Warning: Clicking through to Continue Reading will reveal spoilers.
Gone with the Wind was ultimately one of the greatest novels that I have ever read. This has been on my “to-read” list for a number of years, and my long commute has finally given me time to finish the audiobook. Historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine, and this book was so well-researched and written that it immediately jumped to the top of my favorite books list.
I came into Gone with the Wind without much pre-existing knowledge. I have never seen the movie nor read the book, although I had some vague idea of the plotline as it has been frequently referenced in my historical studies over the years. I expected the novel to be about a snarky, unrelenting woman who loses everything to the Civil War. While on some level the novel met my expectations, it was more a coming of age story of a young girl learning to find happiness in a troubled and changing world.
Warning: Spoilers past this point.
Part of me really hated Scarlett O’Hara throughout most of the novel. I had to keep reminding myself of her youth and myself at her age to try and understand where she might be coming from. Although she frequently rose to the occasion to protect those around her from the dangers of war and its aftermath, she was incredibly selfish, with few redeeming qualities other than the ability to keep her head in frightening situations.
Scarlett spends much of the novel obsessed with money and willing to do anything to keep herself from the bottom of society. She frequently disregards and looks down upon those who do the most good in her life, and has absolutely no regard for the feelings of others. Scarlett’s notions of self-preservation and Irish stubbornness are enough for her to convince herself that all of our her actions are justified, and it is not until the very end of the novel that she begins to reflect on her own stupidity.
Scarlett never realizes the value of what she has until it is gone. While she loses some of the most important things in her life to the Civil War, such as her close male friends, her financial security, and indirectly her parents, she loses much else to her own selfishness. She shamelessly marries her sisters’ finance for his money, forever destroying their sisterly relationship, and ruins her old friendships by befriending the Northerners to get ahead during Reconstruction. Most importantly, she treats Rhett Butler like dirt until she finally realizes that she loves him, at which point he has moved on with his life. It is not until the end of the novel that Scarlett finally realizes that money and marriage to the honorable Ashley Wilkes will not make her happy.
Although Scarlett is an easy character to hate until the book’s final chapter, she was a young woman facing a series of terribly traumatic experiences. While holding on to the idea of loving Ashley might seem stupid to a 21st century reader, her crush was the only remaining link that Scarlett had to her untroubled youth. Scarlett is just 28 years old at the end of the novel, meaning that she had borne the weight of the war throughout her late teens and early twenties.. She lived through a lifetime of trouble before turning thirty, and it might be presumptuous to assume that any of us would have handled the same situations with a higher sense of morality. Scarlett undoubtedly lets her childishness affect her decision-making in her struggle for happiness, but she begins to outgrow her selfish nature as she gets older and realizes the value of what she carelessly discarded in the past. Her eventual epiphany that she loves Rhett and he is the key to happiness comes late, but better late than never.
I really enjoyed Gone with the Wind and I would recommend it to anyone who has the time to read it. Although the book ends on somewhat of a depressing cliff-hanger, I choose to believe that Scarlett will succeed in getting Rhett back and in building a new life with him. Although she acts terribly throughout the book, she does generally succeed when she puts her mind to a task, as she has done in regards to Rhett. Personally, I admire Scarlett’s optimism and determination to persevere after Melanie’s death and Rhett’s rejection. She is an incredibly strong person despite all of her hardships and faults, and I like to think that she will endure and find happiness for the rest of her days.