Thursday, February 23, 2012
Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
Gone with the Wind is one of those classics that I've always meant to read and it did not disappoint.
Published in 1937, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel was a story of survival, a shocking commentary on societal attitudes concerning race, class, and women, but most of all, it is a super-sad love story.
Mitchell's story spans a period of about twelve years, illustrating what life was like for wealthy young people, such as a spoiled teenaged Scarlet O'Hara. Her life on her father's plantation, Tara, was uncomplicated and carefree. Gradually, however, the Civil War ends life as they know it, and they must all find ways of going on with a life that is nothing like the one they were raised to live.
Of course, the standout issue of this time period is slavery. Mitchell's portrayal and description of slaves, both individually and as a group, make for some uncomfortable reading. The Southern rage against the Northern victors and the freeing of the slaves is extreme and scary.
Scarlett O'Hara has the misfortune of living during interesting times, but she is a survivor whose ambition and determination know no bounds. Money becomes her god, and along with her misguided love for the married Ashley Wilkes, she robs herself and others of happiness.
Rhett Butler, the mysterious, dashing man who enters her life and ends all her money woes, is a fascinating and very romantic character, but Scarlett tragically hangs on to her daydreams of Ashley. Theirs is a frustrating and sad relationship, as Scarlett lies to and hurts Rhett, time after time, only to discover too late what she has lost. There are numerous times during the downward spiral of their marriage when she has regrets and misses their happy times, but she can't seem to do the right thing, while his feelings and pride are so hurt that he doesn't, either. As Rhett spews during a climatic fight, we could have been happy...
When Scarlett finally realizes that she doesn't want Ashley and races home to Rhett, she finds him tired and sad and finished with her. He looks back on their years together, determined to take away the best. He articulately explains how he's felt all through the years, gives her the option of a divorce (which she refuses), and then leaves her to her own devices.
It doesn't take Scarlett long to decide that it would be nice to visit Tara for awhile, and then after regrouping, she'll figure out how to get Rhett back. After all, she's never been unable to get any man she's ever wanted...
And so it goes. After about seventy pages, Gone with the Wind became very hard to put down and I blame it for an egregious loss of sleep.