This is the second part of my review of Gone With the Wind. For the first part, go here.
“Everything in their old world had changed but the old forms. The old usages went on, must go on, for the forms were all that were left to them. They were holding tightly to the things they knew best and loved best in the old days, the leisured manners, the courtesy, the pleasant casualness in human contacts and, most of all, the protecting attitude of the men toward their women. True to the tradition in which they had been reared, the men were courteous and tender and they almost succeeded in creating an atmosphere of sheltering their women from all that was harsh and unfit for feminine eyes.” (p. 569)
The Resolution Project: For my New Year’s resolution this year (that being 2011), I decided to try and read all one hundred of the novels picked by Time Magazine as the best since their inception in 1923 to the list’s publication in 2005. I exempted myself from reading ones I’ve already read, leaving some eighty-six or so to read before the end of this year. Some spoilers may lie ahead, so be warned if you’re the type to be bothered by that.
Wow, what a book! Gone With the Wind is an epic read in the truest sense, in that it is big and contains multitudes of different stories within. You get Antebellum South romantic fiction, harrowing Civil War adventure, sociological examination of the dying courtly classes of the Georgia region, kitchen sink melodrama, political intrigue, and more. It had no real low points, except for one glaring omission that I started to talk about last time but couldn’t really get a handle on. More on that later.
Scarlett O’Hara is a fascinating character, one who changes a lot throughout the course of the novel’s twelve calendar years. She’s ultimately a very pitiful person, with a mind incapable of the sort of “great love” she continually moons over, and definitely not someone who should have become a mother, much less to the the three children she eventually has. For a while there, it was pretty irritating how she kept mooning over Ashley Wilkes and ignoring Rhett Butler, but once you realize that Scarlett’s love is an incredibly toxic one, I quit feeling like she should just read He’s Just Not That Into You and felt even more sorry for her (and everyone around her) than I did before.
My favorite incarnation of Scarlett’s character was once she’d moved back to Atlanta to try and raise money in hopes of keeping her ancestral home, Tara. I came to refer to this era as her “Scarface” period in my head, as from this point onwards she becomes incredibly cruel and calculating with regards to accumulating wealth. It’s fun, though a little harrowing, to see the techniques and drive she once used in trying to steal away the beaux of other girls back in the County used instead to buy lumber mills, saloons and the debts of her fellow Atlantans (Atlanteans?). She eventually resorts to another kind of slave labor to make up for that lost the Emancipation of black people: convict labor. This, in addition to numerous social transgressions against the old guard of Atlanta society, results in her becoming effectively ostracized from the gentlemanly community she was bred to rule as a Southern Belle. I think this meme I made describes it best.
The other reason I thought of this as the book’s Scarface period was that she eventually builds an elaborate mansion after marrying a rich business partner, and then proceeds to decorate it in what I could only assume was an incredibly gaudy style for the time (my knowledge of home furnishings from the era is somewhat less than it could be):
“Within the house was furnished as Scarlett had desired, with thick red carpeting which ran from wall to wall, red velvet portieres and the newest of highly varnished black-walnut furniture, carved wherever there was an inch for carving and upholstered in such slick horsehair that ladies had to deposit themselves thereon with great care for fear of sliding off … on the walls were gilt-framed mirrors and long pier glasses … steel engravings in heavy frames, some of them eight feet long … [t]he walls were covered with rich dark paper, the ceilings were high and the house was always dim, for the windows were overdraped with plum-colored plush hangings that shut out most of the sunlight.” (p. 806)
See, add a few hot tubs and televisions and you’ve got Tony Montana’s ostentatious pad from the 1980s remake, don’t you think?
I’m getting a little off topic here. Gone With the Wind does an excellent job of evolving its main character from an empty-headed nobody at sixteen to a hard-headed pragmatist at twenty-eight. As she increases her power in business dealings, she’s blithely unaware of the fact that she’s pounding nails into the coffin of the South she grew up in; Atlanta society matrons scorn her though, knowing all too well what she’s doing.
So while Scarlett, Rhett Butler and to a lesser extent, continual crush object Ashley Wilkes, are quite rounded characters, the black servants they surround themselves with are definitely not. As I sort of got at last time, I feel that even by Gone With the Wind‘s publication date in 1936 the way Mitchell characterized the slaves (soon to be the free people) in Scarlett’s world was a little much. It’s not like this was a true story with transcriptions of their speech habits and mannerisms to go by (like those William Styron had to go by when writing The Confessions of Nat Turner), Mitchell must have been playing up hateful stereotypes on purpose. Maybe sometimes it was done for comic relief, as the book needed it at some points, but reading dialogue from Mammy, Pork and Prissy was cringe-worthy a lot of the time. I don’t really have much more to say on that, other than it’s almost like Mitchell used all her writing prowess up on Scarlett and didn’t have any left for anyone else? Seems somewhat fishy though, I think.
I still would like to watch the film and compare it to the text, and I should hopefully have a brief review of that coming up this weekend.
“The Lost Cause was stronger, dearer now in their hearts than it had ever been at the height of its glory. It was a fetish now. Everything about it was sacred, the graves of the men who had died for it, the battle fields, the torn flags, the crossed sabers in their halls, the fading letters from the front, the veterans.” (p. 814)
Who would I recommend this book to?: People who are interested in American history, especially people like me who had no reason to learn about the Civil War up until now, as it wasn’t really that important in the overall scheme of things. People who enjoy books with strong, flawed female leads. People who are interested in narratives about the collapse of civilizations, and what arises from the ashes.
Total pages read since January 1st: 12535 pp.
Total books on the Time 100 list read since January 1st (not including ones read before 2011): 29
Next up on the Resolution Project: Dog Soldiers, by Robert Stone (1974)