Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell is a well-beloved book and seen as an integral part to American literature. The book is essentially a coming-of-age novel and one that tells mainly of survival. The rather lengthy novel begins with Scarlett O’Hara at the age of 15 and carries her through many trials and tribulations such as loss of love, war, death, poverty, hunger and sometimes simply bad luck. With the American Civil War and Reconstruction of the South as the backdrop, the novel appeals to wide audience as it contains themes of romance, drama, comedy, suspense, history and adventure.
I both read the novel and saw the movie for the first time when I was a young teenager. I have seen the movie a number of times since then (although not in over ten years) but I have not read the book since then. My initial thoughts are that the book was much better than I remembered and the movie was not quite as good as I remembered it being. Both the movie and the book are quite long and I have had this 48-hour book siting in my library for at least a year and a half and have only now gotten up the courage to tackle it. The movie is 4 hours long and includes an intermission. I remember that I went to see the movie with a friend who had never seen it before and during the intermission we walked out to the lobby and she said, “Well, that was a great movie.” Both my mom and I just stared at her because we didn’t know how to tell her that there were two more hours to watch.
To say that I loved every hour of the book is an understatement. It should be granted that I already had a very sweet spot for the story but I was surprised to discover how wonderful the story was from the intricacies of the characters to the accuracies of the events surrounding the Civil War. In doing some research, I learned that it seemed that the character of Scarlett resembled the very life of Margaret Mitchell and that Scarlett’s three husbands were based on Mitchell’s own husbands or some of the other men in her life. While some argue that Mitchell’s only published work did contain some historical inaccuracies, others note that it was a result of Mitchell’s own desire to perfect her work that drove her to get stories from history correct. Another aspect of the book that surprised me was how palpable the scenes are between Scarlett and Rhett and how (spoiler alert) as their passion seems to fade so do their conversations and interactions become less interesting. Likewise, there are three scenes that occur in the last 4 hours of the book that were so intense and touching that I found myself in tears. Similarly to my recent reading of Little Women, I found that with my own life experiences gained since my first reading of Gone With the Wind that I have also gained a greater empathy towards the characters and understanding of the impact and meaning of the events in the novel.
While I was very disappointed to witness how the equally lengthy The Count of Monte Cristo had been bastardized into a 2-hour movie, I was extremely impressed with how Gone With the Wind was compressed into a 4-hour movie. The major scenes from the novel were left very well in tact. It was simply how the movie arrived at those scenes that was tweaked. There were some characters that were removed from the novel in order to make the movie work. For example, Scarlett actually has one child with each of her three husbands but in the movie she only has one child with Rhett. I have been thinking about why they would remove the other two children, and other than for time’s sake I think that the moviemakers wanted to minimize a bit the hatred towards Scarlett as she often ignored her first two children (they did the same for Rhett by playing down the marital rape scene that occurs).
There were some other side storylines that were removed or altered but I feel that good choices were made on those accounts. Both the novel and the movie are an iconic part of American film and literature but even the thought of remaking the 1939 classic brings about heated discussion as it seems unthinkable to cast anyone other than Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable in the roles of Scarlett and Rhett.
A word on the character of Scarlett O’Hara: complicated. She is a very complicated character because she has many sides to her, she never seems to fit in to society, and spends much of her life dealing with an inner struggle as to whether or not she should be the women her mother raised her to be or the person she actually is. Readers often feel very conflicted about her because she commits unthinkable and, at times, criminal acts but essentially she does this for the sake of her family and her land, Tara, making her a hero. I have heard some express dislike or even hatred towards Scarlett but I find that the thing that we often dislike the most about the ones we hate is an aspect that we despise and shun in our own lives. For example, I might dislike the fact that Scarlett does whatever she wants even though her husbands have told her not to when, in fact, I am jealous that there are times when I feel stuck “submitting” to my own husband when I would rather be out running a sawmill (only kidding).
Scarlett is a survivor but does this mean that she must commit these terrible acts in order to have survived. I might argue that Melanie survives as well (until she doesn’t) but she does it by upholding her good morals and acting out of the kindness of her heart. However, she never would have survived without having Scarlett in her life, so now I am left wondering if it is more important to survive no matter the cost or to stick to one’s ideals even if it means leaving your loved ones in the hands of the cold, hard survivors.
Being from the South and having grown up in Atlanta, it may be argued that I was born to love, enjoy and understand this story. I wonder how someone from another part of the country approaches the story. I do highly recommend the book and I did enjoy the audiobook. I am unsure if this was an issue with the narrator or with the recording equipment, but I could often hear the narrator swallowing, which tends to take you out of the story. Since the story reaches over a number of genres, it is difficult to know who to recommend the book to but if someone is willing to read the Hunger Games book in succession (35 hour of listening) then they should be able to handle a few more hours and tackle this book.