Fiction: “Gone With the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the windSo this year’s behemoth novel was Gone With the Wind, where last year’s arduous literary task was to read the entire Jane Austen canon (I’m not going to mention the entire Sherlock Holmes oeuvre; mainly because I didn’t finish it. Some day, Holmes; some day). I can’t remember why I wanted to read Gone With the Wind again; I vaguely recall a string of references to it amongst a variety of source materials —

Okay, I seriously have to stop talking like this. Sorry. Anyway, it seemed like everything I was reading/watching had a reference to Gone With the Wind, and I hadn’t read it since freshman year of high school, so I figured, what, am I busy?

Imagine my horror when I came home from the Local LibraryTM and found that the book was 1,037 pages thick. I swore, loudly.

Gone With the Wind is, of course, “America’s Most Beloved Epic Novel” (according to the cover); the story of Scarlett O’Hara, the strong-willed Irish girl who overcame nearly everything that was thrown in her path. I can’t think of an earlier example of the feministic determinism that Scarlett exhibits, but that’s probably because I minored in 19th Century British and Renaissance Literature, not American Literature. What? I prefer the Brits, for some reason. American Lit is on my to-do list.

Scarlett of Tara was the Belle of the County in the days just after Fort Sumter, with at least a dozen young men chasing after her. But the one she wanted more than anything was Ashley Wilkes of Twelve Oaks, and the reason she wanted him was because he never exhibited anything but friendship towards her. She believed that he secretly lusted after her, and just had an excess of honor and respect that he didn’t stoop to the same level as the Tarleton boys.

The day that the Civil War was officially declared coincided with the Twelve Oaks barbeque, and also the day that Ashley Wilkes announced his engagement to Melanie Hamilton. In a fit of spite and anger, Scarlett announced on the same day that she had accepted Charles Hamilton’s proposal of the same day. The couples wed quickly, and then Charles dies of pneumonia (or something) before even firing a gun. Scarlett takes her baby boy to Atlanta to live with Melanie and Aunt Pittypat, and struggles against the oppression of widowhood.

And really, that’s the entire novel – Scarlett struggling. Struggling against the social convention that is widowhood, when she never really loved Charles and just wants to dance again; struggling through the hot day before Atlanta burned, delivering Melanie’s baby and then escaping to Tara; struggling to get Tara back up and running after the Yankees had gone through; struggling to get money for Tara, and in doing so, marries Frank Kennedy, who had long been the understood fiancé of her sister, Suellen; struggle to make money as a woman in a male-dominated society; struggle to keep hunger at bay; struggle to learn to love. The twelve years that this novel encompasses is one large struggle, and Scarlett is never really happy.

It’s also a love story between Scarlett and Rhett Butler, and her struggle to keep her love alive for Ashley Wilkes, in spite of how Rhett teases her and, in some instances, mistreats her.

The book doesn’t have a happy ending, but it is hopeful. You are left with the sense that, after all of this adversity, in going back to Tara, Scarlett is going to raise her head out of the dust and overcome her struggles again.

As I read this novel for the second time, I kept thinking back to the oral book report I gave on it, way back in second quarter of freshman English. We had to describe the protagonist(s), the antagonist(s), major plot points, and the one question that stumped me: the theme. I think that I settled on “the strength one gets from home,” because it seemed (at the time) that after every major defeat, Scarlett ended up going back to Tara in order to gain strength for her next attack.

Now, I believe the theme is truly “We Shall Overcome.” Scarlett’s struggles mirror that of the South
– The South struggled against the Yankee occupation, they struggled to maintain their social structure, and they struggled to rebuild after devastation. Their struggle was harder than Scarlett’s, for many of her compatriots in Atlanta didn’t become nearly as financially successful as she did, but the social constructs remained – Scarlett was not part of that society for a good many years, due to her behavior.

I may still be wrong – after all, there are like five themes running through the novel. “We Shall overcome”, the importance of money in a desolate world, the destruction of a civilization… bah. I never liked themes.

The other thing that I took from this novel – lifting it so many times really gave my biceps a workout. It’s over a thousand pages thick, people! It’s a heavy book!

Grade for Gone With the Wind: 3 stars

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