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Review: Gone With The Wind

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Title: Gone With The Wind
Author: Margaret Mitchell
Grade: A
Pages: 862
Date of Publication: May, 1936

I've been meaning to review this book for quite some time now, ever since I joined this community in fact, but other reading commitments and, well, real life keep getting in the way. Gone With The Wind, due to its complexity, length, and the number of issues it raises is not an easy novel to tackle, but it really is an amazing work. It's not to be missed out on even if you have watched the film, which leaves out a lot of the original source material along with some crucial character depth and development. For those who might still be unfamiliar with the story, it's about the life of Scarlett O'Hara, a Southern Belle and daughter of a plantation owner, who struggles to live and survive amidst the America Civil War and the aftermath. Along with this she has to deal with her love for Ashley Wilkes, her childhood friend, and her attraction towards Rhett Butler, a roguish man with a notorious reputation. Because of this it tends to be classified a 'romance'; but in reality it is so much more than that.

Scarlett O'Hara's persona gives the entire novel an exquisite sense of life and vibrancy. During the current day and age of Bella Swan and Sookie Stackhouse, Scarlett was, to me, a huge breath of fresh air. She stands out as one of the strongest and most memorable heroines in all of literature. She was a woman ahead of her time and can by today's standards be considered to possess many proto-feminist qualities and ideals: from the very beginning she continually questions and defies society's conventions ("why did a woman have to be so silly to catch a husband?") and disregards the stifling patriarchy of the old South. She constantly stresses that she is capable of doing anything that a man could (she runs her own business and makes her own money) whilst shunning motherhood and saving an entire plantation. Oh, and she also saves and helps her family survive during the aftermath of the Civil War and successfully plots and schemes her way out of the hardships of the Reconstruction. Despite this, she is no Mary Sue; she starts off as a stereotypical Southern Belle and throughout the novel constantly displays flaws such as selfishness, superficiality, a tremendous lack of self-awareness and empathy for other people and unfortunately a strong dislike towards other women; at one point she even seduces and marries the fiancee of another girl simply out of spite and need for revenge. Her flaws do not make her likeable in the strictest sense of the word but they do make her realistic and to a certain degree, very relatable and entertaining.

Scarlett is such a three dimensional character that even the dreaded Love Triangle subplot does not dominate or take away from her own agenda and goals; rather, it enhances the story with its symbolic relevance to the main plot. Her obsession with Ashley is said to represent her subconscious reluctance and nostalgia for the old South and the old way of life, whilst Rhett is said to represent the New South and the changing times; thus making apparent the reason why Scarlett feels such a strong kinship towards him. All in all the love story between Rhett and Scarlett adds very much to the story and has become a staple of classic romantic fiction.

Of course, no book is perfect, and this one does have one huge, gaping flaw: I think some parts of it are heinously, unapologetically racist, to the extent that it even affects its historical accuracy; Mitchell takes an alarmingly apologist attitude towards slavery by depicting slaves as happy and content to serve their masters, whilst even having the "good" characters take part briefly in the KKK (which, at least, leads to very negative results and as a movement comes to be despised by Scarlett and Rhett). Scarlett herself does not hate slaves, but she thinks of them as children to be looked after, scolded and coddled, which of course is just as bad. Yet at the end of the day the novel is of its time, and it is slightly comforting to know that we have thankfully progressed to an age in which a book with such a tone would never end up being published.

So it asks for a bit of a 'take the good with the bad' attitude and in this case, I would say the good does outweigh the bad, although literature like all the other arts is subjective and I understand that there are those who disagree. Nevertheless, I would still very much recommend the book, especially towards those who have watched the film or who enjoy Civil War fiction (just remember that this one carries a huge Southern/Confederate bias). Warning: it is very long, and does contain many descriptive passages, but it is very action packed and ultimately very rewarding. I have also just bought the recently published Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCraig, which is an authorised sequel retelling Gone with the Wind from Rhett's perspective and which is also supposed to give his character more background. I will probably review this book here once I've finished with it :)


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 27th, 2009 08:28 pm (UTC)
:) It's good to hear that you enjoyed RBP. I've heard really negative things about the Ripley sequel and so I've decided to avoid reading it for now, especially when I've heard that McCraig's is supposed to be much better.
That GWTW musuem is up there on my lit-related places to visit along with the Anne Frank House and the Green Gables farmhouse in Cavendish.
Nov. 27th, 2009 10:49 pm (UTC)
I always loved the movie, as I studied it a fair bit for American Cinema and wondered what the book would be like since watching the film so thoroughly. Excited after reading your review, I think I may pick up the book, thanks :)
Nov. 27th, 2009 11:13 pm (UTC)
I'd say that it is one certainly worth the effort. I've been meaning to re-read it (it was one of my Mum's favourite films and I was named for Vivien Leigh as Mum loved her as Scarlet).

I do think this review has inspired me to put it higher on the list or tackle it via audio (as it has had a new treatment).
Nov. 27th, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC)
Great review. Funny how people tend to forget that this novel did win the Pulitzer in its day.

I first read it when I was about 15 and just loved Scarlett, flaws and all.

I agree with you that the good outweighs the bad and with books such as this, including Ian Fleming's Bond books one has to remember the time they were written in.
Nov. 27th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
Like said above: thanks so much for reviewing...I loved the book to bits (and you're right, it is very racist).

My advice to you about Rhett Butler's People: don't bother. The characterization of Scarlett is excruciating.
Nov. 27th, 2009 11:40 pm (UTC)
This is my mom favorite movie, and after finding out I never seen it. She made me watch, however didn't know it was 5hrs long. So, for the last three hours I spent wondering where it was going to end. Not saying it was bad, just long.... That being said I do want to read the book but I'm a little apprehensive about reading it. I didn't at all like the end of the movie, and I don't want to read the book if it end in a smiliar manor.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 28th, 2009 03:02 am (UTC)
Thanks, I'll keep that in mind.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 28th, 2009 12:41 am (UTC)
Yes, I did. I was so desperate for an ending, some kind of happily ever after that I seized anything that offered it.
I thought it was okay: neither really good or really bad. I didn't like how Rhett had been characterized (nor the idiot Fenton), but I was glad that Scarlett had changed. Now that I look back, I realize it wasn't exactly all that realistic--completely changing your character overnight over a single letter and a newspaper clipping?!

I still think it's better than Rhett Butler's People, though.
Nov. 28th, 2009 03:42 am (UTC)
Yep, Wade Hampton and Ella Lorena. It's always annoyed me that they cut out those two kids from the movie.
Nov. 28th, 2009 01:29 am (UTC)
Thank you for reviewing this! I've been curious about this novel for a long time. I am very fond of the movie - it is one of my favourites of all time - but I was hesitant to pick up the book lest I be drowned in description and length. Hmm... I do enjoy the story, and I have a love/hate relationship with Scarlett, but she is compelling.

Great review. :)
Nov. 28th, 2009 11:09 am (UTC)
Honestly it's so well written that it's not that difficult to read at all. My advice is to pace yourself; if you read a bit of it every day you'll get through it very easily. Book Scarlett is much better developed and easier to understand and just as, if not more, compelling as Vivien's portrayal.
Nov. 28th, 2009 02:14 am (UTC)
Very interesting review
Gone With the Wind is a novel that's been lurking on my ought-to-read list since I was a teenager and had the pleasure of seeing the movie at a rep-theatre.

Your review (combined with my mum's insistence that it's one of the best novel's she's ever read) has finally pushed it on the must-read list and I think I'll go looking for it within the next couple of days.

You've really piqued my interested, so thank you.
Nov. 28th, 2009 11:10 am (UTC)
Re: Very interesting review
You're very welcome, glad you enjoyed the review!
Nov. 28th, 2009 07:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Very interesting review
Incidentally, you should be doubly-glad, because (to the best of my knowledge) no one has ever before "piqued my interested".

(I really ought to start proof-reading my comments when typing them late at night. Or any time, I suppose.)
Nov. 28th, 2009 02:20 am (UTC)
it's not a perfect novel, but i enjoyed it. someone else on my reading list reciently read it & i'm thinking of reading GWTW again.

BTW did anyone ever see the tv movie; a burning passion: the margaret mitchell story?
Nov. 28th, 2009 03:46 am (UTC)
Thanks for the review! Gone With the Wind has been a favourite book of mine for a long time. I agree with you that the racism is hard to take but the excellent writing and characterisation does outweigh it.

I've always wished that the movie included Wade, Ella and Will. Will was so important to Suellen's character development and Wade and Ella always seemed to be a representation of Scarlett's feelings for their respective fathers.
Nov. 28th, 2009 11:18 am (UTC)
Yes, it is disappointing that they left out Wade, Ella and Will. Will in particular because people always complain about Scarlett stealing Frank from Suellen, who really just wanted to be married for the sake of being married, something that's not made very clear in the film.

I agree with you about Wade and Ella. I think even Bonnie was symbolic in a way; her fiery nature & death was supposed to represent that Scarlett and Rhett were too alike and tempestuous to remain together, thus symbolising the end of their marriage.
Nov. 28th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
I read this book when I was 9 and even though some of it went over my head, I enjoyed it thoroughly. It took me all summer to read. I love that Scarlett is BAMF. Even though she sometimes annoyed me to no end, I still really respected her as a character. It was interesting as well because throughout history classes it has more of a Northern POV, but here you get a Southern POV.
Nov. 28th, 2009 04:36 pm (UTC)
A ver thoughtful review! This book is a real page turner. I read it years ago and enjoyed it. The racism does smack you like a dead fish to the face but it's certainly not integral to the plot. I do remember the scene when the men return from their night time activity and it comes as a shock to a modern reader that they are part of the KKK, or its prototype. As I recall they were more focused on the Klan versus newly elevated "white trash" but I can't really remember. I may be wrong.

So yes, very absorbing book, but the treatment of the black characters and the Klan makes you cringe. On the other hand, at least the book *had* black characters and bothered to give them actual personalities. And Mammy is actually quite strong.

Scarlett is a wonderful character. Parts of her character aren't nice at all but she is very compelling and you do pull for her. You can see why, while very young, she loved Ashley as sort of a bloodless, dreamy ideal. You can also see why he would never suit her hard-nosed practicality. And that "quit whining and get it done" attitude is exactly why I liked Scarlett. Romantic chivalry doesn't put bread on the table.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )

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