Sunday, September 12, 2010

An epic saga that is well worth every word on each page

Gone with the Wind
Margaret Mitchell

5 stars + heart + many tears + my undying love

I decided to tackle this intimidating antebellum epic novel this month and patiently spent most of one day making a reading schedule so I could finish it by September 30th. I shouldn't have wasted my time. Instead of trudging from milestone to milestone, I flew through GWTW, devouring every word on each page and becoming completely immersed in the life of Scarlett O'Hara. Without a doubt, this book is one of my top 5 favorites of all time and has made a good case for itself for the #1 position. Many of you probably know the story of Scarlett and Rhett, star-crossed lovers of the South before, during, and after the Civil War, but I had only the faintest idea of the storyline prior to diving in - there was something about a plantation, right? I think my complete lack of knowledge made me love the story because I was constantly being surprised by what came next.

As the story opens, Scarlett O'Hara is the 15 year old daughter of plantation owners in the South. She lives at Tara and is easily the most beautiful young woman in the area...and she knows it. She has every eligible man in the county wrapped around her finger, gets everything she asks for, and carefully keeps her cool even though her temper betrays her Irish roots. Scarlett cares nothing of politics or business, these are men's jobs, but as she has single-minded focus on making the best marriage possible, the rest of the county is abuzz with rumors that the South is succeeding and may go to war against the north in order to protect their way of life...including the owning of slaves.

As war breaks out, Scarlett finds her life completely changed; she spends her time between Tara and (mainly) Atlanta as she struggles to survive and not starve to death in the brutal times. The end of the war brings no relief to her struggles but she finds herself unwillingly responsible for several friends, family members, and servants. In and out of her life is the disreputable Rhett Butler who was banned from the societal life of a gentleman and has made his fortune doing any number of ill-advised jobs. He is obviously completely in love with Scarlett but she is preoccupied with making a living for herself to prove her nay-sayers wrong about her fast ways. As the years after the Civil War progress, Scarlett and Rhett's lives unfold in ways they never foresaw.

Scarlett was a most unlikely heroine whom I alternating between admiring and loathing. She did what she had to do, often with no thought to how her actions affected those around her, and did many things with an apparent lack of conscience. She was mean, manipulative, destructive, and superficially selfish though her actions often benefited many people. I loved her. She made no apologies, did not backtrack, and realized that the conventions of women at that time were too silly for her to worry about following. Ultimately, her bull-headedness was her downfall and during the last 1/4 of the book I wanted to shake her and force her to realize what was right in front of her face.

Rhett was equally as stubborn and manipulative but I admired him for being the one person in Scarlett's life her knew her innermost thoughts and loved her despite them. His mannerisms were perfect for a scoundrel of the time and the whole time that I was half in love with his character, I also realized that he was mishandling the largest event of his life. My surprise favorite character was Melly; she was the polar opposite of Scarlett and, while I first thought she was weak and apprehensible, I quickly realized that she was completely aware of all situations and truly was the most pure and upstanding person in the book - a soft shell of a southern woman with an iron core.

Aside from the engrossing story and complex characters, GWTW provided an interesting background of the Civil War as told from a Southerner's perspective. I am by no means a proponent of slavery, but this provided a view of slave-owning and treatment that greatly varied from the horror stories of abuse and degradation that permeate main-stream media. In the case of this book, and I am completely aware that this is a fictionalized account, the behavior of the Yankees who wanted to free the slaves and provided lip-service to them being equal while treating them with contempt was equally as abhorrent as Scarlett's view that slaves were a lesser people than whites but actually treated many of them with love and respect. As Mitchell tells the story, you question what it was the south was really fighting for.

Whether the theme was love of land, love of a way of live, love of a spouse, or love of self, GWTW encompasses all of these and tells one of the most heart-wrenching and beautiful stories I have ever read.

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