Gone with the Wind
6/10: Okay la. Upon being recommended to watch the movie, and finding out that the movie was released in 1939 and has a runtime of almost 4 hours.
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is a bildungsroman centering on a southern belle named Scarlett O’Hara, against the backdrop of the American Civil War and its aftereffects. The novel commences with Scarlett charming men on a plantation in the south named Tara, concerned and incensed because one of her former suitors is engaged to someone else. Then the war breaks out, and all hell breaks loose. The war is devastating for the southerners, and while fighting for her life, Scarlett finds herself as an woman.
M recommended the movie as one of her all-time favourites. I normally read the screenplay of any movies in black and white because I can’t stand the pacing, but there was a book to this movie this time around. Maybe I will still read the screenplay, as the film did win Best Screenplay at the 12th Academy Awards. Or watch the movie as the film did also win 8 other categories.
For me, the characters often drive the novel. By extension, a character development arc is always welcomed, and Mitchell matures Scarlett to perfection. She starts off as a coddled Southern belle, very much in her milieu, and her milieu accepts her. She toys with men, and knows exactly what to do to get them bothered. Scarlett is suddenly spurred onto adulthood when spurned by a former beau, Ashley Wilkes, who marries Melanie Hamilton. As revenge (I can’t imagine why), she marries Melanie’s brother, Charlie, who promptly dies when the Civil War breaks out. Southern convention forces her to wear black, and forbids her from conversing with unmarried young men. She spends most of this time moping and complaining, showing none of the spiritedness that she showed as a debutante.
It is only when the war worsens, and she must bring her entourage from where she is staying in Atlanta to her home in Tara, some 20 miles, across battle lines. When she gets to Tara, her mother is dead, and her father has lost his mind with grief. It is during this time, fighting for her own life, fighting for the lives of the ones around her, and fighting for Tara that she becomes the fierce heroine of the story. Her father is still there, as are some other men, but it’s clear to everyone that she’s in charge.
The novel follows Scarlett through 3 husbands, 3 children, and 10 years, but it is at this point, at the arrival of the second husband, that I feel like Scarlett’s character development ends. The training montage is over. The rest of it is her fight. This is much more satisfying than I find most bildungsroman because it’s entertaining to watch Scarlett in her element once again. Scarlett is in effect, a ‘boss bitch’, running Atlanta on her own wits. She is still challenged, and has self doubts, but doesn’t really change as a person until the very end of the novel. It is only when Melanie dies and the love of Scarlett’s life leaves her that she realized that the loved them back, her final piece of growth.
I’m not proud, but I’m reasonably well-versed in the “manosphere”, used here to reference the body of thought containing “incel” and “red pill” dogma. I’m not going to go into depth about the ideology, or my thoughts about it, but will say that the media attention is deserved, and so is the negative press. However, Scarlett O’Hara represents everything that these communities believe is wrong with women and the modern world. She sets men against one another. She marries men for their money. She is in love with one man who proves to be ineffectual in a post-war society, but is still attracted to him. She is manipulative. And of course, the worst offense of all, she ends up falling in love with the bad boy of the story, the dark, brooding, undeniably alpha Rhett Butler. It is also the ultimate fantasy and poetic justice that she gets just what she deserves; after toying with the affection and ruining the lives of all of these men, her alpha rapes her, and leaves her with her brood, alone and growing old.
That was one of the first things that came to mind as I was reading Gone with the Wind. That incels would absolutely hate it. This would obviously miss the entire point of the novel, and why I think it’s such an effective feminist piece. In the pre-war society, women are put on a pedestal and living idyllic lives. This illusion is broken when the war breaks out, and it becomes obvious that the cultural mores are no more than restrictions on a woman’s freedom. When Scarlett and Melanie were truly in need, there was no one there for them, and they were also unable to do anything to advance their position, because it was unseemly for women of their stature to do so. When Scarlett becomes better at running a business than her second husband, she is still restricted from doing so. It is frowned upon, because she is a woman. In every place that she is successful, it is because she flouts what is expected of her, and the reader cheers her on, every step of the way. A true Randian hero. Despite the odds, and what people think, she makes it. I love stories where it’s easy to get behind the protagonist, and root for them all the way through; the real world is harsh enough as is, and some romance after a long day is pleasant.
It would have been perfect feminist novel, except for the questionable marital rape scene, where her husband, bad boy Rhett Butler, rapes her and it seems that she enjoyed it. Oh, and the problem of racism too. Gone with the Wind sympathies with the South in the Civil War from the point of historical inaccuracies to the point of outright lies. Black Southern slaves are happy with their subjugation, and wouldn’t know what else to do. The Ku Klux Klan is a gentlemanly group of Southerners, fighting for the honour and dignity of their womenfolk. The Northerners are the real racists, shuddering when Scarlett claims her black slave driver is a part of her family. Thankfully, there were no slaves cheering the Klan on during the lynchings.
Because of this, Gone with the Wind is also the perfect demonstration of the need for intersectionality. Although it undeniably a feminist novel aside from the rape fantasy, it is not for all females. This underlines the struggle that people who check more than one oppressed box must face when searching for a voice to identify with. Black women are forgotten in many women’s rights movements. Gay minorities are alienated from both their potentially homophobic minority groups as well as their potentially racist gay communities. And Gone with the Wind demonstrates perfectly how a piece that empowers women, might only empower the privileged white women and not her slaves.
I’m getting pretty preachy here, but this book was quite loaded. I’m a big advocate for the reader’s interpretation of a book being king (or queen). I was horrified when I found out that Orson Scott Card and Roald Dahl were anti-Semites. But that’s not present any of their works, and I continue to read them. Even C. S. Lewis’ Narnia series I loved; on a re-read, the it’s impossible to miss the religious symbolism, but as I don’t think children were indoctrinated, I’m fine with it. The rape scene in Gone with the Wind on the other hand, is questionable at best. And the racism is blatant and explicit.
It’s evident to the modern reader that Gone with the Wind is problematic. Should it be excused as a by-product of its time, and still be called a good novel? I would address this issue with the same understanding as earlier, that the reader’s interpretation of the novel is king. If someone agrees with the racist and pro-rape overtones present, they should carry on reading it, and I have nothing more to say. Or, if for someone the characterization and plot somehow made up for the unacceptable parts of the novel, I would encourage them to like it. I personally enjoyed the story immensely, but found that as hard as I might try, the racist overtones shadowed much of its light. I think that this is an important book to read, and I would still recommend it to other people. So long as the others were aware of the historical inaccuracies, and I could trust them not to be swayed by the racism. So long as the others would realize that this book could be published in 1936 as a national bestseller and be turned into, what is still, the highest grossing movie of all time.
Gone with the Wind is a racist book. But I can’t deny that I sympathized with some parts of Scarlett. I can’t deny that in her, I see some of my closer friends. And that I hope my daughter turns out to be like her. By that time, I hope that all of the contentious issues discussed will no longer be relevant. After all, tomorrow is another day.