This book was epic. Once again, I was conflicted about giving it a 4 or a 5 on Good Reads. As with before, the deciding factor was if I would reread it again. I wouldn’t be against reading it, but then again, I’m not planning on it. It was frustrating and very long at times, but there is no doubt that this is a well written book in many ways and a classic.
I started reading this book September 20th, but I really didn’t read much of it until the last weekend of September wherein I read 70% of the book from Saturday to Tuesday October 2nd.
The Beginning: Not that bad, easy going, lots of exposition, lots of idyllic life of the antebellum South.
The Middle: Gripping, dark, and compelling. This was when I started to really hit my next page button.
The End: Scarlett gets more and more cruel, ridiculous and unbearable. Book just ends a bit abruptly.
The bulk of this novel was the characters. At least it was to me. While it is definitely one of the better historical novels I’ve ever read, Mitchell focuses a lot of the energy of the novel on its people.
I will start off with the historical aspects.
The racial issue was one of the reasons I didn’t really want to read this book for the longest time. It wasn’t that bad, but the writing of the dialogue was annoying to read though.
I did find it fascinating the strange relationship between those who are owned and those who own. In a similar way, the recent bestseller The Help explores this too. This relationship where slaves or African Americans serve and love these white children and the other way around. Even though Scarlett is cruel to everyone, she is notably less cruel to her slaves and those blacks whom she considers to be part of her family.
The book did get more racist as the war and the book progressed. Mitchell writes so much from her characters point of view, that indeed, I could see how Scarlett and Atalanta thought of things. I didn’t believe or agree with their view of things because they are ignorant. I wondered how much of it was Mitchell actually showing her own prejudice and ignorance on the situation. She does does downplay the role of the KKK in the book and the atrocities. Frankly, some of the views about African-Americans are discomforting, but probably realistic to that time and place. Mitchell herself notes how racist the Yankees are as well even though they ‘freed’ the slaves.
The book as a portrait of the Civil War is incredible. I have done a lot of history work in the past, but not American history so I can not say how accurate any of it was. I do think that it offers some perspectives on the war, but not necessarily the whole of it. I don’t mean it lacks the Yankee point of view; it may not encompass all of the Southern experience of the war and post-war though probably covers most of it.
I generally liked reading about all the characters. All of them are very well defined. Early on, you got a sense of each of them right away and knew who exactly they were to the extent that it doesn’t surprise you. I think Mitchell deftly painted them.
Scarlett and I are opposites. She is not interested in the things I would be and she is the least introspective person. She is not a person that I would ever be friends with or have patience in real life, but she is entertaining to read about for some of the book any way. I read that originally, Scarlett’s name was suppose to be Pansy O’Hara which really doesn’t have the same ring or forcefulness that Scarlett does. I think she can be compelling and strong, but she lacks empathy for others. She is not a sociopath, but she does have narcissistic tendencies which get worse and worse as the book progresses. In the beginning, I was almost amused by her. Rhett calls her a child towards the end of the book, and indeed, this is how I saw Scarlett for most of the book which is probably why I couldn’t really hate her. She seems to be stuck in this mode of not knowing or understanding things about others. She can be malicious and is, but it’s as if, she really doesn’t know what she’s doing sometimes. That doesn’t make what she does anymore right, but she has a handicap in analysing the world and herself. Also, she is really slow and not always intelligent about people or herself.
I was annoyed with Scarlett for some of the book, but it didn’t bother me until Part 4 and Part 5. The way she runs her business is horrible. I couldn’t agree with the part about convicts labour and her bully foreman. Also, when she got more money, she got even more greedy and arrogant. I really wish she would shut up and honestly, she doesn’t really learn anything until like the last 2% of the book. Her personality and how she treats children, convicts and everyone just says that she is a narcissist.
Scarlett’s love for Ashley is childlish or rather, a projection and even an extension of Scarlett’s own admiration for her mother. She loves and admires both Ashley and her mother in a similar way. She wants to be like them or understand them, but ultimately she isn’t. She doesn’t even understand why she reverently loves them the way she does either.
I do think Ashley is flawed, but he gets some of the best lines in the novel. At one point towards the end of the book, he tells Scarlett that all he wants is to be himself. Scarlett doesn’t understand since all she wants is to be rich.
Scarlett sees from an early age how she is not like her mother at all, but clings on and wants to be a great lady like Ellen. Similarly, she loves Ashley because he is not like her either or rather, he doesn’t think like her. Scarlett is shallow and like many shallow people, she does not truly like herself so she tries to attach onto people whom she thinks will make her better because perhaps, their love will transform her. Similarly, when Scarlett realizes how much Melanie means to her, and how Melanie is the one she should have consciously admired all those years. I do like the strange relationship between Melanie and Scarlett. They each gave the other strength, and at least Scarlett finally acknowledges how much Melanie means to her.
I liked Melanie. How can anyone dislike Melanie really, but at the same time, I did find her a bit too perfect at times. Everyone in the book loves Melanie. Melanie is almost without flaws. While she is physically weak, she is the moral compass in this book many ways.
As for Ashley and Rhett, they too are similar and Ashley even points it out. I wasn’t really shipping any of the characters though I do think the main married couples were suited to each other. I would share more interests with Ashley, but I do like Rhett’s style. If you mix them both together, you’d get a very balanced sort of man actually. Same with Melanie and Scarlett. It’s as if all four of them are points on a compass. Ashley could be the distant North point, Scarlett the warm East, Rhett the hot South, and Melanie the dusky, quiet West. All of them are connected to each other too.
The ending felt a bit abrupt. It is an epic novel, and so much has happened, but the deaths that happen at the end are not surprising. After many trials and tragedies, Scarlett finally begins to have some sort of self-understanding and conscience about things. It took too long and was too late in the end. The ending is a bit frustrating for the reader because it just ends there and then. It makes you really wonder what Scarlett’s life was like post-GWTW.
I first saw the movie in my adolescence during my height of my classic movie consumption. I remembered finding it a fine, long, but a decent movie.
When reading the book, I found it easy to imagine Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. She really does have that wild look (which is why they cast her) and a beautiful face. I also think they did a good job of casting Rhett too as Clark Gable does look swarthy and like a pirate (he played one in another movie I think). In general, I think they did a great job at casting. I was less appreciative of Leslie Howard as Ashley though, but it may have been his age and he was very reserved, even for Ashley. I read that Leigh and Howard did not get along and it shows because there is almost no chemistry between them on screen. I found that was the case when I watched it years ago, and even more so now. While Ashley and Scarlett do not have the passion in the books, there is a tenderness and care at least. There wasn’t much of that in the movie; their scenes felt a tad forced.
Even though the movie is over three hours long, it goes at breakneck speed compared to the book. They changed many things of course, but most of the changes didn’t bother me except when Melanie gave her ring first rather than Scarlett at the bazaar.
The movie looked good and it is always interesting to watch a movie when special effects were actually special. The wardrobe is great. Not only Scarlett’s wardrobe, but I adored the things they put on Clark Gable. I do love menswear and he wears the hell out of his suits.
Gable’s Rhett is more flippant and less mocking, and he’s sort of more perfect than the book Rhett. He is almost the narrator of the movie at times. He does make a very excellent romantic hero, but is just a tad less nuanced than the book version.
I definitely think the movie has its moments and is part of classic film history. It’s worthwhile to give it a shot if you really like the book.
Read on the Kindle from September 20th to October 2nd, 2012. Review written in October, but posted in November for the Gone With the Wind Readadlong.