Becky's Review of Gone With The Wind

Mitchell, Margaret. 1936. Gone With The Wind.

You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need...

--The Rolling Stones

Because I used to love her, but it's all over now...
--The Rolling Stones

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. (5)

Thus begins Margaret Mitchell's classic novel Gone With The Wind. Does it surprise you that Scarlett O'Hara "was not beautiful"? Can you conceptualize (fancy word for imagine) a Scarlett O'Hara that isn't beautiful? Try. Really. I bet you can't help but think of the beautiful Vivian Leigh. And that is where I think Hollywood did a huge disservice to the world. I have a love-hate relationship with the movie. I do. The movie has its moments of brilliance. Moments I love. But the movie has little to do with what Margaret Mitchell actually wrote. It got a few of the surface details right, I think, but it makes a mockery of it in places. Mitchell's novel has heart and soul and substance. Actual substance. The movie? Well. It's more stereotypes. Hollywood's version of the South is far from the South portrayed in Mitchell's pages. Especially when it comes to Scarlett and Tara. (But I digress.)

What did Scarlett look like? We're told that "it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw. Her eyes were pale green without a touch of hazel, starred with bristly black lashes and slightly tilted at the ends. Above them her thick black brows slanted upward, cutting a startling oblique line in her magnolia-white-skin" (5).

Even if you've never read the book, I would imagine you've got a fairly good notion of what Gone With The Wind is about. At least on the surface. It's the story of the spoiled-rotten Scarlett O'Hara and her quest to win her heart's desire through any means possible. Scarlett is one that doesn't ask if it's wrong or right. She only lives by this question--does it get me one step closer to what I want? If it does--then look out!

Scarlett. Rhett. Ashley. You probably know the basics. A woman wants what she can't have. She wants it until she can have it. The moment she has it. She doesn't want it anymore. Scarlett is in a perpetual state of frustration. The man in her bed doing her bidding is rarely the man in her heart.

The book is about much more than Scarlett and her quest for love, however. It's a love story, I won't deny it. But there is much more than love at stake in the novel. War. Reconstruction. Civilization. Society. Culture. Class. Race. Money. Politics. Survival. It's a novel of contrasts. The Old South vs. The New South. Conformity vs. Individuality. The haves vs. the have-nots. If asked to sum up Gone With The Wind in one word, most would probably say "Love." I'd say gumption. People who have it; people who don't. What do I mean by gumption? Partly spirit. Partly courage. Partly determination. Partly ambition. People with gumption act. They do what they must when they must.

One of my favorite non-love scenes from the book is Scarlett's conversation with Grandma Fontaine. A wonderful, wonderful character by the way. The setting is after Gerald's funeral. Scarlett is pregnant with Frank Kennedy's baby. (Yes, the movie killed Gerald, her father, off too soon.)
"We bow to the inevitable. We’re not wheat, we’re buckwheat! When a storm comes along it flattens ripe wheat because it’s dry and can’t bend with the wind. But ripe buckwheat’s got sap in it and it bends. And when the wind has passed, it springs up almost as straight and strong as before. We aren’t a stiff-necked tribe. We’re mighty limber when a hard wind’s blowing, because we know it pays to be limber. When trouble comes we bow to the inevitable without any mouthing, and we work and we smile and we bide our time. And we play along with lesser folks and we take what we can get from them. And when we’re strong enough, we kick the folks whose necks we’ve climbed over. That, my child, is the secret of the survival.” And after a pause, she added: “I pass it on to you.”

The old lady cackled, as if she were amused by her words, despite the venom in them. She looked as if she expected some comment from Scarlett but the words had made little sense to her and she could think of nothing to say. (709-710)

It's a novel that goes above and beyond the central character of Scarlett. Even if you hate Scarlett, I'd imagine you'd find some character to love. Be it Melanie. Rhett. Mammy. Uncle Peter. Grandma Fontaine. How could you not? There are so many characters, so many individual stories. Stories of triumph. Stories of loss. Stories of hope. Stories of disappointment. Stories of survival. Stories of failure. There is depth and meaning that the movie doesn't even try to accommodate. Depth and meaning that even diehard fans can't help but learn something new with each rereading.

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