Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Gone With The Wind" by Margaret Mitchell

Gone With The Wind: The Inheritance Edition, On Left
I decided I would read Gone With The Wind at the relatively young age of 13, mostly because I'd heard about it as being one of the most quoted movies of all time, and I preferred reading to watching films. I asked my mother to pick it up at the library for me, but she told me we had it. This was news to me- we had two major bookshelves in our house, and I'd never seen its title on either. As it turned out, the book we had was incognito- wallpapered over to make it last longer.

Gone With The Wind had been my deceased grandmother's all time favorite book. When she died, I was nine years old, and had no clue that the framed picture on my grandma's vanity had been Clark Gable, or that my grandma had ever had a favorite book. Her edition of Gone With The Wind is missing pages, scotch-taped together in most places, and overall in fairly dismal condition- but I managed to read it all the same.

The Plot:
16 year old Scarlett O'Hara has a problem. The boy of her dreams, Ashley Wilkes, is engaged to someone else. It doesn't matter if other boys like her, she wants Ashley, and will do anything to have him. But with war on the horizon, will she be able to win him back in time? Or will her whims change when she spies the handsome Rhett Butler?

Chances are, you've met a Scarlett O'Hara in real life. Those women or men who chase after something they want, but when they get that something, they want something else entirely. They think happiness will arrive once they have that perfect person, who ends up being not at all like they imagined. In some ways, this book reminded me both of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, women who want happiness (or something along those lines [a happily ever after?]) and then end up ruining their chances at it by pursuing their whims. Not to say Scarlett doesn't eventually find her way, but she has moments when I want to slap her soundly for messing up.

Race is definitely a hot-button issue for this book. African Americans are not treated fairly (at all), and called despicable names. However, when I hear of people who "can't" read this book due to its content, I must ask them this: wasn't that the way black people were treated in pre-Civil War Georgia? If they were treated equally in this book, it wouldn't be historical fiction, it would probably be a fantasy, and a lot of what actually happened to black people in the South during that era is sugarcoated. On my 1950s hardcover jacket, I notice a distinct lack of black characters (one that is smaller than my pinkie looks like a portrait of Mammy), when really the novel is relatively racially diverse for its time (though not a "diverse book" by any stretch of the imagination). Although I respect that some people cannot abide the terrible things people of color are called and portrayed as in this book, I think as a modern reader, it illustrates how far we've come since 1937, and compared with some books I've read, is relatively moderate in racism (most books I've read worse than GWTW are no longer in print today, thank heavens).

Another aspect of this book (which is very mildly "spoiler-ish"- if you've seen the movie, feel free to read this paragraph) that is probably why my grandma loved it so is that Scarlett O'Hara was a widow. My grandmother lived in a time when men died quite frequently- she was widowed three times in total, ending up having to raise her preteen and teen children by herself. I really can't imagine losing three husbands as she did, and would imagine she felt she had a sister in Scarlett, who is also fighting her way through life quite often on her own with a great deal of spunk.

Gone With The Wind is a controversial book that glorifies the Old South, thus making it taboo for many people. I don't feel this book should be banned or scorned- it should be taken with a heavy dose of salt, and read simply for the story and characters, not the cringe-inducing race stereotyping. If you are willing to accept that this book was written at a time in our history where people of color were not enslaved, but not really free and this book is written about a place and time where slavery was a-ok, you shouldn't be terribly offended by this book. With that said, I thoroughly enjoyed the drama of the book, and felt suddenly like I understood my grandmother who had died four years prior to me reading it. An epic historical romance, Gone With The Wind is a great selection for any reader willing to look past its flaws to see its story.

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars, for a flawed but expansive family heirloom.

Content: Violence, limited sexual content, bigotry, and racism. I read it at 13, but advise ages 16+.

Page Count: 1037 pages in my heirloom edition

Famous Last Words (non-spoiler):

"After all, tomorrow is another day."

            ~From the mouth of Scarlett O'Hara, by Margaret Mitchell

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