Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

While I was reading the last chapter of Gone with the Wind, I could feel this lump welling up inside my throat, and my eyes became blurry with tears.  I did not want to believe this story was going to end this way.  I wanted to fix Scarlett and Rhett, but that was not possible.

Oh, the lost opportunities they had to tell each other the truth of their feelings, but pride ruled their hearts.  Rhett kept himself well guarded from any possible hurt, and Scarlett would instantly throw off any idea of sharing her true feelings the moment Rhett displayed his arrogant shield of armor.  Was theirs true love after all?  I cannot believe it was because true love never feels the need to protect and hide itself.

If you look at Melanie, the one character in the entire story who displayed mature feelings for all of the people in her life, her love was sacrificial, gentle, forgiving, and true.  Had Rhett possessed a love like Melanie's, his love for Scarlett would never have run out.

And Scarlett - oh, poor Scarlett - was too late in discovering the good she did have right before her when she lost it forever.  I believe that she did feel the pain of loss at the end, which did her some good, and I think she would have fought to make it up to Rhett if he would have given her that chance; but, again, it was too late because Rhett was definitive about it being over (and I really do not think she will ever get him back).

But enough about Rhett and Scarlett because GWTW is so much more than just them; it is about the South.  Being a North Easterner by birth, and now a Westerner, the South had been perceived (by me) as the naughty, rebellious child of the nation that dared to throw a tantrum and do what it will in order to have its way.  (Kind of like Scarlett.)

After reading GWTW, I have a new perspective of the South, its people, its ideals, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.  While slavery is immoral, and we should not have had to fight a war to end it, I still want to have a better understanding of that side of the story I never knew.  I am curious how accurate and true the author's recount of the South and its people during and after the War is.  I will look forward to researching this.


In the meanwhile, there are so many good, in-depth reviews of GWTW already, and I believe I cannot give an account after just one read.  I feel so inept in articulating how great this story was for me.  I loved it, and I know I want to read it again in the future.

About all I can say is: after I was done reading it, my initial instinct was that I had just finished a fulfilling and satisfying meal and that I needed some time to digest it before I could even say anything worthwhile about it.  And even still, this is all I can say because I feel rather speechless.  Usually I shout, "Done!" when I finish one of my books, but with this, after 733 pages of small print, I closed the cover and just sat silent for awhile, totally void of any outward emotion.  It was all over.  I am really not this dramatic, so it is definitely strange to admit this; but I just wanted to be honest about how this book has literally knocked the wind out of me.  (No pun intended.)

There is one problem though: after experiencing this epic work, how in the world will I ever get through this pabulum called modern lit that I am reading now?  *Sigh*

11 comments:

  1. HORRAY!!!! ♥

    If you think about it, America is the naughty, rebellious child of England, isn't it? And the Revolution was a Civil War.

    Mitchell consulted many, many books about the Southern POV while writing Gone With the Wind including the memoirs of both Grant and Sherman, and journals and letters of Confederates (male and female) of the period. She was fastidious about detail and went so far as researching the weather during the fall of Atlanta so she'd have it right, and interviewing former slaves from all over Georgia so she'd get the varying dialects accurate.

    I'm glad you liked it. :D

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    1. Mabel,

      You are correct about our rebelliousness against England.

      I did not elaborate in this post, but GWTW gave me reason to understand the South because they were fighting for their way of life. It appeals to my American spirit. But obviously, the acceptance of slavey as a livelihood could not stand any longer and must be abolished. Nonetheless, I am moved by what transpired after the war and had little idea of the corruption and chaos that took place. No wonder our nation had a long road to recovery, and sometimes I am sure we can still see and feel those wounds today.

      Anyway, I will be interested in looking further into her work. Thanks!!!

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    2. As I understand it, many of those fighting on the Confederate side didn't own slaves. They were fighting because they believed in an agrarian society, and they felt the North was squeezing them out of the right to go on as they were and still survive. Just like the war with England, they wanted to conduct their business and not have a central government making tariff laws and such that affected their ability to sell their goods.

      If you look up the New York Race Riots (1863), you'll see that the North wasn't really (as) concerned about the ethics of slavery as many people today believe. Abolitionists were seen as radicals by many in the North and South. Which isn't to say slavery wasn't a central argument on both sides (the South for, and the North against) -- only that it was a more complicated issue than many today realize. It wasn't a matter of ethical right or wrong for many, especially at first. Walt Whitman became adamant that slavery was wrong only after he took a trip to the South and saw it in fleshy reality. Many in the North had never actually been to the South. They objected to slaves because slaves counted as 3/5 of a person in Congressional representation. The South saw the loss of slavery as a Northern power play to gain more leverage in Congress so they could change the way America would operate -- to choke out the South.

      Of course, of course we're talking about a horrendous part of American History, and it shouldn't be swept aside. The South was wrong to still be holding onto an institution that had destroyed people for centuries -- since Charles I, throughout the world, throughout the North, throughout the South -- but at the time, people didn't see it the way we see it today. The abolitionists did, and as England and the North entered the Industrial Revolution and machines took the place of slaves, they stopped trading in human flesh and started to see the horror of the practice in perspective. Before the Industrial Age? No one had perspective. Even in the decades before the American Civil War, people in both the North and South thought the abolitionists were trouble-makers.

      And then (understandably), when the war was over, and so many had lost loved ones, whole families -- sons, brothers, friends -- they wanted someone to crucify. Lincoln wanted to accept the South back as brothers, but when he was killed, Johnson took a different approach. I think that the meeting between Grant and Lee at Appomattox is what could have been. Instead, the South was devastated (in an already devastated state) for having done what its ancestors did to create America in the first place.

      A sad, horrific moment in our history, yet it's hard not to see the good it caused, as well as the bad. I mean, the war had to happen. The South wasn't going to give in, Lincoln couldn't let them go (any more than England could let us go), so of course we fought, and thank goodness for the Emancipation, thank goodness for the brave souls who fought to at least make a dent in a horrendous wrong. Lincoln was a brilliant commander because he made it into the ethical war history remembers with his Gettysburg Address. He rallied the exhausted remains of the North around a cause and gave the loss of their dear men a purpose larger than tariffs, larger than Congressional representation. He made it a war of right over wrong, and that's what history remembers.

      But I don't believe it began that way. And I agree whole-heartedly: it's still affecting today.

      (Apologies if the above is something you've already read! Only sharing my thoughts. I'm passionate on this topic.) :-)

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    3. It's my pleasure. I love history, esp. early American history. I am always open to learning more about the Civil War and appreciate your knowledge on the topic.

      A long time ago I read a book about the Radical Republicans and of the brutal battles that went on in Congress leading up to the War. But that was from the Republican perspective.

      How exciting to live in Georgia; you probably get to see a lot of history from that time period.

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  2. Gone With the Wind was one of the books I've avoided because I was scared it would play out as a soap opera, but you've made a convert of me, Ruth. On my TBR shelf it goes!

    As for the historical aspect, I was just watching the How To Read a Book DVD with Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren. They alluded to Gone With the Wind not being an accurate portrayal of the South at that time. They didn't go into detail but I will try to rewind to find their exact comments and get back to you.

    Mabel, thanks so much for the excellent historical information. I've read a reasonable number of books about the Revolutionary War but I kind of skipped the Civil War period. Looks like I have some more reading to do! :-)

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    1. Cleo,

      Do read it. I bet you'll love it, too.

      How to Read a Book on DVD? Nice.

      Yes, I'd like to know what Adler meant about GWTW not being actual portrayal of the South b/c it was all very convincing to me.

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    2. Okay, I found it. They are speaking about criticism of novels where everything hangs on coincidences.

      Van Doren: Every good critic points that out when it happens. George Eliot …… it's curious …… she was so marvellously able to create a whole world and yet she couldn't tell a simple, straightforward story without the plot creaking as she went along. On the other hand, Gone With the Wind has a perfect plot …

      Adler: Yes, yes.

      VanDoren: ……. there couldn't be a more perfect novel technically speaking, and it made a great movie too, but its verisimilitude, to me, is highly defective. I mean, it's very romantic and sentimental and its view of the South before the Civil War is largely nonsense.

      Adler: Yes. That is true

      VanDoren: It may be the way we would like it to have been, but it's not the way it was. War and Peace, I think, satisfies both criteria, doesn't it?

      Adler: To me it does perfectly. So does Tom Jones …… etc………

      Sorry! As I said, I know nothing about it, but this was the last episode I watched so the comments were fresh in my mind. It's unfortunate that they didn't elaborate any further.

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    3. So, they are talking about the antebellum period.

      If you have ever seen North and South (mini series), it also romanticizes the South before the War. Maybe it was like that for a few wealthy at the top.

      According to A History of the American People by Paul Johnson, there were very few large plantations in the South by the time of the War, and most farmers owned a smaller number of slaves, so I doubt they were very wealthy.

      I don't know if that is what they were referring to, as far as wealth and land ownership; but nonetheless, I would disagree that the believability of the South was far-fetched. It was very acceptable to me, but maybe that is because I have always accepted a romantic idea of the South.

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    4. Cleopatra: Without spoiling --- Mitchell was a realist, very much like Rhett Butler. If you're looking for a compass in the novel, he is it. Mitchell's depiction of the South is the Confederacy seen through a blurred lens. That's the point Mitchell is making, imho.That's why she calls it "gone with the wind." She was worried when it published, not about what Northerners would think, but about what Southerners would think. Remember to consider there is such a thing as an unreliable narrator. It's not non-fiction; it's literature. :-)

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  3. I read GWTW a few (probably 7 or 8) years ago, and I remember being blown away by the sheer scope of the story. As a writer, I was awed by the planning and research it had obviously taken to write such a massive and affecting story. As a reader... I've learned that I have to want to be friends with characters to really love a book, and I do not want to be friends with anyone except possibly Melanie. So I don't love it, but I did enjoy and respect it (same goes for the movie).

    My family moved to NC when I was 12, back in the early '90s, and we were shocked to discover that the War of Northern Aggression still rankles many Southerners. The anger and resentment toward Yankees that formed because of Reconstruction is still there. I worked as a Walmart cashier for a couple of summers and was actually called a "da*n Yankee" to my face twice by customers who weren't pleased that their credit card was rejected or whatever. A big part of the problem is that a lot of Yankees, when they move south, see the Southerners as somehow backward or in need of improvement, and I have seen many, many bumper stickers that say things like, "We don't care how you do things up North."

    I've studied the Civil War a bit -- took a class on it in college, read the occasional history book or novel set there, but I know I'll never truly understand how the South felt and still feels because I simply am not an actual Southerner. I can sympathize, I can empathize, but I will never actually understand.

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    1. Hi, Hamlette,

      That was my feeing, too. Blown away ! Melanie was the most likable (and Mammy).

      I know the wounds are still present. And I see it present in politics the way the elite North (I'm sorry, I'm a North Eastener, and I know those NEers act all uppity toward the South - those Rednecks! (Being sarcastic, of course). It's sad we can't all exist as one nation, but our history has shaped us, and it is actually really interesting to study why it is the way it is.

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