About: Published in 1936, Gone With the Wind tells a tale of the south before, during and after the Civil War. The setting’s conflicts are brought to life in its colorful confederate characters: brutal and beautiful Scarlett O’Hara, a femme fatale if there ever was one; Melanie Hamilton, a gentlewoman who surpasses all obstacles with true humility; Ashley Wilkes, a gentleman lost in a new age; and Rhett Butler, Scarlett’s dashing and courageous male counterpart. The book was a best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
As of any book with such outstanding credentials, my review isn’t going to be anything ground-breaking; but I couldn’t resist sharing my thoughts. Perhaps readers will be interested to know what I enjoyed, admired and disliked about it.
What I Loved: All of it, really.
First of all, I love the novel’s attention to women’s concerns. It follows Scarlett O’Hara throughout her lovely, antiquated little world: the courting! The pretty dresses! The chivalry, the quaint mannerisms! And it pays the greatest attention to Scarlett’s every girlish crush, womanly worry and “mean girl” whim. At least half of the book is comprised of Scarlett mooning over beaux, scheming how to entrap them, and ruining relations with girls everywhere. You don’t find that in a lot of classics! Scarlett’s narration gives the novel a certain allure that could never be achieved with another narrator. Even though I would never want to meet her, her engrossing narration undeniably livens up the story.
Because of this unusual choice of subject matter, perspective and storyline, I found Gone With the Wind one of the most engrossing and readable books I’ve ever encountered. (I enjoyed it far more than, say “Madam Bovary,” which I’ve heard described as “the first ‘sex and shopping’ novel.”) I’ve never stormed through 1,000+ pages so quickly in my life! I was hanging onto every word- a can’t eat, can’t sleep sort of book.
The characters. I love them for their completeness, if not always for their amicability (or, rather, their lack thereof). They never change their natures, an inflexibility that usually leads them into unhappy lives. But I loved them even when they broke my heart. Melanie, a sweetheart just as tough as Scarlett, is my favorite character. She provides an invaluable counterpoint to Scarlett, and her victories give the story a refreshing radiance.
As we enter the story, Scarlett is already losing her beloved Ashley to some inbred mouse of a girl named Melanie—and the one-sided rivalry has begun. This rivalry symbolizes the tensions between the heart and spirit of the south. Melanie, the heart, gentility and nobility of the south, fades away in the aftermath of the war. Scarlett symbolizes the unbreakable spirit of the south, being one of those few southerners with the mettle to survive and thrive. Melanie proves herself reigning queen of gentle, well-bred society by recognizing the courage, if not the moral bankruptcy, of the survivors. Many of the other gentlemen and women turn their noses up at the “unsexed” Scarlett and other prosperous but scandalous figures arising from the ashes of war.
The book describes confederate society entirely differently than the history books do, giving voice to an important, lesser-known perspective. For example, it portrays a more sympathetic theory of origins of the KKK. I haven’t read much about the Confederacy and am ignorant about the Reconstruction; but after reading this, I’m certainly interested in finding out more about the difficulties of life in the antebellum south. The primary theme of the book—Nobility vs Survival—colors the character arcs set against this background. The intelligent, fierce and selfish survive, while the noble fade “nobly” away, gone with the wind.
What I Didn’t Love: (1) It broke my heart. ***HIGHLIGHT to see SPOILER***Specifically, the last 100 pgs or so utterly and completely broke my heart. Being a rather sensitive sort of reader, I don’t like feeling listless and unhappy after finishing a book. However, not everyone experienced the ending this way—it is, after all, a poetically just, “serves you right” kind of ending. Scarlett entirely deserves what she gets (and I suppose you could say Rhett, Ashely and Melanie earned the fruit of their labors, as well), and she doesn’t let it break her because she never lets anything break her. And there is hope for the future, for Scarlett will always keep pressing on. ***END*** (2) The book is clearly racist, and I can’t imagine an African American enjoying it…but, at the same time, history is history. When the author wrote this (in the 1930s), racism was still fairly prevalent. And after all, Margaret Mitchel was writing about the Civil-War-Era American South. I think most readers are able to recognize and acknowledge that writers aren’t perfect and never will be—they will have flaws. The perspective presented in this book is valuable because we can learn from it. But readers who cannot overcome the reality of this historical fault may not be able to stomach the book.
Overall: I expected to enjoy this book and it far and away met my expectations. It’s marvelously written, painfully truthful and definitely what I’d classify as “unforgettable.” I’m sure I will read it again.
5/5 Stars. Highly recommended to all.