Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Written in 1936, Gone with the Wind is a HUGE book and like most others on the top selling list, it is full of sex, adultery, swearing, and slayings. I do have to admit that I see why the book was so incredibly popular though, even all of that being known. It is written extremely well. If you've only ever seen the movie, you really should read the book to see what it was "really" about. There is no way this gigantic tome could easily be condensed into only a movie's length. It properly deserved at least a mini-series.

At the core of the book is Scarlett O'Hara, crown princess of the O'Hara clan. She is spoiled, selfish, and doted on by her parents. She grows up at the center of her universe and has no idea that she cannot have whatever she wants. What she decides she wants is pretty-boy Ashley Wilkes. She doesn't understand him at all, with his book-learning and dreams and ideals. All she cares is that she wants him, and that therefore she must have him. She figures that once she gets him, she'll "change" him to suit her whims.

Scarlett is an intriguing character for many reasons. She is said not to be "beautiful" but she is extremely skilled in flirtation and charms, so she gets her way anyway. She is *extremely* smart in matters of money and business, something the men around her are quite irritated by. But on the other hand she is *extremely* dense in matters of politics and human nature. Much of what is involved in the books are situations were Scarlett is deeply involved in a situation and the audience (i.e. us readers) know exactly what is going on - but Scarlett has no clue. The readers see the comments and discussions and know what they mean - but Scarlett completely misses the meaning. That means in a way that the readers worry about what is going to happen next, because Scarlett is blithely unaware of the impending disaster.

It's like watching a runaway train heading towards the cliff, with everyone inside eating their dinner and not knowing there is a problem. You wish you could warn the people inside, but all you can do is watch, horrified, while the train rushes towards the cliff. Maybe it's human nature for us to want to watch disaster. Maybe it makes us feel better about our own lives, to know "well at least we're not THAT bad".

For bad things are. This was of course the Civil War, with brother fighting brother, father fighting son. Scarlett and her family are in Georgia and have a large plantation with slaves, and have great interest in layers of respectability. There is a huge difference between a "house nigger" and a "field nigger". There's a lot of discussion about how the southerners "loved their blacks and cared for them" while the northerners "felt blacks were abused and freed them - but then abandoned the blacks once they were free". There is the burning of Atlanta by the Yankees, and then the "raping" of Georgia by carpetbaggers and scallywags once the war was over. There was the starvation of the farmers after the crops had been destroyed, and the great social upheaval as the rebuilding began.

There is a lot of fascinating social commentary put in. The southerners, of course, hated the northerners. Half of the southerners hated the other half. They set upon anyone who claimed the South might never win, which of course meant they were ill prepared for the loss. They then cling fiercely to the old ways, which made it harder for repair to happen. Many of the old traditions were, of course good ones. Some were very bad ones. The people deep in this situation had a hard time figuring out which traditions to keep and which were best left behind.

So through all of these fascinating social changes you have Scarlett and her brood. There's of course Ashley, who she pines for greedily. Ashley marries his cousin, Melanie. Scarlett is persued by Rhett Butler, who she never appreciates. Scarlett is single minded in her goal of having lots of cash and Ashley, and goes through three different husbands on her way. In one way she is a tragic heroine - she has a house full of starving people, all who seem quite incapable of acting on their own. Scarlett has take some pretty desperate steps to feed them, but she's the only one who even lifts a finger in the first place. On the other hand, there are many points where Scarlett DOES have a choice - and she goes diving for the easiest choice that does her the most good. She actively disdains worrying about others. She doesn't want to be an island - but when there is an opportunity for her to forge bonds with others, she disdains them. Her complete lack of people-sense causes her all sorts of problems.

Of course, in the end, she finally comes to her senses - or does she? She finally realizes she does respect Melanie, but by then it's too late and Melanie is dead. She finally realizes that Ashley is just a dreamer who she could never respect - but by then she's vowed responsibility for Ashley and is going to have to care for him the rest of her life. So, in essence abandoned by everyone else she has focussed on for her entire life (jeez, a whole 28 years??? LOL) she "falls back" to rely on her safety net, Rhett. She finally realizes that maybe Rhett can be a useful partner. But of course by this point, Rhett has had quite enough and has been worn out. He deserts her. And she figures, heck, I can have whatever I want. I'll just get him back again. And thus the book ends.

So really, she hasn't learned much at all. She does have some glimmers of what human nature is at the end, but only because the characters have dropped all pretenses with her at that point and let her SEE the reality. She didn't really gain any insight here - she was just finally given a direct in-the-face view of the issues, and could understand it. And even so, her solution was "well, jeez, I want Rhett, so I'll just go and get him."

It was depressing reading a lot of how women were treated back then - had to be in mourning for 3 years after being widowed, could never be seen when even a hint of pregnancy showed, weren't supposed to ever show a glimmer of intelligence. A woman in her 20s was an old maid and thought of as worthless. A woman was simply a baby factory. But on the other hand, I was finishing up this book while watching my boyfriend's baseball game, and two women were sitting near me discussing their pregnancies - and some of the things they were saying were almost right out of the book. It really concerned me, that in some circles, we really haven't progressed far.




Gone with the Wind - the Movie

I think it's important when watching the movie to remember that just about EVERYONE who was going into that theater had read the book. It's like watching Lord of the Rings, when most people in the theater knows the characters. Frodo walks on the screen, and you have an immediate connection. You know it's Frodo, you know what he's about. When Gandalf rides along, you know his whole history and story. So when the characters appeared in the movie, it wasn't like "who is this girl?" It was an immediate "Scarlett! Look, she's talking to the two red-headed boys!" The book as mentioned is HUGE so a lot of characters in the "short" movie actually had long, complex stories in the book that are only hinted at on screen.

Another issue is that the book is full of "internal conflict" - in things Scarlett is thinking about. You can't see thoughts in a movie! So they had to "speak" them which sometimes seems a bit odd. It's something you just have to accept.

I thought they did an excellent job of getting character personalities across - even characters that are important in the book but only get a few moments on screen. They give them the important lines to portray what they are about.

That being said, the most important issue I have with the movie is that it makes Rhett say right out to Scarlett in essence "I love you and want you." That is something that Rhett expressly NEVER says and that refusal to tell Scarlett forms the basis of the entire relationship. It is said clearly that if Scarlett was secure in Rhett's love, that she would torment him continuously, using that knowledge. So Rhett clearly tells Scarlett he does NOT love her, and waits for her to come to him. In the movie, Rhett tells Scarlett "I want you to love me" and then she just assumes he'll always be around because of it.

Another thing that really bothered me is that they eliminated Scarlett's son! She had a child with Charles, her first husband, and ignored that child during the rest of the book. It really changes the tenor of what she does once a "widow", if you consider her a 'free young widow' vs a 'single mom with responsibilities'.

It comes across well that Scarlett is generally surrounded by ninnies who faint all the time or who go "Jeez we can't milk the cow, we's house workers". Only she is willing to roll up her sleeves and just do it. It's also nice how she is always "thinking about that tomorrow" - be it the red-headed boys or the deserter she kills. Another recurring theme is how she's always "stuck" on Rhett.

A number of other sub-plots are lost as the story goes on, but you have to expect that in a story this complex. They'd have to make it into a full mini-series to contain everything. Bookmarks for Books - free downloadable paper bookmarks

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