Gone With The Wind: Some Thoughts

Gone with the wind 001Yesterday I finished reading Margaret Mitchell’s masterpiece, Gone With The Wind. I loved it. When I started it I decided that I wouldn’t take any notes as I read and neither would I mark any passages. I just wanted the pure reading experience, reading to get immersed in the story and Margaret Mitchell was a superb storyteller. There are parts full of description that enabled me to see the scenes and parts where I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to discover what happened next, or how the characters would behave. It was a grand experience, and not just a reading experience but a learning experience too.

I saw the 1939 film many, many years ago and my memories of it are vague, not much beyond its setting, Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, and a few quotes: ‘Tomorrow is another day’ and Frankly, my dear I don’t give a damn’ – this is actually a misquote from the book – Rhett says ‘lightly but softly: ‘My dear, I don’t give a damn.’

 My knowledge of American history is quite limited, so I learnt a lot about the American Civil War and Reconstruction, about slavery (very different from Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and a lot about Georgia and Atlanta – I couldn’t even have placed them on a map before!!!

I liked the structure of the novel – straightforward chronological sequence told in the third person.

The characters are well-defined and are developed as the book progresses. Even the minor characters are distinct and I had no trouble identifying them. But the main characters are magnificent: Scarlett O’Hara, wilful, spirited, supremely self-centred and single-minded, a cheat and liar, but also charming, brave and fearless, as her character develops from a frivolous flirt to a much darker personality. She is obsessed by her infatuation for Ashley Wilkes, by her need for money and her desperate desire never to be hungry ever again. I swung between not liking her, admiring her courage, then thoroughly disliking the person she became and willing her to change – she didn’t of course.

Rhett Butler, black-hearted, flashy, a speculator, blockade runner and scallawag, who scandalises Atlanta, is the anti-hero who is gradually revealed as a hero, a tender-hearted, over-indulgent father, who really does love Scarlett, even though he can’t tell her. He’s a much more complicated character than Scarlett who understands human nature much better than Scarlett, seeing both the goodness and strength in Melanie Hamilton (Scarlett’s sister-in-law and Ashley’s wife).

There is so much to write about this book, (and I’m thinking of writing at least one more post about it) but for now I’m ending with these words from Margaret Mitchell when she was asked what Gone With The Wind was about:

… if the novel has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong and brave go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors  used to call that quality ‘gumption’. So I wrote about people who had gumption and those who didn’t. (1936) (About the Author)

12 thoughts on “Gone With The Wind: Some Thoughts”

  1. Margaret Mitchell is a first-rate storyteller and her GWTW is tremendous. It shouldn’t be taken as history, but as reflective of a very strong point-of-view of American history, circa 1930.

    I totally agree with your assessment of Scarlett and Rhett. She is a wonderful character. I like to compare her with Melanie, who she scorns for much of the story, but who is as strong as Scarlett but chose a completely different path of survival.

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    1. Jane, you’re quite right to point out that GWTW is not to be taken as history. When I first drafted my post I wrote more about the novel as historical fiction, and then decided to leave that for another post. There is so much in the book that led me to wanting to know more about the period and in that respect it opened up new areas for me. I’d never heard of ‘Reconstruction’ before in the sense of what happened to the Southern states following the Civil War – I could go on but I do want to write about it in more detail.

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  2. I read GWTW in my late teens and fell very much in love with the book. It taught me a lot about the civil war – I can remember being horrified by the after battle scenes of carnage and so forth. It wouldn’t harm me to read it again as I’m certain my impressions would now be different, but am not sure if I have the stamina for it now.

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    1. Cath, the scenes of carnage brought home to me that this really was a war, which sounds so naive, but it’s fiction I think that can bring dry facts to life! I know just what you mean about stamina – it took me nearly two months to read this book.

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      1. You’re so right, Margaret, when you say that fiction that brings dry facts to life. Caring about characters in a book and what happens to them can lead you to learn an awful lot about history – it has for me anyway. Before I read GWTW I really had no thoughts about the reality of battles and the affect on men who survive but are badly wounded. Later, when I read about WW1, I knew more, but GWTW was my first reality check in that area. A valuable reading experience in that context. Look forward to any other posts you write about this book.

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  3. Margaret – That one is truly a classic piece of literature isn’t it? It’s a real experience, too. It’s not one of those novels that one reads quickly and then puts aside, even though they’re quite good. GWTW is one of those truly engrossing novels that brings the characters alive I think.

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  4. Wonderful post Margaret! I have never read it myself only seen the movie which was never a big hit with me. Maybe thats why I’ve never read the book. Didn’t see what all the fuss was about. I think the book will be much better than the movie. I do have an old old copy of it. I think I will try to get to it this year now.

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  5. I bought a copy of GWTW a couple of years ago, just so I could enjoy a reread. I actually read it about three times when I was in my teens…I loved it that much.

    After reading your thoughts, I feel sure that I will enjoy it again, and that my earlier love was not just the obsessive infatuation of a young person.

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  6. I’m so glad you loved GWTW! I first read it in ninth grade, and then every year thereafter for half a dozen years. In the intervening four decades, I’ve probably been through it another half-dozen times – and now that you’ve so skillfully reminded me of the characters and their complexities, I think I might just have to read it again. 🙂

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  7. Gone with the Wind is one of my favourite books, so I’m pleased to hear you loved it! I first read it when I was about fifteen and have read it several more times since then. I agree that Scarlett and Rhett are great characters, but I’ve come to appreciate Melanie more and more with every re-read.

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