On May 3rd, 1937, more than 76 years ago, Margaret Mitchell won the Pulitzer
Prize for Fiction for her epic Gone With the Wind. 76 years later, GWTW is still a powerful book, read anew by readers young and old.
My husband had recommended for a long time that I read GWTW, and it was on my to-read list for some time. We had distractedly watched the first half of the movie sometime in spring 2010, but I did not start reading the book until April 2011 for our Classics Club here at the library.
GWTW can appear to be a daunting book for those who do not typically read lengthy tomes. But from that opening page, when we are introduced to the indomitable Scarlett, on her way to a party, and we are drawn into a world we will never want to leave, or stop reading.
Oh, Scarlett, Scarlett. Some who have read the book or seen the movie, simply “can’t stand Scarlett.” Well, that’s the point. We are not meant to like Scarlett. She’s perhaps literature’s most misunderstood character. When we first meet Scarlett, she is an impetuous 16 year old lusting after Ashley and looking for excitement. Scarlett stumbles on her journey, making terrible choices, wrong decisions, and sometimes ruining the lives of others (and sometimes purposely). She can be annoying, manipulative, and deceiving. But Scarlett at her core loves her home and her family. By the end, Scarlett has realized how her foibles have affected others. She has lost everything.
My husband has rightly pointed out that Scarlett is representative of “the Old South” before the Civil War. The South had to lose everything in the war, including some of that impetuousness like Scarlett has, before they can learn from their mistakes and rebuild. Scarlett is torn down, lost everything, just like the South was during the Civil War, but together the two can start anew.
We rewatched GWTW while I was reading it for Classics Club, and I’ll never forget the ending. I had not reached that part in the book yet, and I yelled at the tv. “What! What! This is not right! This is not how it happens in the book! It can’t be!” And I ran up the stairs, grabbed the book and read the ending. Oh my. It was how the book ended. I’m still indignant over the ending. But I have two sequels to make the story complete, in my eyes.
GWTW is, in my opinion, our American novel. It speaks to our American experience in terms of struggle, triumph, and the American dream. It’s an epic novel about a society that no longer exists, a way of life that will never be again. GWTW is about more than Scarlett, it’s about a way of life that was destroyed and a people who have to find their way in an unfamiliar world.
GWTW is one of the few books I give 5 stars.