Gone With the Wind – A Reading Journal, Part III

This post is a reading journal, and therefore contains pretty much nothing but spoilers. You have been warned.

If you do the right things for the wrong reasons, are you still a good person?

My oh my, part three has quite a lot going on, doesn’t it? As a short summary, it opens when the front lines are just reaching the boarder of Georgia. The inhabitants of Atlanta are still feeling confident at this point that they’ll never get any nearer the fighting than that, but within a few weeks the war is in their doorstep and people are fleeing for Macon. When Atlanta falls to Sherman’s army, Scarlett and Melanie barely escape, and were only able to do so with the help of Rhett Butler, who up and decides to join the army. Having to fend for herself for the first time in her life, Scarlett has to get herself, Melanie, Prissy, Wade, and Melanie’s new baby Beau all the way to Tara by herself while avoiding Yankee troops. Once there, she finds her mother dead, her father lost his mind, and her two sisters on sickbeds unable to contribute. The only lucky thing to have happened is stumbling across a cow on their way there, and having Dilcey in milk in order to nurse Melanie’s baby. At Tara, life isn’t much better, they are always on the brink of starvation, and in constant fear of yankee troops. They are also out of the way of any news and have no idea whether the fighting is still close or if it’s moved off away from the area. And of course, the part wraps up for the third time with a scene involving Ashley – this time, he is returning from prison camp.

I learned a lot in this section. Growing up in Colorado, which didn’t exist (as a state) during the time of the Civil War, we didn’t spend too long studying about it. Basically I knew there was a battle at Gettysburg, brother fought against brother, the Underground Railroad was a thing, slavery was abolished, and the south lost the war. It’s pretty pathetic really, my lack of education on the subject. I did not know that Atlanta was captured and essentially burned to the ground. I didn’t know that soldiers marched and fought while barefoot and starving to death. I didn’t know that the entire south was cut off from the world, unable to receive goods and supplies from anywhere else, which basically starved the whole confederacy. War is a terrible thing. A terrible terrible thing. 

I read another book as I read this called The Girl You Left Behind. It’s a novel by Jojo Moyes which describes in detail a fictional account of a family (all women and children since the men are off fighting) living in German occupied France during World War I. This made the atrocities of war in both books stand out even more than they would have on their own. Those were some somber days as I read them. I even had to set Gone With the Wind aside for awhile to get through some of the tougher passages about the suffering and wounded soldiers. I cannot possibly imagine living through that time. 

This leads me back to Scarlett. Our selfish Scarlett who resented every moment she spent tending to wounded and dying men. She seemed to hate them, and as I write this it occurs to me that I can’t blame her for that. I was just about to go on and on again about how selfish she is and how much I dislike her, but maybe it wasn’t just that. Yes, Scarlett is a selfish person and is upset about how life has changed so much from what she was raised to be a part of. But perhaps the soldiers served to remind her again and again that her old life is gone now, and slowly she was realizing unconsciously that it was never going to come back either. The relentlessness of the incoming wounded and dying must have been a painful reminder of that. I don’t think anyone would have been able to deal with it all fully. You would have to put out a mental block to keep yourself from thinking about it too hard, or you’d just go crazy with death all around, wouldn’t you? 

I marked one passage to that effect as I read:

“Gradually, Scarlett drew courage from the brave faces of her friends and from the merciful adjustment which nature makes when what cannot be cured must be endured.”

On another note, Melanie has continued to amaze me. She is by far the most sensible character and such a contrast to Scarlett. She does her duty and endures that which comes her way with no complaint. She’s a better woman than I, certainly. I was sure she would die in childbirth, but I’m glad she’s still around.

I’ve never enjoyed a book with such a dislikable main character before, it’s very strange. I’m waiting patiently for the ‘epic love story’ everyone goes on about…I am having a hard time picturing how Scarlett and Rhett will end up with a happy ending, but that’s part of the magic of a story I suppose. And maybe there isn’t a happy ending after all, I shall find out soon enough!

I’ve already started part four, I couldn’t stop reading after finishing three. Hopefully I’ll finish the book by the end of June – that is my goal! Stay tuned ;-)

E.

Gone With the Wind, A Reading Journal – Part II

[Please be aware this post is full of spoilers!]

It is difficult to know where to start with this entry, so much has happened in the second section of this novel…and yet it has ended in virtually the same place as the one before it. Scarlett, while she has been through many life altering events up to this point, remains fundamentally unchanged. It is almost annoying how she has not matured at all. Still, even after being married and widowed, after bearing a son, after tending to wounded confederate soldiers in Atlanta hospitals, she is more concerned with clothes and fancy hatsZ than anything else. She seems almost even more of a spoiled brat in this section because in these times when she is needed to work for ‘the Cause’, she does so only for pretenses, not for any actual desire to do good. She has no compassion whatsoever, which is going to be hard to forgive – she has a lot to make up for in order for me to respect her. She is so hung up on this ‘love’ of Ashley Wilkes that she constantly takes for granted the only person who seems to truly be her friend, Melanie. I put love in quotes because although Ashley is a very smart and honorable character who is easily loved, Scarlett only ‘loves’ him for how beautiful he looked one day after she’d not seen him for awhile (and probably most of all because she can’t have him) and not for his brain or heart, as she should do.

Melanie seems to be the only female character with any sense so far. She is everything Scarlett isn’t: compassionate, empathetic, smart. She tends to the soldiers and raises money for The Cause dutifully and with a sense of righteousness, even when it means she has to sacrifice something. Scarlett is horrible to her and Melanie believes it is because the loss of Charlie that makes her act so, well, bitchy. Her brother’s loss is so prominent in her own heart, and this makes me dislike Scarlett even more. Because Scarlett is so catty and attention grabbing, Melanie makes less of her own feelings because she feels it must be even worse for Scarlett having lost him as a husband than for her having lost him as a brother…and all the time Scarlett could care less. What kind of soulless person can have married a man, had his child, lived in the house he grew up in with his sister and aunt who raised him, and not feel even the slightest bit of sadness, or at least a bit of sympathy? I think this is the thing that bothers me the most about Scarlett.

I also feel that Scarlett is made to be less bright in this section. I thought in the beginning she was too preoccupied with herself to pay attention to things, but that she did really have reasoning skills. This section made me question whether she has the ability to reason at all. Unless it had to do with manipulating the feelings of a man, of course. When Scarlett reads the letters from Ashley, she doesn’t seem to understand what they mean. Is she really that dim, or is it because she just doesn’t have any interest in it? It must be a severe disinterest, since those are the only words from her ‘beloved’ that she has to read, so you would think she would hang on to every one of them. It’s a little confusing when she hears the things Rhett Butler says and goes on to call it common sense. Is it just that she has been so brainwashed by the southern culture that she doesn’t seem to understand his concepts very well? Perhaps. But maybe she’s just dim and requires everyone else to do the thinking for her.

Rhett Butler is also unlikeable, yet I like him much more than Scarlett. Although his motives are entirely monetary, he doesn’t seem like a bad person, just one who has learned the hard lesson that the only person you can depend on is yourself. He has given many gifts out of compassion (buying the satin for a wedding dress, and acquiring Melanie’s wedding ring back for her). He doesn’t care what people think of him, but that is ALL Scarlett cares about. As Rhett tries to make her see that the gossip doesn’t mean anything, it becomes a battle of ‘how much can I get away with as a widow in mourning without my mother finding out?’ for her. She is entirely selfish, although, so is he’s.

I also want to touch on the southern traditions and culture at play here. There were very strict rules of ‘proper’ conduct and when you acted outside of those expectations, you were at best gossiped about, and at worst, ruined. The ‘rules’ of mourning sound especially tough, and this is one area where I do feel sorry for Scarlett. Not that Scarlett is in grief, but people deal with it differently, and should be allowed to partake in whatever they feel comfortable doing to heal. It seems very silly to me to not allow someone to go to social events for YEARS. Especially girls who are widowed so young in times of war. Luckily Scarlett had Rhett Butler, who is maybe one of two people who truly know Scarlett’s true character (the other being her father Gerald), to help her be more herself and break down the social barriers a little bit. Reputation was everything in those days.

I am annoyed by Scarlett’s behavior towards the end of this part. Still believing that Ashley returns her love after he has spurned her again and again – how is it possible? She is blinding herself, making up her own reality and doesn’t even seem to realize she’s doing it. And beyond that, she is falling in love with Rhett, but is too stupid to actually realize that they are REAL feelings she is having towards Rhett, when her relationship with Ashley is actually a relationship with her own mind.

I do not know where the story will go from here. Already the war is almost over and I am only a quarter of the way through the book. I am skeptical that Scarlett will be able to redeem herself and become someone I can respect. I am infinitely curious to see what the catalyst could possibly be for so radical a change. Hopefully there will be some progress in Scarlett’s character in Part III.

E.

Gone With the Wind, A Reading Journal – Part 1

I’m not sure how I was talked into reading this book so suddenly and completely, given that the number of books I’ve finished with upwards of 700 pages I could probably count on one hand (and all read in some other format than a printed book at that…e-books and audiobooks). I jovially call it a curse that I can’t finish books with too many pages, but I think that the real issue has to do with pacing. Long books with slow pacing inevitably have boring stretches, and I don’t have enough self-discipline to make myself keep trudging through it when another book right next to it seems to be calling out to me to pick it up. A few of them I regret not finishing; The Three Musketeers I put down right at halfway through and Anna Karenina I quit with only a quarter left to read. So basically I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping that the momentum I have going with reading lately will help me push through the 1,000 pages of this novel. So far, I’d say it’s going well. Be warned, this is a reading journal and not a book review, so there will be spoilers ahead (through part 1).

I picked up my copy of Gone With the Wind from a thrift shop for probably only a dollar or two, simply because it’s a well known classic. It’s a beaten up mass market paperback that was printed in 1973 (the twenty third printing, apparently). The edges of the pages are a vibrant red, faded just a bit near the spine on either side, and if I’m not careful with it, the cover may not survive a full read through. This is not the type of book I am attracted to. In fact, when I was working on my bookshelves over the weekend the thought of donating it back to the thrift store crossed my mind before I sighed and tucked it back away with the other mass market paperbacks I own, hidden behind the door of a cabinet. I can at least read it first, I told myself. And so I put it on my newly revised classics club list, which I posted about later that day, and by the late afternoon, I had cracked the cover and started to read.

It was a comment conversation with Jillian from Of Cannons and Books that convinced me to read it. I believe it is her very favorite book. It is hard to resist a book when someone who loves it passionately is urging you to read it. Before two days ago, I didn’t know a single thing about Gone With the Wind except that there was a guy named Rhett in it, and it had been made into a film which also became a classic. What I learned from the brief exchange with Jillian is that Gone With the Wind is my favorite kind of book, a transformational one, a great coming-of-age story, or a bildungsroman, if you will. When I read her comments on it, it rang a bell of similarity to my favorite novel, Jane Eyre. Suddenly I wanted to read about this young girl who was enormously conceited at the beginning of the novel and grows and matures as the circumstances around her change. After all, that is everyone’s story, is it not? Growing up?

What I didn’t realize until I started reading was how conceited Scarlett O’Hara is. She’s a mean girl. She steals boyfriends just to say she’s done it, and gives a cold shoulder to the girl she’s stolen him from. As I read through all of part one I was more and more surprised at just how little she cared about how her actions were effecting those around her. It served her right to hear the other girls talking about how wicked she was behind a closed door. But then to go and marry the beaux of the girl who bad-mouthed her even though she was indifferent to him at best? That’s cold. Frozen, in fact. And yet, I had a phase of Scarlett O’Hara syndrome, just after high school, when my second boyfriend broke up with me. I wanted to be wanted, and by god I was. Looking back on that time in my life makes me feel guilty and terrible, but it was only a phase, and I still had a brain (and even though it’s made clear, especially in the beginning, that Scarlett hates books and school and doesn’t value education in the least, she also isn’t stupid. Stupid people aren’t good at scheming.). Mostly Scarlett’s story so far reminds me of middle school, when everyone is hormonal and moody and likes to feel like the one in charge or the popular one.

Although Scarlett couldn’t be bothered to listen to the boys when the subject of war came up, I find I’ve enjoyed the snip-its here and there mentioning it very much. And before I forget to mention it, I think the way it is weaved into the story when the main character has no interest whatever about it is very skillful. I tip my hat to Miss Mitchell. I know almost nothing about the civil war anymore, and that is another reason I was kind of intrigued to read this. I’m especially interested to see the perspective from the confederate’s side. Already I’ve learned quite a bit, which is probably a sad testament to my public education and should probably be embarrassing to admit. One thing I found interesting, for example, is that the slaves of the rich families were considered a higher class than the poor ‘white trash’ families who survived off of the charity of their neighbors.

It always seems odd to me how eager young men always seem to be to go to war. It’s easy to say it was stupid to be that way now I suppose, knowing how bloody the Civil War turned out to be. But I do not doubt that the scenes depicted in the novel were not so different than what truly happened in some communities. I liked the passage where Mr. McRae spoke about war. “You all don’t know what war is. You think it’s riding a pretty horse and having the girls throw flowers at you and coming home a hero. Well, it ain’t. No, Sir! It’s going hungry, and getting the measles and pneumonia from sleeping in the wet.” …Not to mention death and entire fields soaked with blood and all for what? One scene from the trailer Jillian shared with me was of Scarlett walking through a field of dead and wounded men from the war. What a powerful image. It sounds weird to phrase it this way but I’m tired and can’t think of the true sentiment I’m trying to convey, but I’m really excited to read the bits about the war going forward. One of my other favorite novels, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is an incredible novel about recovering from WWII in England. I guess I’m hoping for a little bit of that as well.

It’s getting late now, and I was hoping to finish this quickly so I could start part two tonight, but if I don’t get some sleep now I’m going to regret it in the morning! Thank you, Jillian, for convincing me to start this novel. I think I’m going to like it very much :-)

Goodnight!
E.