Sunday, May 1, 2016

Review: Gone With the Wind

So my April classic challenge read was Gone With the Wind. I need to answer the following questions about it:
WHEN I Discovered This Classic
WHY I Chose to Read It
WHAT Makes It A Classic
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
WILL It Stay A Classic
WHO I’d Recommend It To

Like most people, my first exposure to GWTW was via the movie. I had not ever really thought much about the book, but it kept popping up on various  lists of books that should be read, great books, etc., so I added it to my Filling in the GAPS Challenge list. I love historical fiction, and Margaret Mitchell was removed enough from the time period of the novel that it qualifies as historical fiction. Also, as a history major, I became very interested in the experience of the Civil War in the south and the difficulties of reconstruction.
I think that the timeless themes that GWTW deals with are part of the reason it's a classic. Survival, adaptability, love--of people, land, money, a way of life, are among the major themes of the movie. . In addition, the writing is good, and the story is compelling. The novel Vanity Fair is subtitled "A Novel Without a Hero," and I felt that that would have been a very appropriate subtitle for this book.  I kept feeling echoes of other women in literature who were the strivers, schemers, or the ruiners of their own happiness. In different ways I found Scarlett to bring to mind Rebecca Sharp, Lily Bart, Emma Bovary, & Anna Karenina. The characters are flawed, but real. (With the exception of Mammy. Mammy is awesome.)
This book left me with such mixed feelings. I enjoyed the story and the writing, but it is difficult to read such a rose-colored view of slavery. Yes, some slaves were well-treated, and some did choose to stay with the families who had owned them after emancipation. Some were nearly family, being freed and left property, etc., but even the most well-treated were property. And many more were not treated well, were brutalized, hunted, etc.
It will be interesting to see what happens with GWTW as a classic. There are those who are trying to erase from history or culture any indications that the Civil War had issues and causes aside from slavery. There are those who deny many of the realities of the reconstruction era, the Democrat political background of the KKK, and the way that racism was propagated and enshrined in law up through the Jim Crow era. There has already been a published call to ban it, from a writer in the NY Post. This book doesn't hew to the ONE RIGHT WAY to look at history, so who knows how long it will last.
I would recommend this to people who like long books and historical fiction, don't mind reading a book in which they don't really like most of the characters, don't need a happy ending, and can look at a variety of viewpoints on history to try to understand the motivations and thought of the people at the time, without trying to retrofit modern attitudes to another time and place.

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