Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

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I have finished! I think that this is the longest book I have ever read, and even though it was a pleasurable, easy read, the length felt like a heavy commitment. It took me nearly six weeks,  but I am pleased to have finally finished all 1000+ pages.

WARNING: A FEW SPOILERS

Gone with the Wind follows Scarlett O’Hara through the years of the American Civil War. She battles through fear, hunger and loss; but also against her love for the unobtainable Ashley, and the uncompromising Rhett Butler.

Scarlett is an amazing character; she was just so entertaining to read about. I loved her naive decisions, and her determination to succeed as a woman, despite the pressures on her to behave in a more ladylike manner.

The complexity of the story was it’s major plus point. The book’s length meant that the lives of all the side characters could be developed properly, and this led to a very satisfying book, in which I felt that I knew everyone that Scarlett did, and how they’d react to the ever changing circumstances.

The horror of the war was fully portrayed, without the need for graphic descriptions. The never-ending line of injured soldiers, the fear Scarlett felt, and most importantly, the compassion fatigue she experienced as the suffering continued, brought it all home to me vividly. I’m ashamed to admit that this book is my only source of knowledge on the American Civil War. I have just started reading Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Penguin history)and Tara Revisited: Women, War and the Plantation Legend to gain a greater understanding of what actually happened. I’ll let you know what I thought of these books soon.

I loved the first half of Gone with the Wind (Volume One), but some sections of the second volume really grated on me, and I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much. I think my main problem was the severe racism present in it. Margaret Mitchell clearly sympathises with white supremacists, and portrayed many of the black characters as being not much better than animals. I know that this is a product of the time it was written, and that thankfully times have changed, but the mention of the Ku Klux Klan just ruined my opinions of many of the characters. How could a character as seemingly lovely as Ashley end up being a member of the Klan?  All my empathy for him evaporated instantly. Did you have any objections to the extreme rascism?

I haven’t seen the film, so was totally shocked by the ending. The blurb on the back of my book describes GWTW as “the greatest love story of all time”. I was expecting everything to fall nicely in place, and for Scarlett and Rhett to finally come to their senses and realise how good for each other they could be. How wrong was I?!! The loss of Melanie, and then Rhett’s refusal to return to Scarlett, left me shocked, and almost beyond words. Once I managed to lift myself above the horror of it, I realised that this was probably the best ending that could have occurred. Throughout the book Scarlett comes across as a selfish, spoilt child, and for her to finally lose everything that actually meant anything to her was a fitting end.

I am keen to read  Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind”, as I’d love to know what someone else thinks should happen to the couple next. Has anyone read Scarlett? Is it worth reading?

Despite its flaws, Gone with the Wind is the best piece of historical fiction I have ever read. I highly recommend it to anyone who has the time to read such a long novel.

Many thanks to Matthew from A Guys Moleskine Notebook for hosting the Gone with the Wind read-along.

Did you enjoy reading Gone with the Wind?

What did you like about it most? Least?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


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28 Comments

  1. DebD says:

    I have seen the movie a few times but never read the book. Your review has made me consider it for the first time.

    to answer your first question: Yes, I would have been pretty disappointed if a major sympathetic character turned out to be a Klansman (I don’t recall that part being in the movie – although the KKK does show up).

  2. Karen says:

    Well done on finishing!! I’m still working my way through (although I have to admit I haven’t picked it up in a while – too many other books have got in my way!). I read Scarlett when I was in high school and I remember loving it then but I honestly can’t really remember much about what actually happens!

  3. Jackie says:

    Deb – I do recommend you try to find the time to read it. It really is an easy, accessable read. The story sweeps you in, and takes you back to another world – it is amazing – it just requires a large amount of time!

    Karen – I hope you find the time to pick it up again. The ending is so emotional! It isn’t a good sign that you can’t remember what happens in Scarlett, but if you say it was good then it must be worth a try!

  4. Oh, I have yet to make it through the movie, let alone the book. I think that maybe it is because my dad always scoffed about it that it has been forever tainted :( Great job !!! I have seen a couple of reviews of this lately, and they all have been positive!

  5. Jackie says:

    Bethany – I haven’t seen the movie yet either – I’m off to order a copy now actually! I’m sure this is one of those books where it is better to read the book first, so I hope you find the time to read it one day!

  6. Sandy says:

    Now that you’ve finished the book, you must see the movie. Personally, I think the movie is every bit as fabulous as the book. I too found it very educational with respect to the Civil War. I studied it ad nauseum in school but I think this book does a better job of portraying the horror of it all.

    I was at first VERY taken aback by the racism in this novel. But then again, I had to put myself in the position of the author in the 1930′s, who was attempting to reflect the attitudes in the South in the late 1800′s. I could be wrong, but I think these are attitudes that were what they were. Back then, these were norms, unfortunately. I found it ironic in a way that Scarlett didn’t want the “darkies” (as she called them) to have their freedom, but she trusted them with her life and considered them family. The Yankee wives that wanted freedom for all wouldn’t even dream of hiring a black person to take care of their children! I will add that the KKK involvement was NOT highlighted in the movie. There was only reference to the men attending meetings.

    I was a behemoth of a novel, that is for sure. No chunksters for me for awhile! Congrats on finishing!

  7. Beth F says:

    I did read Scarlett when it first came out. I remember kind of liking it. I don’t remember loving it.

    There are TONS of novels that take place during the U.S. Civil War. I love Civil War books. Check out Marny Civil War Challenge blog for some other books.

    http://marnysreadingchallenges.blogspot.com/2008/10/american-civil-war-reading-challenge_08.html

  8. Ken says:

    There are actually two official sequels to GWTW: Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley and Rgett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig. Neither are very good; in fact, I found “Scarlett” to be laugh-out-loud bad. (Keep Mitchell’s wrtiting in mind when reading that first doozy of a chapter in “Scarlett.” It’s so ridiculously over the top that it comes close to parody. It blows me away that the book was published, that no editor said to Ripley, “This is ridiculous.” I won’t give away the plot but let’s just say everything one usually loves about GWTW is not present; it feels as if Ripley had written a romance novel and slapped the names of Scarlett O’Hara and a few other associates on those pre-existing characters, written a new opening to tie it ionto GWTW, and called it a sequel. It’s very dull, very boring–and not at all like GWTW. In fact, Scarlett and Rhett sound and act not at all like Scarlett or Rhett. It’s a mystery how that sequel came about.

    Rhett Butler’s People is a bit more successful–but only with the character of Rhett. Scarlett is strangely “off”–it never feels like the Scarlett you know from GWTW. McCaig’s book is a weird hybrid of prequel, sequel, and “the other side of the story” genre made popular by books like Wicked and March. It’s also not very good. (Oddly, when it gets to the “sequel” portion, it completely ignores Alexandra Ripley’s sequel and creates it’s own. The book tells of Rhett’s childhood, his early adult life, what transpires when he meets Scarlett, and all that takes place after GWTW’s ending. But McCaig forgets half the GWTW story. For example, that fall Scarlett takes down the stairs in GWTW? Not even mentioned in Rhett Butler’s People. In other words, McCaig ignores Mitchell’s turning point for Rhett and decides he has a better one. Such disrespect for the original shows throughout his book and, again, shows that the only author who could have written a good sequel was Mitchell herself. Thankfully, she left the resolution up to our own minds.

  9. softdrink says:

    Like bethany, I’ve never read the book or seen the movie. Although the story is such a part of our popular culture (Frankly my dear…) that I feel like I have.

  10. Michelle says:

    I remember reading Scarlett in high school (after loving the book and the movie) but I don’t remember a great deal about it. I think that says a great deal.

  11. Jackie says:

    Sandy – I’ve ordered the DVD already, so will report back soon on my thoughts. I’m really looking forward to watching it!

    I realise that the racism was normal at that time, and I could deal with it all until the KKK were brought into it. I think that little section ruined some of the characters for me. Scarlett’s character was’t affected by this incident, but how could Ashley want to kill the black people? I think it was just that this extreme behaviour was thrown in without any explanation as to why they’d think that, or act in that way. Ashley didn’t seem to have a problem with the black people before then, so why was he going off to the meetings? I have read some great books explaining why people were led to feel this way, but none of this comes across in GWTW.

    Anyway, I agree – no more chunksters (apart from Battle Cry Freedom!!) – at least for a few weeks!

  12. Jackie says:

    Beth – Thanks for pointing out Mary’s reading challenge – I hadn’t heard of that before, so I’ll go and have a look. I don’t think I can take part in the challenge, as I have enough to do at the moment, but I will try to read more civil war books soon.

  13. Jackie says:

    Ken – Thank you so much for providing such a good summary of the sequels! I was totally unaware of the Rhett one. You have put me off reading them both though! I’d still love to know what happens to them, and if Scarlett is a great parody then it still might be fun to read for the amusement factor – I’ll take them off the wishlist, and keep an eye out for them at the library instead.

  14. Jackie says:

    Softdrink – I must keep my head in the sand more than you, as I was unaware that Frankly my dear…came from GWTW! I was surprised to see it there at the end….not sure where I thought it came from!!

    Michelle – yes, it’s looking as though Scarlett is no where near as good as GWTW. I’d love to see someone else read it now though, and write a constructive review of it.

  15. Rebecca Reid says:

    I haven’t read this, but yes I have a major problem with extreme racism, and that is why I haven’t read this book yet. I realize it’s a historical fiction and written in the 1940s, where Southerners were still racist (although I’m sure some still are, I hope they aren’t so bad anymore), but I have always hesitated to read this book for that reason.

    All the same, I do want to read it.

  16. Nicole says:

    I haven’t read GWTW recently. I think I read it in high school and only vaguely remember it. I’ve been meaning to get back to it and see what my thoughts are as an adult. There was an interesting revisionist version of it called The Wind Done Gone, and it’s told from the point of view of Scarlett’s half black sister who also has a relationship with Rhett Butler. There was quite a furor over it at the time it came out.

  17. Jackie says:

    Rebecca – Despite the racism I still recommend you read this book. I think the fact that we are shocked by it just goes to show how much times have changed, as I’m sure people weren’t at all shocked in the 1940s.

  18. Jackie says:

    Nicole – The Wind Done Gone sounds really interesting. I haven’t heard of it before. Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

  19. claire says:

    I joined Matt’s read along too and just loved this book. I’ve seen the movie before, but didn’t expect for the book to be this entertaining and substantial. I’m linking your post to mine. :D

  20. Jackie says:

    Claire – Thank you for linking to my review – when I get a minute I’ll link to everyone else who took part in the read-a-long.

  21. priscilla says:

    I don’t see how one can write about the South and the Civil War and not realistically show the extreme racism. It’s worth noting that Margaret Mitchell herself worked very hard to help integrate the police force here in Atlanta, and she also worked to open clinics, etc. for all races. I suppose there’s always a danger of assuming that a person’s work reflects her personal beliefs, but in Mitchell’s case, I think it was a matter of showing things as they really were historically.

  22. Jackie says:

    Priscilla – That is really interesting to know. Thank you for letting me know that Margaret Mitchell did so much good in the community. I was totally unaware of that, and it was wrong for me to assume the things I did. I guess if it just that if I was writing about that period in history I would want to give the characters strong reasons before they acted that way, and some insight into their thoughts. I guess that is just the way it is, but books like Mudbound seem to handle it much better.

  23. Teddy says:

    GWTW is on of my all time favorite classics. I have read both sequels and would has to agree with Ken’s summary for the most part. Although they both had their moments.

    In Scarlett, she ended up going to Ireland for a time and I likes that part. I read this shortly after I read GWTW, so it was still fairly fresh in my mind.

    In Rhett Butler’s People, it was nice seeing more of Rhett. How ever the character of Melly was so misrepresented of Mitchell’s work! She was saying things that Melly would have never said in GWTW. Here’s a link to my review if your interested (no spoilers): http://teddyrose.blogspot.com/2007/12/rhett-butlers-people.html

    I don’t havwe a review for Scarlett or GWTW but Scarlett would have been a 2.5 for me and GWTW a 5.0.

  24. Jackie says:

    Teddy – I’ve just ordered the audio book version of Rhett Butler’s People. I know it probably won’t be the best book, but I’m interested to find out what happens.

  25. Sarah M. says:

    Congratulations! Finishing GWTW is an accomplishment. I read it nearly 3 years ago and loved it. I had seen the movie a couple times in the past, but I truly liked the book better. I liked Melony and Rhett much more in the book than in the movie. I didn’t like Ashley at all and think his true character is clear in the book, where it’s less in the movie. I can see why people keep trying to write sequels because the ending isn’t a happy one… yet it is the best in my opinion, sad as it may be. As for the racism, I don’t condone it at all, but I think it is realistic to the era/the culture of that time. I mean just because Ashley was a “nice guy” doesn’t mean he didn’t have flawed views and make poor choices, including his treatment of others. Also, some people at that time joined the KKK because it was the “thing to do” but that doesn’t mean they all participated in the horrible events — many did, but some were just in it for the name and because it was expected. I think Mitchell did an excellent job depicting life in the south during the pre through post Civil War.

  26. Jackie says:

    Sarah M. – Thank you for leaving such a great comment! I’m half way through watching the DVD at the moment, and am loving comparing the two. Hopefully I’ll write a post showing my thoughts on this soon.

  27. Geraldine says:

    I read GWTW when I was 16 as I adored the film. I could recite whole passages from it, I have watched it so many times.

    I found the book to be brilliant (although I admit I did skip a couple of the long historical battle related passages!) I recall weeping copiously over Bonnie’s death one Sunday afternoon…

    I read Scarlett a couple of years later after watching the TV film version of said book (dubbed in French on French TV!) The film of Scarlett was ridiculously trashy and had Sean Bean in it. They had completely changed a lot of the plot and I therefore found the book a bit dull. To be honest it was probably rubbish, but I can’t remember too much about it as it was about 12 years ago.

  28. Jackie says:

    Geraldine, I didn’t realise there was a Scarlett film. I’m not interested in reading Scarlett after my disastrous experience with Rhett Butler’s People, but I might try to find the Scarlett film. Thank you for letting me know about it!

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  1. Rhett Butler’s People – Donald McCaig – Farm Lane Books Blog
  2. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell « A Room of One's Own

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