Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Gone with the Wind
One of my life goals has been fulfilled.
I finally picked up and read Gone with the Wind in its entirety.
All 733 pages of tiny print and barely-there margins.
I'm guessing the book is normally well over 1000 pages, but the edition I own is rather scrunched together for appearance reasons, probably because it is part of the International Collectors Library. Beautiful book, actually. A friend bought it off Ebay with no real intentions of reading it, so I bought it from him. Nice arrangement. (The edition pictured here is not the one I have.)
I don't honestly know what to say about Margaret Mitchell's masterpiece other than that I absolutely adored it, but I will do my best. I think people dismiss it as a romance novel of some sort, but it's so much more than that. Yes, it is first and foremost a love story, but it's not merely the love story between the beautiful and ruthless Scarlett O'Hara and the dashing Rhett Butler; it is the love story of shy and quiet Melanie Hamilton and dreamer Ashley Wilkes (yes, Ashley is a man); it is the love story of Scarlett's father, Gerald O'Hara, and the plantation of Tara; it is these and more.
The title Gone with the Wind evokes something that has disappeared and will never return. To the people of the South in the days during and following the Civil War, they felt that their way of life had "gone with the wind" and they didn't know where to turn. Suddenly the plantation owners could no longer live their lives of leisure and contentment, dwelling safely on the fact that their slaves were tending the cotton and they were free to have barbeques and balls and all kinds of gatherings.
Margaret Mitchell's message is clear: war is wrong, no matter what one is fighting for. She carefully and succinctly illustrates how war changes society, people, and relationships. I realize it seems like she is advocating that the black people stay in slavery, but remember that this is from the point of view of the South. One cannot read this book and attempt to foist 21st century sensibilities and beliefs on it. It doesn't work that way. Gone with the Wind is no more racist than a cookbook; it is simply telling a tale of a time when things were vastly different.
Not all of the political and social history crammed into this book is completely factual, but even that isn't the point. Authors are allowed some poetic license; and besides that, it happens. People have different views, etc, etc. I scanned the reviews on Goodreads and I was appalled at how many people dismissed the book simply because they thought it was racist and politically incorrect. Well, I don't care how politically correct you want to be today (that's your business and not mine), but like I said, different century, different views. It says a lot about one's ignorance when they can't even leave an older novel alone.
As for the characters, I completely and utterly despised Scarlett. I apologize for my French, but she is a bitch. There's really no other way to describe her. But the other emotion I felt for her was pity; she was so strong and refused to truly rely on anyone else for help and in the end, she ended up with nothing because she was entirely too strong-willed and blind to realize that yes, someone did truly love her.
Rhett Butler was a hard one for me to care all that much about, either, until near the end of the book when he finally married Scarlett. But he's such an enigma. And I think it's easy, too, to write him off as a cad and scoundrel incapable of true love. If anyone thinks the same of him by the end of the book, though, they're sadly mistaken. He loved Scarlett from a distance for so long, and even attempted to gain her love by giving her everything she could ask for...and in the end even he gave up, because Scarlett was too blind until it was too late.
Ashley Wilkes sounds like someone I might be able to talk with for hours, since he apparently has a penchant for books and music and fine culture. But once the South fell and Reconstruction began, it was hard to admire him much, since he hadn't the strength to stand on his own. Not a particularly exciting character, but a good one nonetheless.
Melanie Hamilton, who becomes Melanie Wilkes quite early in the story, was probably my favorite character. I think she's the real heroine of the book. She somehow never finds any fault with Scarlett (which Scarlett hates), adores the Cause and the Confederacy for which the men fight, and is such a pillar of strength even when her own body is failing her. Her love for the people around her, her loyalty to Ashley and to Scarlett...she was just a wonderful person all around.
Obviously, there are many more characters in such an encompassing story, but I'll stop there.
Lastly, Margaret Mitchell's writing is amazing. She doesn't even use any super difficult words; it was all just so perfectly descriptive and, for lack of a better term, alive. While reading, I always felt that I was there with the characters, feeling their joy, feeling their pain, feeling the hot Georgia sun mixed with the scent of fear. I have not come across many novels written today that evoke the same emotions and reactions in me that the classics do. It's almost as if our world has lost not only the ability to create and craft such exquisite and intense tales, but most people have lost the ability to appreciate them, too.
I wholeheartedly give Gone with the Wind five stars, and I entreat all of you who read my blog to read it. The movie, though wonderful, does not do this story justice; that's always the case, of course. I know this book is long. I know you may feel that you don't have the time. But try. And if you read it and don't feel emotionally drained upon finishing the last page, I'm not really sure what else to tell you! :)