Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reaction: Gone with the Wind

SPOILER ALERT - I am going to discuss the plot freely, presuming you have read the book &/or seen the movie. If this is not the case, and you don't want surprises spoiled, stop reading now.

I picked up Gone with the Wind at an estate sale a few weeks ago. I'd never seen the movie before, but had heard wildly positive recommendations, and it was $5. I didn't just start reading it; I started devouring it. I read from it every single night, even when my mom was visiting. For every day when I read 20pgs, there was another when I read 200pgs. I even found myself going about my normal day, and applying to my life advice given by one character to another. I LOVED reading that book, and I looked forward each night to returning to these beloved characters, often staying up far too late just to keep reading.

But toward the last few hundred pages, I began to fear that there wasn't space left for Mitchell to wrap things up nicely and return the book to its former glory. As I read, I felt only anxiety - some sadness, but mostly just anxiety, just a feeling that something wasn't right. The sort of feeling where you just expect things to get better... and then they just didn't. I didn't cry much (which is very unlike me). When I finished the book, I spent the next few hours in a daze. That's it? I found myself wondering again and again. That's really it? It just didn't seem like enough. I'd loved the book for the first thousand plus pages, but now... ?

She certainly stopped at a stopping point, with some issues resolved and others opened new. There was growth in some characters - certainly Ashley, and arguably Scarlett (though it's just as arguable that she didn't learn any lessons from her flashes of understanding). And Mitchell had to stop the book somewhere; for goodness' sake, it was already 1500 pages long! But I was still unsatisfied. Unsettled. I was not pleased with Ms. Mitchell, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why.

Until I found the lynchpin: Rhett. One of my favorite characters from the whole novel, and she just abandoned him, a mere shell of a man. Of course he doesn't love Scarlett; he has no feelings left! The death of his daughter, whom he loved more than life itself, compounded by his own guilt about it and years of unrequited love selflessly delivered? Of course he's not himself! Isn't it obvious that he's spiralling deeper and deeper into depression? And pushing Scarlett away is just another hopeless rejection of someone who might help him?

They say that one of the major themes of this book is survivors - some people can survive through anything, and others just kind of float through life. Certainly Rhett is a survivor type, as is Scarlett. But to our knowledge, he's never faced a tragedy like this before. Rhett can survive any external problem; he's shown that very clearly. But this is an internal problem, an emotional problem. Sure, Rhett can read other people's emotions clear as day. But does he know how to deal with his own? I fear not, and I'll never know. I fear that the Rhett I grew to love is gone forever, lost in grief - not as dramatically as Gerald had, but as completely - and just as after the death of a loved one with an illness, I will have to rewrite the recent memories over time and replace them with the old vibrant ones, which is always doable but sad.

And Scarlett, whose own chance at real love - that intense, surreal moment when she and Rhett loved only each other and knew it and wanted the other to know it - she sabotaged it by her fear, her need for control, and her consequent insistence on playing games with her beloved instead of being vulnerable and honest with him (admittedly, his fear and consequent games and lack of honesty helped much, too). And what does she do at the end but return to the very games she's played all her life? How does she cope but to do precisely the one thing Rhett most strongly refused: she plans to try and win him, just as she tried Ashley.

I know that happy endings can be imagined, particularly in light of his devotion to the children. And I did like the book, and would absolutely recommend it. I look forward to watching the movie. But I can't help but feel disappointed that Mitchell has left us in a place where all our most beloved characters are either dead, utterly desolate, or - in Scarlett's case - a damned fool.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this: what a great analysis.

    I first read GWTW back in 6th grade, in less than two weeks: I too was utterly enraptured by the characters and the romance. I used to read it every year until college when the tragedy(and probably a deeper understanding of it) became too poignant. Still, I love the book and always will.

    ...if you are looking for a crappy but happy sequel, there is one oh-so-imaginatively titled Scarlett. Be warned though: it is very much in the line of a Danielle Steele. I probably should have known better...but hey, I was young.

    PS: Did you know that Mitchell originally intended to name Scarlett "Pansy"? It wasn't until the FINAL draft that she renamed her Scarlett. I went to Margaret Mitchell's house in Atlanta a couple of years ago:


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