Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

I’ve been thinking about this post for almost two weeks.  And will continue to think about it for two more weeks since our book club discussion isn’t until the end of the month.  There are just too many themes and topics crammed in this epic novel to possibly do all of them justice in one tee-tiny blog post.  Here are just a few:  the Civil War, Reconstruction, the South, the North, civil rights, racism, slavery, the KKK, holding onto the past, women’s rights, motherhood, ideas of femininity and masculinity, life/death, survival, industrialization v. agriculture…See what I’m up against?  And while it bodes really well for a fabulous book discussion, my poor fingers would die from carpel tunnel before I fleshed out all of those ideas.  So let’s just get the review part out of the way quickly, shall we?

Is the novel perfect? No.  Was the racism rampant and often hard to read?  Yes.  Are the characters likable? Yes and No.  Would I consider this a page turner? Very much so.  Did it offend your sensibilities as a Southerner?  No.  Do I believe the South will rise again? Oh dear. Rhett or Ashley?  Melanie. How’s the ending?  Perfectly frustrating.  Is it a novel worth reading?  Without a doubt.

Now that we’ve taken care of business, let’s get personal.  If you’ve never read GWTW, you’re likely to be a bit lost for the rest of this post because I’m just going to harp on a few specifics that personally affected my reading.  Namely:  Scarlett O’Hara.

My first run in with GWTW took place in college about 8 years ago.  I was about 20 years old and my life had mostly been smooth sailing.  That eye-lash fluttering, silly Scarlett at age 16 was closest to my own personal life experiences.  My women in literature class required the book and I read it over spring break – as a page-turning, beach read.  Nothing of substance stuck with me.  Frankly, I only gave a damn about the ‘will they or won’t they’ nature of Scarlett and Rhett.  Fast forward 8 years and a lot has changed.

My family filed bankruptcy (twice), I lived below the poverty line for several years, my toddler niece died in a plane crash, my family fell apart, I became estranged from my father, I got fired from my first big-girl job and have yet to find another, my dad had a massive heart attack – went bat shit insane – and became an even bigger asshole than before.  And that’s just some of the yucky that has made me the 28 year old I am today.

Scarlett O’Hara goes through her own trials and tribulations throughout GWTW that change her into a very different 28 year old as well.  And she makes decisions along the way that appall many readers.  I think Scarlett is at once the most hated and most beloved woman in literary history.  She’s a survivor at heart and will do anything to live on one more day.  She believes wholeheartedly in self-preservation over the ‘Great Cause’ and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about proper womanly behavior or what others think of her.  As you inhale shockingly at her drastic choices, you exhale respect because she gets things done.  And let’s be honest, women’s rights wouldn’t exist without brazen women going against the grain to make a change for the better.  I RESPECT Scarlett even when I find her unbearable.

And now, I better understand her decisions.  I’ve done things and made bold decisions this past decade that haven’t been popular, especially with my family.  And I would do them again with no regrets.  Not everyone likes me and that’s okay.  When life gets tough, you either get tough with it or lay down and die.  I’ve chosen get tough – I’ve vowed to never go hungry again – and I’ve calmly accepted that I’ll never be the most admired or have the most friends or even earn the approval of my family.  Fiddle-dee-dee.

As far as themes go, the exploration of motherhood really stood out to me this time.  I think what separates Scarlett from many of the other female characters is her utter lack of human empathy and maternal instinct.  To me, Scarlett and Melanie have the most in common as far as characters go.  I see you giving me that slanty eye!  But it’s true.  What differs is that motherly role that Melanie so easily falls into – like Ellen or Mammy – something that Scarlet doesn’t know the first thing about, but admires.  If you took that away from Melly and made her a bit louder, you’d end up with Scarlett.  That’s why Melanie is Scarlett’s true soulmate in GWTW.  Scarlett fuzzily recognizes this fact off and on but doesn’t fully appreciate Melly until the bitter end which for me is a far greater tragedy than her doomed love affair with Rhett.  Melly and Scarlett should have grown old together.

I understand Scarlett in this aspect as well.  Motherhood has never held any kind of charm for me.  But at the same time, this is also where Scarlett and I part ways.  I may not want to be a mother, but would be a fairly decent one if I had kids – namely because I do like children and Scarlett really doesn’t.  So despite understanding Scarlett’s position, I side more with Melly which made me think about these two characters in a deeper way.  I think all women (maybe all men, I mean Rhett’s a far better mother-figure than Scarlett) have Melanie and Scarlett within them somewhere.  Together, Melanie and Scarlett almost complete the role of Woman.  Just imagine combining their best and worst qualities and then writing a new book.  Let’s name our new heroine Marlett.  She would be FIERCE.  I mean, she’d have won the war all on her own.

And as for all those other big issues raised by Mitchell, we’ll have to think on them tomorrow…

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I promise I’ll get back to posting proper Litwit meetup summaries soon, but for now I’ll just add a bit of an addendum to my personal review post.

Our group discussion was a bit of a let down because we only have 5 members in attendance – just a busy time for everyone with back-to-school and all.  But those who did attend LOVED the book.  Some read it every year, others were just discovering the story for the first time.  No matter, the novel was a winner.

We talked a great deal about the women in the novel and how the book is a great counterpart to women’s rights and social/civil rights in general.  Everyone really seemed to loved the historical context of the novel and reading about places that we now live (since we all live in the Atlanta area).  It was fun to read about the history and re-birth of our city – the good and the bad.

Of course there was much conversation about the movie, particularly the casting.  Clark Gable is adored!  We all chose our favorite Scarlett dress (even though they were all gorgeous) and shared our shock at how much of the novel is left out.  Next we concentrated on sequels — some had read the sequel, Scarlett, but most hadn’t.  We discussed some of the other spin-off novels before moving on to Margaret Mitchell and the circumstances surrounding her death.

Overall, a great discussion.  Honestly, we could have several more meetups on GWtW and still not cover all the discussion points raised within the story.  But GWtW gets super high praise from the Litwits who read the book and we encourage you to give it a shot if you haven’t yet!

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Classics Club #2 finished!

Gone With The Wind: A Fuller Perspective

As many know, August is GWTW month for the Litwits.  We’re watching the movie and reading the book.  GWTW is a novel that has staunch supporters and avid haters.  Most of this division occurs over the obvious and rampant racism depicted by the Southern aristocracy of the Civil War South.  But I’m not here today to argue one way or the other.  I’m here to offer some suggestions of further reading to help all readers of GWTW gain a fuller perspective.  Below are some novels I’ve read during my life from the perspective of slaves or former slaves before, during, and after the Civil War.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs:  This autobiographical account by a former slave is one of the few extant narratives written by a woman. Written and published in 1861, it delivers a powerful portrayal of the brutality of slave life. Jacobs speaks frankly of her master’s abuse and her eventual escape, in a tale of dauntless spirit and faith (from Goodreads).

I read this beautifully written novel in college (in fact, I read all of these novels in college) and couldn’t give it a higher recommendation.  The Norton Critical edition is superb and this is a book that can only enhance your life, both in and out of books.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe:  The narrative drive of Stowe’s classic novel is often overlooked in the heat of the controversies surrounding its anti-slavery sentiments. In fact, it is a compelling adventure story with richly drawn characters and has earned a place in both literary and American history (from Goodreads).

Not at all what I expected!  A real plot-drive, page-turning novel that entertains and educations simultaneously.  Has definitely earned its classic status in American literature.

The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall: In this daring and provocative literary parody which has captured the interest and imagination of a nation, Alice Randall explores the world created in GONE WITH THE WIND, a work that more than any other has defined our image of the antebellum South. Taking sharp aim at the romanticized, whitewashed mythology perpetrated by this southern classic, Randall has ingeniously conceived a multilayered, emotionally complex tale of her own – that of Cynara, the mulatto half-sister, who, beautiful and brown and born into slavery, manages to break away from the damaging world of the Old South to emerge into full life as a daughter, a lover, a mother, a victor. THE WIND DONE GONE is a passionate love story, a wrenching portrait of a tangled mother-daughter relationship, and a book that “celebrates a people’s emancipation not only from bondage but also from history and myth, custom and stereotype” (San Antonio Express-News).

A fairly controversial novel and a parody in the traditional sense of the word as it’s far from humorous.  Randall has received a lot of criticism for her depiction of GWTW‘s characters and many believe her novel poorly written.  But my class in college thoroughly enjoyed this very different perspective of the South depicted by GWTW.  It’s told in diary form and I’d sort of compare it to a more radical version of something like Lost in Austen without the humor.

While obviously not an exhaustive list, these books offer a good place to start and an alternative to the purely white perspective of Gone With the Wind.  I love the idea of books working with each other, not against!

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!