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Since its original publication in 1936, Gone With the Wind—winner of the Pulitzer Prize and one of the bestselling novels of all time—has been heralded by readers everywhere as The Great American Novel.
Widely considered The Great American Novel, and often remembered for its epic film version, Gone With the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A superb piece of storytelling, it vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
This is the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life. A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage, in the pages of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell brings to life the unforgettable characters that have captured readers for over seventy years.
Gone with the Wind is a historical romance set in Georgia in the USA and covers a 12 year period starting in 1861 when the main character, Scarlett O’Hara, is only 16 years old and ends in Atlanta when she is 28.
The novel opens on the porch of Tara, a cotton plantation owned by Scarlett’s father, Gerald, who owns 100 slaves and is a wealthy man. Scarlett is entertaining the handsome Tarleton twins, Stuart and Brett, who have just been expelled from their latest University and have returned home to face the wrath of their mother. The twins are irresponsible and carefree and don’t care about their recent disgrace at all. They do fear their mother’s anger and are hiding out at Tara hoping to return home after she has retired to bed. The twins are full of mixture of small talk about their expectations of a war with the Yankees, their friends and acquaintances and a barbacue that is being held the following day at the neighbouring Wilkes plantation.
The first chapters of the novel highlight the relaxed and comfortable life led by the plantation owners and their complete lack of understanding as to what a war means. The attitudes of the Southern gentlemen towards the impending war is almost childlike in its simple idealism.
During the barbeque, Scarlett’s favourite boyfriend and the man she is angling to marry, Ashley Wilkes, announces his engagement to his cousin, the meek and delicate, Melanie Hamilton. Scarlett makes a bit of a fool out of herself by declaring her love to Ashley while the other ladies are resting. Ashley confesses that he returns her love but that he is better suited to Melanie as “she is like him.” The conversation is overhead by the disgraced social outcaste, Rhett Butler, who is at the party as the guest of one of the other gentleman. Scarlett is devastated and in a fit of spite she becomes engaged to Melanie’s brother, Charles.
During the afternoon, notice that war has been declared arrives at the Wilkes’ plantation and all the young men rush off in a spirit of enthusiasm to join the war effort. Within a 6 week period Scarlett is married, widowed and discovers she is pregnant.
After Scarlett’s son, Wade Hampton, is born, she moves to Atlanta to live with Charles’ aunt and Melanie. Ashely is away fighting in the war. The novel goes into great detail about life for civilians in Atlanta during the war and how the living circumstances of people quickly degenerated due to the Yankees blockading the port. This part of the story is very sad and dramatic as many of the young men Scarlett grew up with are killed on the battlefields including the fun loving Tarleton twins and their two brothers. Rhett does not volunteer to fight and becomes a blockade runner, bringing much needed food and other goods into Atlanta and profiteering hugely for this trouble. He pops up continuously in Scarlett’s life bringing her small gifts and making life more pleasant and bearable.
After the war ends, the story follows the path of Scarlett’s life as she struggles to survive in a state devastated by war and Sherman’s burned earth policy. Scarlett and her family suffer starvation, cold, illness, and also unfairness at the hands of the Yankee victors who demand unreasonable taxes on the land.
While the blighted romances between Scarlett and Ashely, who both spend years imagining they are in love with each other when they are both really clinging to memories of the past, and Scarlett and Rhett, who are well suited but unable to communicate, are central to the story, it is Scarlett’s strength of character and ability to overcome adversity by willpower alone that make this book such a good read. Scarlett turns her back on all the old fashioned ideas about women of her conservative and cossetted childhood and strikes out on her own to make money and support her family and friends. Her decision to place making money above everything else and her preparedness to tolerate the Yankees in order to gain their business, makes her the town pariah, along with Rhett Butler who has long occupied this unenviable position.
Although Scarlett shows some undesirable characteristics due to her complete lack of understanding of other people, their feelings and emotions, I found her to be an admirable and formidable lady. She has an excellent head for business and maths and is also a leader. Despite her faults, she shows remarkable loyalty and stays with the heavily pregnant Melanie when Atlanta falls to the Yankees despite her own fear. She delivers Melanie’s baby and manages to transport them all home to Tara.
Scarlett is very conflicted because she wants to be a great lady like her mother, but she must do unladylike things to obtain security and wealth. She is a peculiar mixture of the Old pre-war South and the New post-war South. Scarlett holds on to her love for Ashley as he embodies the spirit of the Old South for her and her girlhood memories are pleasant and he features at their centre. At the same time she lets go of virtues like honour and kindness in order to achieve wealth and success. She is unable to see that her love for Ashley is merely a teenage dream and doesn’t have any solid foundation. She is totally unsuited to Ashley and is perfectly suited to Rhett, who is a scoundrel just like her. Her stubborn inability to see the truth about the men in her life ends up ruining her relationship with Rhett.
Gone with the Wind has three main themes as follows:
The transformation of Southern culture
A relevant extract: “Throughout the South for fifty years there would be bitter-eyed women who looked backwards, to dead times, to dead men, evoking memories that hurt and were futile, bearing poverty with bitter pride because they had those memories. But Scarlett was never to look back.”
Overcoming adversity with willpower
“Hunger gnawed at her empty stomach again and she said aloud: “As God is my witness, as God is my witness, the Yankees aren’t going to lick me. I’m going to live through this, and when it’s over, I’m never going to be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to steal or kill – as God is my witness, I’m never going to be hungry again.”
The importance of land
“The clay was cold in her hand and she looked at it again.
“Yes,” she said, “I’ve still got this.”
At first, the words meant nothing and the clay was only red clay. Bud unbidden came the thought of the sea of read dirt which surrounded Tara and how very dear it was and how hard she had fought to keep it – how hard she was going to have to fight if she wished to keep it hereafter.”
Have you read Gone with the Wind? Did you enjoy it?