“Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell

From my earliest days of childhood I can remember my mother talking so passionately and affectionately about the 1939 film “Gone with the Wind” starring screen legends Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh.   To be honest I was never that interested as it looked like some boring romantic film set in the South during the Civil War.  I would not see this film until all of a sudden I had an interest at the age of 45.  I placed a hold at the library and then waited for what seemed six months (this film is still very popular, it seems) It was a great old style hollywood film and the dvd set came with a bunch of extra’s where I could learn more about its star and the making of the movie.  It was after watching these that I started to hear more about the enormity of the book it was adapted from written by Margaret Mitchell in 1936.  As it turned out  that same week PBS had a special on Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee (“To Kill a Mockingbird”).  A series I called “One hit wonders of the South”.  But what remarkable wonders of literature they are.  We all have read “To Kill a Mockingbird”, but most have not read “Gone with the Wind”.  Probably because the book is around 1000 pages long.  I just completed it and can say, for just one book, Margaret Mitchell wrote a classic

First it should be pointed out that the book by some is called racist.  At times it certainly is but then again this is written from the perspective of a white southerner about white southerners and their experience during the period in and around the American Civil War.    But as the book unfolds you can categorize it into three parts.  Before the war and life on the plantation.  During the war and General Sherman’s march from through the South.  After the war and the occupation and reconstruction of the South.  Then there are all the characters.  We know the main ones Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara .  But there are so many more.  Scarlett’s father Gerald, Melanie and Ashley Wilkes, husbands, sisters, friends, children etc.. I shall not list them all.  Withe combination of history and characters it would be easy to compare this book to Tolstoy’s War and Peace” .  And at some level “Gone with the Wind” probably is the most comparable piece of American literature to the Russian classic.

Life for the plantation owners was described as “Camelot”, but to be more accurate it was much more like the Roman emperors.  If you can picture an emperor being fanned and fed by slaves, the plantation was not that far off.   They certainly had a lot of slaves to meet their every need.  It was interesting that there was a hierarchy among slaves.  As described if you worked in the house you were higher than those slaves in the field.  Scarlet O’Hara was a product of this system.  What else was interesting was the role of Southern Gentleman and the place of the female was taken to the hilt.  How men and woman were viewed and how they should treat one another was at an extreme level.

This would all come crashing down to the ground through the acts and atrocities of the Civil War.  AS our characters live through the war, the south is literally brought to its knees by the burning of the South by William T Sherman.  Mitchell does a great job of intertwining the history of the South and its destruction with its characters.  As Atlanta is burned to the ground, the escape of its main characters and the destruction of the country side is felt throughout the book.  You really get a sense from the southern perspective of what they went through.  General Sherman wanted to destroy the will of the South and through these chapters you certainly get the sense that he succeeded, and history teaches us he did.

I could go on but then though most know the ending I will leave it here and just say what struck me the most was the writing.  As I sit here at home typing away trying to become a better writer I find it amazing and frustrating the Margaret Mitchell writes one book and it’s as brilliant as this one is.  It is a very worthwhile read.  From a lot of perspectives.  It chronicles part of the American experience, and though many would view the South as villains I felt this book was just honest about its characters, the south and the human will to survive and overcome.  It’s a great book and well worth reading.

Good Night And Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann May 21, 2012

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