Book 1: Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell

Pulitzer Prize Winner 1936

I have a general rule - film tie-in covers are to be avoided. Yet I have no argument with the classic image from a classic film on the cover of this classic novel - it is an icon after all!

I first read this in my teens and my great memories have been fed in the intervening decades with periodic viewings of the film. That would appear to be a common experience for several in my reading group requested a reread.

Arguably the first blockbuster (it has sold more than 38 million copies) Gone with the Wind at 1010 pages is long .... very long ... too long?

It is essentially the tale of a tormented love triangle: Scarlett's unrequited love for Ashley, Rhett's unrequited love for Scarlett and ultimately Scarlett's unrequited love for Rhett. As a teenage I enjoyed the Rhett/Scarlett cat and mouse games but, in middle age, I tired of Scarlett's emotional scotoma around page 600. The green-eyed independent Southern belle, a spirited heroine to be admired when I was 17, is a selfish, heartless, unintelligent little madam. Like Rhett, at the end I couldn't give a damn about her predicament although I find myself debating whether the monster was created by the circumstances or by Rhett himself.

To reduce Gone with The Wind to romantic saga is to render it a great disservice. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War and defeat of the South, military tactics and the corruption of scallawags, carpetbaggers and the administration during the Reconstruction of Georgia is laid out in all its fascinating and inglorious detail. So too are the effects on the population - the men who died, the women who survived and the slaves or "darkies" who were freed.

This brings us to the controversial elements of the novel. There is no doubt that Mitchell's portrayal is a patriotic pro-Confederate stance. The Southerners are also pro-slavery ... which is only to be expected. Anything else woud destroy the historical context of the novel. But does Gone With the Wind cross the line and become racist? There is evidence for this: the dimwittedness of the "darkies", who form a threatening anonymous mass after the war. And does Mitchell go so far as to endorse the formation of the KKK? On the other hand, when the negroes are named, they are honourable people who form a backbone of society. Think Mammy. Think Uncle Peter.

However there are those who are not so ambivalent as myself. AliceRandall says her book, The Wind Done Gone, is a form of political protest, an “antidote to the poison” of racism in Gone With the Wind. “I wrote this book so that Gone With the Wind would no longer sit on the shelf unanswered, so that young black girls who were damaged by that book, as I was, would have somewhere to turn,” she says. “To create a literary parody is to derive the most absurd thing possible from the original text, and that is what I have created in Cynara—an intelligent black woman.”

For those who wish to follow the further adventures of Scarlett and Rhett there are 848 pages of the authorised sequel Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. Personally, I'll be leaving Scarlett in her mansion in Peachtree Street, Atlanta, the street, where unfortunately her creator met her demise. Margaret Mitchell was struck by a speeding automobile on Peachtree Street in 1949. She died 5 days later.


    You're not the first person I see mentioning the hints of racism in this book. The other person who told me about it was actually quite passionate about the subject, and not at all a fan of the book.

    Thanks for the very informative review. It sounds like the book does have redeeming qualities. Still, I can't say it's a priority for me. Maybe I will get to it one day.

    On July 18, 2007 at 3:04 PM Anonymous said...

    Nice review. GWTW is on my challenge list as well.

    I'm reading this right now. yes there is racism, but that is how most southernerns thought at that time. It doesn't take away from the story to me. I've always loved the movie and this is the first time I'm reading the book.