“Scarlett had thrown herself on the bed and was sobbing at the top of her voice, sobbing for her lost youth and the pleasure of youth that were denied her, sobbing with the indignation and despair of a child who once could get anything she wanted by sobbing and now knows that sobbing can no longer help her.”
Brace yourselves y’all. This review is long and has lots of turns. What can I say? I am channeling my inner Margaret Mitchell.
On Scarlett and Rhett
Gone With the Wind is one of those stories that sucks you in and won’t let you go. From the moment I met Scarlett O’Hara I was fascinated by her gumption and by her capacity for selfishness.
There was no mountain too high or valley too low that would stop her from getting what she wanted. She seemed to be a walking contradiction. She was someone whose identity was so entrenched in tradition and yet also so hell-bent on breaking it. She was ahead of her time and also stuck in the ideals of a society that had been handed to her. And yet, she pressed on and broke tradition while still living in it. One of the key instances of this that stuck with me was all the drama around her management of various businesses. It seemed as though she was either to be judged for not fulfilling her “womanly duties” or go hungry. I was rooting for her even as she encountered the wood ceiling of her time. Ha – get it.
“But Scarlett was guided by no one but herself and was conducting her affairs in a masculine way which had the whole town talking about her.”
Despite all the ups and downs she faces, she was so close to finding joy in life and still fell short. And what teenage girl can’t relate to have a crush so hard that it provokes you to do things you never thought you would do in a million years? Scarlett’s obsession with Ashley was painful to watch but, with the key exception of how long it lasted (seriously girl, get over it!), brought me back to my 16-year-old self who crushed so hard. Who thought the object of my crush was the most perfect person in the world. (Spoiler alert: not true) At every juncture with Ashely I found myself talking aloud to Scarlett telling her run for the hills. That there is something better right in front of her. This caused my husband and my dogs much confusion when I would randomly start yelling while all was otherwise quiet. What can I say? #sorrynotsorry
I think though, if we are honest, we can all relate to Scarlett. Although I hope I would never steal my sister’s man to make sure I had money in the bank, I relate to her passionate pursuit of her desires. And I would go as far as to say that while not all her intentions were honorable, she cared for and fought for her people. Something I think we can all admire in her.
Now let’s talk about Rhett. My goodness, what a complicated person. I pictured him a brooding, incredibly handsome man (I picture Ryan Gosling if I’m being real honest). And y’all, I felt so bad for him. Talk about being profiled your whole life. He wasn’t perfect by any means (who is really?) but I rooted for him the entire time. You could see his love for Scarlett and I felt heartbroken for him as every.single.time Scarlett chose Ashley. She knew what she wanted and she knew it wasn’t Rhett. Until the very end, she saw him as a pawn in the game she was playing. Although, I don’t think even she even knew what winning was.
This story was a long journey of ups and downs, highs and lows. Although I’ll try not to spoil anything, the ending was heart breaking. I was hoping for a happier ending but instead I found one of the saddest comedy of errors I’ve ever encountered. Just as Scarlett starts to realize how selfish, insensitive, and quite frankly stupid, she has been, everyone is gone in one way or another.
On Racism and Slavery
Now, one topic I haven’t covered but it so important and fundamental to the story is racism and slavery. It was shocking to me how commonplace it was and felt like throughout this story. It was just the way things were for both the owner and enslaved persons. It was shocking to me how slaves were treated – with little care for their well-being or individual identities. Of course, I’ve always known that is the way it was but it felt different when characters I cherished participated in the cycle of slavery. It was made even more complicated by slave owners thinking they were “doing things for them”. See below.
“If anybody had told me I’d live to see the day when I’d hate darkies! Damn their black souls. They believe anything those (Yankees) tell them and forget every living thing we’ve done for them. “
Yikes. Can you imagine? No matter what is going on with current events and the remaining societal structures that contain this kind of thinking, I am thankful that more people than not in our world would condemn speaking about entire classes and races of people this way. May we all continue to do the hard work of racial reconciliation. It’s worth it and we as a global community owe it to peoples that have been marginalized and abused throughout history.
With all of that being said, I will say this story helped me understand how Southern plantation and slave owners felt okay with their behavior. It simply was the way it was and nobody questioned it. Most slaves in the story (although of course remember this was written by a white women) display and actually are loyal to the families that own them. Some even consider themselves a part of the family. Unquestionably, slavery is one of the worst evils in the world. But I didn’t see the characters in this story as inherently evil or cruel. Not to say they were never those things and, again, this story doesn’t capture all of the terror that southern slavery wrought. However, in this telling, slave owners simply didn’t ask questions or take any time to think about the other side of the experience.
My point is saying all this is that it seems so obvious to us now how evil and wrong slavery was. But it didn’t feel that way to slaveowners in the South. May that serve as a cautionary tale of the evil of unquestioned status quos and encourage us to always consider how our actions would feel to someone who’s experiences are different from ours. Let’s build bridges not walls.
On the land as a character in the story
Now for an abrupt change of topic and on a lighter note, there is one last thing I have leave you with. Whether or not you ever pick up Gone With the Wind, and I highly suggest you do for all the reasons and stories listed above, one of my favorite parts was how vivid the imagery of the South was. All throughout, I could picture the sunsets, smell the wide-open spaces, hear the crickets, feel the sticky, sultry summer nights. As a Southerner, it felt like coming home every time I opened it. Coming home to the wild, open, and unpredictable land I love so much.
“The sun was now below the horizon and the red glow at the rim of the world faded into pink. The sky above turned slowly from azure to delicate blue-green of a robins egg, and the unearthly stillness of rural twilight came stealthily down about her. Shadowy dimness crept over the countryside.”
All in all, Gone With the Wind was one of the best stories I’ve ever read and I hope you find out for yourself someday.