Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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It is unfair of me to only allot “brief” afterthoughts for the mega-monster volume that is Gone with the Wind but I do hope to rein in my frustrations. I know Gone with the Wind (1939) is a beloved novel by many. It did little for me. Please note that this is my negative opinion. I have the right to my opinion as this is my blog. I fully respect the fact that others love this novel and Scarlett and everything to do with it. I’m sorry. I really wanted to love it.

I did like the setting, to begin with. I have not read many novels or historical accounts of the South during Reconstruction, and Margaret Mitchell brought it alive. Reading Mitchell’s novel pointed out the issues of social class that I, as someone raised in the North, never fully comprehended: the plantation owners actually lived according to a type of feudal system, of sorts, that was suddenly obliterated by the conclusion of the Civil War. This social class system-wide collapse devastated the economy, and the returning soldier’s generation was completely unprepared to work. They were trained to read books. Personally, I still think it was probably a good thing that the hierarchy was destroyed, but now I can see why some extreme Southerners may desperately attempt to hold on to the past by declaring the “war between the states” not yet over. Gone with the Wind put the incomprehensible-to-me South into context for the first time.

That said, pretty much everything else about the novel was a disappointment for me. I did not like the writing: Mitchell showed-not-told for much of the novel, and it just d-r-a-g-g-e-d on. Although she did somehow manage to draw me into the setting (see above), if this hadn’t had an historical context, I’d have drowned in the wordiness.

Further, I did not like the characters because they were so unrealistic and blah. Yes, I found Scarlett blah. I found Melly unrealistically good to a fault, and Scarlett such an evil woman that I hated everything she did. She was bad to a fault. I know many people like Scarlett because she is such a go-getter. Personally, I found Scarlett to be a selfish creature, and I couldn’t like her. Rhett was just as bad (although I liked him at first), so the entire “romance” of the novel was just cringe worthy. I don’t always hate bad characters: Armadale’s Lydia Gwilt comes to mind. But Scarlett never once cared about someone else. She had no conscience to make her interesting. Occasionally, she remembered her mother, but even that didn’t seem like an active conscience. Being bad all the time was just boring. Maybe there are people this awful in real life (I’m sure there are), but she had no redeeming qualities to me. I couldn’t like her, even after 1000 pages of hoping I could.

*spoiler* Also, when I though Scarlett was going to change at the end, I got excited. The novel was almost redeemed. And then she turned selfish again and the novel ended. Blah. *end spoiler.*

In short, Gone with the Wind is finally gone from my TBR. I am very glad I read it, and I’m proud I stuck through to the end, even though it took about six weeks to suffer through. In the end, though, I found it far too long and far too much Scarlett.

What did I miss? What did you love about this novel? (Dare I ask?)

Reviewed on June 27, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • — SPOILERS!! –

    Hi Rebecca. (Keeping this brief!) I do think Scarlett changes at the end. She is covering up the change as a defense mechanism — a sort of auto-pilot. She’s only able to keep her eyes on one thing at a time, so though she is crushed at the loss of Melanie, she cannot possibly think about her and remain sane. She can’t think about Rhett and remain sane. All she can do is keep her eyes on Tara, because life has destroyed her so deeply, there’s nothing left to do. I believe she’s capable of loving very deeply, but that love is hidden deep inside her. She learned to hide it. Now that she feels it for Rhett — and let it loose only to have it stamped away, she can’t let herself think of Melanie or anything else, because she’s so near madness she will lose herself to it, if she feels any of it.

    Rhett is good too, down deep. That’s why he honors Melanie so. But letting Scarlett see that part of himself violates his pride, because he tried with her too, and she stamped it away.

    I love that aspect of the novel (among many, many others.) Mitchell takes two characters who cannot possible love anyone, and puts them in a terrible situation, and lets them love for an instant — lets the hard shell expose the inner soul — for just an instant. It’s a psychological masterpiece, I think. And of course, the historical part is excellent too.

    Oh, and I love Mitchell’s writing style. It’s so alive and vibrant — not like other novels at all. Every fragment of a scene is given life. Every word chosen is electric and stands up from the page — except for the journalistic portions where Mitchell talks about war, pulling back to create a different texture, like a reporter drawing a scene from the 1930s looking back.

    Many people dislike that element of the novel — the sense that the 1930s is bleeding into the 1960s. But I love it. So theatrical.

    Melanie is the portrait of a kind Victorian girl. I think it’s interesting we see her only from the outside — Ashley too. Hard to say what either was like, on the inside. In Scarlett and Rhett we’re given the whole truth, and it isn’t pretty.

    I admire that, in a novel. That edge.

    • Jillian » I think you give a fair point that we don’t see the inside of Melanie and Ashley. I don’t think I’d like Ashley much, but Melanie I admired. I wonder if I would had I seen her inside. I think her inside would have been much more conflicted than her perfect appearance seemed…

      It’s interesting, though, how we have such contradictory opinions of some aspects. Like the writing, which I found like journalism from start to finish — not alive and vibrant at all! And I see Scarlett as having ruined her own life so I guess that’s why I still can’t sympathize with her. “Life has destroyed her so deeply” for me would be “Scarlett has destroyed her own life so deeply….”

      But, in choosing to write about this book, I just knew you loved it completely, you’re the one I’m sad I didn’t love it for 🙁 I really wanted to love it for your sake.

      • Oh, don’t be sad! I would never expect someone to like a book just because I do. 🙂 I was raised on Atlanta history, which could partially be why I love it so much. I’m always startled when I hear people say they are unfamiliar with the Southern culture or their perspective on history. To me, it’s as familiar as the Northern side (perhaps even more familiar.) My grandmother was from Atlanta, and my great-grandfathers, uncles, etc, fought with the Confederacy. So that whole side of things is as much a part of my memories, history and culture as the Northern side. My grandmother lived in the Atlanta area when Margaret Mitchell lived there, and likely passed her on the streets sometimes, before the book was published. They both went to the same theatre in Atlanta to cool off. (The only building during the summers that had air conditioning.)

        My point being… I pretty much breathe this book. 🙂 Mom gave me my first copy when I was a kid, and it’s been a part of me since. (I didn’t actually read it until I was sixteen, because it looked enormous.) 🙂

  • Oh too bad you didn’t like this. Not going to lie for me I think part of my love for the book is that I read it when I was 14 or so wasn’t as discerning as I am now 😉 I really like Scarlett, the sequel to this, because I find some of the characters have more depth to them. And yeah, I never liked Melanie, she was quite annoyingly perfect wasn’t she?

    • Amy » I found Melanie rather annoyingly perfect but I much preferred her to the horrible evil Scarlett. 🙂 Sounds like we see the book in opposite perspectives. (I didn’t particularly like or dislike either Melanie or Scarlett, but I much preferred Melanie.)

  • I have never read this! And I do feel I need to. But I have to admit that the size scares me off. As does the setting, since I’m not sure if I will understand as I don’t know that much about American history nd never truly understood ‘the South’. But I guess reading it might actually make me appreciate their position more, as you said. I do feel for you, writing your honest thoughts about a book so many loved, it must not have been easy. I’m still divided on whether to read this or not. On the one hand, if Amy likes it, I want to give it a try. On the other, I cannot say I am a 100% excited to get started.

    • Iris » I really liked the perspective on American history. I was raised in Chicagoland, so I think I’ve always had improper stereotypes of the Southern way of thinking about the Civil War. I dont’ think I ever fully understood plantation life until I read this book. Obviously, I didn’t love the book, so I’m not the one to say “go read it!” but it wasn’t all bad. Just blah to me. (And yes, very very long…)

  • Aw Rebecca, I’m sorry you felt like people would flame you for disliking Gone with the Wind! If it makes you feel any better, I don’t really like it either, particularly for the weird, glorification-of-rape power dynamic going on between Rhett and Scarlett. I actually think a different, more interesting book could have been written about Melanie’s internal landscape. She’s pretty progressive and gutsy at times, and is less of an extreme personality than Scarlett…there seem to be unexplored depths there.

    • Emily » yes! that particular Rhett-Scarlett issue was a bit disturbing. I’m not sure what to think about their relationship. Just not crazy about their marriage. I’m with you on wanting to know more about Melanie. Like Jillian says above, we never see the inside of Melanie and Ashley. Not that I’d want to see Ashley’s insides, but Melanie, yes. She WAS gutsy, but so much NICER than Scarlett. (Too perfect as she was portrayed, though.)

    • I would LOVE to read a sequel about Melanie. Not necessarily Gone With the Wind itself, through her eyes — but maybe a story about her, perhaps before Gone With the Wind begins, as she’s being raised in Atlanta? I’d love to see where she comes from, when she speaks. To see Gone With the Wind through her eyes could be interesting, too. Though the right author would have to write it. I didn’t care for Rhett Butler’s People

      I really loved the Melanie character. I think she’s courageous in so many ways. I really like the way she is with Archie.

  • I was obsessed with this book when I was 12/13/14, but I haven’t read it since then! I don’t know what I’d think of it now…I used to love the film too, but last time I was too disturbed by the slave issue to enjoy it. That, and I think Leslie Hamilton makes an awful Ashley.

  • Melly’s the worst. I haven’t seen the movie in years and I don’t think I’ll ever read the book but the awfulness of Melly has stuck with me so vividly over the years. It’s interesting how you say that we only see Ashley from the outside — I was going to say he’s so damn dull I can’t imagine how Scarlett ever liked him, but I suppose we’re only seeing her side of him.

    • Jenny, I actually didn’t feel that way about Melly. I felt we didn’t see all of her but I liked her a little at least. I HATE Scarlett. She was horrible in my eyes.

  • I loved Gone With the Wind, but hated Scarlett. I think it’s because I know someone in real life just like her and she just irks me! I also watched the movie right after reading the book and did not like it. I am frowned upon in my husband’s family because of this. It’s like blasphemy to them, lol!

    • Shelley, oh my, I can’t stand the thought of knowing a Scarlett in real life! How awful. And I”m sorry you’re frowned on for not liking her….although I can relate since I thought the whole blogosphere was going to frown on me for not liking the book!

  • I also read this as a teenager and loved it, and I can’t remember the last time I read it. I wonder if I would like it as much as an adult. Now that I look back a lot of the characters do seem pretty one-dimensional. I should try and reread it but I have so many unread books I feel guilty about rereads — maybe I can get an audiobook, which probably take an entire year to finish since I only listen in the car, and I don’t drive that much!

  • I wanted to know how long you took to read this book Rebecca. Well, I’m in middle school and I’m planning to read it. I only read the first chapter in my library so far. I found Scarlett’s character pretty much alike to one of the girls at my school. It was such a long book, I don’t know when will I ever finish it……

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