Gone with the Wind is held up as one of the greatest American classics. The story of the rising and falling fortunes of the fiery, independent, selfish Scarlett O’Hara and the rascally Rhett Butler is set against the backdrop of the Civil War and Reconstruction in Georgia. Two of our parliament recently read the book for a book club, and gathered here for a discussion.
Sonya: After loving the film version of this historical novel, I never thought that the book could be as good. Having finished Gone with the Wind, I can honestly say that it has become one of my all-time favorite books. Margaret Mitchell’s narrative is so easy to read and yet so beautiful.
Madeleine: I have never seen the film version! I’m actually glad I hadn’t seen the movie before reading the book. Besides knowing a few things (it’s about the Civil War and it’s aftermath, the main couple is Scarlett/Rhett, and there are a lot of fancy dresses), it was all completely new to me.
I also loved the book, but I don’t know if it would make it into my all-time favorites. I need some more time to think about it. There were some bits that I really struggled with in this book (more on this later). What really made the book for me was the characters.
Sonya: I think that is what she does best! We get to see Scarlett journey from naïve, selfish Southern belle to a destitute woman who is willing to do anything to keep food in her stomach and Tara under her feet, and then finally in the end to a person that finally understands herself and what is really important to her.
Madeleine: Margaret Mitchell took a really big risk making her main character a dislikable character. I loved and hated Scarlett. I was cheering for her throughout the whole book, except for the stage of life that you skipped: her selfish, malicious, ignorant behavior after earning back her fortune. She annoyed me enough that I stopped cheering for her for awhile.
I like Scarlett best when she’s at Tara. She needs Tara to keep her grounded.
My other favorite character is Melanie. She’s an easy character to love, but I love the unexpected strength she shows throughout the novel and her unflinching loyalty to Scarlett, who doesn’t deserve it. She’s wonderful.
Sonya: I also liked Melanie, and thought that Ashley did not deserve her. Rhett is the other character that I find so enthralling and mysterious. (BTW, Clark Gable could not have portrayed him better in the movie.)
Madeleine: Obviously. 🙂
Sonya: Even after finishing the novel, I still don’t really have a sense of who he really is. Even though he is a scoundrel, I can’t help but cheer for him and hope that Scarlett can realize how wonderful he is.
Madeleine: I was actually more impressed by Rhett’s character development through the novel. He changes and becomes a better person a lot more than Scarlett does. I’m not totally convinced that Scarlett has changed by the end. But I absolutely loved them together. Whenever Rhett walked onto the page, I always got very excited. The dialogue! The wit!
Sonya: Every scene with Scarlett and Rhett was just bursting with well-wrought dialogue, and consequently I could practically feel the sparks between these two coming off the pages. I so hoped that this story would be happy in the end (even though I know from the movie that it’s not), and I always think that somehow Scarlett does get him back. I sure hope that she does.
Madeleine: When I first finished the book, I felt the same. Having had some time to digest the book a bit, I like the open ending. I don’t know if Rhett will ever let Scarlett back into his life. He was burned pretty badly. I hope Scarlett stays at Tara. Tara makes Scarlett a better person; I don’t know if Rhett does.
Sonya: The other aspect of Gone with the Wind is its insight into Southern life before the Civil War, during the war, and the war’s aftermath. Naturally, as a child I learned how the South consisted of inhumane bad guys keeping slaves in bondage, and then the North swept in and saved the slaves from their awful plight.
I absolutely do not condone slavery, but I will say that it was interesting to see this time in American history from the point of view of a Southerner. Even if Mitchell is biased, this fictional account gives us another perspective to ponder, and I found it fascinating. Mitchell really shows that war is war, and there are going to be bad and good people on both sides of the conflict.
Madeleine: Ah, here we are, the parts I really struggled with in the book, and that I have to separate from the book when making my judgements. I agree that the Southern point-of-view is very interesting, and I know that contextually Margaret Mitchell is just reflecting the period she’s writing from, but I really struggled with the racism in the book. In fact, I might’ve given up on it if I weren’t reading for a group.
The book romanticizes slavery, and does so very subtly. If you aren’t paying attention, it is easy to buy into this romanticization. In our book club, we had someone argue that it wasn’t that bad because the slaves were treated well by their masters who saw them as part of the family. This point-of-view takes something horrible and completely unjust, owning people and forcing them to work for you, and turns it into something kind and paternalistic.
Again, I understand that we have to take context into consideration, but I really struggled with how to respond to it. Book Riot ran an interesting series of posts on this exact issue last year. I’ll leave you with those: “I Couldn’t Finish GONE WITH THE WIND Because it Was So Racist” and the response “Let’s Talk About Racism in the Classics.”
Stepping off my soap box, I still enjoyed Gone with the Wind and give it 5 stars. Aside from it’s size, the book is very accessible and wonderfully written. Margaret Mitchell made me love a rather unpleasant character and wrote interesting enough stories that I didn’t complain about the 1000 page love triangle. Read it.
Sonya: Overall, Gone with the Wind fabulous read that I will recommend to pretty much everybody. It’s a commitment to read as it’s so long but it is definitely worth it. I was hooked from the beginning and never wanted it to end. A solid 5 stars.