Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Classics Club 11: Gone With the Wind

Gone with the Wind is an epic, sometimes melodramatic, saga by Margaret Mitchell. At its centre is Scarlett O'Hara - a memorable but flawed heroine if ever there was one. The story opens in idyllic splendour typical of the antebellum South (typical for the planter aristocracy that it) where Scarlett is enjoying wooing all the young men she can, while still believing that she will end up with her favourite Ashley Wilkes. However, Ashley announces his engagement to Melanie Hamilton. Thwarted love is soon the least of Scarlett's problems as Civil War and the Reconstruction intervene to forever alter the South and the only way of life Scarlett has ever known . Set amongst this is Scarlett's personal turmoil - three marriages, the deaths of both her parents, two of her husbands and her beloved youngest daughter - not to mention those of many young men of her acquaintance, her enduring and illicit love for Ashley Wilkes, and her tempestuous relationship with Rhett Butler.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel for me was the way that Scarlett's flawed character was both her greatest strength and her greatest weakness.  The ability to act outside of the stereotype of the Southern belle definitely saved her and her family when times were at their worst, and yet the refusal to pay even lip service to that stereotype cost her many relationships. She was determined to never be poor again, but clearly she only considered poverty in monetary terms. By the end of the novel she was monetarily rich but had no one to love or even like her. Rhett once told her that she didn't understand people and it's true. But, at least until the end of the novel, she had no desire to understand or consider others at all. Even when her conscience told her she was acting unwisely, unkindly or unjustly she ignored it, telling herself that "tomorrow is another day". In the end her selfishness, manipulation and inability or unwillingness to moderate her behaviour even a little had cost her and those she claimed to care about, dearly.

If one of the characteristics of a classic is that it can teach us lessons in how to live a good life then Gone With the Wind, through the negative example of Scarlett O'Hara, while not a perfect novel and not as erudite as many, is definitely still a classic.

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