As with all great classics, I am hard-pressed to say anything original about Gone With the Wind. This is my second reading and I still love the book. If you have seen the movie, but have not read the book, read the book. There is a great deal more that will only add to your enjoyment of the story line.
Some things I did not know about Margaret Mitchell made re-reading the book all the more interesting (thank you, Wikipedia). Mitchell’s maternal great-grandfather was from Ireland and settled on a slave-holding plantation in Georgia. Her grandfather fought in the Civil War and made a lot of money in the lumber business after the war (just like Scarlett!). As a young girl, Mitchell heard a lot of Civil War stories from her relatives and visited the ruined plantations in Georgia. And, most interesting to me was that her mother was a women’s rights activist.
I think these points are important because they give you a better understanding of the characters in GWTW. And I think the most interesting point is Mitchell’s portrayal of Scarlett as a shrewd and independent businesswoman during a time when no women ran businesses or even played a role in commerce, except maybe in selling pies like Mrs. Merriwether and taking in sewing and boarders like Mrs. Elsing. (Or Belle Watling’s business. Belle’s character is also quite modern, profession aside.) Mitchell also portrays Ellen, Scarlett’s mother, as the true head of the plantation, with Gerald as a figurehead.
Although I love this book, it is difficult to read the sections about slavery and the slaves on the O’Hara plantation. The O’Haras take pride in their kind treatment of their slaves, yet their language is clearly condescending. It’s a bad part of American history and all accounts of this time-period make me very uncomfortable and ashamed.
I think Mitchell’s description of the post-war period is very good and it shows what a mess Atlanta was and how the Southern way of life known and loved by its people was forever lost. I like how the characters, particularly Melanie and her followers cling to their committees and old customs, even when the Northerners take over the city.
There are certainly many, many other points to add about the characters and the book, Melanie’s goodness, Ashley’s displacement in the new South, and Scarlett’s inability to understand and appreciate the people around her until it is too late.
I like Rhett Butler the best. He is very modern, thinking it ridiculous never to mention pregnancy and birth control. He loves children and these things make him even more appealing. You want to forget how he makes his money, his drinking and what he does over at Belle’s house because he is so likable and smooth. His flirtatious conversations with Scarlett are so fun to read, but my favorite parts are when Rhett shows his true feelings to Melanie, and sadly to Scarlett at the end.
Want more Rhett Butler? Check out Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig
How do you feel about literature that depicts shameful periods of history? Can characters on the wrong side of thinking still be good? I have trouble with this, do you?
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