How do you write a book review about a classic like Gone with the Wind? It seemed daunting – the summary alone encompasses 1,000+ pages of plot. I was tempted to “think about it tomorrow,” as Scarlett O’Hara would say, but decided I had to gush about it while it was freshest in my mind.
It’s difficult to encapsulate this book in a few sentences. It’s a story of peace and war, love and loss, hope and despair. More than that, it presents a chronological look at a time filled with uncertainty in America – the Civil War and Reconstruction – while also depicting the moral and psychological growth of its characters as they undergo dramatic changes to their way of life. Read this book first and foremost because it is a classic deserving of its awards and praise, but also check it out if you enjoy immersing yourself in other periods of history. Margaret Mitchell paints a vivid picture of life in the South, from belles and beaux to Yankees and Confederates and everything in between.
The story centers around the infamous protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara, chronicling her journey from a spoiled 16-year-old Southern belle in 1861 to a weathered yet determined grown woman in 1873. Of course, the significance of these years goes far beyond Scarlett’s life. Much of the book is devoted to intricate details of the South during the Civil War, from mere talk amongst townspeople to the brutality of battle when the fight reaches their own backyards. There is bloodshed and lives lost for the Cause – a way of life that Southerners (particularly in Georgia, where the story is set) held onto with a determination they were ready and willing to die for. Margaret Mitchell also does a thorough job of showcasing what life was like on the plantations before the war broke out, from barbecues and balls to the dynamic between the families and their slaves.
Beyond the war, there is rebuilding and Reconstruction. It was interesting to think about what I learned in high school textbooks versus what Margaret Mitchell writes about the South during the period – how the Yankees were viewed, the deceptive practices of Carpetbaggers and the hatred of Scalawags. These terms didn’t really present their full impact until I was reading them from Scarlett’s point of view, as well from the perspective of the other Georgia residents.
Through it all, there is a pulse of romance. The opening line of the novel may be, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful,” but as Mitchell goes onto explain, men seldom realized it. She possesses an undeniable charm that leaves most men putty in her hands. But charming though she may be, she is not always willing to conform to the standards of a “great lady” in her day. She can be coarse, brutally honest and, as you’ll see when the plot unfolds, far too smart for her own good (and I say that with sarcasm, imitating the thoughts of the people of her day). When Scarlett meets Rhett Butler, things really start to get interesting.
I could go on and on, but I’ll let you get to reading already! What I admired most about Margaret Mitchell – other than her story – was the way she developed the characters. Each one is so full of life and personality that you come to appreciate them regardless of whether you would think and act the same way they do. They share commonalities but can also be irreconcilably different. Are you a Scarlett or a Melanie? An Ashley or a Rhett? These are questions you may find yourself smiling about as you work your way through those 1,000 pages. And they are worth it.
Big thanks to my sister-in-law Cara for providing me with the motivation I needed to finally complete this epic – yes, epic – book. She had a feeling I would enjoy it, and I truly did. I’m looking forward to watching the movie, too. It’s already in the plans for this weekend!
Have you read Gone with the Wind (or seen the movie)? If so, what did you think?