Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is a book with an aura around it. I have never watched the movie in its entirety (for shame, I know), and until recently I hadn’t read the book either. I am a huge trivia buff and attend a monthly trivia night. It’s for charity, so I don’t feel like a jerk for winning all the time. Because it’s not ME winning, it’s the CHARITY winning. See? Anyway, at trivia one month there was an entire category on Gone With the Wind, and I, Katie the bookworm, couldn’t answer any of the questions because I hadn’t read it. I had to remedy that, fast.
I was expecting the book to be a bit of a chore- I thought the language would be antiquated and it would just be about a bunch of fancy people sitting around in rooms. Everyone knows Jane Austen is the only person who could pull THAT off, so I wasn’t enthused.
I WAS SO WRONG. This book was amazing. I’m from Illinois, ye olde Land of Lincoln. Everything I knew about the Civil War came from a Northern perspective. That’s not really surprising- everyone knows that history is written by the winners, but I was fascinated by the Southern perspective presented in this novel.
Slavery was an ugly, filthy, horrific institution and I’m not about to go defending it. However, I take an Anne Frank approach to humanity when I say that I think deep down all people are basically good. Nobody starts out a monster- the world has to break you somehow to turn you into an asshole. The people of the South certainly didn’t see themselves as monsters. They were refined people who held fancy barbecues and debutant balls. Sure, they owned slaves, but most people considered themselves kind owners. At least it appears that way in Scarlett’s family. The devotion of Mammy, Prissy, and Big Sam illustrate that sometimes the relationships between slaves and their owners were almost familial- and the affection between slave and owner was mutual.
However, just because there were some decent folks who owned slaves and treated them well, that didn’t make it right. Unfortunately, plantation owners had a TON of land to work and couldn’t afford to employ a huge brigade of free men. It’s like if today you went to a farmer’s place and told him that his very expensive tractors were now property of the government and he’d have to figure out some other way to bring the crop in. The plantation owners were pretty well flabbergasted. So, the war broke out. (Side note on the slavery thing- most people in the North had never seen people of color. Many of them were every bit as racist and mistrustful of slaves as people in the South, they just didn’t need the labor as desperately. There’s a scene with Scarlett and a carpetbagger seeking a nanny that illustrates this poignantly. God bless the abolitionists, but we Northerners should get off our high horses- odds are our ancestors weren’t exactly enlightened.)
You know what happens when you’re on the losing side of a war? Your house and farm are burned or occupied. Your valuables are looted. Your family is scattered. Your friends are killed. It’s an ugly business, war.
Katie Scarlett O’Hara is the heroine of our story (I mention her full name specifically because my name is Katie…) She is the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner and widely considered to be the prettiest belle in Clayton County, Georgia.
There are a lot of people who idolize Scarlett. She’s beautiful, she’s feisty, and she is swept into one of literature’s great love stories. Personally? I would not hang out with Scarlett. She is a narcissist of epic proportions. She goes around stealing other people’s fiancés (even her sister’s!) and plotting ways to attract attention. She can barely tolerate her own children. Scarlett’s biggest concern is Scarlett, and her own fabulousness.
But dammit, for all her flaws, she’s the lady you want to have on your side during the Zombie Apocalypse (assuming of course, it’s not just the two of you about to be eaten. She’d blow out your kneecap if it meant her own survival.) Her single-mindedness serves her well in surviving the reconstruction of the South. Having no moral compass really helps you re-establish your fortune when your friends and neighbors are still floundering. Scarlett suffers no guilt fraternizing with carpet-bagging northerners. She’ll make friends with occupying forces if it’ll get her ahead. She does what she has to do to get her fancy fanny back into the lifestyle to which she’s become accustomed. She toys with the emotions of Rhett Butler (who is himself a scalawag- a term used often in this novel, for which it earns endless brownie points) while carrying a flame for the only man who ever turned her down. (I’m going to go ahead and say it- Ashley Wilkes is kind of a weenie. Sorry dude.)
She’s also the greatest procrastinator of sadness I’ve ever seen. She’s confronted with tragedy after tragedy, but rather than deal with her feelings and accept her grief, she puts it off. She decides to think about it later, when it doesn’t hurt as much. I don’t know what therapists would say about her coping mechanism, but it keeps Scarlett in fighting form. I love this book for giving me another perspective on history. I love this book for having such flawed characters. I love this book for not giving Scarlett a perfectly happy ending. I just love this book. Read it!