Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936, 1048 pages)

A Wonderful Read
Scarlett, Rhett,and Ashley, Tara, Mammy and so much more

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1900 to 1949-Atlanta, Georgia, USA-there is good background information on her here) is one of the best selling (30 million) American novels of all time.    Mitchell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for Gone With the Wind.   The movie based on it (1939 starting Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara) is one of the most loved movies of all time.    Having seen the movie numerous times,  I could not help but see Rhett Butler as Clarke Gable and Scarlett as the gorgeous Vivien Leigh.   See the movie by all means but there is so much more in the book.

I feel no need or desire to summarize the plot.  It is the story of the lives of the people living on and around a large plantation, Tara, in Georgia in the American South in the years just before the American Civil War (1861 to 1865) up to around 1875.    

I loved this novel and  am so glad I was finally motivated to read it.   (I know there is controversy as to whether or not this is a racist novel and I am not clear in my mind yet on this big issue ).      I liked this novel for the details it gave about life in the American south.   I thought the accounts of Atlanta during the war and its post war development were just brilliantly done.    The characters were amazingly well developed.   Just as soon as you think you have a character all figured out they do something that shocks you but you realize it is right in character and you just did not understand them well enough.     I wanted to dislike Scarlett but I just could not!    I guess she charmed me like she did all the boys!    Captain Butler was exciting and mysterious.   Melanie Wilkes was a saint, her husband was a relic of the old south.

One of the things I thought was really great in the book was Mitchell's account of how some people were somehow totally energized by the need to  rebuild their lives after the defeat of the south and went on to build meaningful lives for themselves and their families and others will spend the next 50 years crying over the glory of old never to come again days.   I really loved how the family of the very aristocratic Creole never worked a day in his life Rene started to sell his pies in a wagon and was happier than he ever was before.   

I liked some of the minor characters a lot also.   I even liked the ex-convict Archie, who spent 40 years in prison for killing his wife, for telling  off Scarlett when she said she was going to use convict labor in her saw mill.   I found Will Benteen, an injured soldier who stopped by Tara for a meal one day after the war and never left, a very interesting man with a mysterious background who finds a life he never had at Tara.   Just when you think he is but a simple hard working man he gives a very profound speech at a funeral that saves the family from a huge amount of grief.   After he gave the speech, I realized it was my shallow view of him that made me not see this coming.    I liked Mrs Tarleton who loved horses more than anything else.   I was happy to hear that Scarlett's maternal grandmother was a bit of a scandal in her time and that even her mother had once had a passion for a man other than Scarlett's father.   Oh I almost forgot to mention I totally loved it when we learned of the Irish roots of Scarlett's father.   

Scarlett dismissed the reading of books of any kind as a total bore but the only man she ever loves, Ashley Wilkes, is a life time lover of the reading life.

I really liked it when I learned that  some of the soldiers liked to  read Hugo's  Les Miserables only they renamed it Lee's Miseries.   I liked it when Mammy told Scarlett that she was free now and would go back to Tara if she wanted to.    I liked it a lot when Mitchell talks about the different backgrounds of the confederate soldiers.

There is a lot of treatment of the lives of slaves in the novel.    The biggest possible cause of offense in Gone with The Wind is in the way blacks are described.     The "house servants" (very ugly and unacceptable racial terms are used throughout the book by whites and slaves) are among the most noble people in the story and are also perhaps the most  controversial elements of the book.       The offensive terminology was normal in the time but that does not excuse it.   (Maybe our politically correct terms will seem barbaric in 100 years.)

Gone With the Wind is very much an anti-war novel but one that understands the power of wars to excite and suck everyone and everything into the vortex.  (WWII was just five years away when it was first published)   I admit I loved it when Scarlett killed a Yankee.   There are some hilarious and some heartbreaking scenes in this book.   It is often described as a "sprawling historical epic".    Some of the descriptions of food in the novel made me wish I could have been at a feast at Tara.   

This is a long novel but it is fast moving.   There is always something exciting happening or getting ready to happen.   I learned a lot about the American civil war from this novel.   I did not realize how brutal the reconstruction years had been on Georgia.    

Question--do you think Gone With the Wind is a "deeply racist" book as it has been called or it is a a brilliant attack on the corrosive effects of racism and slavery?

Do you think Rhett Butler drinks way to much?   Is Ashley a wimp?    Does the way slaves  speak bother you?     

Ok and would you have been happy to have personal slaves if you lived in a time and place where it was acceptable (of course you would be kind to them!) to have them?

Can this book be taught in American schools?

I want to note that Gone With the Wind is not yet in public domain in the USA but it is in Australia which means it can be downloaded from Project Guttenburg Australia. It may be a violation of law for those living elsewhere to acquire it in this fashion.   In both Australia and The Philippines copyright expires fifty years after an author's death so it is fully legal for me to download this work.  It is also public domain in India and Indonesia.     Americans and those in the UK have to wait until about 2025.

Mel u



Vaishnavi said...

Gone with the wind is one of my most favourite books! Your review has made me want to read it again; thanks for sharing :)

Suko said...

I have not read this book, but I've seen the movie several times. I'm not sure if the writer was racist or depicting the racism of the times.

Mel u said...

Vaishnavi-thanks very much for your comments and visits

Suko-I do not see the movie as racist but there is a lot in the book that leads to that conclusion

JoAnn said...

Some day I will read this epic novel! I've watched the movie countless times, but the size of the book always seems to put me off... even though I know it is a relatively fast read.

Unknown said...

I've never seen the movie or read the book, although I have both on my list after moving to the American south. I live just a few hours from Margaret Mitchell's home, which is now a museum.

We have a lot of books that reflect the feelings of the time, and I think that increases their importance in schools. It is also useful to realize that some southerners are still in that state of perpetual longing for the old glory days, and may never get past it. This feeds into problems with racism that still occur. You have to understand it to move on, in my opinion.

Jillian said...

I'm so glad you read and loved this, Mel. Mitchell is my literary sister. I smile whenever I know someone has read and loved her book.

A part of me wishes I'd been a part of the 1936 fervor over this novel!! I got to see the 1939 Atlanta premiere in color (on someone's home video.) Incredible!!

Hope you're well!

Debbie Rodgers said...

I've read GWTW several times over the past 45 years, the first time when I was 13. I have loved it every time. It's been a while since my last reading and must admit that some of the details you mentioned had slipped my mind. Time for a re-read so I'm hoping to take part in the readalong over at

As for the racism, I think the book reflects, if not the racism of the thirties, then certainly the situation during the Civil War. Was it right? Absolutely not. Is it accurate? Certainly more so than if it was censored to reflect today's political correctness. Doesn't knowing how bad it was make us appreciate that much more what we must all do to see that such attitudes will not be accepted again?

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

This is one of my favourite books. I think it does reflect the racism of it's time, especially the more polite kind of racism.

Aside from all that controversy though, it's simply a great story!

Song said...

I didn't read your article as I was too afraid to read spoilers!:D...however, I've bookmarked this page so that I can come back to it, read and comment once I'm done.

ds said...

One of my favorite stories--in print or on film. Both must be considered within the context of the time of their appearance, and most importantly of their setting. Mitchell did not flinch when presenting the horrors of slavery, the Civil War, or its aftermath. Neither should we. To do so would be to diminish the suffering of those who endured a barbaric system, as well as the efforts of those who fought to abolish it, and of those who fought the decades-long battle for Civil Rights.
"Those who ignore the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them."

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I love this book, I'm so glad you enjoyed in. I have got to re-read it. I think that the racism in the book is very much a reflection of the time period in which it was set. I think it could absolutely be taught in schools.