Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I Just Read: Gone with the Wind

I love books. The smell, the feel, the fun of immersing myself into someone else's world. Over the last few months I've needed a good book to get lost in, especially in all the doctor's waiting rooms. So I picked up Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind.

It's a sweeping Southern classic that takes the reader from the start of the Civil War in Georgia through Reconstruction. Young Scarlett O'Hara is a selfish and proud oldest daughter of a plantation owner. When the war comes, her world is turned upside down and she feels she has only herself to rely on.

I thought Scarlett would be a difficult character to relate to, but Mitchell handled it beautifully. I thought I would get tired of Scarlett's selfish moaning and greedy decisions quickly, but for all 1400 pages I found myself absorbed in her story. Having seen the 1939 film version of this novel, I appreciated that the book showed more of Scarlett's rare tender side. Instead of thinking at every turn "how can anyone be so cruel?" I found myself understanding her choices, the plight she was in, and how trapped she felt by circumstances out of her control (although at other times I groaned at the poor decisions she made).

This is absolutely a novel for anyone, especially women, who have an interest in the history of the Civil War from the Southern perspective. History is often told by the victors, and this is a case in which the story is told from the losing side. It brings to life the struggle of the survivors to eat, to live, to provide, to find husbands, and to keep their cultural identity. Through Scarlett and Melanie, Scarlett's ever-tender sister-in-law, and Rhett, the teasing and sensual blockade runner, we feel the sacrifices that are made as people try to rebuild broken lives.

Mitchell said that this book is about people with "gumption" and I found myself agreeing in surprising ways. The cast is delightfully diverse in a way that few authors can truly capture. Throughout this book we can begin to define a person with gumption as not a singular type of person. A person with gumption can be conniving, proud, and motivated. Someone else with gumption can be confident, lazy, and comfortable. Yet another person with gumption can be quiet, demure, and steady. Or perhaps a person with gumption is someone who says what they think to the people who have power over them.

I'd definitely recommend reading this book. I could go on a long time expounding on the book's overt racism, the growth versus steadfastness of the characters, the historical accuracy, and how the characters are so loved and hated over time, but I truly think you ought to read it and draw your own conclusions. At many times heavy, and at other times over-the-top dramatic, it is always engaging.

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