Wrap-up: Gone With the Wind Read-Along

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This is the last check-in for our read-along of Gone With the Wind. What a ride it has been! Thanks to Corinne for sending us off, thanks to Brona for hosting some of the check-ins, and thanks to everyone who has participated.

I wasn’t able to post on the last ten chapters, so I quickly want to say that the train wreck that was Scarlett’s and Rhett’s marriage was hard to read about. These two are so right and at the same time so wrong for each other. Their constant need to dominate the other doomed their marriage right from the beginning. The death of their daughter Bonnie was tragic. How do you recover from the death of your child, especially when you are partly to blame for it? It was the final nail in the coffin of their union.

Yet the bad news continue in the last three chapters. After a miscarriage, Melanie is dying, which is a heavy blow for Scarlett. FINALLY, she realizes how much strength she has always drawn from Melanie, her staunchest supporter and defender. Scarlett also realizes how foolish she’s been to banish Rhett from her bedroom and how even more foolish she’s been to consider herself in love with Ashley. Suddenly, she sees how weak he is, and on her way home to Rhett, she realizes she’s in love with him. (So many light bulbs go on in the final pages….)

Ironically, Rhett rejects Scarlett’s love when she declares herself. He is tired and wants to search for a calm, dignified life like the one he and the South lost in the war. Wounded, Scarlett resolves to return to Tara to regroup and come up with a strategy for winning Rhett back.

“My dear, I don’t give a damn.”

What an ending! I love how many ways there are to read this one line. Weary, cold, nonchalant, careless—you can say this line with so many different inflections, and each casts the ending in a slightly different light.

I really like the open ending of the novel, and that, of course, means speculation about whether the two will reunite. I think that’s the perfect ending to a book with such an infuriating, interesting, thought-provoking heroine. I, for one, think they will not reunite. Overall, the book has felt realistic, so why spoil it with an unrealistic happy ending? Can you expect two people to reform, overcome the death of their child, and come together again and be happy? I can’t, especially since I don’t see either Scarlett or Rhett to become different, better people. I think after a while they would be bored without their little games and manipulations. (When Rhett became “good” for Bonnie’s sake, he was still manipulating others. And Scarlett has never put anyone else above her own interest.) But, who knows, after finally telling each other how they really feel, maybe they have a chance. Thoughts?

I was reading an article about how Scarlett personifies the new South and how her willingness and ability to adjust to a new way of life represent the post-War South. Where does that leave us in regard to Melanie? Do we read Melanie’s death as the final blow to the Old South? I can’t fully bring myself to believe that that is what Mitchell was trying to say, yet in Melanie and Ashley, we have two representatives of the Old South without a future. Even Rhett, after his successful machinations throughout the book, has now surrendered and is looking for the kind of life that no longer exists in the South. As different as Rhett and Ashley are, they are now both yearning for the same thing. More irony: despite their difference in character, these two men have more and more in common the further we read. How am I to interpret this?

There is not a single character who is happy at the end. Is this Mitchell’s way of mourning a way of life that has been lost forever? Even though I finished the book several weeks ago, I am still chewing on this question.

Amidst the heated discussions of the past two months here in the U.S. over the removal of the Confederate flag from government grounds, I came across an article that suggested Gone With the Wind should be cast aside because it heavily relies on the image of the Confederacy. The article spoke mainly about the movie, not the book, but I think it would be a shame if we relegated either one to the backburner. There is no question that the racism in this book will make most readers uncomfortable, but how else will we remember and learn? A people that does not remember its history is bound to repeat its mistakes.

And that brings me to the end. I can’t wait to read your final thoughts on the book.

(My thoughts on previous sections of the book are here, here, and here.)

 

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13 comments

  1. Before you repel the Yankee intruder to your discussion, I was given express permission, invitation even by Brona to comment here. I was aware of your read-along and was mildly jealous, but I read GWTW a year ago, and as I am on a reading quest of my own, I could not allow myself to join in.

    However, this is one of my all time favorites. I wholeheartedly agree Melaine was the Old South and Scarlett the New…so I won’t rehearse that again.

    Some of my other thoughts on this masterpiece: Mitchell paints such a charming and glorious picture of the antebellum South, it is easy to forget a few things: like the evil of slavery. For this, there had to be judgment. That way of life had to die, it deserved to die. It is also easy to forget that the vast majority of southerners never owned slaves, but all of the south would be judged. I think Mitchell is no apologist for slavery, but I believe she loved the South and lamented the beauty that was lost. She reminded me, a Yankee by birth, that there was something gracious and beautiful in the old South, that regrettably, though perhaps necessarily, perished in the reckoning.

    My full review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimequest.blogspot.com/2014/08/gone-with-wind-by-margaret-mitchell-29_21.html

    • Thank you for your comment! Immigrant Yankee here, so no objections on that front. I loved all the historical background in this book. It was the first book about the post-War years written by a Southerner that I had read, and I found that very interesting. I’ll make sure to check out your review…

  2. Thank you for hosting the final check in TJ.

    We have successfully moved house and I’m slowly feeling settled in, but it has been a crazy couple of weeks and blogging (& reading) have taken a back seat – thankfully I had a few draft posts scheduled during this time to keep my blog active.

    There is also a half finished GWTW post there waiting for me to get to it….this weekend? Fingers crossed.

    Until then, thanks again….xo

  3. I’m impressed you got through this classic chunkster! It’s been on my to-read list for a while. I’m not feeling very excited to get to it right now though – open-ended endings where no one’s happy don’t typically work for me.

  4. SPOILERS FOLLOW:

    I love your remarks on the “my dear, I don’t” line! You’re so right! That’s exactly what I love about Mitchell: there’s so much room for speculation. Is it a tragedy? Is it a triumph? Is Scarlett the heroine? Is Melanie? Is Scarlett punished? Or is Rhett? Is Rhett in the right? Or is Scarlett? Is there a right? Which one will win? They are like magnets turned backwards! Inclined to repel but with a memory of undeniable attraction.

    I don’t personally feel Rhett and Scarlett ever get back together. But I love that Mitchell makes us hope. If she had ended it tidily, the story would be over. She doesn’t, so after nearly eighty years, we still hope. 🙂

    I don’t believe Mitchell was mourning the way of life lost after the Civil War. At all. She thought such thinking was silly. (She was a lot like Rhett.) I think she was suggesting that the tidy social hierarchy was devastated when war came (as war usually devastates social hierarchies — for example, World War Two, which awoke the Civil Rights movement, and World War One, which awoke (refortified) the feminist movement.) I think that Gone with the Wind is about what happens when civilization crumbles, & a woman who has been taught nothing but how to get a man must somehow find a way to survive it. It’s going to be hard to go back to flirting and pretending to be a simpleton after outrunning General Sherman. I think that’s the point. Yet flirting, being pretty, collecting dresses: that’s what women were taught. They had no real-life tools: no survival tools. And after the war, everyone wanted them back in that box. (Just like the women after World War Tow, who had been working in factories, and were suddenly expected to go home after the war and get back in the kitchen, evidenced by the sudden influx in the 1950s of Doris Day movies & happy homemakers. GET IN THE BOX. With Melanie. And Ellen.)

    Everyone is unhappy at the end? Well, yes. Even after a war, no one quite knew what to do with a woman like Scarlett. All of the rest of the women were content to stick their hands in their pockets and go back to deferring to the men. Scarlett wasn’t. Gone with the Wind’s story parallels what happened in America in Mitchell’s own era, I reckon, when the quiet days of the early 1900s were punched in the face by World War One. There was never any going back. And what did that mean, for a woman? That’s the question. Scarlett is fully functioning and deserted by everyone at the end. That’s the answer.

    Rhett & Ashley were both realists. They both see truth clearly. Ashley cannot process reality because he feels deeply, & real life devastates him. Rhett is cynical and knows real life is stupid & he doesn’t care — until the end. When he finally sees it, he is no stronger than Ashley.

    (PS – Mitchell also read articles which declared that Melanie and Scarlett and others represented the Old and New South & such. She said none of that was even in her head while writing. She was just “writing a yarn.”) 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your comment. I never thought about the ending in the wider context of how war changes a civilization. What you say makes a lot of sense. And having thought about your points for a few days now, I think Scarlett will be ok. She will tackle her future one day at a time, she will be resentful, and I’m sure she will not always be polite, but she will be fine. Her personal life might be messy, but whatever she decides to do next, it will be a success… probably not by everyone’s standard, but by Scarlett’s standard.

  5. I’ve been pondering reading Gone With the Wind lately – something I never thought I’d do! It was really great to read your thoughts on it – it sounds like such a fun readalong!

    • To be honest, I don’t think I would have read the book without a read-along. Despite the problems I had with the overt racism in the book, I really enjoyed reading about the war from a Southern perspective. And Scarlett has to be one of the most interesting heroines in literature. I’d say try reading the book. Those 1,400 pages turn faster than you’d think. 🙂

  6. What a fun read-a-long! It’s been quite awhile since I read this book, but I remember wanting to wring Scarlett’s and Rhett’s necks for being so stubborn and not just figuring their sh&t out!!! I love your point about Scarlett representing the “new South” and Melanie the “Old South”…I’d never thought about it that way, but I feel like that kind of makes sense!

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