An epic tale of a crumbled world – “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell
I’d be surprised if anyone in the world (over the age of twelve, maybe) didn’t know the names Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. “Gone With the Wind” as a film is such a deep part of cinematic history that it’s nearly unthinkable to me that people aren’t aware of its existence. Personally, I love practically everything* about the film, but hadn’t read the book prior to this week.
Margaret Mitchell’s book is frequently challenged, and often lands on the Banned Books list, which is why I chose to read it this week. I’ve encountered several people this week who were blown away that the book is banned.
So – Why is it often banned?
Well, Mitchell writes the slave characters as one-dimensional, and often as stupid or dishonest. Prissy is a little twit of a girl, who lies and dawdles and whines. Even Mammy gets nothing more than stubborn as a character description. (Bless Miss Hattie McDaniel for injecting humanity into a character that wasn’t written with any.) Dilcey, Pork, Uncle Peter, and the other servants of the O’Haras and other families don’t fare much better.
Not to defend Mitchell in her racism, but she was a daughter of the south. In order to read the novel and not be affected by the strongly-held belief in white supremacy, you have to understand that fact and read the book as history: These things happened. People felt this way. Slavery was, unfortunately, a thing.
However, yeah, the book definitely slants to the racist side. Ashley and Frank are actually members of the KKK (which was smartly removed from the movie) but that doesn’t bother Scarlett and Melanie as much as the fact that as the Klan rushes into Shantytown, they get wounded. In the context of the novel, those pesky KKKers are more a bother than something to rise up against.
The second thing that gets the book challenged is the leading lady herself, Scarlett O’Hara (or Katie Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler, if we’re being honest.) Scarlett is a fantastic example of a female anti-hero. Though the reader cares about her and it’s riveting to follow her actions, she’s not particularly likable, and should just be referred to as a terrible person. She lies, deliberately breaks up relationships, doesn’t care about her children, and manipulates people on almost every page. She’s a hypocrite, stubborn, and gets away with murder. (Literally.) Though it’s fine for a male character to do all these things and worse, I’m sure having a cultured lady doing them set some people on edge.
Fortunately, GWTW is more than just a story of a rude woman living in racist times.
It’s also a really, REALLY good book.
It’s a grand epic of the fall of a society based on manners, charm, and magnolias, and it’s perfectly written in it’s description of the world of the South pre-and-post Civil War. Mitchell wrote this book like she expected it to be an epic cinematic masterpiece, and the language crosses states and fields with splendor and grace. The novel spans twelve years, and does so with surprising ease.
Other than the slave characters, the other characters are written wonderfully, and are all believable. After reading the book, my crush on Rhett Butler has only intensified, and my appreciation for characters who got a bit of the shaft in the movie (due to time constraints, largely) such as Gerald O’Hara, India Wilkes, and even dear, stupid Frank Kennedy. As the characters grow from silly southerners to adults dealing with hardships and the struggles of survival, you really feel for them. You love them, sometimes despite themselves.
It’s not a breeze of a read, (deciphering the “dialect” Mitchell created for the slave characters is sometimes a chore) but the 1000+ pages pass quickly. I’m going to come clean and admit I think the book might even be better than the three-hour movie. Mitchell takes up as many pages as she wants in telling her story.
(*If you’re wondering what I don’t like about the movie, it’s the casting of Ashley Wilkes. While he’s written as pretty bland in the book, in the movie he practically blends into the background, which makes Scarlett’s unrelenting love for him hard to believe at some points. Vivien Leigh does everything she can, but next to Clark Gable, the actor playing Ashley Wilkes mopes around like a stupid-emo fourteen year old.)