Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
I wasn’t quite sure whether I would enjoy Gone With the Wind. It’s a large, forbidding book. But I loved it. Most of you are probably familiar with the basic story: the main character is Scarlett O’Hara, a spoiled southern belle in the time of the Civil War, and her desire to get everything she wants, through any means possible. A huge book, there are many characters in Gone With the Wind. Scarlett manipulates many men, but the ones she really cares about (Ashley, and later, Rhett), she can’t. When she gets something she wants, she doesn’t want it anymore. Scarlett is always frustrated, and is always making plans for the future. In some ways, this wasn’t what interested me most about the book. I loved the setting. I just read A Soldier’s Secret (admittedly, in a whole different class of literature), but anyway, that was from the Union perspective of things. In Gone With the Wind, none of the Southern ladies think that there’s going to be a war. And when war does break out, they think that they’re going to “lick” the Yankees in one battle. But the “Yankees” thought the same thing: that the Confederacy would be beaten immediately. Instead, we have a long, drawn-out, brutal, four year conflict.
The Southern culture described in the book was interesting too. Among rich Georgia plantation-owners, there is a code of conduct, a certain way of behaving. The ladies can’t say what they really think, a widow must wear black mourning clothes for years and never have any fun (Scarlett is in this predicament when she’s only seventeen), etc. etc. Rhett Butler challenges all these things. He openly admits that he’d work for the North if he got paid more, he doesn’t believe that the South will win, and he mocks the patriotic “brave” men of Georgia who fight. But at other times, he can be really cruel to Ashley. It was interesting to see how different life was among wealthy people back then.
As for the characters, Scarlett is spoiled and used to getting her way, and she’s from a slave-owning family, and yet…sometimes you sympathize with her. She genuinely cares about Ashley, she does have feelings, even though she’s not very intelligent (though good at flirting with men.) Most of the deeper ideas expressed by some of the other characters go right over her head, and I was really frustrated by that. But my favorite character was probably Rhett. He’s not afraid to challenge the system and say what he thinks, and he always seems to pop in the most convenient situations (for him, at least.) Rhett, when he meets Scarlett, makes her begin to challenge the way of life a bit. When he meets her, she’s in mourning for a husband she was married to for two months and who she didn’t care about. Only seventeen, she is desperate to be able to go to parties again, and he helps her do that. But he’s complicated too. Underneath that mask, he’s not as smooth. I think the white characters in the book were very well portrayed. Melanie, the wife of Ashley, is also a very sweet and kind woman, though she always misconstrues what Scarlett is thinking. Melanie always believes the best of people (which perhaps is not always wise), but that makes her a lovable character.
However, you have to remember that the book was written in the 1920s and 30s, and set in the 1860s. There are plenty of stereotypes about blacks, and some derogatory words for blacks (darkies, the n-word). I find it very hard to believe that some of the slaves turned servants never wanted freedom, independence, or money. You just have to be aware that Mitchell is obviously very biased, and not believe everything she tells you.
Gone With the Wind is a timeless classic and I would definitely recommend it to everyone. You can read Becky’s excellent review of it here. Gone With the Wind does take some commitment as it is almost 1000 pages long, but it’s a rewarding read.
|Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!