I had wanted to read Gone with the Wind for many years but the size of the tome always left me intimidated. I decided that I would put it on my list of books to read for the challenge or else I might never do it until I got to retirement. I have long been a fan of the film so I was curious to see how the two compared, though in my experience books always trump movies with only very rare exceptions.
I am happy to report that Gone with the Wind did not disappoint in any way. Margaret Mitchell is a masterful, dedicated storyteller who crafted an epic tale of one woman’s experience during one of our nation’s most challenging periods in history. As 99% of the readership has probably seen the film I won’t get into any great summary or overview of the book’s events. Yes, there are differences between the two – for instance I don’t remember Scarlett having any other children in the movie except Bonnie – and many characters and story lines are more fully fleshed out, but this only enhances the reading experience. Instead, it seems more fitting to reflect on the Southern viewpoint of the book from the perspective of a “Yankee”.
First, let me say that I am no historian so I’m not going to dissect the fiction in the book from fact as it pertains to actual historical events. I’ll leave that for the history buffs. That being said, as “Northern” girl I have always been very sympathetic to the cause of the North and in particular the issue of abolishing slavery. I think you could say that I bought into the idea that the majority of slave owners were soulless men (and women) who beat their slaves without reason. I didn’t really have any concept of the class system among the slaves and how differently house slaves regarded themselves compared to field hands or even “poor white trash” that couldn’t afford slaves of their own. One of the themes of the book that stuck out for me the most was this class system and how it permeated the Southern society before and after the Civil War. The idea that some slaves saw themselves as part of the family – bringing children into the world and then nursing them for their white owners, or sometimes taking care of their slave masters (like Scarlett’s father – Gerald O’Hara) as if they themselves were children, running the household with pride, maintaining the dignity of the family at all costs – was foreign to me. I am sure this was not the norm on many plantations but that is not to say it didn’t happen at all. . .
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