Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

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I was in the middle of writing a post reviewing another book when I finished Gone with the Wind and I just wanted to get my thoughts down as soon as possible because I was so excited about it.

I can’t believe it took me so long to read Gone with the Wind. I know I’ve said this about a few books from this list, but given that I grew up watching the extended production of Pride & Prejudice numerous times, it’s a bit crazy that I had never seen the film of Gone with the Wind. If I had, I probably would have been prompted into reading the book a lot sooner. I have this regret because I really, really enjoyed this book and I think that, had I read it earlier in my life, I might have spent more time reading around some of the subjects raised in it.

For those of you who also haven’t got round to Gone with the Wind yet, it’s essentially a coming of age story, following southern belle, Scarlett O’Hara, as her privileged and idyllic plantation lifestyle is dramatically interrupted by the outbreak of the American Civil War. The battle of Scarlett, and indeed of the South in general, to adjust to and thrive under their new circumstances over the subsequent 12 years gives us a fantastic story of love, suffering, endurance, pride, struggle and survival. The book was first published in 1936, earned Mitchell the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and has been named as America’s second favourite book of all time (topped only by the Bible…). I’m guessing that it’s popularity is partly down to the characters of Scarlett and Rhett, but also stems from the subject matter of the Civil War, so integral to American History, and the perspective from whichthese events are seen.

Scarlett is one of the most formidable and famous of literary heroines. Although, to be honest, she is in many ways more like an anti-heroine. For someone so unlikable, she garners an impressive amount of popularity. She’s selfish, conceited, entitled, callous and ignorant with a moral compass that is seriously off kilter. I like her because she’s different. She has grit, determination and honesty that make her stand out against everyone else in society. I like that she rebels against what everyone thinks she should do, or what women are supposed to do, and does what she thinks she should instead.  She’s certainly ahead of her times in her rejection of the traditional female role. Like most people, I don’t necessarily applaud all the decisions she makes or the opinions she has, but she generates a lot of grudging respect for her single-mindedness and rebellious streak. It’s also probably fair to say that in many ways we warm to her because of the filter provided by the roguish Captain Rhett Butler, who proves that Scarlett can be shamed, feel regret and discomfort, even if he is the only one to accomplish it.

Rhett Butler is one of literature and film’s great heartthrobs, thanks to his rebellious charm and Clarke Gable’s portrayal. At first glance, he’s far from the traditional knight in shining armour that we picture in fairy tales; he has a bad reputation, ill-gotten gains, is unpopular, outspoken and lacks patriotism. However, on closer inspection, this philandering blackguard is more of a princely hero than we might think – his don’t careish attitude and focus on survival at all costs, perfectly match that of Scarlett, rendering them two people made for each other in a world where they stand apart from the rest. Fortunately, Mitchell keeps this book from falling too far into the realms of the conventional by ensuring a far from traditional courtship and ending to their story.

Overall, I enjoyed almost everything about this book. It kept me guessing – I was always waiting for the fairytale moment when Rhett & Scarlett would realise that they were meant to be together and ride off into the sunset, which (spoiler) clearly never happens. I was shocked by some events, upset by others and Scarlett’s realisation at the end of the book genuinely moved me to tears, even though she doesn’t really deserve them. Maybe it was because I actually couldn’t think of many things more sad than finally realising your feelings about someone, only for them to reject you. Deep.

Aside from the kind of anti-romance of Gone with the Wind, I also liked that I learned more about a perspective of American History. I never studied it so it was interesting to see a depiction of the South that’s very different to the view that I’d had previously, particularly when it came to slavery. I am no expert on this subject, but the portrayal of slaves and masters in Gone with the Wind is a far cry from that of Twelve Years a Slave, so this was an interesting, if not convincing, alternative one to read. There are still many uncomfortable passages regarding race, and the sympathetic explanation of the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan is not something I buy into, but to have the point of view of the conquered rather than the conquerers of this conflict added another level of engagement for me. Ultimately, this is a work of fiction from another era about a very different time in history and it isn’t going to form the basis for a coherent argument about the treatment of slaves but it did stand out for me as one of the more memorable elements of the novel.

The only thing I really struggled with in this book, aside from some of the uncomfortable passages about race, were the passages of dialogue spoken by the slaves themselves. Mitchell is an author who likes to clearly delineate accents in the narrative by writing these accents into the words on the page. Personally, I don’t love this because I am lazy and much of the time I’ll end up skipping over passages instead of trying to translate what it is these characters are saying, which I really don’t want to do. Most of the time it’s OK but I really struggled when Mammy was talking Melanie through the tragedy (trying not to spoil here) and has a speech of several pages, requiring close attention and careful translation. I don’t see that writers need to force accents into their narratives as obviously as that – I can understand that they’re trying to guide their readers into how these characters sound, but I think it slows the pace of the story. However, that’s my only real criticism.

Gone with the Wind has all the trappings of a great story and I thoroughly recommend it. One I will definitely re-read.

P.S. Also watch the film

Star rating: ♥♥♥♥♥


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