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Gone with the Wind (Book)

A book by Margaret Mitchell published in 1936.

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"Gone With The Wind" Remains a Tour de Force

  • Jun 21, 2010
Rating:
+5

(Slight spoiler alert: if you've never seen the movie you might find this tells you a bit more than you want to know; if you have seen it, read the book anyway-- there is so much more to the book than the movie contained!) 


The first chapter of Gone With The Wind is an amazing exercise in the art of writing.  It begins with the challenging statement that "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when captivated by her charms as were the Tarleton twins."  Within a few pages, the reader, too, no longer realizes it, for Scarlett is so determined, so headstrong, so much a survivor, that the reader is immediately captivated too, and can't help but think she is beautiful.

After a description of willful green-eyed sixteen-year-old Scarlett, she of the 17 inch waist (laced in, of course. like any fashionable Civil War era southern belle), you hear the twins idly gossiping about how Ashley Wilkes is about to become engaged to his cousin Melanie Hamilton, and Scarlett decides that Ashley, the only man in the county who hasn't proposed to her, is really the only man for her. She plots a way to get him to propose at the barbecue that will take place at his family's plantation the next day.  The twins leave, and Scarlett wanders down to meet her father who comes recklessly galloping in, and tells her-- after a discussion of the barbecue, the upcoming engagement, and the impending threat of war (it is the spring of 1860)-- that "land is the only thing that matters." 

Scarlett and her father go back to the house, and at the end of the chapter, we see the twins riding off, surprised that Scarlett, in her preoccupation, has neglected to ask them to stay for dinner.  One of them remarks that it seemed she'd gone quiet when they mentioned Ashley's engagement.  The other wonders whether she could be enamored of Ashley, but the first responds that clearly she is in love with them. 

The chapter has come full circle with all the themes that will be explored throughout the book-- Scarlett's effect on men, her family history, her father on horseback, the upcoming Civil War, her obsession with Ashley, her attachment to Tara (her family's plantation) and her calculating survival skills. 

The next day at the barbecue, the rest of the plot is set in motion. Although Scarlett flirts with everyone including Ashley, he alone seems immune to her charms. She finally decides to tell him of her feelings, only to have him reply that she has always had his heart, that she cut her teeth on it, but that he intends to marry Melanie. He leaves, and she angrily throws a ceramic cherub across the room, over the couch where the mysterious Rhett Butler had been trying to nap.  She angrily tells him that he should have revealed himself earlier, before being witness to her scene with Ashley, but he teases her mercilessly with references that go over her head (she is definitely not an intellectual).  Their encounter is interrupted when war is declared. Scarlett accepts a proposal from Melanie's brother Charles, just to get even with the whole world (even those who know nothing about it) for her embarrassment.  They marry hurriedly, as do Melanie and Ashley, before the men leave to serve in the war. Charles dies of disease in camp without ever seeing battle, leaving Scarlett a pregnant widow.

The stage has been set for the rest of the book. Rhett Butler will pursue Scarlett (in whom he senses a kindred spirit bent on survival), Melanie will adopt Scarlett as her best friend because she married Melanie's beloved brother; no matter how far beyond the pale Scarlett’s actions become, Melanie will countenance no criticism of Scarlett.  Scarlett will moon over Ashley even though he is married to Melanie, and they will all try to survive as the Confederacy goes down in flames around them.  Scarlett will do whatever she must to save herself, her family, Melanie, and Tara, even shooting a Yankee scavenger and stealing her own sister's beau. 

Ultimately Scarlett, still pining for Ashley, will marry Rhett. They will have a daughter, Bonnie, who becomes a precocious and rather reckless rider, and is killed being thrown from a horse, just as Scarlett's father had been (all of which is foreshadowed by the reckless way he rode in, back in that first chapter).  

But it is only when Melanie, on her deathbed, asks Scarlett to take care of Ashley and to "be kind to Captain Butler, for he loves you so," that Scarlett realizes that it is really Rhett that she loves, not Ashley. She runs home, only to find him packing to leave, having tired of waiting for her to realize that they are two of a kind and belong together.  Although she tells him that she now realizes she loves him, he tells her he is too tired of her games and still intends to leave. When she asks him what she will do without him, he tells her he doesn't give a damn (scandalous words for when the book was published). 

She determines to go back to Tara to get her head together.  Tara has always been the source of her strength. Her father's words in the very first chapter, that land is the only thing that matters, echo in that decision. 

The book has been criticized for its portrayal of loyal black slaves both before and after the war, and for writing favorably about the Ku Klux Klan. The truth is, Gone WIth The Wind is a fairly accurate portrayal of white southern beliefs and attitudes in the seventy years that followed the Civil War, and even beyond. It may well reflect the attitudes of some slaves who had-- like Scarlett's nanny, Mammy-- become so close to their owners as to regard them as family.  Call it Stockholm syndrome if you will, such reactions have been documented under other circumstances. 

Any lack of apologies within the text for the establishment of the KKK merely reflect those attitudes.  This is fiction, not history, and in fiction, characters live out their lives according to how they are drawn.  These are drawn like the women of the author's grandmother's generation, who were strong because they had to be, and they are people of their time and place. 

Scarlett O'Hara is the quintessential American heroine, flawed by the very traits that allow her to survive. The Civil War is the ultimate American historical event, a time when the entire population of the eastern half of the continent set out to destroy itself (the western half was mostly unsettled).  Gone With The Wind is one of the Great American Novels.  To read it is to understand a lot about the attitudes, beliefs, and skill sets of those who fought in, or survived, the Civil War.  Scarlett is a Great American Character, not easily forgotten-- indeed, a character who captivates the reader as well as the men who were dazzled by her charms. 

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More Gone with the Wind (book) reviews
review by . July 02, 2010
I can’t remember how many times now I have read this book already, yet I always do it with pleasure and I am always captivated to read it till late hours in the night, like the first time.       In the beginning Scarlett was my favourite and I found it easy to identify with her. Perky, strong-headed, strong will, maybe superficial in her flirtations, a girl who grew from the innocent dreams and vanity of the adolescence, forced to mature in a chaotic world where all …
review by . July 01, 2010
When I was thirteen years old and on a family trip to Disney World, we pulled over at a Wal-Mart and my mom bought this book for me.  At first, as most people are, I was startled by how long it was and then I really looked at the cover.  It was that classic picture of Scarlett and Rhett locked in an embrace as Atlanta burns behind them, and I will admit I judged the book by its cover.  At thirteen it was the most risqué cover I had seen and I couldn’t believe my mom …
review by . July 14, 2010
I am very emotionally attached to this book. I read it for the first time when I was 12 and will continue to read it at least once a year. I read somewhere that it is the only book ever written by Margaret Mitchell. I like to think it is written about her grandmother or other close relative as the characters are so fully developed.     I personally would recommend this book as required reading for a high school lit class. I understand the length would prevent most students …
Quick Tip by . October 18, 2010
Gone with the Wind is a poignant story, and a remarkable work of literature that is intense and timeless; it translated remarkably and seamlessly.
review by . July 12, 2010
     *IMMEDIATE SPOILER ALERT* BEWARE!      The North wins the war.  There I said it.  The lowlife, carpet bagging, Yankees kicked the inbred, cousin marrying,  Southern Boys collective butts.  I'm so glad we got that out of the way.      The worst (and by worst I mean psychologically detrimental) war this country has ever seen, is the backdrop to this Margaret Mitchell epic.  In it we follow the adventures of Miss …
review by . July 07, 2010
Probably one of my favorite books of all time, this book is quite the read. It is super lengthy and should be undertaken at the reader's own risk. Haha, with that being said it was definitely worth the read. Even though it was written some time ago, it is very informational about the civil war time period and the basic theme is still relevant to today. There are some slow parts but there is a for sure reason for it being a classic. Scarlett is a very likeable character and has an interesting …
review by . June 26, 2010
Gone with the Wind makes really unforgettable reading. It makes  a very deep impression on the reader. The author of the book is Margaret Mitchell.      This book can’t be named just “one more love story”.   This is a story about the American Civil War, those times, those people who’d lost a lot of in the war – the closest people, their families, native land, income…       So many different types …
review by . June 29, 2010
 I read this book several times.  It is a fictional depiction of the Civil War escapes.  Everytime I have read it I enjoy it more.   The main character Scarlett O'Hara portas the main character who is a bit spoiled.  She is used to getting everything she desires including males suitors.  The story is very close in similarity to the movie which I have seen many times.   Itis a long book, over 1000 pages, but I have enjoyed it.
review by . July 24, 2010
I've loved this book for as long as I can remember.  I read it as a child, in my teens and 20s, and recently again.  The classis story of men and women trying to get along, despite everything going on around them.  As much as I loved the book, I never wanted to see a sequel or Scarlett and Rhett getting back together.  The unnecessary sequel could never do the original justice.             
Quick Tip by . July 20, 2010
I do not think that anything can be done to improve this classic. It is absolutely flawless.
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Novel by Margaret Mitchell, published in 1936. Gone With the Wind is a sweeping, romantic story about the American Civil War from the point of view of the Confederacy. In particular it is the story of Scarlett O'Hara, a headstrong Southern belle who survives the hardships of the war and afterwards manages to establish a successful business by capitalizing on the struggle to rebuild the South. Throughout the book she is motivated by her unfulfilled love for Ashley Wilkes, an honorable man who is happily married. After a series of marriages and failed relationships with other men, notably the dashing Rhett Butler, she has a change of heart and determines to win Rhett back. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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