Literature Commentary: Gone with the Wind

26 Feb

The name immediately evokes visions of the antebellum South, and of Scarlett O’Hara boldly declaring “I’ll never be hungry again!” For many Americans, Margaret Mitchell’s classic historical novel of the Civil War is inextricably linked to the epic 1939 film starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. In both its paper and celluloid forms, it’s a story of love, war, decadence, and tragedy, as millions of viewers and readers have come to learn. After a fellow literature lover suggested I read the full novel, I promptly checked it out from the library.

“Gone with the Wind” is the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a flirtatious Southern belle with a consuming “love” for the seemingly unattainable Ashley Wilkes. But before she can put her romantic plans into action, the Civil War comes knocking on her doorstep. In a matter of months, she is forced to watch as her home and country come crashing down around her, thanks to Union General Sherman’s invasion of Georgia. Desperately trying to save her plantation, Tara, Scarlett hardens physically and emotionally – embracing a cold pragmatism that seems to offer dim hope for the future.

But “Gone with the Wind” isn’t just a history textbook – at its heart, it’s a story about people and their motivations. Throughout the course of the novel, Scarlett’s unreasonable passion for Ashley is offset by depictions of the true, sincere love between Ashley and his wife Melanie. And of course there’s the romantic scoundrel Rhett Butler, the one man who truly loves Scarlett for who she is…and the one man who eventually refuses to submit to her.

From a stylistic standpoint, it’s a masterful, sweeping epic that manages to balance romance and historical drama without coming off as hackneyed. Author Mitchell’s prose clips along at a rapid pace that never feels dull or sluggish. Despite the length of the novel (my unabridged version topped out at 1035 pages), “Gone with the Wind” doesn’t lag. (For the record, the movie adaptation is, for the most part, quite faithful to the book – but the book is definitely better.)

“Gone with the Wind” is told entirely from Scarlett’s viewpoint – a narrative choice that allows the reader to more effectively understand her motivations. Several cringe-worthy moments throughout the story leave one wishing they could warn Scarlett where her destructive behavior is leading…and the theme of actions breeding consequences is fully developed throughout. Scarlett’s single-minded pursuit of hedonistic self-interest leads to her alienation from respectable society – but there’s still a small element of reader sympathy that persists throughout the book, even during her worst periods. In this sense, “Gone with the Wind” is quite effective – it doesn’t portray her as a greedy, self-centered monster, but rather as a hardened spirit in need of redemption. (Whether or not that redemption ever takes place is an interesting question, and one that many readers and authors have tried to answer.)

The emotional core of the story is the love triangle between Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley. Scarlett is obsessed with Ashley for the sole reason that she cannot have him. Moreover, he represents the lost ideal of the Southern gentleman – a sort of bewildered knight left behind by an evolving world. Sharply contrasting with Ashley is the dynamic Rhett – a scalawag who’s willing to do anything to survive. In this respect, he and Scarlett are evenly matched. They’re both determined to prevail against seemingly unbearable odds, and are willing to sacrifice principles in order to do so. Scarlett is obviously more compatible with Rhett, and by the end of the book realizes it…but her revelation comes too late.

From a worldview standpoint, there are some interesting aspects to “Gone with the Wind.” Early on, Scarlett expresses a longing for the quiet, serene faith of her deceased mother – but rapidly proceeds to behave in a completely different manner. Several times during the story, she expresses a brief interest in religion (primarily as a means of self-preservation…she fears that her actions will lead to eternal damnation). Whether or not she truly repents and reforms by the end of the book is left unclear.

So should you read it?

There’s a reason for this book’s enduring popularity. “Gone with the Wind” is a masterpiece of American literature, and highly recommended to readers of Civil War fiction or those who enjoy historical drama. While it’s undeniably a long book, its swift pacing, powerful characters, and insightful observations on human nature make it well worth your time.

A must-read for students of American literature.


Posted by on February 26, 2010 in Classic


5 responses to “Literature Commentary: Gone with the Wind

  1. Lee

    April 21, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    It’s not a bad novel. There are periods – especially in the novel’s first half – in which it seems brilliant. But . . . this novel needed some serious editing.

    • Victover

      September 15, 2013 at 8:48 am

      Disagree – Agree:

      – This is a great novel so rich both in the ways of portrayings the complexities of a human society with a lot of main characters and their particular ways of thinking and expression. Disecting it to the level of distinctibly show all of them in different momentos of their lives brutally shaken by the war and its consequences.
      Building up characters as Scarlett, Rhett Buttler, Mammy, Melanie and their peculiarities, especially the first two of them and their verbal fencings and abuses and its develpment over time, the stinging intellectual/cinical/philosophical ironies and sarcams as opossed to the limited intellect paired with the strength and determination of Scarlett character it was nothing but real genius, as it was M Mitchell abbilities to set them all on a stage whith the historical elements.
      The same must be said about the perfect amount of pride, nonsense, pain, tragedy, humor, sorrow, racisms, nostalgia and resignation displayed all over whenever necessary.

      – It’s not possible to understand how this book came out with so much of an editorial shortcommings that in one word could have spoiled the whole project were it not for the quality of the remaining text: Half of it about miseries, hunger, fear, Yankees horrors could be eliminated w/o real effects on the book. A mere 3% of the words scoundrels, carpetbaggers, scallawags would have made the point. About the same could be said about the many times Rhett and Scarflett were autcast for all their many particular ways of doing stuff

  2. Elaine Eggerding

    June 15, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    This review was succinct and very much to the point. I’m going to tell a few of my friends about your blog.

    Can’t help but visualize Carol Burnett coming down the stairs with the green draperies literally on her shoulders

  3. Tori

    February 15, 2012 at 11:44 am

    It also is not all in Scarletts view point. In the first chapter the Tarleton boys leave and the viewpoint switches for a small amount of time.

  4. Marie

    February 15, 2012 at 11:48 am

    The novel is written in an omniscient view point, primarily from Scarlett’s perspective, but switching to the view of Rhett, Melanie, or Ashley whenever a part of the story where Scarlett is absent needs explaining. The sections about the war are in an objective third point, clearly the voice of the narrator as she explains things the characters would not have known.


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