Book Talk: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Genre: Classic | Historical Fiction | Romance
Published: Originally published on June 10, 1936 by Macmillan Publishers
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I have always known that this is a legendary book but now that I have read it, I know.
History! Drama! Romance! Epic!
Reviewing this book is daunting. There is nothing that hasn’t been said about it in its history of 80 years of existence. So I’ll talk about it.
The story begins admits the talk of breaking of war for the ‘good cause’. Scarlett O’Hara, a southern beautiful, young girl, daughter of a large plantation owner, who, like her peers is concerned only with her various beaus and her desire to marry Ashley Wilkes. Ashley is marrying his plain looking cousin Melanie even after Scarlett confesses her love to him in a much unladylike manner. To Scarlett’s horror Rhett Butler, a dashing but scandalous man witness her unladylike confession and compliments her on it.
Scarlett, out of spite, marries Malanie’s brother Charles Hamilton when the American Civil War begins, hoping to hurt Ashley. Charles joins the army and dies of measles just when Scarlett learns about her pregnancy. Soon after the birth of her son Wade, she goes to Atlanta to live with Melanie and Malanie’s aunt. She likes the city and often sees Rhett who mocks and infuriates her but also encourages her to defy the restrictive southern norms of mourning.
As the war progresses, life becomes harder and Scarlett wants to return home to Tara but she can’t as she has promised Ashley, who is a prisoner of war, to take care of his pregnant wife. Malanie gives birth to her son on the night Atlanta is set ablaze by the Yankees. With Rhett’s help they escape the burning streets of Atlanta, but just outside of Atlanta, Rhett abandons them to join the Confederate Army. Scarlett is left with no choice but to continue the dangerous journey on her own and brings Melanie and the children to Tara only to find her mother has died, her father is in shock, and her sisters are sick. The plantation has been looted by the Yankee soldiers and there is barely anything left. The harshness of hunger leaves Scarlett furious who vows never to go hungry again.
Scarlett takes charge of Tara and does whatever it takes to protect and rebuild it. When the war is over Ashley returns and Scarlett hopes he will now take care of everything. When Scarlett is left disappointed, she decides to go to Atlanta to seduce Rhett to give her the money to keep Tara. She is again let down when she finds Rhett in jail and when he cannot help, she plots to marry her sister’s beau Frank Kennedy to save Tara. Once married to Frank she soon starts interfering in his business and is surprised how careless he has been with it.
Rhett blackmails his way out of the prison and lends Scarlett enough money to buy sawmills who, much to the southern society’s displeasure, becomes a shrewd businesswoman. She returns to Tara when she learns of her father’s death and persuades Ashley and Melanie to move to Atlanta and help in the lumber business. Soon Scarlett gives birth to Frank’s child, a little girl Ella.
Frank dies one night when he along with the Klan go to avenge the attack on Scarlett. Soon after Frank's death Rhett proposes Scarlett and she quickly accepts. With Rhett’s riches, she builds a garish mansion and socializes with wealthy Yankees leaving her disliked by the southerners. She soon gives birth to Bonnie, Rhett’s baby girl. Rhett dotes on the girl and begins to change his ways to be back in the good books of the southerners for the sake of his child.
Scarlett and Rhett’s marriage is on a rocky path with his growing indifference towards her and her still being in love with Ashley. After the death of Rhett’s daughter, Bonnie, their marriage worsens when Scarlett blames Rhett for the death of their daughter. Soon after Scarlett has a miscarriage when she falls down the stairs for which Rhett blames himself.
Scarlett returns to Atlanta when she hears of Melanie’s ill health. On the deathbed, Melanie makes Scarlett promise to take care of her child and Ashley. She realizes how much of her own strength had come from Melanie, how she was only infatuated by Ashley and that she has always been in love with Rhett. She hurries home to tell Rhett but before she can tell him anything Rhett tells her that he has waited too long and has lost his love for her and decides to leave her. Scarlett’s never-give-up spirit believes she can get him back. But before that, she needs to recover her strength and decides to go back to Tara.
This book was a reading experience where I immersed myself. The prose in the book is so well written.
The story was fascinating the whole way. It starts on a happy note but not for long and leaves you frantically turning the pages late into the night just to see when would it shift gear and for things to start getting happier. It never gets happy. It just keeps spiraling down into despair.
I have never studied American History so I feel I am in a better position as a reader. I took the story as it was told to understand how the characters felt. I definitely wouldn’t allow this book to form my opinion on the history of American civil war. I know too little for that. It also has sensitive content on racism. But one has to be mindful that the story is being told from the southern character’s point of view in the backdrop is civil war. In my opinion, it should be taken in that context.
The characters are developed beautifully and even though there are too many characters, I remember each one and even remember their names most of the time (which is rare for me as I don’t remember names easily). The story depicts the civil war but not the battles of the war taking the reader away from the battlefield and shows what happens to the women, children and the old when battles are fought. It’s about what happens when the way of life and society collapses and when a group of people who resist progress are forced to socially progress. It’s often thought-provoking and made me read more about the time, civil war, American society at the time, the struggles of reconstruction era and the conflicts between the slave owners at the time, newly freed ex-slaves and the Yankees and the States versus the Federal rights/power.
The main characters Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Wilkes are a complete contrast to each other and still similar at times. Ashley is ripped and never recovers from the collapse of his world. Melanie is meek but her strength shows in the toughest of situations. Rhett border lines on truly good and not so good. He is a ruthless blockade-runner, speculator, and a gambler but shows a lot of heart for his wife and daughter for whom he even changes his ways. He is a liberated, free-thinking man who is immediately attracted to vibrant Scarlett.
Scarlett is the protagonist with the hard-headedness of her father and the ladylike refinement of her mother. But in dire situations, her survival instinct rise above the social restrictions. She does whatever it takes to rise above the hard times. From being a narcissist to back stabbing, from working in the fields to killing and is even willing to become a mistress, she leaves no stone unturn to survive and later on in the story even becomes a shrewd businesswoman to thrive.
She is not a likable character, tempestuous, opinionated, money and man hungry, everything that was considered unladylike by the standards of that time to unconscionable in the present time but I loved her. She is believable and often in the back of my mind I agreed with her actions and struggled to be akin or associate with her. Her conscience is always just under the surface telling her what is wrong with her actions, giving the readers a nudge that she is awful to do the things she does and her rational mind justifies her actions and readers often find themselves agreeing with her actions.
In spite of all her flaws, Scarlett’s spirit to keep working, against all odds, towards improving the present for a better future is amazing. She never looks at the big picture and the true world around her which is what helps her overcome hardships but also never allows her to see Ashley for who he is and never realize Rhett’s love for her. You have to admire her for who she is and accept that the very qualities that help he in hard times work against her in good times. I often wondered why does a person who so desperately wants to be like a lady go about being ruthless. The irony of all is she gets what she wants all the time but doesn’t get what she truly wants when it really matters.
The characters in the book beautifully mirror the collective character of the South. It beautifully address the problem of the society especially that of the women’s role in the society and uses Rhett’s character to highlight what was wrong with the way of thinking at the time. The writing has a level of self-awareness and it criticizes certain aspects along with the reader.
No matter how unlikable a character may be, if you are left thinking about it even days after you’ve read the book it deserves the heights rating.
About the author:
Gone with the Wind is the only published work by Margaret Mitchell in her lifetime and won National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for it. Margaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1900. Her father was a lawyer and the president of the Atlanta Historical Society, and her mother was a suffragette (a woman in support of extending the right to vote, especially to women) and an advocate of women’s rights in general. Mitchell grew up listening to stories about Atlanta during the Civil War, stories often told by people who had lived through the war. Mitchell attended Smith College, a women’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 1919, she returned to Atlanta and began to live a lifestyle considered wild by the standards of the 1920s. After a disastrous first marriage, Mitchell began a career as a journalist and married an advertising executive named John Robert Marsh. In 1926, encouraged by her husband, Mitchell began to write the novel that would become Gone with the Wind. She went through nine complete drafts of the thousand-page work, setting an epic romance against the Civil War background she knew so well. In the first eight drafts, the protagonist was called Prissy Hamilton, not Scarlett O’Hara (as the character was renamed in the final draft).
Gone with the Wind was published in 1936, ten years after Mitchell began writing it. A smash success upon publication, Gone with the Wind became—and remains even now—one of the best-selling novels of all time. It received the 1937 Pulitzer Prize. In the late 1930s, a film version of the novel was planned, and David O. Selznick’s nationwide search for an actress to play Scarlett O’Hara captivated the nation’s attention. The resulting film starred Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable as Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, and it quickly became one of the most popular motion pictures of all time.
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This post contains affiliate links. This allows me to earn a small percentage of the purchase with no extra charge to you. By clicking and purchasing through these links, you are supporting this website which allows me to create free contents for you.