Saturday, May 16, 2009

Title Thirty Eight: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

If Sarina read this blog, she'd be looking for something handy to chuck at her monitor right now. I don't care. It's well known that Gone with the Wind is one of my favorite books (and films) and reading it makes me happy. There's a reason that it's both a classic and a masterpiece, friends. Whether or not you want to believe it is on you. My faith cannot be shaken.

You probably know the basic story - Scarlett O'Hara, Southern belle, is living an antebellum lifestyle at Tara as the eldest daughter of a Georgian plantation holder when the Civil War (or War Between the States/War of Northern Aggression, whatever) breaks out during the fateful barbecue at Twelve Oaks plantation, where she meets Rhett Butler for the first time. Scarlett wants Ashley Wilkes, but she can't have him, since he's going to marry his cousin Melanie Hamilton. Petty Scarlett decides to marry Melanie's brother Charles for spite, but it kind of backfires when Charles dies of illness in the war's early weeks. War, destruction, starvation and Reconstruction ensue; Scarlett travels from Tara to Atlanta and back, then marries her sister's fiance out from under her when she needs money for taxes to save the family home from falling into the hands of Carpetbaggers. When husband number two, Frank Kennedy, is killed during a Klan raid, Rhett finally swoops in and snatches up Scarlett, telling her that he can't go all his life waiting to catch her between husbands. As Mrs. Rhett Butler, Scarlett finally has enough money to keep her nightmare of being hungry and lost at bay, but there's no happy ending; when Scarlett and Rhett's daughter, Bonny, is killed in a fall from a horse and Melanie Wilkes dies in childbirth, Rhett leaves Scarlett, who has realized too late that all the time she imagined herself in love with Ashley, her heart really belonged to Rhett. Rhett doesn't have enough left in him to care, and utters his famous last words on his way out the door: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Sobbing to herself on the stairs of their Atlanta mansion, Scarlett resolves to go back to Tara, start again, and find a way to get her husband back. Fin.

Look, it's a long book, and the movie cut out about a third of the story, and STILL needed an intermission.

What you might not realize is that GwtW isn't a potboiler or a love letter to slavery. It's a powerful, detailed, and rich portrayal of a time in American history that is often reduced to bare bones and dry facts in high school modules. Mitchell uses authentic dialogue and sweeping narrative to create two tales: the first, of a way of life and a class of people, both of which ended the second the first shot was fired on Fort Sumter. Mitchell does a masterful job of describing the war, martial law, poverty, loss, despair, and the Southerners' efforts to find a place in an alien world where the old rules and laws no longer apply. On another level is Scarlett's story; she never really belonged in the world of gentle, quiet women who oversaw homes and raised children. She is too much like her wild Irish father, too intelligent, too strong, and these traits are what keep her going, working her fingers to the bone in order to thrive while those around her are content to sit around, recounting tales of the old days and Confederate victories while letting life happen to them. Scarlett cannot rely on anyone but herself, and it makes her hard and bitter, but it also makes her real. She's not just a protagonist, but a heroine, clawing, scheming and plotting her way towards a life without fear but not realizing that the fear lives in her, and by the time she does, it's too late. She's too far from where she always intended to be but she recognizes that she just has to go on and find another way. Mitchell knew what she was doing when she created Katie Scarlett O'Hara. You should take some time to meet her.

3 comments:

Anna von Beaverplatz said...

Nicely stated, N!

Nicole said...

*bows gracefully, sneezes*

Figgylicious said...

I love this book, I love your review and I love you.

You perfectly summed up everything I love about this book. I think a lot of people dismiss it for a variety of reasons, all of which seem to just point at one aspect of a book that has so many layers in it. One of the things I like best is how Scarlett isn't your lovable little heroine. She's frankly annoying sometimes, but you have to give her mad props for being such a badass.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Great job!