Friday, November 29, 2019

Gone With The Wind

Gone With The Wind. Margaret Mitchell. 1936. 1037 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

First sentence: Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

Premise/plot: Scarlett’s “love” for her brainy neighbor, Ashley Wilkes, prevents her from living happily ever after with Charleston-born bad-boy, Rhett Butler. Set during the war between the states and reconstruction, Gone With The Wind showcases the good, the bad, the ugly—and everything in between—of the American south. An example of the good would be Melanie Hamilton Wilkes. An example of the bad would be Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler, our “heroine” who excels at math and manipulation. (But fails completely in being a good human.) An example of the ugly...should I pick the racism, the sexism, or both?!

My thoughts: I have read this one dozens of times. It is nothing like the movie. You probably doubt me on this. The movie is so iconic, so classic, so beloved that surely it does a good to great job adapting the book to the big screen. But no. Scarlett’s character is definitely more complex and many of the events that shape and mold her most are just not to be found on screen. Several relationships that shed light on Scarlett are never developed because the characters never appear on screen at all. True not every character in Mitchell’s novel can make it to the screen. But some exclusions make no sense. For example, Scarlett having Charles’ baby, Wade, and Frank’s baby, Ella. Or take the existence of Will, a Confederate soldier who stays at Tara after the war and ultimately marries Suellen. Or Archie, a prisoner—murderer—freed close to the end of the war to fight for the Confederacy. He is taken in by the kind-hearted open-minded Melanie. But probably my favorite character that is excluded from the movie is Grandma Fontaine. Her scenes with Scarlett (mainly after the war but before her marriage to Rhett) are among my absolute favorites in the entire book. Her observations on Scarlett are spot-on. Her advice, though not taken or understood, is excellent. But it isn’t just an absence of characters, but scenes or events as well. The tones and themes differ as well.

Hollywood’s “South” does not resemble Mitchell’s South. One could go ahead and argue that Mitchell’s South bares little resemblance to the actual South. But perhaps that is just its limited perspective. Scarlett, the heroine, does a poor job observing and understanding the world around her. She doesn’t bother with anything requiring deep thought or analysis. She also takes selfishness to an extreme. But the novel isn’t told merely or exclusively through her eyes, it includes other perspectives—both of specific characters and a general omniscient narrator. These would be limited as well. It is set during the war and reconstruction and reflect that mindset. It was written by an author who grew up listening to family stories from those who lived through that time. Her growing up years would have not only been shaped by her personal family but through her community, her culture. It was written over a series of years—late twenties to mid-thirties. Would Mitchell’s text have been viewed as (overly) racist when it was published? Would it have been fitting given the time the novel was set historically and the time it was published? That being said, reading the book today begs for discussion. And not just about race, by the way. By all means talk about the problems in the text. But try to keep context in mind.

I mentioned sexism earlier. I don’t typically read books—classics through a feminist lens. But in light of’s hard not to see that the novel has some issues, some examples. The characters are very judgmental, extremely so. If a woman is assaulted outside her home, she’s to blame for leaving it. Many, many actions are seen as being forward, asking for it, unladylike. Different situations prove “compromising.” Here we have a whole other mindset of sexuality. But the issue of Rhett can’t be ignored. He is aggressive, in some cases, assaulting. It’s all written off with a grin because Scarlett gets “swept up” and ends up reciprocating his passion. But to Rhett, no doesn’t mean no. Scarlett is his to possess or to reject. No locked doors could keep him out of her room, out of her bed...if....he wanted her. Rhett has all the power. And for Scarlett to admit to herself or to anyone else that she actually enjoys’s not going to happen. The situations are definitely complex and perhaps worth discussing. Perhaps in light of how rape has historically been depicted in women’s fiction and romance novels. Many by women authors. Heroes must be strong, bold, aggressive, assertive, take what they want. What kind of sense does it make for women to fall in love and stay in love with their rapists? What kind of sense does it make for readers to love such literature? To accept, even expect, such “love” scenes. I am thinking beyond Gone With The Wind. Everything is subtle or mostly subtle in this one. Nothing overly graphic or smutty. Nothing that would obviously need censoring.

Then there are Scarlett’s lack of choices at the time she lived....

The last chapter was written first. Rhett’s leaving Scarlett was set in stone—inevitable. What does this mean for interpreting the novel? Mitchell never intended a sequel. Didn’t want one. Nothing ambiguous as far as she was concerned. Scarlett had lost Rhett. Rhett’s love for Scarlett was gone with the wind. Her happy ending just as much a lost cause as the Confederacy. But readers like ambiguity. Scarlett is not to be discounted just yet. She will live to fight another day. She will not let go easily. But who will prove more stubborn? Can Rhett withstand Scarlett’s manipulations? Is he really ready to walk away from her forever?

I think Scarlett is at a crossroad. I have no doubt she’ll come out standing, stronger than before. I have no doubt that she’ll prove resilient. But will she get him back?! Much tougher. Because what she needs is a complete, total, radical transformation or change of tactics. Aggressive will not win Rhett back. I’m not sure passive-aggressive will win him back. But perhaps passive, passive, passive, aggressive, passive passive will. Her pursuit of him needs to be so subtle, so layered-ly subtle that no one can even suspects she still wants him back. Can Scarlett pull that off? She’s not good at subtle. Another tactic might be to attract him back by being a better mother. It won’t take much for Scarlett to be better than previously. She’s horrible, absolutely horrible. But if she can learn to treat Wade and Ella with kindness, give them affection and attention, spend time getting to know and understand them. Perhaps Rhett will see her as capable of change, of maturity. Perhaps he can see that she is capable of putting others first, of empathy, of being human. Even if that should fail to get him back, she won’t be alone-alone. Maybe she’ll be a super strong single mother who has healthy relationships with her kids. But is Scarlett capable of this? Does Mitchell write her that way? Does it matter what her intentions are? I hate to think of Scarlett staying the same, of her misery and desperation increasing day by day, week by week, etc. What Scarlett needs though she does not know it—more than a return trip to Tara, more than winning Rhett back—is Jesus Christ. She has a god-shaped hole that can’t be filled with alcohol, with money, with power, with lust, with love.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Lark said...

It's been forever since I read this book. You're right, it's definitely different from the film! Just reading your review makes me want to pull it out and read it again. (And then go watch the movie.) :)