I was looking through my books recently and was dismayed to find my copy of Gone with the Wind was missing. This was the copy I’d had since I was in my early 20s, and I couldn’t imagine having lost it in moving a few years back, but that’s obviously what happened to it.
I decided to get a temporary Kindle copy, planning to buy another hard copy eventually. It seemed odd at first reading this classic sweeping saga on a Kindle, but I was soon absorbed in the reading of it and forgot the medium. I finished it a few days ago and enjoyed it thoroughly yet again.
I’d heard about GWTW since my early childhood. My mother, having spent most of her childhood in Atlanta, and my grandmother, being an Atlanta native, were very fond of the book. My mother used to tell me, “Now, I want you to be sure to read the book before you see the movie. You’ll see why when you read it.” She had bought the book during its original release and loaned it many times to friends, and it finally came back to her much the worse for wear, but enjoyed all around. She told me when she and my father were first married and were very poor during their stay in a tiny northern Ohio town, my grandmother sent them the money to go to the nearest theater to see it, and she was thrilled.
Unfortunately, I did not get to read the book first. When I was in the eighth grade we were studying American history, and GWTW was being re-released in theaters across the country; our class took a field trip to go and see it. It was a rainy day with heavy traffic; our bus arrived a little late and we were just getting seated during the part when Scarlett O’Hara looks down from the staircase and the camera pans down to Rhett Butler standing at the bottom, gazing up at her. I remember stopping there in the aisle, mesmerized, and being shoved by the student behind me to keep moving to our seats, but I was so entranced I hardly noticed. I fell in love with the movie then and there, and it’s been my favorite ever since.
I first read the book a few years later, which is decidedly different from the movie, much larger in scope and in depth of characterization, with many details that could not have been covered in the film version, both for length and subject matter. I loved Vivien Leigh’s portrayal of Scarlett and the courage she mustered through all hardships in the movie; in the book, Scarlett’s determination to make money might seem over the top but there is a great deal of character study regarding her morbid fear of going hungry and the nightmares she endured on a regular basis. There is much insight into Scarlett’s and Rhett’s respective family backgrounds, filling out many details and leaving the reader with the feeling of having known these characters very well.
There has been, of course, much criticism over the years regarding both the movie and the book due to its racial depictions and stereotyping (for that time period). There are passages of the book that are difficult to read without cringing. This is a part of our country’s history that we wish we could just ignore. But I see the book, in particular, less so the movie, as a feminist story, as the entire book is about Scarlett’s struggle to be her own woman, to defy convention with her thinking and business acumen and be a success. She was a woman way ahead of her time; these days she would have been the head of a major corporation. Unfortunately, by bucking the system proscribed for southern women of that time period, she alienated nearly everyone around her and ended up vastly unhappy and, of course, losing Rhett. He loved her independence and bright business ideas and was her stauchest supporter until her seeming lack of love for him simply wore him out, and he moved on.
There is no happy ending to this book. The two people who loved her most were gone; her husband left her, her best friend died. At the end, she is hopeful and wants to start over, but I feel because of her basic hard-driving personality and lack of insight into other people and their motives, happiness probably remains elusive for her. Toward the end of the book she finally seems to be beginning to understand herself a bit better, but I feel her entire life would have been a struggle, regardless of her external circumstances.
It’s just simply a fascinating book, and a landmark movie, and will always remain a favorite for me. If you’ve seen the movie and not read the book, do read it, as it will greatly enhance what you already know about the characters involved. Truly an American classic.