Spoiler Warning: Characters described in detail, with a summary of the plot.
#GoneWithTheWind is an American #civilwar novel that chronicles the life of southerners before and after the war, through four main characters—Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Melanie Hamilton, and Ashley Wilkes. Before the war, the southerners were a mostly wealthy community, but one that practiced slavery. The American civil war changed this way of life forever and an entire civilization was “Gone with the Wind”. The book was made into a movie (trailer below) that was a box-office success.
Scarlett O’Hara: A beautiful, young, impetuous, southern girl, much pampered in her wealthy father’s household. She’s a compulsive and unscrupulous flirt. Then the civil war happens and everyone becomes equally impoverished. #ScarlettOHara now has a chance to find out if she has any genuine fire in her belly that will make her one of the few to rise again from abject poverty.
Rhett Butler: A maverick, #RhettButler is practical to the core and hates sentimentalists. He’s an absolute charmer when he wants to be. He’s in love with Scarlett, who is in love with someone else. He’s there by Scarlett’s side in the worst of times, but never openly declares his love for her, not even after they finally marry.
Melanie Hamilton: The girl who marries Ashley, (Ashley is Scarlett’s secret love). Scarlett hates #Melanie, but circumstances throw them together. Scarlett slowly grows to love Melanie’s quiet bravery and generous heart. Melanie loves Scarlett, her brother’s widow. She sees and hears no evil where Scarlett is concerned. Her steadfast loyalty slowly melts the hatred in Scarlett’s heart.
Ashley Wilkes: A suave, wealthy southern intellectual, and Scarlett’s first love. He loves and marries Melanie, but lusts for Scarlett. When the civil war is over, he finds that he cannot reconcile himself to the new world order, where slaves and masters are equal and all must struggle to make a living. His lack of drive puzzles Scarlett, who realizes only at the end of the book that she and #AshleyWilkes were never meant for each other, being as they are as different as chalk from cheese.
Gerald O’Hara: Scarlett’s short, bluff father. He has “the heart of a lion and the temper of a bee”. He is a self-made man. The genteel ladies of his house are his pride. Scarlett takes after her spirited and impetuous father.
Ellen O’Hara: Dignified, generous, efficient and calm, Ellen is the matriarch of the O’Hara household. Scarlett strives to be perfect in her eyes. Ellen is the quiet strength behind everyone in the family, and the only woman Scarlett loves.
Summary and Review
When I first read this novel years ago, I was in a rush to finish this humongous book. The haste, I now think, did not let me fully appreciate the book for what it is -- a fine study of human failings and courage. Thankfully, I re-read it recently. The book goes much beyond a staid study of that era. It delves into the failings and the heroic in ordinary people, with war as a backdrop and humor as the instrument.
At the start of the book, we are introduced to the main character -- #ScarlettO’Hara. Rich, capricious, and astonishingly savvy about making men dance to her tunes, this 16-year old is also very impulsive and un-analytical. A spoilt brat, she wants every man to love her. When her first love Ashley announces his engagement to Melanie, Scarlett is confused and from there starts a life that she never dreamed would belong to her. To make Ashley jealous, Scarlett gets married to the shy and very young Charles Hamilton (Melanie's brother). Then the war breaks out and Charles gets killed. Scarlett, already bewildered about her own hasty marriage, now finds herself a widow and the mother of the child of a man she barely knew.
#RhettButler, a maverick who enjoys spitting society in the face, knows that Scarlett is in love with Ashley and tries to make her see that the she and Ashley are not meant to be. But Scarlett clings to her notion that Ashley loves her and they will one day unite. In the meantime, the South is close to losing the war, and Scarlett is forced to flee back to her parents’ home. When she reaches there, she finds her mother dead, her father senile from the shock, her farm burnt by the Yankees, her slaves gone, her sisters gravely ill, nothing to eat and no money left. A grim battle to survive begins. She vows to never let go of her land, come what may. To this end, she even unscrupulously marries her sister’s fiancée, takes over his business and starts a greedy pursuit of money.
This is the early post-war time, where former slaves are have a need for vengeance on their former masters. The era sees the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, a gang supposedly meant to protect white women and children from the black community. The novel is deeply biased in some areas -- Scarlett is frequently shown thinking of her black workers as low in intelligence. But she is in tune with the period the novel is based in, when a lot of whites had disturbingly racist attitudes.
Scarlett’s second husband gets killed in a skirmish, and Rhett this time asks her to marry him before circumstances prevent it again. They marry and Scarlett starts indulging in the lavish and wild lifestyle she always wanted. She gives birth to her third child, her first from Rhett Butler. Butler adores the girl. Father and daughter are very close. In this time, however, the distance between Scarlett and Rhett increases as Rhett realises Scarlett still loves Ashley. Then one day, their daughter dies in a freak accident and Rhett is heart-broken. Scarlett cruelly blames him for her death, and this shocks him even more. He soon loses interest in living and grows more and more distant from Scarlett. Meanwhile, Melanie is dying. After her death, Scarlett realises that Ashley only loved Melanie all along, and that in pursuit of Ashley, she did not see that Rhett loved her and that she loved him. She tries to confess her feelings to Rhett. But he is far too disappointed now to revel in the confession. He tells Scarlett they can never be together again. When she asks what will become of her love for him, he nonchalantly tells her he doesn’t give a damn. This marks the end of the book, with Scarlett clutching to the hope that tomorrow is another day and she will once again win him back.
The book tellingly highlights some of the injustices of that era, especially the plight of blacks and even women in those times. Mitchell points out how a girl was expected to seem dependent and coy to win a man, and then had to suddenly become the epitome of efficiency after marriage, when she had to run a household of relatives and slaves.
However, the book has been written with a clear Southern bias. Mitchell talks about the different ways in which the South and the North looked at slaves: the North fights the war supposedly to free the slaves, but the Yankee/Northern officers and their wives won't have anything to do with blacks themselves and view them with suspicion. While the South, which employs slaves, trusts the blacks and knows them to be loving people. But Mitchell completely ignores the atrocities that were committed on the slaves by their Southern owners. She paints a rosy albeit feudal picture of a #South that employed black slaves, but seemingly treated them indulgently. The injustices the slaves had to endure have been completely glossed over.
These issues notwithstanding, Mitchell's wit and humor never fails to entertain, even as it brings about the pathos in a situation. Particularly, in the scene where the shallow Scarlett, very young and newly-widowed, longs to go out and party, but society's rules forbid it. So when she waves out to a merry group from her window and is reproached for it by her aunt, she gets into a wailing fit. Melanie and her aunt are contrite and think she is grieving for her husband and try to console her, but Scarlett wails out louder, frustrated that her sorrow at not being able to have a good time is being mistaken for a widow's pain!
After reading the novel, you find that the characters of Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley are all too human, with their penchant for making mistakes, being arrogant and being too weak, respectively. Scarlett is unscrupulous, but also an untiring soldier battling for herself and her family. Rhett is the arrogant, street-smart rogue, but he's also the man who loves and loses. Ashley is the philosopher who correctly understands his own failings and those of others around him, but is unable to overcome them. Melanie alone is the one with few vices. This is a volatile and heady novel, and also deeply satisfying - Mitchell’s perfect gift to the world.
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