Welcome to the next check-in for our read-along of Gone With the Wind. Corinne was unable to continue hosting, so I am filling in for her today. If you would like to host the check-in on July 11, please leave a comment. If there are no volunteers, the next check-in will be here again.
If you don’t want to know what happens in Chapters 31 through 40, stop reading now.
Scarlett is shocked when she finds out that the Scalawags and carpetbaggers have raised the taxes on Tara, and she will lose her property if she can’t pay. Scarlett turns to Ashley for advice, but he cannot help her. Desperate, she decides to go to Atlanta to marry Rhett and get access to his money. To Scarlett’s surprise, Rhett is in prison, accused of killing a black man who insulted a white woman. Scarlett almost succeeds in seducing him, but he understands her intentions and and refuses her. Scarlett’s shame and bitterness don’t last long, though, and she makes quick work of convincing Frank Kennedy, her sister’s fiance, to marry her instead. With his money, she can pay the taxes and save Tara for now. And Rhett, who has bribed his way out of jail, loans her the money to buy a sawmill. Scarlett becomes a formidable businesswoman, and even a second pregnancy doesn’t slow her down. But then news of Gerald’s death reaches her and she hurries to Tara for the first time in a long while. At the funeral, she meets old friends and neighbors and finds new strength.
“A startling thought this, that a woman could handle business matters as well as or better than a man”—Thoughts About Scarlett
I’ve come to admire Scarlett in this section. It takes guts to simply ignore what others say about you. After talking to Ashley, she realizes that he will never leave Melanie and that she, Scarlett, is the stronger person of the two. She truly understands now that it is up to her to provide for herself, her family, and even Ashley and his family. Once she has made the decision to take matters into her own hands, nothing can deter her. Her “I’ll think about this tomorrow” attitude enables her to ignore the gossips and do whatever is necessary to make money. Her need for security drives her relentlessly and turns her into a shrewd businesswoman. Sadly, her overall people skills do not improve one bit, and once again, the wisdom of Old Miss Fontaine goes straight over her head. And of course Scarlett’s attitude does not come without problems. It is quite despicable of her to marry her sister’s fiance, to force old friends to settle their debts when they can hardly afford to do so, and to start doing business with the hated Yankees who constantly make the lives of the Old Guard as difficult as possible.
I found this part fascinating and had a hard time putting down the book. I have not read much that describes life in the South after the Civil War from a Southern perspective. However, this is not without problems. Mitchell’s sympathy lies firmly with the South. In historical writing, I generally have a high tolerance for sentiments that are no longer acceptable today, but the racism displayed in these chapters at times made me very uncomfortable. The portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan as a benign, and even honorable, society almost pushed me over the edge.
Food for Thought
In my opinion, Scarlett O’Hara is one of the strongest and most complicated heroines in literature. I wonder if it had been possible to write such a character at an earlier time in history. In the brief biography of Margaret Mitchell I read, what stood out for me was the fact that she was a flapper, taking full advantage of the newly found freedom many women enjoyed in the 1920s. I wonder if this enabled Mitchell to create a character like Scarlett. What do you think?
In the little bit of research I did to answer this question, I found out about the so-called plantation literature of the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s. In the writing that falls into this category, which was a response to abolitionist texts like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Southern women held an extremely important position. While the larger American society of this time emphasized female timidity, female strength was an admirable trait in plantation literature. It was generally the plantation mistress who was the heart and soul of the plantation and kept life running smoothly. Her daughters often reflected her strength to the point of appearing Amazon-like. This sounds very much like Ellen and Scarlett, doesn’t it?
Finally, with the recently flared-up discussions about the continued racism in the United States and the push to take down the Confederate flag, I found the racism in this book all the more striking. Sensitivity on this issue will only grow, so do you think the book will continue to be considered a “great American novel”? Will future readers be able to overlook this aspect of the book? We might not be far enough into the book to answer this question, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this either now or after we have read further.
Finally: Favorite Quotes
This book is full of great quotes. I had a hard time picking one for today’s chapters, especially with the meeting of Scarlett and Old Miss Fontaine at the end of Chapter 40. I finally settled on one rather long quote.
“Oh, some day! When there was security in her world again, then she would sit back and fold her hands and be a great lady as Ellen had been. She would be helpless and sheltered, as a lady should be, and then everyone would approve of her. Oh, how grand she would be when she had money again. Then she could permit herself to be kind and gentle, as Ellen had been, and thoughtful of other people and of the proprieties, too. She would not be driven by fears, day and night, and life would be a placid, unhurried affair. She would have time to play with her children and listen to their lessons. There would be long warm afternoons when ladies would call and, amid the rustlings of taffeta petticoats and the rhythmic harsh cracklings of palmetto fans, she would serve tea and delicious sandwiches and cakes and leisurely gossip the hours away. And she would be so kind to those who were suffering misfortune, take baskets to the poor and soup and jelly to the sick and “air” those less fortunate in her fine carriage. She would be a lady in the true Southern manner, as her mother had been. And then, everyone would love her as they had loved Ellen and they would say how unselfish she was and call her “Lady Bountiful.”
Her pleasure in these thoughts of the future was undimmed by any realization that she had no real desire to be unselfish or charitable or kind. All she wanted was the reputation for possessing these qualities.”