Title: Gone with the Wind
Author : Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell’s epic saga of love and war has long been heralded as The Great American Novel. Gone With the Wind explores the depths of human passions with indelible depictions of the burning fields and cities of Civil War and Reconstruction America. In the two main characters, the irresistible, tenacious Scarlett O’Hara and the formidable, debonair Rhett Butler, Margaret Mitchell gives us a timeless story of survival and two of the most famous lovers in the English-speaking world since Romeo and Juliet. Gone With the Wind is a thrilling, haunting, and vivid book that readers will remember for the rest of their lives.
I’ve never changed my opinion of one book so many times. Some parts I loved, some I hated, for
a while I even completely stopped reading it. Good thing I went back – now that I’m done, I’m really glad I read it.
Considering how famous the movie is, I think everyone has at least a vague idea of the plot. It’s a story of Scarlett O’Hara, a spoiled girl, her life during the American Civil war and the Reconstruction Era and her relationship with Rhett Butler. Scarlett is one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever read about. Some things about her I admire, some I find repulsive. She’s very determined, ready to fight for what she wants, regardless of other people’s opinions and expectations. She’s supposed to be a lady, but she’s not afraid of doing unladylike things, like making her own money and using her brain.
She’s also insanely selfish and doesn’t care about hurting people as long as she’s happy. Her treatment of other women sucks: “If she knew little about men’s minds, she knew even less about the minds of women, for they interested her less. She had never had a girl friend, and she never felt any lack on that account. To her, all women, including her two sisters, were natural enemies in pursuit of the same prey — man.” But she definitely doesn’t believe that men are superior to women: “I’m tired of everlastingly being unnatural and never doing anything I want to do. I’m tired of acting like I don’t eat more than a bird, and walking when I want to run and saying I feel faint after a waltz, when I could dance for two days and never get tired. I’m tired of saying, ‘How wonderful you are!’ to fool men who haven’t got one-half the sense I’ve got, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t know anything, so men can tell me things and feel important while they’re doing it …”
I saw the movie a few times and because of that I expected Rhett to show up early in the book, but it took about 100 pages. Oh well. It was worth the wait: “As she chattered and laughed and cast quick glances into the house and the yard, her eyes fell on a stranger, standing alone in the hall, staring at her in a cool impertinent way that brought her up sharply with a mingled feeling of feminine pleasure that she had attracted a man and an embarrassed sensation that her dress was too low in the bosom.” Rhett shows up with his ‘terrible reputation’, says whatever he wants, makes a lot of money in very suspicious ways and, of course, is the most attractive man in the book. He’s one of the rare characters who are realistic about the war: “Why, all we have is cotton and slaves and arrogance. They’d lick us in a month.”
Scarlett, being the most charming girl around, can get almost any guy she wants. The one she wants is Ashley Wilkes. She drags him off to a library and confesses her love, only to find out that he’s marrying his cousin Melanie. When Ashley leaves, she vents by throwing a bowl against a wall – but then: “This,” said a voice from the depths of the sofa, “is too much.” Rhett Butler was there the whole time. He laughs at her and she’s pissed off:
“Sir,” she said, “you are no gentleman!”
“An apt observation,” he answered airily. “And, you, Miss, are no lady.”
Their relationship is not healthy, but it is fascinating. There’s more chemistry between them than any other characters in the book. He lives his life the way she wishes she could live hers and that’s part of his attraction. “I think you like me because I am a varmint. You’ve known so few dyed-in-the-wool varmints in your sheltered life that my very difference holds a quaint charm for you.” This reminds me of Han Solo: “You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.” I didn’t expect this book to remind me of Star Wars 😀
It takes them a long time to actually get together, but Scarlett has other guys to marry anyways. She doesn’t actually care about anyone other than Ashley, not even her own children. That’s one of the worst things about Scarlett. The way she treats her children is horrible and reading a very small part of the book from little Wade’s POV was heartbreaking.
Book Ashley gets more space than movie Ashley, so he’s not a complete bore, but it’s difficult to understand why anybody would be attracted to him with Rhett around. Ashley can be very oblivious when it comes to Scarlett, for example, thinking that she was sweet before she met Rhett. HA HA HA. Oh you poor naive guy. Melanie deserves a lot better than him. She’s the nicest character in the book. Possibly the nicest character in the history of fiction. Sometimes she’s so nice (and naive) that it’s annoying. She adores Scarlett and has a tendency to misinterpret Scarlett’s selfish choices for generous ones. Scarlett looks down on her, but Rhett has a lot of respect for Melanie and she sees him in a better light than most people do.
There is a lot of racism in the book. Considering the setting, it makes sense that pretty much all of the characters are racist and there are many racial slurs used in the book. But while reading the book, I couldn’t quite figure out if the author shared the racist views of her characters. Sometimes I thought she did, because slavery in the book seems very romanticized (they’re happy like this, they don’t wanna be freed blah blah blah…). I don’t know enough about American history to say how accurate the description of slavery is. The most prominent black character is Mammy. She’s a slave of Scarlett’s family. She’s outspoken, disapproves of majority of Scarlett’s life choices and isn’t afraid of her at all. Rhett is actually a bit afraid of Mammy and says that he would like to have her respect.
There is a lot of sexism too. Men (with the exception of Rhett) seem to think that women exist to be pretty and dumb. There are things that women aren’t supposed to know and understand. There’s funny scene after Dr. Meade, against his will, visits a brothel. His wife is very curious about it (“What did it look like? Are there cut-glass chandeliers? And red plush curtains and dozens of full-length gilt mirrors? And were the girls — were they unclothed?”) He’s shocked that a ‘chaste woman’ would ever want to know that.
Scarlett’s second husband gets the shock of his life when she completely changes her behaviour as soon as they get married. She even becomes a businesswoman: “A startling thought this, that a woman could handle business matters as well as or better than a man, a revolutionary thought to Scarlett who had been reared in the tradition that men were omniscient and women none too bright. Of course, she had discovered that this was not altogether true but the pleasant fiction still stuck in her mind. Never before had she put this remarkable idea into words. She sat quite still, with the heavy book across her lap, her mouth a little open with surprise, thinking that during the lean months at Tara she had done a man’s work and done it well. She had been brought up to believe that a woman alone could accomplish nothing, yet she had managed the plantation without men to help her until Will came. Why, why, her mind stuttered, I believe women could manage everything in the world without men’s help — except having babies, and God knows, no woman in her right mind would have babies if she could help it.” If only she had more respect for other women.
It has its ups and downs, but altogether, it’s a very good book. There are two authorized sequels that I’m curious about, so I’ll maybe read them too. One of them was made into a tv show, but I don’t think I’m gonna watch that. It’s a bit difficult to see anyone other than Clark Gable as Rhett Butler 😀