I just finished rereading Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell for my Mom's Club book club. I must say, I am extremely glad that I read this book again, it is a masterpiece. It's also a lot different reading a book when you are 29 versus 14! If you know the plot or don't want to know the end, skip the next section.
I think everyone knows the classic story of Katie Scarlett O'Hara, the headstrong, spoiled Southern girl - but I'll recap in case you don't. Scarlett is in love with her neighbor Ashley Wilkes, but discovers just before the start of the Civil War that he is going to marry his cousin Melanie. For spite, Scarlett marries Melanie's brother Charles Hamilton. Charles dies of sickness without ever facing battle and Scarlett finds herself a pregnant 16-year old widow. After her son's birth, she goes to Atlanta to stay with Melanie and Melanie's Aunt Pitty-Pat. Scarlett finds Atlanta exciting, but life in mourning as a widow rather drab. Life is lightened up when Rhett Butler scandalizes society by "bidding" for her at a ball and dancing with her all night. Sherman eventually starts his march to the sea, but Scarlett can't leave pregnant Melanie alone in Atlanta after promising Ashley to watch out for her. After Melanie gives birth, Scarlett, her son Wade, Melanie and Baby, and Prissy (Scarlett's slave) are rescued by Rhett Butler who drives them out of Atlanta. He leaves them though and decides to join the army, but to Scarlett's anger. She arrives back at her plantation, Tara, to discover the place has been devistated by the Yankees, her mother has died, and her father has lost his marbles.
Scarlett works hard to find food to keep everyone fed. She is getting by after the war, but the Yankees raise taxes on Tara and are going to take it away if she can't pay them. She visits Rhett Butler in his Atlanta jail to try to seduce him to marry her (he is rich and she wants the money) or to become his mistress. He refuses, but luckily on the way home, she meets up with her sister Suellen's beau, Frank Kennedy, and lies about her sister being engaged to someone else. She is able to persuade Frank to marry her within two weeks and use his money to pay the taxes on Tara. Frank runs a general store and Scarlett pushes him to make more money. She borrows money from Rhett to buy her own mill and scandelizes Atlanta society by running it herself. She has a daughter, Ella, with Frank. After she is accousted in Shanty town, Frank and other vigilantes take their own form of justice against the assailants and Frank is killed in the process. Rhett proposes to Scarlett the day of the funeral before she can marry anyone else.
Rhett and Scarlett start off having a happy marriage, but Scarlett's love for Ashley comes between them. They have a daugther, Bonnie Blue Butler, that Rhett adores. Scarlett suggests separate bedrooms because she doesn't want to have any more children, much to Rhett's anger. Bonnie dies in a riding accident at age four and Melanie dies about a year after due to a miscarriage. Scarlett realizes that she has loved Rhett all along and that her love for Ashley was an illusion. By this point, Rhett has had enough with their marriage and tells Scarlett "I don't give a Damn" and leaves. Scarlett vows to win Rhett back and the book ends.
I thought this book was VERY well written. The characters were fully developed including all secondary characters. You really don't get a feel for the secondary characters in the movie as you do in the book. The dialogue was fantastic, especially some of the witty dialogue between Rhett and Scarlett. The description of the scenary and live in the Civil War days is uncomparable. The book is 960 pages long, but riveting. Although I know the end, the book still had me sobbing, much to my son Kile's dismay.
I liked how the book gave a good overview of what life was like for a rich southern family before, during, and after the war. Scarlett is not the most likeable of people, but I liked reading about a strong willed woman who does what she can to survive. The love story between Rhett and Scarlett is not a typical or conventional story and it rivals those of Elizabeth and Darcy, Cathy and Healthcliff, Romeo and Juliet. I just wanted to slap Scarlett though for her silly longing for Ashley. Ashley in the book is more attractive though then Ashley in the movie - although he is still no match for the manly Rhett Butler.
What I didn't like about the book is what most people would probaby say, the blatant racism. Take this critism with a grain of salt though. I really don't like a "white washed" past where we pretend that people were never racist. I think it's important to learn what we used to be like as a nation so that we never go there again. Taking that in to account, I understood that Scarlett's ignorant feelings towards African Americans was typical for a Southern lady at the time, although I thought it was racist.
Scarlett is a character that you love and hate. The way she treated her first two children was quite cold and hard to understand as a mother. Her treatment of Melanie and Rhett is also annoying. I'm glad that she grows as a character and by the end realizes the error of her ways, but it would have been nice for her to appreciate people while she had them. I like how she is a well developed, very three dimensional character that grows throughout the novel.
The introduction to the version I read compared this book to Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, and Madame Bovary. I've read all three of those novels, so it was interesting to ponder the strong willed women in each novel. I think Scarlett is the most like Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair. Any one else read these books and have thoughts?
If you have never read Gone With the Wind, I highly recommend it. It's a bit of a slow read at first, but believe me, it gets much better. Gone With the Wind is a great American novel that I believe everyone should read.