publication date: 1936
I’m sure many of you have heard of this book, with its legacy both famous and infamous. Because of this book’s controversial ideals and themes, I could just as easily give it a rating of “2/6: many problems” or “5/6: seek this book out.”
I’ll begin by discussing some of the problems (and there are a lot of them). The treatment of the black characters in this book is abominable. The book is set in the American South in the 1860s and 70s; accordingly, every black character is or was a slave. Mitchell’s attitude toward her black characters was one of patronizing condescension. She implied several times that black people needed a system like slavery because they didn’t have enough initiative to exist otherwise. Related to Mitchell’s attitudes about black people was her attitude about the South. In her mind, the pre-war South was an Eden that was destroyed by hateful Yankees. These are the type of ideas that are not only stupid, but harmful.
Notwithstanding all the book’s problems, I’m glad I read it. First of all, it is part of the American cultural conversation, similar to Huckleberry Finn. Additionally, this book is a classic for a reason. Mitchell has written a sweeping, forceful epic. Gone With the Wind spans several years, dozens of characters, and societal and personal upheaval. She wrote all this without being confusing or plodding. Mitchell excelled at catching humanity in almost all its forms: the book rendered scenes of horror and love, bewilderment and ruthlessness, betrayal and naivete. When the characters weren’t running around saying ridiculous things about black people and states’ rights, I acutely felt their emotions and circumstances. Moreover, the book contained one of the best marriage proposals of all time. The scene was witty, winsome, and hilarious. At one point, the proposer says (out loud!):
I’m going away tomorrow for a long time and I fear that if I wait till I return you’ll have married some one else with a little money. So I thought, why not me and my money? Really, Scarlett, I can’t go all my life, waiting to catch you between husbands.
I don’t know if I would recommend this book. I was conflicted as a read it. However, parts of it are enjoyable and it might be a worthwhile read if you can overlook the societal ills perpetuated within the book and within the ranks of its readers.
3/6: more good than bad