So I have embarked on this difficult but rewarding journey of reading Time Magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels. I have found the experience very enriching thus far even in the challenges.
However no challenge was greater than reading Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. The book was quite long and took me, an avid and quick reader, a good 3 weeks to plow through it.
But I so loved the book. The characters are so rich and well developed and Scarlett O’Hara may be the most developed and interesting heroine commited to page. Her flaws are understandable and justified but still portrayed in the light of being negative. While she manages to gain everything with her shoddy morals and values she loses them all and realizes she was never truly happy anyway. So while we understand and root for her even when she is at her lowest and dirtiest of tricks, we see that she receives somewhat proper consequences and that she does lose her soul as she becomes a hardened and tough woman filled with fear of poverty driving her to justify many means to her own ends.
I also greatly admired the Rhett Butler character and his flaws as well. He is abusive in some cases, but he does love Scarlett and is battling a losing battle against her love and obsession for Ashley Wilkes. He knew this going in but it is rather heartbreaking watching him slowly lose everything along with her but they both gained everything through pretty ill means so it only seems fit. But I found myself more sympathetic of him because he seemed more aware of the sort of bastard he was and the price he willingly brought upon his own head, while Scarlett seems to continue to put up a charade and fake ignorance or actually be oblivious to the types of turmoil her deeds are causing even up til the very end.
Nevertheless you cannot knock her determination. She is a spirit that cannot be destroyed and so many spirits were destroyed throughout the book. Only she and Melanie, her sister in law married to Ashley the man she loved and coveted for years has as strong a spirit as she but with the opposite attributes. Melanie is good, and selfless. She’s a survivor but she is not as physically strong as Scarlett is but her virtues and spirit are strong even in her gentility. Melanie and Scarlett rely on each other throughout the book but Scarlett spends a majority of her time hating Melanie for having Ashley and not understanding that Scarlett wants him. Melanie spends the majority of the book refusing to believe anything bad about Scarlett and treating everyone with kindness unless they cross Scarlett who she believes she owes her life to. It is amazing to watch the friendship so seemingly onesided unfold and heartbreaking to see how it all comes out and that Scarlett doesn’t realize what amazing people and things she had because her greed, fear of poverty and coveting of Ashley is consuming her.
I think the film was unable to capture the real essence of the book outside of the romance between Scarlett and Rhett which is important. But this is to be expected with a book so long and richly developed. The film had to cut certain things but I think anyone who hasn’t read the book could say they understand the character.
It is something to read Scarlett wish death on one of her children over the other in the book. Such a demonstration of how cold hearted she is in her practicality that she values one child over the other and has no qualms in admitting that to herself. In the film they never even give her children except Bonnie because Bonnie is connected to Rhett but to understand her descent into coldness I think the inclusion of Wade and Ella and how she regards them is quite necessary.
Also I think the book was better at contrasting the fall and rebuilding of the South in the Civil War and Reconstruction era. In the film it was merely a backdrop, in the book it was as integral into how their lives turned out as Scarlett’s actions. She was driven by her need to adapt to these changes, the fear of the changes and the way she was received in society was based on them as well. It handles the formation of the Klan far better and in greater details and it almost makes one understand how the southerners could have hated the Yankees so. Reconstruction has long since been considered far too harsh a punishment for the South and part of the reason things got worse before the Civil Rights movement was finally able to move it forward. This book really highlights some of the struggles through the characters in that period.
Gone With The Wind is an excellent historical romance in my opinion but it really is a lot more. I cannot think of a book where I felt more satisfied with the characters at the end. Some people can’t stand the idea that Scarlett didn’t end up with Rhett and I hear there is a sequel where she does. But I have no desire to read that. To me the ending is perfect as it is. Scarlett does not deserve to end up happy because Scarlett is a spoiled entitled child. And even when she had everything she thought she wanted she still wasn’t happy. That is a fitting ending for someone like her if there is any. The best endings are not always happy ones as fairytales have often conditioned us to believe.
Gone With The Wind is no fairytale and Scarlett no princess even if it were so her ending is every bit deserved. But you can’t help but admire her determination even in the next page of the book. Rotten, spoiled, thoughtless and petty as she may be, you know that she is impossible to keep down, for after all “tomorrow is another day!”