Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Part 1

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.

[To be continued.]

One Comment
  1. I watched the movie and couldn’t stomach the thought of reading the book, you are braver than I. I’m told there’s such a thing (particularly in the 19th cent.) as racialism – it didn’t have the malice of racism, but ascribes certain characteristics to different races, such as blacks being naturally childlike and spiritual and simple. I couldn’t get through Uncle Tom’s Cabin because it drove me up the wall – especially since it was an ANTI-slavery book. That was when my professor explained that even among whites who felt blacks should be free, there was often still that sentiment. GWTW’s style does sound pretty unmitigatedly malicious though.
    I despised Birth of a Nation in part because Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”, which I love, is used for the Klan-riding-to-the-rescue scene. Grrrrrr…

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