pass in order to mock the pieties and abstractions of Southern patriotism has formulated a sense of rationality in the novel. But despite all his victories, his personality dramatically arcs—his wounded masculinity is what dominates and haunts the book. His greatest flaw is making the mistake of falling in love with Scarlett O’Hara, who only chases after someone who doesn’t exist, except in her imagination. She only comes to term with her true feelings, which she lacks throughout the book, and acknowledges emotions as strength, only a tad too late. Her long journey to become a person who is capable of love seems ironically fruitless.

Did it occur to you that I loved you as much as a man can love a woman? . . . I loved you but I couldn’t let you know it. You’re so brutal to those who love you, Scarlett. You take their love and hold it over their heads like a whip. [952]

In this vividly written novel, with interesting characters and unforgettable crises, Margaret Mitchell has given us an epic. While the language might be different from that of Faulkner, Joyce or Morrison, Gone with the Wind will certainly stay with readers for many years to come because of its reader readability. It’s what critics might call a timeless American classic. It muses on that reflection sometimes can be the only chance of happiness in the memory of what was promised to us.

960 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

Reading Notes on Gone with the Wind
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4

14 Responses

  1. Matt, I am so grateful to you for hosting this giveaway. I would never have found the time to read this otherwise. Truly, the very first thing that reeled me in is the book’s readability. But isn’t it amazing how it is that accessible, and yet it doesn’t come off as trashy nor qualify as poor writing? Sure, the writing isn’t brilliant, but how she handled her characters were in fact really brilliant.

  2. I really must read this book!

  3. You have summarized this book so wonderfully. Since I’ve seen the movie, I know how it ends, and with 150 pages to go, I just can’t read fast enough to get there. It is interesting how once in a great while, Scarlett will examine her conscience, but generally turns that part of herself off in order to accomplish her goals, which she is so determined to meet. I’m not a big reader of classics, so I don’t know how the prose really compares to others, but is very easy to read. I am enjoying it immensely!

  4. Interesting analysis of Rhett. I think most of us (myself included) focus more on analyzing Scarlett. Woner if marriage counseling would have helped them….

    I thank you for inviting us on your read-along of GWTW. I had been meaning to re-read it and finally got around to it, thanks to you! My last post on GWTW is here: http://lifeisapatchworkquilt.com/blog/?p=281

  5. Much as I enjoyed reading “Gone With the Wind” (in a bit of a guilty pleasure way), I know that the ending really bothered me. And though I recognize now (years later) that the writing isn’t as “brilliant” as some other writers, there is a certain tug to them, even if parts made me so frustrated I considered giving up the book. It’s been nice to recall all these original feelings by reading your excellent summaries.

  6. Matt, I am waiting to read your post until I’ve done mine…don’t want to be swayed! but I want to thank you all the same for hosting this read-along. It’s been great fun!

  7. […] [196] Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell […]

  8. I hope to write another historical analysis post tonight.

    I found some 19th Century writings of the house servants and how they stayed with their former masters after the Civl War. And of the cultural divide of the field hands and the house servants.

    Plus, something about crawfish!

  9. Matt, I think what you say about memory is why Gone With the Wind is the book I took with me in the car on our travels the summer I turned 13. I kept rereading it and puzzling over the characters’ motives.

  10. Excellent insight into the characters and the time period of this book. One of only a handful that I even consider re-reading!!

  11. […] first half of 2009 has seen fruition of some of my reading goals. In the month of March I read Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell for the first time along with several bloggers. I’m sure many of echo […]

  12. […] most recent big book would be Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, with 960 pages. It was read for my own Read Along project in […]

  13. […] and shortest books? Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (960 pages) and Chess Story by Stefan Zweig (84 pages). These two books were […]

  14. […] Was it War and Peace or The Fountainhead or Gone with the Wind? […]

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