Gone With the Wind

by Margaret Mitchell:

Summary here.

[This was originally a series of Facebook posts, written over several months as I re-read the book.]

Now I’m reading Gone With the Wind for the second time since 1993.

In reading the description of Scarlett–doesn’t like conversation about anything but herself, wants men to love only her and nobody else–I think, Oh my gosh, it’s Jackie Burkhardt from That 70s Show. No wonder I can’t stand Scarlett! 

The first line of Gone With the Wind reads, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm….”  But I can’t think of any other face but Vivien Leigh’s, which is beautiful and certainly does not have Scarlett’s thick eyebrows.

About 200 pages into re-reading Gone With the Wind: Rhett was right when he said Scarlett is no lady: Let’s see, she marries a decent boy out of spite and doesn’t care that he’s dead, she dances publicly as if spitting on his grave, she blackmails her own father into not telling her mother about this, and now she’s reading Ashley and Melanie’s letters….

….So, while reading one of Ashley’s letters to Melanie, Scarlett gets bored at his philosophical ramblings and discussions of books, and wonders why he doesn’t write a proper love letter.  She recalls how Ashley was always boring her with talking like that.

So….she thinks she should marry Ashley, WHY?  I think Ashley might be attracted to her, maybe even very attracted to her, same as most of the young men around her.

But Melanie is his other half and he knows it; he loves her in a way he never could love empty-headed Scarlett.  Melanie understands him, while Scarlett only cares for dresses and beaus.  😛  Even if she got Ashley to profess his undying love for her, she’d probably be miserable if she couldn’t keep her beaus as well.

I’ve always admired Melanie, and I love that everyone around her in the book admires her as well, including Rhett.  He leers at every woman except her, respects her.

I’ve always wanted to be like her, but couldn’t quite measure up.  Now I find out how she can be so sweet with no trace of dislike for anyone: She was so sheltered that she couldn’t imagine anyone actually being evil.

For those of us who have endured teasing or abuse or some other thing from an early age, it’s probably impossible to be quite like her, no matter how much we may try.  She is truly the heroine of the novel, though being so sheltered can make you too easily misled, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Scarlett, on the other hand, thanks to Rhett pulling her on the dance floor while in mourning, and calling her out on her hypocrisy, has decided to flaunt the rules.  I like her better now than when she was the 16-year-old belle of the barbecue.

That doesn’t mean I like her, just that I like that she’s letting her true colors show more often instead of pretending to be the perfect Southern lady.  I’ve been burned by people pretending to be one way, but really being another.  I’d rather see what they’re really like before they pull me in to liking them.

That, and I think the rules she lived under were far too strict anyway.  Who wants to be a dour old matron at 17?  (By the way, for myself I was referring to being teased from an early age, not child abuse.)

On p. 428, after the burning of Atlanta and the fall of Tara.  The “I’ll never be hungry again” scene is far less melodramatic in the book than in the movie, with its fist to the sky and dramatic music.

On the one hand, we see admirable strength as she takes on the hard work necessary to feed everyone and rebuild the ruined plantation with nothing but a few vegetable gardens, a cow and a calf.

But on the other, she’s turned into a terrible bully.  Everyone fears her tongue, from the few slaves to her own father–and, of course, her little boy, Wade.  They go to Melanie for comfort, Melanie who has only just survived risky childbirth and is fighting her own battles.

Meanwhile, in the Little House books you find a family who is kind to each other even in the worst of situations, such as during the long, hard winter when they run out of food and fuel, but without sacrificing resolve or hard work.  It’s good and right that Scarlett wants her family to survive, but she’s sacrificing her soul.

I’m around p. 500.  While I love most of the book–the writing, the historical detail–the racism is really getting on my nerves.  >:(

I would love to get the impression that when the author talks about the “negroes” being generally lazy, like children, not as good as whites, that she’s just giving Scarlett’s point of view, showing how horrid she is.  Unfortunately, I get the strong impression that she agrees with Scarlett.

Not only that, but Yankee characters are seen as bad simply because they’re Yankees.  Same for “white trash.”  Who are the villains?  The Yankee former overseers, who are now sticking it to the ruined plantation owners.

Today, I read two things that disturbed me further.  One is that Emmie Slattery appears to be condemned as “white trash” simply because of the kind of family she was born into.  Sure she’s had a few kids out of wedlock, but is that enough to treat her like she’s not worthy to live?  And she’s married the father now.

Two, the evil Yankee former overseer Jonas (now married to Emmie) not only wants to buy Tara, but he (horror of horrors) loves to say how “negroes” are equal to whites, put his arm around their shoulders, etc.  Not only that, if he bought Tara, he’d probably dine negroes right there at Tara!  What an insult to Tara! [GROAN]

Around p. 780:

There are racist bits all through the middle part of this book.  It’s like watching Birth of a Nation all over again to read complaints about letting former slaves vote, the “horror” at the thought of them going into politics or being governor or even *gasp* marrying whites, the “loyal” former slaves who want someone to give them orders again because they don’t like their freedom.

For the last one, I can imagine something like this may have happened with people who were raised in slavery and not taught even basic learning or how to take care of themselves.  The Israelites made similar complaints when Moses brought them out of Egypt, that he had taken them away from the provisions of their masters and into the desert to starve.

Of course, the botched Reconstruction is also largely to blame, especially if this book is as well-researched as is claimed.  The former Confederates were screwed over in all sorts of ways, inspiring discontent, while it sounds like the former slaves were just thrust into the world without the skills they needed to make good lives for themselves.

They should’ve been educated in reading, math and trades, especially considering the widespread poverty right after Sherman went through and destroyed everything.  There should not have been a black illiteracy rate of more than 70% as late as 1880.  But of course, the government was in charge of Reconstruction, so what can we expect?  😛

It’s quite something watching Scarlett lose her soul in the pursuit of money.  Stealing her sister’s beau so she can control his store and buy a mill, seems mild in comparison to what she does as time goes on.

Remember the “I’ll never be hungry again” scene, which seems in the movie like a testament to surviving despite great odds?  It’s actually the beginning of her descent, as the book shows far more clearly, because it’s her excuse to turn into a controlling tyrant.

Even infatuated, deluded Ashley is beginning to see her true colors, and no longer looks at her with love, because she manipulated Melanie to force him to take over one of her mills instead of going North to start again (and flee the temptation of adultery).

The free blacks hired for her two mills keep failing to show up for work, so she leases a convict team, and puts over them a bully who asks for free reign in how he treats them.  Then she acts all surprised to find them starving, living in squalor, and beaten-down.

She’s just about to let the manager of the mill quit, and good riddance, but–no, she needs him so she can have a successful mill and make lots of money to never be hungry again.  So after dressing him down, she decides to look the other way.

Around p. 860:

Scarlett is against the Ku Klux Klan, but not because of the racism.  If I recall correctly, it’s because it keeps bringing the Yankee soldiers down on the townspeople, disturbing their lives and putting them at risk of arrest.  We soon discover that even Ashley is part of it, sweet, nonviolent Ashley.

Last week I watched a documentary on the rise of the KKK; though GWTW portrays it as protecting the women and townspeople from violent blacks, the documentary showed that even in the early days, the KKK was violent and murderous.

In her household, Scarlett is the only one who doesn’t know that even her husband Frank and Ashley are in the KKK–showing us an implied approval even by Melanie.  When Scarlett finds out, she screams,

“The Klan!  Ashley isn’t in the Klan!  Frank can’t be!  Oh, he promised me!”

Her in-law India yells at her,

Of course, Mr. Kennedy is in the Klan and Ashley, too, and all the men we know.  They are men, aren’t they?  And white men and Southerners.  You should have been proud of him instead of making him sneak out as though it were something shameful.

And indeed, this Klan avenged Scarlett’s near-rape with murder.

It’s hard to tell what exactly the author felt about the KKK, from this episode.  Scarlett and Rhett both oppose the Klan, but are also both portrayed as picking and choosing morals based on what suits them.

Rhett opposed the Klan as “foolishness,” but he himself killed a black man for insulting a white woman (the reason he ended up in the Yankee jail earlier).

Later on in the book we find that Rhett and Ashley worked to get the local KKK band disbanded, Rhett for practical and Ashley for moral reasons.  Still, Rhett speaks of “Klan outrage stories” as being slander manufactured by the Yankee governor to keep himself in power.

Even sweet Melanie, a true lady and Christian who refuses to believe anything bad about anyone (especially Scarlett)–

–hates Yankees, plans to teach her child and grandchildren to hate Yankees, and hates the thought of sending her child to school with black children.

Et tu, Melanie?

Even the rogue Huckleberry Finn decided he’d rather go to Hell for helping Jim escape slavery, than do what the locals proclaimed to be moral, and turn him in.  And Mark Twain was a Southerner who had actually lived through slavery and the Civil War.  Here is a Southerner who was against slavery and racism.  Is it so much to ask that Melanie be the same?

Melanie has always loved and supported Scarlett, and now has fiercely stood up to the townswomen for wanting to shun her, to the surprise of everyone.  She’s completely blind to Scarlett’s real feelings for her, and Scarlett’s desire to steal Ashley away from her; instead, she is staunchly on her side, no matter what.  She tells the town the heroic things Scarlett did for her and her family during the war.

You could say that Scarlett is a kind of idol for her: She will do anything for her.

Now Scarlett has snapped at her, said she doesn’t care if she visits or not, broken her heart.  What a way to repay Melanie for all she’s done!

Yet Melanie keeps standing by her.  I know how Melanie feels.  It’s tough to learn that your idol has clay feet, and I learned this quite recently about my own idol.

P. 940: Scarlett has been discovered with Ashley–but it was just a hug.  There were two times when, if they had been discovered, a scandal would be justified: One of them was an especially lusty kiss.

But no, the scandal started over a mere hug, an affectionate hug which Scarlett realized was between friends, not lovers.  And she’s fine with being friends with Ashley.

She’s also realized that she’s fallen in love with Rhett.  Unfortunately, she’s so full of pride, so afraid of being scorned, that she won’t tell Rhett how she really feels.  If only she would tell him, any trouble between them could probably be resolved.

The book is nearly done, their child Bonnie is dead, and Scarlett’s relationship with Rhett keeps deteriorating because she’s far too full of pride to show how she feels.

She’s lonely and has no old friends to comfort her because she’s alienated them all.

You want to feel sorry for her, but she brought it on herself by being mean to everyone, an old-time “mean girl.”  This is the price paid by people who decide to not care about others’ feelings, but only about their own selfish interests.

Rhett, on the other hand, has sympathetic friends everywhere because–for Bonnie’s sake–he decided to stop offending Atlanta’s Old Society.  Yet he just wants to be left alone.

But Scarlett still has Melanie.  And, finally, she’s beginning to appreciate her.

…Except that soon, Melanie is dying.

And finally it hits Scarlett and she says to Ashley as they grieve for Melanie: “Why couldn’t you see that she was worth a million of me?”

And Scarlett scolds him for not realizing sooner that he loved Melanie, not her, for stringing her along all those years, and says, “You should have seen so clearly that you loved her all the time and only wanted me like–like Rhett wants that Watling woman!”

She realizes that if he had done so long ago, she would’ve been broken-hearted, but only for a time, and then she would’ve moved on.

And now I have finished Gone With the Wind.  The ending shows real repentance from Scarlett, and I hope that she will turn herself around in days to come, become a decent human being.

She’s realized what makes a decent person, and that her selfish, mean, spiteful actions and fierce tongue have made her lonely when she most needed friends.   She’s let go of Ashley at last, realizing that what she mistook for love was just obsessive, physical infatuation.

But Rhett is gone with the…er, you know what.  She thinks she’ll get him back.

Yeah, well, people often think that right after a breakup.  Usually doesn’t happen.  It can, but usually not.  She’s abused him far too much for him to want to come back.

In any case, her best hope of ever getting him back is to let him go, since whenever he tried to go away and forget her before, he always came back.

Yes, I have read “Scarlett,” the sequel, which came out around the time I read GWTW the first time, in 1993.  It was entertaining, but since Margaret Mitchell didn’t write it, it isn’t really “canon.”  So all we can do is speculate.

Watching the movie version of GWTW….Funny how, in the movie, Rhett is far more open about being in love with Scarlett.  In the book, he guards himself because he’s seen how Scarlett abuses the ones who love her.  He tells her he WANTS her more than he’s ever wanted any other woman, not that he LOVES her more than any other woman.

And his lack of forthrightness is also what led Scarlett to hide her feelings when she finally realized she loved him, because she feared he’d laugh at her.

It’s funny how they sanitized the movie of Gone With the Wind.  So many things are changed or missing.  The slave language is changed, Rhett never asks Scarlett to be his mistress, she doesn’t offer herself as his mistress so he’ll give her the money for Tara’s taxes….

Even the kiss between Ashley and Scarlett in the field is sanitized.  You don’t get the feel that he was about to throw her down on the ground and take her right there.

Mammy gets a far more prominent role, as well: She was important in the book, but not with all these awesome lines.  And of course the most offensive of the racial struggles are missing, though the black characters are annoyingly portrayed as silly, childlike creatures.  😛

[Review written over several months and completed June 30, 2010]

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