Georgia on My Mind

 

I first read Gone with the Wind when I was sixteen and have reread it twice as an adult. I was totally captivated that first time, but later on I agreed with Margaret Mitchell that she was (I’m paraphrasing here) “no great author.” She did, however, have incomparable skills as a storyteller, an opinion shared with F. Scott Fitzgerald who said he lost the 1937 Pulitzer to Mitchell because of her “splendid narrative.” Indeed, few books offer such pure escapism and are so compulsively readable. It is a richly served story of the human will to survive told via a Georgia woman caught in the crosshairs of the Civil War.

The book’s premise is deceptively simple and certainly nothing new. Girl meets boy and girl loses boy, and in between Scarlett O’Hara throws hissy fits, Atlanta burns and the old Confederacy is, well, gone with the wind. Mitchell not only managed to make it all unforgettable but did so with a heroine who wasn’t especially appealing. Sure, Scarlett was bitchy and fun, but what made her matter was a determination to beat incredible odds and protect friends and family along the way. Mostly she wanted to be a lady like her genteel Savannah-born mother Ellen, but real life got in the way. When a Yankee deserter threatened her beloved Tara, instead of getting the vapors, Scarlett shot the s.o.b. right between the eyes.

Mitchell also ended her book with arguably the biggest cliff hanger in modern fiction. After Rhett Butler walked out, did Scarlett get him back? The author always insisted she didn’t know, but I recently uncovered a 1945 interview in which Mitchell dropped a bit of a hint. “Rhett may have found someone else who was less…difficult.”

As with all mega-successes, the book has its detractors. Accusations of racism are bemusing since the narrative accurately reflects attitudes of mid-nineteenth century Southerners and should be viewed in context. As for inaccuracies regarding Reconstruction, Mitchell can hardly be blamed for ignorance of what historians did not acknowledge until many years later. Attacks on the author’s personal views on race are even more ludicrous as she quietly donated thousands of scholarship dollars to Morehouse College, an African-American institution in Atlanta, and was cited by them for her generous, behind-the-scenes civil rights work. Those misguided souls who want to ban the book are keeping company with the Nazis, albeit for different reasons. The Third Reich suppressed it because they believed it inspired the French resistance by giving people hope for survival. They also despised Scarlett’s pacifist views. War, she said, was a “nuisance that killed men senselessly.”

Vilification notwithstanding, nothing will change the fact that Gone with the Wind remains the most read book after the Bible, has been translated into over 40 languages and sold over 30 million copies, and counting. It was also made into a pretty dandy movie, but, boy, is that another story! If people choose to shun the book, that’s their prerogative. Frankly, I don’t give a damn.

 

2 Comments

  1. jeanne jackson
    Jul 27, 2014

    Interesting look at Margaret Mitchell, her style of story telling and her attitude and knowledge of events based on historical reality during her time.
    This is my daughter Jess’s favorite novel, she would come home from college and read this through without stopping every summer.
    (friend in Fawn Lake)

    • Jeanie
      Feb 6, 2015

      Gone With The Wind will always hold a warm spot in my heart.
      And don’t get me started on the movie. Everything about it
      was wonderful. Considering it was 1939 long before CGI, the
      special effects were amazing not to mention the costumes, sets,etc.
      I’ve read the book 3 times and collect GWTW memorabilia. Just wonder where Herb Bridges large collection has gone since his passing.

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