Classic Literature. Fiction. Romance. Historical Fiction. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, Margaret Mitchell's great novel of the South is one of the most popular books ever written. Within six months of its publication in 1936, Gone With the Wind had sold a million copies. To date, it has been translated into 25 languages, and more than 28 million copies have been sold. Here are the characters that have become symbols of passion and desire: darkly handsome Rhett Butler and flirtatious Scarlett O'Hara. Behind them stand their gentler counterparts: Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Hamilton. As the lives and affairs of these absorbing characters play out against the tumult of the Civil War, Gone With the Wind reaches dramatic heights that have swept generations of fans off their feet. Having lived in Atlanta for many years, narrator Linda Stephens has an authentic ear for the dialects of that region. Get ready to hear Gone With the Wind exactly as it was written: every word beautifully captured in a spectacular unabridged audio production.
But, for all it’s wrongs, Gone With The Wind still deserves it’s place of honor on my bookshelves. Scarlett O’Hara still stands head and shoulders above most other heroines and was there ever such a man as Rhett Butler? These two are still my all time favorite couple. Even the minor and supporting characters are unforgettable. The wonderful Mammy, Aunt Pittypat, Doc Meade, and the scandalous Belle Watling are just a few of the great characters to liven up the pages.
The historical detail of this book is astounding, from describing fashions, battles, or simply the morals of the day, she is accurate and paints a picture that is hard to forget. With the visuals that she provides, you are put so firmly in the picture that you feel as if you actually experienced the events first hand.
Above all this book is a great story, and Margaret Mitchell was a great storyteller. Flawed in many ways, yet still one of my all time favorite books. I wish other authors would leave it alone and stop trying to continue a story that ended just the way it should, with everything Gone With The Wind.
The story is a familiar one, with Scarlett O'Hara as the prominent belle of the south residing in splendor at Tara, her family's plantation. Her easy-going carefree life of balls and barbecues - and her pastime of pining after Ashley Wilkes - is drastically upset by the onset of the Civil War. The epic American conflict is recounted through Scarlett's eyes and the drama of the war is paralleled with the daily struggles of the women left behind struggling to feed themselves and their families. Meanwhile, tangled webs and love triangles are set up as Ashley marries Melanie Hamilton and Scarlett weds Melanie's brother, Charles - leaving Scarlett as sister-in-law to the wife of the man she really loves. Adding to this particular drama, is the dashing figure of Rhett Butler who has an eye for Scarlett's fiery Irish personality which perfectly matches his own.
Through the days of the war, the South's surrender, and the chaos of Reconstruction, Mitchell's novel follows these expertly drawn and fully realized characters as well as a supporting cast that brings the settings and struggles alive. The writing is stirring and emotional with themes of love and loss, and the descriptions are amazingly vivid, bringing balance to an action-filled plot. Scarlett O'Hara is not always a likable heroine but even when the reader disagrees with her actions and despises her motives, there remains something admirable in her gumption and passion for life. Though the film is excellent (I admit that Gable and Leigh were expertly cast, staying true to Mitchell's descriptions) even at four hours of running length it can only scratch the surface of this amazing novel. The depth and detail ensconced in almost 900 pages of text provide a richness to the story that assures Gone With the Wind its rightful place as an American masterpiece.
There have been so many book reviews about ‘Gone With The Wind’, authored by Margaret Mitchell, that I was almost tempted not to write this review. It seems somewhat pointless in repeating what has already been written countless times about this masterpiece, and the only book ever published by this author in 1936, who received a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for it, in 1937. With over 30 million sales, a film, and sequel attempts by other authors in attempts to keep the ‘Gone With The Wind’ saga alive, it is a book well known, world-wide.
For those unfamiliar; set in the state of Georgia, southern United States in 1861, ‘Gone With The Wind’ is the story of the high spirited, un-conforming southern belle Scarlett O’Hara and her tumultuous struggles of the heart, with (southern gentleman) Ashley Wilkes and (charming rogue) Rhett Butler. But it is not just a romance novel; it is also a novel bathed in American history, and the story of a young woman’s determination and strength of will to save her beloved plantation home called Tara in any way possible, through times of the American Civil War and the early years of Reconstruction.
I cannot recall why I was so captivated by this book when I looked at it on my grandmother’s book shelf all those years ago (it did not have a colourful outside cover). I certainly wasn’t at an age to fully comprehend the contents of it, despite the fact that as a child growing up in the Australian bush in the 1960’s, reading was a huge part of my childhood, especially as my mother and grandmother were both teachers. However, once I read the book I realised that my grandmother would have known I would relate to Scarlett’s love of the land; her home, Tara, which she fought to protect at any cost.
My favourite excerpts:-
Gerald O’Hara (Scarlett’s father): ‘’Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O'Hara, that Tara, that land doesn't mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin' for, worth fightin' for, worth dyin' for, because it's the only thing that lasts.’’
"Somewhere, on the long road that wound through those four years, the girl with her sachet and dancing slippers, had slipped away, and there was left a woman with sharp green eyes, who counted pennies and turned her hands to many menial tasks, a woman to whom nothing was left from the wreckage, except the indestructible red earth on which she stood."
‘Gone With The Wind’ will appeal to readers for so many different reasons. I highly recommend it!
J M Lennox
Rhett also was a bit of a surprise. I wasn't expecting him to be such a rebel and basically a jerk to everyone except Melanie. And yet he is so honest and forthright that it is a refreshing change from all the other characters who would put on a face and lie through their teeth in order to be considered "proper". My heart broke for him after the experience with his daughter towards the end and the circumstances where he delivered the famed line "I don't give a damn" was not something I had pictured in a million years.
It was also interesting to see the type of behavior that was considered proper during this time period. I found it ridiculous that people could actually believe it was better to starve and be poor than to receive people in their homes that didn't have the proper background and that people were considered peculiar if they were interested in reading or education.
The ending of the book was a shocker for me and left me wanting more. I know there was a sequel written by another author but frankly the reviews I've read have not been the greatest and I truly wonder what Margaret Mitchell would have written if she had done a sequel. If you have not read this classic I highly recommend you make the time to do so.
I first read this epic novel 10 years ago and now after rereading it I appreciate it even more. It’s easy to dismiss it as a love story, but that doesn’t even cover half of the story. It begins in the days preceding the Civil War as Georgian plantation owners gather for a
The plot unfolds as war is declared and the self-centered Scarlett realizes the man she loves, Ashley, is planning to marry someone else, Melanie. I couldn’t put the book down as we swept from marriage to death, births to destruction. It is a romance, but it is also so much more than that. It’s a history of the south and a portrait of endurance. It’s a story about surviving change. The entire Southern society comes crashing down around its people, some survive, some flourish, some die, some live in denial. It affects everyone, but each person reacts differently.
One character that stood out to me this time was Scarlett’s mother Ellen. I’d forgotten that she is only 32 at the beginning of the book. She’s has had six children, but she’s so young! After her heart was broken, she married Scarlett’s father Gerald, even though he was 28 years her senior. Ellen is the only person who Scarlett truly respects and wants to please. Even after her death, Ellen’s impact on her daughter resonates throughout the novel.
“Mother had always been just as she was, a pillar of strength, a fount of wisdom, the one person who knew the answers to everything.”
Gerald is another great character. He’s 60 at the beginning of the book, but he’s full of life. When his wife dies his spirit completely breaks. He does want what’s best for his children and he knows that Ashley would never be a good match for Scarlett. He warns her of this, that their temperaments are too different to ever be compatible, but she ignores him.
The men in Scarlett’s life shape her in many ways. Her first husband is the weak and naïve brother of Melanie. Scarlett marries him to spite Ashley, but their brief marriage is cut short when Charles dies after only two months. His only legacy was the son, Wade, he gave her.
Scarlett married for the second time out of necessity. She needs money to save her beloved plantation, Tara and so she marries Frank, her sister’s beau. She always refers to him as a fussy old maid, but he was stronger than he first appeared. Despite being tricked into marriage, he honors her as his wife. She bullies him and scandalizes him by purchasing and running lumber mills. It’s an unhappy pairing that is cut short by Frank’s untimely death, but not before Scarlett bears him a daughter, Ella.
Ashley is the man that she can never have, but the one she never ceases to love. She may have loved him purely at one time, but at some point it becomes more of a dream. She wants him because she can’t have him. Everyone who knows either of them understands that they would be horrible for each other, but she idolizes him in her mind and it doesn’t matter who he truly is. I was so frustrated by Ashley. In his honorable way he strings Scarlett along for years. He is weak in so many ways. Although Scarlett does some despicable things, you have to admire her tenacity and unwillingness to let circumstances defeat her.
“He accepted the universe and his place in it for what they were and, shrugging, turned to his music and books and his better world.”
I’ve saved the best for last. Rhett Butler, the scoundrel, the soldier, he is so many things throughout the book, but in every situation he is honest to a fault except for when it comes to his own heart. He and Scarlett are two peas in a pod. She continually finds herself admiring Rhett because of his practicality and she can’t help but feel physically attracted to him, but she also despises him because he’s the only man who truly knows her, sees her for what she is and still loves her.
“I wonder if anyone but me realizes what goes on in that head back of your deceptively sweet face.”
I love that the readers and Scarlett never completely know Rhett. He teases and goads, but he very rarely shows his true face. Only when he talks about his cruel prideful father and his poor mother or when he’s angry do we see his vulnerable self.
“He was dark of face, swarthy as a pirate, and his eyes were as bold and black as any pirate’s appraising a galleon to be scuttled or a maiden to be ravished. There was a cool recklessness in his face and a cynical humor in his mouth as he smiled at her, and Scarlett caught her breath.”
One of the things I love and admire so much about this book is the complex characters. They surprise you with their depth and their ability to change and grow. Rhett is practical to a fault, but he is also incredibly heroic, deciding to join the war when it’s almost too late to do anything. Melanie is by far my favorite character in the book. When you first meet her you think she’s a simpering fool, much of that is because we see her through Scarlett’s eyes. As we get to know her we are surprised, alongside Scarlett, to find an incredible strength of will. She is one of the kindest and strongest characters in all of literature.
“Now why didn’t I have the gumption to say that?” thought Scarlett, jealousy mixing with admiration. “How did that little rabbit ever get up spunk enough to stand up to old lady Merriweather?”
It takes a long time for Scarlett to get past her initial impression of Melly, but in addition to her unfailing loyalty and kindness, she has a strength that Scarlett admires.
“Struggling against hatred for Ashley’s wife, there surged a feeling of admiration and comradeship. She saw in a flash of clarity untouched by any petty emotion that beneath the gentle voice and the dovelike eyes of Melanie there was a thin flashing blade of unbreakable steel.”
In addition to the main characters there is a wonderful selection of supporting characters that didn’t make it into the famous film. Beatrice Tarleton owns a neighboring plantation. She has four rambunctious sons and raises horses. She loses all of her sons and horses in the war and it breaks her heart. Grandma Fontaine, another neighbor, tells Scarlett about watching her family being slaughtered by Indians and somehow surviving the experience. She is a picture of what Scarlett could become when she is old, a formidable woman. Will Benteen is a Confederate soldier nursed to health at Tara. He stays on, helping run the farm and despite his poor upbringing he becomes a helping hand to Scarlett as she tries to rebuild their lives. He knows and understands much about the family’s dynamics, but he remains silent on most issues.
One of the most interesting things about Gone with the Wind is the question of whether not Scarlett is a villain. In the classic sense she is an obvious villain. She doesn't care who she hurts while trying to reach her goal. She ruins lives with abandon, she lusts after another woman’s husband, she is a neglectful mother and a shallow creature. Yet she also protects those around her. Without her Tara would have been lost to the Yankees, Melly would have died in childbirth as Atlanta burned. She can become petty and cruel. But if every decision she made was out of selfishness she never would've stayed in Atlanta while Melly was pregnant. Even if she did that out of a misplaced the loyalty to Ashley It was still the right thing to do.
Scarlett is a fascinating character because of her contradictions. In the same way Melanie is just as fascinating. She is both weak and incredibly strong. The women are two sides of the same coin and their similarities are just as interesting as the things that separate them.
Scarlett’s great tragedy is that she never truly understands the people in her life until it’s too late. She loves a version of Ashley that doesn’t exist. She doesn’t see how much Rhett loves her and she never understands what an incredible friend she has in Melly.
“Never before had it occurred to her that she needed Melanie. But now, the truth surged in, down to her deepest recesses of her soul.
“Now she had a fumbling knowledge that, had she ever understood Ashley, she would never have loved him; had she ever understood Rhett, she would never have lost him.”
BOTTOM LINE: This beautiful novel has so many layers and is just a damn good book. It’s about the crumbling of a way of life. It’s about war and starvation. It’s about the deep bounds of friendship and the impact your parents have on your life long after they’re gone. It’s about love and the illusion of love and longing for things you can’t have. It covers so many issues and yet at its heart it’s also a love story. I know I’ll reread this book again in the future and I’m sure that the next time I’ll peel even more layers away.
“Now you are beginning to think for yourself instead of letting other think for you. That’s the beginning of wisdom.”
“They were right! Everybody was right! You aren’t a gentleman!”
“‘My dear girl,’ he said, ‘how inadequate.”
“Scarlett reigned supreme at Tara now and, like others suddenly elevated to authority, all the bullying instincts in her nature rose to the surface.
“All wars are sacred to those who have to fight them. If the people who started wars didn’t make them sacred, who would be foolish enough to fight?”
Scarlett O'Hara is one of those characters who is not likeable but is admirable: ambitious, selfish and
Those are traits she shares with Rhett Butler, one of the first bad boys in modern fiction: a scamp, a profiterr and an adventurer but, ultimately, a patriot and a loving father.
The descriptions of food and costume, manners and customs, are completely delightful and it is impossible not to sympathise with the newly widowed Scarlett, still a girl, as she fumes at being excluded from the dancing because of her status and wilts at the thought of having to wear blacks, greys, violets and dark, drab colours for years to come.
I suppose it is seriously chickfic and I have never met a [straight] man who has actually read the book: not sure if even the gay men I know have attempted it - although so few men of any persuasion read these days it is no indication of anything...
And although the novel does deal with issues of dress and romance and emotions and domesticity, the wear and the social issues caused by the fall of the south are a major theme - certainly the fall of Atlanta is very much of an action adventure, with explosions going off left, right and centre and the enemy advancing on all fronts.
Still one of the longest popular books in English, GWTW is remarkably consistant throughout and never falls off once in its more than 1000 pages: an amazing feat for its author, an untested amateur. Truely remarkable - and tremendous fun!
Melanie's character sticks out in my mind as one that, despite its destruction, maintains the spirit and ways of Antebellum South. She doesn't change like Scarlett does, betraying the principles and mores of her heritage and culture. Holding Melanie's consistency against Scarlett's
Other aspects of the book that I liked: what a refreshingly easy long book. I was worried about taking on another long book, especially one that was written a longish time ago (and uses...ah shoot, I can't think of the word...colloquial spellings? "well ah nevah seed nuffin lak dis", etc.) but no! It was a very relaxing read. I enjoyed a nice easy read that wasn't so dense.
Rhett is such a smarmy scalawag. I laughed out loud several times - he has got some of the greatest lines ever bestowed upon a character. He is so remarkably witty - especially in the face of a 'fiddle-dee-dee' Scarlett, or a Scarlett that's trying to pull something over on him - he is an absolutely astounding romantic interest. I would never call this book a romance - but the feeling of the turbulent relationship between Rhett and Scarlett is something that I definitely see modern romance writers desperately trying to capture.
Then there's the history aspect. You don't get many books of such quality written about war from the perspective of the defeated side, especially one that spans the pre-war to post-reconstruction period. And how on earth can one casually write about the Ku Klux Klan, make some of the main characters members of it, and honestly give reasons for its existence that are so in line with this compelling book, that I felt a bit sorry for them? And sakes alive, you could not write this book today, what with all of its racial inappropriateness and language. I was fascinated by the class distinctions that not only proper white society had, but also between the house slave and the field slaves, and the poorer whites. Indeed, you couldn't write this book today. Margaret Mitchell had an incredible grip on how antebellum South society operated, and how it shifted during and after the war.
But I know this, from the time I was a teen and first read this book, I was impressed with the feminist subtext.
One of the most moving parts of the book is when Scarlett returns home only to find her mother dead. In the days that follow Scarlett is the one that pulls her family together and saves the plantation for all of them--even as she has to drag many of them kicking and screaming because they couldn't or wouldn't adapt. Scarlett, above all, is a survivor and I love her for it. In one passage she bitterly rues how her mother didn't teach her anything she could use in this new post-war world. Then the narrative points out that her mother Ellen and Mammy were preparing Scarlett as best they could for a code that the war ended--or at least made hard to follow and yet survive.
And it's this code, under which Scarlett chaffed even before the war, which Mitchell renders so well. A world with corsets molding and shaping you not unlike the practice of footbinding among Chinese women of that century. A world where a women of a certain class dare not show an appetite. A world where you'd be socially ruined if you take a ride in the open with a man. A world where a widow has to wear black--oh, just about forever. Scarlet frets and kicks and wiggles herself out of one restriction after another in the course of the novel. And, yes, she can be vain, self-centered and cruel in her single-minded determination to get what she wants. But damn if I wasn't pulling for her every step of the way.
I'd add it's a fat book that never, ever drags for one word of its length. And is much richer than the film.
I picked up this book expecting a delicious, swoony romance with high-literary aspirations, but what I got was a meandering, repetitive slog peppered with only very occasional moments of pleasure. Plus lots of n-words.
I won't say that the book is outright bad, but for me it was six weeks of labor without the payoff of a work that's either more serious or more silly and gooey. Please do read it, but temper your expectations. Or, better yet, read an abridgment.
By modern standards, and even by the
Modern discussion of this novel centres almost exclusively around its racial element, but there is so much more in here: the horrors of war and a city (Atlanta) under siege; the privations suffered by families trying to make ends meet in a situation of society tearing itself apart in the Civil War (I think perhaps we in Britain don't quite get the impact this had and still in some ways has on American society, as our own Civil War was much longer ago); the impact of what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder on the mental health and conduct of soldiers on both sides, and the ill treatment by both sides of their prisoners of war; and moral dilemmas over the lengths one can and should go to protect one's family and loved ones in a desperate situation, versus wider societal responsbility.
The central character Scarlett O'Hara is often irritating, shallow and selfish, but also capable of strong love and loyalty, strong-willed and resourceful, and very willing to challenge the rigidly stereotypical standards of a society that believed it wrong for women to assert themselves in personal relationships or economic terms. When the former characteristics were to the fore, she reminded me rather of Becky Sharp in Thackeray's Vanity Fair, but Scarlett has more positive features (by the same token, Melanie Hamilton was much like Amelia Sedley in the Thackeray classic, looking for love and security and easily duped). Rhett Butler is the ultimate cynical character and epitome of the man determined to preserve his freedom of action in all circumstances by not committing himself, but also refreshing in his lack of tolerance of the cant and hypocrisy that dominates society's mores. It is ironic that Scarlett and Rhett, while being the central heroes of the novel, regularly flout the conventions and rigid morals of a society with which the author clearly totally identifies. Meanwhile, the other main male character, the cultured and well travelled Ashley Wilkes, with whom Scarlett is in love for almost the whole of the novel, pales into watery insignificance next to these central pairing.
There is much more that could be written about this novel, such as the author's very partial political views of the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, and her seeming complete lack of recognition that slavery was in any way wrong. This will always be a controversial novel, but overall it deserves its reputation as a sweeping epic and flawed masterpiece of American and world literature.
(P.S. I watched the movie after I finished the book, and they did a decent job, but even in almost four hours of film, they cannot do it justice. Don't settle for the movie - read the book!)
Firstly I liked Scarlett more than I was expecting to. Unsentimental- well, over most things- driven, and utterly out for herself...especially when the Civil War
As a Brit, I'd never really considered what life was like in the immediate aftermath. How did all those Southerners feel about the North ending slavery? I learnt a great deal from reading this- there's history alongside a fast-paced storyline - and the Yankees certainly werent only about bringing in an ethical society. Much corruption, disenfranchisement of Southern whites, overnight empowerment of former slaves...all resulting in a fractured, angry society....and the beginnings of the Ku Klux Klan (made me think of post WW1 Germany,fiercely policed and impoverished by the rest of Europe...and the anger and resentment finding vent in escalating anti-semitism.
But this is primarily a story of people...Scarlett O'Hara, the feisty Irish/Creole plantation owner, her two weak husbands, Ashley Hamilton, on whom she pins all her drreams for years, and his wife- and Scarlett's friend....the good-natured Melanie.
And Rhett Butler, the wealthy, handsome, sardonic character- a goodie or a thoroughly bad man? - always around on the fringes...
Stonking good read.
More so than many other novels written during less progressive times, Gone With The Wind (GWTW) requires a modern reader to overlook or at least endure descriptions, dialogue and narrator commentary that would prevent its publication today. I plead ignorance regarding Margaret
Mitchell paints an unrealistic picture when she writes of the Southerners' dismay at Northerners repeated inquiries about blood hounds and whippings as though these things never occurred or shares the Southerners' belief that life was better as a slave than free. If she had presented a neutral picture, GWTW would have been a stronger book. Instead, it reads somewhat as a rebuttal to Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Setting that aside, Scarlett O'Hara is not a likable character and GWTW is ultimately not a redemption story. Yes, Scarlett realizes at the end that her obsessive love for Ashley has been a chimera and that if she had won him early on she would have discarded him the way she did all her other beaux. But she does nothing with this realization, she simply retreats to Tara after Rhett's abandonment and puts off dealing with her altered reality until tomorrow, when she will find a way to win him back. To be honest, she doesn't seem capable of many of the realizations she has over the course of the book.
And GWTW is a long, rambling book. It covers over a decade of Scarlett's life, at times in slow, repetitive and mundane detail (the opening scenes, while needed to build our understanding of Scarlett, take entirely too long getting through one day). Other times, it rushes through a catastrophic event, then skips days or weeks ahead (Scarlett's fall down the stairs and Bonnie's death feel especially rushed). I don't know whether we're supposed to like Scarlett, but the other characters do a poor job of providing an alternative object for our sympathy. Rhett earns sympathy for the high price he pays for loving Scarlett, but he's squanders it on his disreputable business dealings. His noble deeds and kind treatment of most people aren't enough to overcome his character flaws. Ashley is simply weak and ineffectual; there is nothing admirable about him. Melanie is said to be a great lady but she's blind to both Scarlett and her husband's true characters, making her a fool. Combined they are a portrait of dysfunctional adults in an often unbelievable story of an unscrupulous woman looking out only for herself in the aftermath of the War. Understandable behavior, yes; honorable, hardly.
I have been meaning to read GWTW for some time, and I'm glad I did. But it's not a book I'd read again.
I've read GWTW twice before and I love it. But this time around I was again too distracted by lots of other books. (It was part of a readalong and I was a bad participant!)
Read in March 2008
** spoiler alert ** 03/26/08 - Books with unresolved endings usually
03/04/08 - Scarlett is in Atlanta, she's done with her one year of mourning, and she got out of going back to Tara for her disgraceful dancing while in mourning. I feel so bad for Scarlett...the fact that people of the pre-Civil War South thought that women should mourn for 3 years in black after the loss of a husband. Wow. And I know Scarlett comes off as selfish and vain (yes...she IS both of those things), but she's only 17! How many unselfish 17 year olds do you know? I feel like people don't give her a chance....And Melly IS one lame 18 year old. I love this book.
The first time - and until now the only time - I read this book was in December 1975. I had just finished high school and my best friend persuaded me to read her favourite novel. Every afternoon for about three weeks I went to the local beach for a couple of hours to sunbake and read. From that
Coming back to the novel almost thirty-seven years later has been a very different experience and not an altogether positive one. I don’t mean that the experience has been all negative, as there are a number of aspects of the work which I like a lot. Firstly, I think Mitchell deserves praise for creating a heroine who is not a likeable character. Scarlett does have some positive qualities – she is practical and highly resilient – but throughout the novel she remains essentially unsympathetic and, well, stupid. There are few writers who would be prepared to make the central character in a romance quite so unlikeable.
Secondly, Mitchell’s account of the Civil War and in particular its affect on the civilian population feels authentic. As I read the chapters dealing with the war, I felt that Mitchell was writing about real and not just imagined experiences. Thirdly, the novel has moved beyond being just a work of fiction. At least in part because of the film adaptation, it’s an intrinsic part of American popular culture and therefore of English-language popular culture. In many ways, Gone with the Wind has become the story of the antebellum south, of the Civil War and of the Reconstruction, as well as an iconic love story.
However, on this reading, the negatives I perceived in the work had more of an effect on me than did its positive qualities. While I think that the novel is flawed in a number of ways, I’ll only deal with one of the problems I have with it in this review: the way in which Mitchell deals with racial issues.
A novel set in the south dealing with the Civil War and the Reconstruction will naturally have characters who reflect the attitudes towards slaves and slavery held by the white population at that time. Moreover, a novel written in the 1930s will reflect 1930s attitudes towards race. I don’t expect “political correctness” in relation to issues of race in a novel written before – say - the 1960s. However, regardless of whether it is realistic, the layering of 1930s-style racism over 1860s racist attitudes was, for me, disturbing and unpleasant.
Mitchell deals with race in two main ways, through the narrative and in the language used to describe the black characters. In the narrative, slave owners (and in particular the O’Hara and the Wilkes families) are depicted as caring philanthropists who treated their slaves with kindness and compassion and never abused them. “Good” slaves remain devoted to their former masters after the war and only “bad” slaves – the supposedly less intelligent field hands – pursue freedom. All “free-issue” former slaves are “trashy”, lazy, shiftless and abusive. According to Ashley Wilkes, slaves were not miserable, so there was no problem with the use of slave labour. Further, according to the narrative, the only reason for the creation of the Ku Klux Klan was to enable gallant southern men to protect their womenfolk from being sexually assaulted by former slaves. There is no acknowledgement in the narrative that the lifestyle and culture to which southerners were so attached was based upon human beings buying and selling other human beings. Nor is there any suggestion that there could possibly have been anything wrong with this as a way of life.
In relation to the use of language, black characters are described either as animals or children. For example: Mammy’s face is described as having “the uncomprehending sadness of a monkey’s face” and later as having “the sad bewilderment of an old ape”. Elsewhere in the text, Mammy’s eyes are said to see “with the directness of the savage and the child”. Pork is described as having a face “as forlorn as a lost and masterless hound”. The “lowest and most ignorant” of the former slaves are said to conduct themselves “as creatures of small intelligence might naturally be expected to do” and are described as being “like monkeys or small children turned loose among treasured objects”. Scarlett is outraged when the dignified Uncle Peter is humiliated by Yankee women, but then reflects that these women “did not know that negroes had to be handled gently, as though they were children, directed, praised, petted, scolded”.
As I read, the language used to describe black characters kept jumping off the page. Such language was not only used to describe the perspective of white characters, it was also used as part of the narrator’s – or author’s – voice. Even if such language is entirely consistent with 1860s or 1930s attitudes towards race, I found it deeply repellent and it adversely affected my response to the work as a whole.
It may be argued that for Mitchell to have questioned the myth of slavery as a benevolent institution or to use different language to describe her black characters would have been anachronistic. However, Mitchell had no difficulty acknowledging the hypocrisy of gender relations in the south and, through the character of Scarlett, she challenged accepted standards of female behaviour. I accept that Mitchell was a product of her environment and that the attitudes towards race demonstrated in the novel are not unexpected. However, it was impossible for me to ignore the racism in the narrative: it was just too pervasive for me to overlook or accept.
Many, many readers cherish this novel. I can understand why: the grand sweep of the epic is very compelling. Mitchell created a romantic vision of the antebellum and Civil War south and she peopled the world she created with memorable characters. But I can no longer respond to the novel as an iconic romantic drama. Rather, I see it as a work with some good points but with many flaws. In some ways I wish I hadn’t re-read the novel, as its bright place in my memory has now been dimmed. On the other hand, it’s been a very interesting exercise and an experience I’ve enjoyed sharing with my friend Jemidar (and with Jeannette before she threw in the towel and with Anna until she scooted ahead!).
I’ve downgraded my rating from the four stars I gave the book when I originally added it to my GR shelves. This is a compromise between the five stars it deserves for Mitchell’s achievement in writing a story which has such an important place in American popular culture, and one star for those things about the novel which I dislike intensely.
The author's use of prose was beautiful, all the scenes and action came alive for me. Some people seem to be offended by the racism in the book, but that's how things were back then. Sugar coating it would have ruined the story reducing it to a Harlequin romance.
This is an incredibly well written book about the death of a civilization and the struggles to survive in the new era. This is a book that should not be missed, particulary those who enjoy historical fiction.
My knowledge of the American Civil War is sketchy to say the least, so I really loved the historical backdrop, as with Orczy and The Scarlet Pimpernel. There is - obviously - a definite southern slant, and so many racist terms and views - all perfectly era appropriate - that I'm surprised Margaret Mitchell's novel is still in print. Surprised, but pleased. Character-wise, I found Scarlett and Melanie to be equally inspiring and aggravating - a friend who recommended the novel to me claimed that Melanie is the true heroine, but I think a whole book about her soft brown eyes and heart of gold would have been too nauseating to finish. Rhett and Ashley are also strangely like two sides of a coin, one dark and devilish, one fair and foppish. And I would love to read a serious attempt at writing GWTW from the perspective of Mammy and the other slaves!
Glad I managed to finish, will definitely watch the whole of the movie next - probably won't read again, though.