Monday, May 16, 2011

Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell

First published 1936, 1037 pages
The book tells a bigger than life love story with the American civil war in the background. Scarlett O’Hara is the 16 years old daughter of a successful planter in Georgia. Though the first words of the book state that she is not beautiful, seems like every man in her radius thinks differently. She is spoiled, surrounded by “beaux” (what a cute word for suitors) and her biggest problem is how to make her favorite beau fall for her without losing her current admirers. She lives the quiet, calm and rich life of an ante-bellum planter, lazy days full of fun. (That is, if you are white of course, someone has to work long hours under the sun and take care of the huge areas filled with cotton, to enable these luxurious life). This way of life cannot last long, and everything changes when the civil war starts. Scarlett and the other characters have to face circumstances they never imagined they’ll have to face before. Much of the book focuses on the way different people handle this abrupt change in the way of life. Who cynically uses it for profit. Who faces the changes fiercely, determined not only to survive them but also to get out of these hard times with the wealth and security that were lost, no matter what moral principles are abandoned. Who endures the changes nobly, with courage and determination, but without losing self, even if there is a price to pay. And who just can’t handle the change and face the new reality.
The historical part is described with details and comes to life. It is told from the point of view of the south, and that makes it an important document, because history is usually told by the winning side. Mitchell, an Atlanta native, had aunts that remembered the civil war. It is fascinating to read about the events from the south point of view, though it could be revolting at times. It was hard to read the point of view stating the slavery is justified, and that black people are better as slaves than as free people, because of their supposed limitations. I think it is important to read this point of view, because this is one of this places in history where one must ask oneself “what were they thinking?” and it is important to get the answer, hard as it is to read it.
But above all, like I wrote at the beginning, it is a huge love story. Though I am sure there isn’t anyone who hasn’t read the book or at least watched the movie, I will not spoil for those who managed to avoid both the book and the movie, and won’t go into details. I’ll just say in general that the book deals with the questions of what is love? Do we have to be similar to those we love or is it the mystery and the distance that fuel real love? Do we only love what we can’t get and what would happen when we do get it? Can the love of the body and the love of the mind be separated? I do not agree to all the answers the book gives to these questions, but it is fascinating and heart-touching to read it.
The book has lots of hard and heart breaking moment, both in the historical events and their consequences for the characters and also in the personal love and family stories. I cannot say it is a happy or a heart-lifting book. I usually prefer my books a little more optimistic, but it is so well written, and the characters so well developed, change and evolve, and understandable even in their worse behavior, that I still warmly recommend this book to anyone who managed to miss it, or read it a long time ago, perhaps at a younger age when not all aspect of the books can be appreciated.