Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gone With the Wind

There is so much to say about Gone With the Wind that I'm not sure where to start. This book has it all: history, romance, family, compelling plot... It may be a long book, but I was completely engrossed the whole way through. There's no slow pacing or long, dull passages. I really should have read this years ago, because it is one of the best books I've ever read. Certainly in my top 10.

I've always been interested in the civil war, but I'm used to viewing the south as the bad guys. I think this book opened up my mind a bit. It was fascinating to put myself in the south and view the war and the changes they went through from their eyes. Now, I'm not saying that the south was purely the victim, that they didn't do anything wrong. I'm just saying that now I have a little better perspective on how the Civil War affected the whole country. I'm getting the bigger picture, which, surprisingly, even included a little better understanding of the Klu Klux Klan (which I don't approve of!!! I just think I have a better appreciation for why it existed). Anyway, if you'll forgive me for being an English nerd for two seconds, it reminds me of a literary theory I studied called New Historicism, which believes that it's important to try and understand history from all sides. The more stories you read about one event or time period, the closer you'll get to actually discovering the truth of what really happened. I think I might go on a Civil War kick and see what else I can find to read in this genre. Also, I plan to watch Gettysburg with Jon and a documentary PBS did on General Lee.

Moving on, the writing was gorgeous. I loved Margaret Mitchell's style and her dialogue. Rhett and Scarlett could be so funny at times, and at others so completely heart-wrenching. Mitchell paints a beautiful portrait of the South in this book (which may have been maybe a teensy bit romanticized, I thought). There are a lot of racist issues in here, but I thought Mitchell did a good job of trying to be fair-minded and see things from all sides. Mostly, I just enjoyed being there and experiencing everything, the good and the bad. The realities of war, soldiers, giving birth back then (oh horror), dealing with carpetbaggers and Republicans, adjusting to free blacks, all of these were portrayed with the good and the bad.

Now, Scarlett is a bit of a difficult character; she's kind of hard to like. She's such a mercenary, selfish creature for most of the book, and she's a horrible mother, which made it hard for me to empathize with her. I don't think the point is to like her, though. And I did find myself empathizing more and more with her as the book went on. Scarlett completely changes as the South changes, and I don't know that I can blame her for all her ruthlessness. What would I have done in that situation? If my loved ones were starving, wouldn't I bend a few rules of decency? I think the more I tried to understand her, the more I found her fascinatingly complex. She's shallow on the surface, but there are some surprises lurking under that shell.

And as for Rhett, well, I liked him. Tons. He's very much the classic Byronic hero: dark, troubled, a bit of a bad boy, no respect for authority, self-serving... but at the same time, loveable and honest and sympathetic. There's something irresistible about an unrequited love character. My heart went out to him. And you know, I thought one of the interesting ironies of the book comes from Rhett. At the beginning of the war and during the war, whenever Rhett would make remarks about how the South was going to lose and how the war was pointless everybody in the South would hate him. He was ostracized for being a Yankee sympathizer. Well, every time he'd talk, I'd think, "Ummm.... you guys better listen to him... He's right!" I think Rhett is a fantastic character. Fully-drawn and fully-enjoyable to read.

There were lots of other great characters too: Mammy, Melanie, Gerald O'Hara, Ashley (even though I thought he was a bit insipid at times). Really, I just loved the whole book. The ending left me wishing for a sequel, which actually exists. It's called Scarlett, but I've read dozens of reviews saying it's one of the worst books ever written and doesn't live up to the original. It wasn't written by Margaret Mitchell, but was published after her death. So, I think I'll just imagine up my own ending, and let this classic live as it is.

I also had to get the movie from the library and may I just say, "Frankly, my friends, I don't give a ... well, you know." Ok, just kidding. I had to find some way to work the most famous movie quote of all time into this post. I actually really liked the movie. It's a testament to the quality of this film that even though Jon and I often snickered at the cinematography, we both enjoyed it. There were a few scenes that were supposed to be dramatic that made us laugh, but besides that, the acting was truly great. I was most impressed by the pacing. Sometimes old movies can be so slow, but not Gone With the Wind. It's really no wonder that this got 10 academy awards. It's an awesome movie. Now if only Clark Gable were just a bit more attractive. Oh well. He was funny and quotable and that made up for it. I thought Scarlett was much more likeable in the movie than in the book too. Anyway, I'd love to see a modern remake of this story. I can just imagine how awesome it would be with modern cinematography.

Have I said enough? Probably. You're probably thinking, "Sheesh. No need to write a novel about a novel, Emily." So I'll stop, but not before recommending that you read Gone With the Wind. It's completely worth your time.

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