Saturday, April 9, 2011

Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Summary: Gone With the Wind is a sweeping, romantic story about the American Civil War from the point of view of the Confederacy. In particular it is the story of Scarlett O'Hara, a headstrong Southern belle who survives the hardships of the war and afterwards manages to establish a successful business by capitalizing on the struggle to rebuild the South. Throughout the book she is motivated by her unfulfilled love for Ashley Wilkes, an honorable man who is happily married. After a series of marriages and failed relationships with other men, notably the dashing Rhett Butler, she has a change of heart and determines to win Rhett back.    (Summary from amazon.com and image from casablancaauthors.blogspot.com)

My Review:  After reading this novel I feel like I've read four, maybe five, books.  It is LONG--1024 pages to be exact.  Bear that in mind if you decide to read it. 

I hardly know where to begin.  Should I start with the way I was wrapped up in the storyline?  Or, should I write about all the ways the book bothered me in both moral and personal levels?  I guess I'll start with Scarlett.  She drove me crazy.  No, not slightly annoyed, not irritated, not even disgusted, which was a how I felt constantly while reading her thoughts.  CRAZY.  Understandably, she was spoiled, very young, beyond wealthy, impetuous, selfish, and honestly cultivated to be such.  Still, I cannot let that excuse her behavior or thought process.  While Scarlett has a period of time in her life--the worst days according to her--where I can almost stomach her, almost pity her, and almost like her, she eventually goes right back to her amoral and selfish ways.  It's amazing to me that the men around her didn't loathe her as much as the women did.  I don't want to ruin the story, but will name a few events vaguely that I felt were beyond understanding: what she did to her sister, what she did to Melanie, how she tried to steal Ashley away, how she treated Rhett, and how she treated practically everyone in the book.  Scarlett's obvious lack of interpersonal intelligence was probably the aspect I could fathom least about her.  If she could have stepped outside of herself for even one moment, she wouldn't have been such a despicable character.  I just kept telling myself: she's onlysixteen, she's only eighteen, she's only....wait!  That line of thinking doesn't work any more when she's twenty-eight. 

Rhett was harder for me to distinctly like or dislike.  There were times where I sincerely didn't like him, and yet others where his motives and actions were very clear and, for his circumstance, understandable.  How he could adore Scarlett as he did, again, is beyond me.  How he turned the rejection from his family into a personal victory was fascinating; it was cloaked in a screw the world attitude, but was actually his way of saying, "You can't reject me because I've already rejected you."  At the end of the story, the event that crushes him would have crushed me as well.  There were many moments where I felt his actions were heroic and chivalrous and others downright deplorable.  He was a flawed, yet captivating, character.

The race and slavery thread was one of the most disturbing.  The descriptions of the black characters was offensive and awful most of the time.  Still, it amazed me how southern families felt such a strong attachment to the people they didn't even view as completely human.  Mammy's character was one of my favorites.  Her loyalty went to the point of charity.  So much of this book was hard for me to fathom, hard for me to swallow, yet was written so nonchalantly, as if writing and thinking this way about another race was acceptable and normal.  That disturbed me the most.  It also amazed me how you could view someone of a different race as less than human, but then allow them to nurse your child.  I just don't understand that.  It's a contradiction in my mind to allow such a personal and intimate action to be done by someone you don't even treat as an equal.  Blows my mind.

While the above characters and depictions disgusted and disturbed me, there were characters that were noble...from a southern, slave-owning view point.  Melanie was the embodiment of humble strength.  Her character, although somewhat unrealistic to some, was very real to me.  There are still people as good, genuine, and charitable as she, and it's nice to be reminded how important they are and how they hold together a society.  Mammy was an amazing caregiver and stabilizing force.  Dilcey was hard work epitomized.  There are many good people throughout the story, flawed though their perspective on slavery may be.

While I won't be reading this book again, I did learn a lot.  I loved learning about southern culture.  Most of my education of the civil war was union focused, so I loved learning the history of that time period from a different view point.  I was swept up by a storyline that drove its characters into a world where they had no idea how to function.  I was also intrigued by Scarlett's determination to survive and thrive.  The societal rules that restricted women at the time, reinforced how blessed I am to live in the USA today.

Despite its length, I finished this book much faster than I expected.  While I could write more -- there's so much to cover in 1024 pages -- I'll save my comments on the over-done details, and the shrewd and intelligent mind of Rhett, for my book club night.

This wasn't my favorite book, nor was it the easiest to get through, but I'm glad I read it.  I won't be recommending this to my students, as I believe it's for a more mature audience that would be able to recognize it as a depiction of a specific time period, and why the opinions, attitudes, and sayings are not acceptable today.  I don't think an impressionable mind should pick it up just yet. 

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Racist depictions typical of the era in which the book is set.

Sum it up:  A period piece from a Southern/Confederate/Female perspective during the Civil war and after.

7 comments:

Yvonne said...

I don't think I ever read the book, although I read the sequel. I have seen the movie many times and that's long too, but I loved it.

Julie said...

This is one of my favorite books. The storylines just suck you in. When I first read it as a teenager, I started it at about 5 PM one evening and couldn't stop reading until I finished it at about 7 AM the next morning.

Anne Bennion said...

I've read this book 7 times. The first time when I was 13. It's one of my favorites. While it is easy to hate Scarlett, I also see in her strength and determination. The sequel, Scarlett, is fairly well written but didn't set well with me. The "prequel" Rhett Butler's people tied up some mysteriously loose strings from Gone with the Wind in a very plausible way.

Melissa Mc (Gerbera Daisy Diaries) said...

Absolutely loved this book.

Amy said...

@ Melissa -- Melissa! You loved THIS book but hated The Help???? You must explain.

Kari, I am reading this for book club. I am halfway through. I love the book but cannot stand Scarlett. Really, I cannot understand what the author was thinking in making her so detestable. It would be one thing to have her be so selfish in the beginning but watch her grow by the end. But nope, she just stays the same.

I also think you have to remember this book is written in the thirties. It has the thirties attitude to civil rights inherently mixed in. In the thirties, they still viewed blacks as less intelligent and helpless.

Kea Noli said...

Hello Mindy, I enjoyed your review and many comments that you made. The integration of theme is skillfully executed: the new South replacing the old South. Rhett and Ashley are excellent abstractions of each symbol. Kea

MindySue said...

Thanks Kea, but this review was by Kari, another one of our reviewers! Still, I appreciate your comments!

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