Today, we're happy to welcome our friend Keertana, who blogs at Ivy Book Bindings to The Readventurer to talk about her favorite book, Margaret Mitchell's classic, Gone with the Wind. She intended to write about unlikable heroines but, as is often the way with blog posts and any writing, her journey led her to quite another destination.
Gone With the Wind entered my life in a very…curious manner. It’s safe to say that most Americans have heard of Gone With the Wind at some point in their life before high school, but being an immigrant, I was rather ignorant of the fact that this novel was, in fact, a Great American Classic. Thus, when I heard the name in my Freshman Biology Honors class, it didn’t strike a bell. What struck me about Gone With the Wind the first time I heard it was that the girl who mentioned it, a college student who had come to visit my teacher on Fall Break, was studying English Literature and when my teacher asked her what her favorite book was, she replied, with the utmost conviction, sincerity, and ardor, without even a second of hesitation, as if she couldn’t say it fast enough, “Gone With the Wind.”
I started Gone With the Wind that very same night. I found a battered copy of it that my father had brought with him from India in the depths of an old box in my attic and that copy – the same copy my father, his younger sister, and two younger brothers all read – is now mine. It took me two weeks to read the novel. Now, Gone With the Wind is a big book, but being a voracious reader, I was still shocked by how long it took me to finish the novel. It wasn’t the pacing or any literary qualms that rendered me unable to zip through it like I do most novels, I simply didn’t want to. I savored the rich descriptions of America during the Civil War Period; I re-read every romantic declaration made by Rhett; I chuckled to myself every time Scarlett made a sassy remark; I pulled my hair out with every mention of Ashley Wilkes and finally, at the end of that two weeks, I re-read that last chapter three times, unable to believe I had read it correctly the first, or even the second, time, and cried myself to sleep.
Gone With the Wind is, now that I think about it, the only book to stay with me for such a long period of time. Its ending continued to haunt for me the next month until finally, after reading every single Gone With the Wind fanfiction (all disappointing by the way), fan site, forum, and watching the movie almost at once (brilliant, in case you were wondering), I came to the realization that the ending was perfect. Of course, by then I’d already ordered a copy of Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett from my local library, but I will cease to go into the details of that astonishingly disappointing, unrealistic, and dramatic ending of Gone With the Wind. Instead, it is important to know that more than anything else Gone With the Wind may have done, it changed me.
In many ways, I think the best way to describe Gone With the Wind would be to say that it’s a biography of the life of Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlett is the heart, body, and soul of Gone With the Wind and is it because of her that the novel has made its way into my heart. In my eyes, Scarlett O’Hara is what every fictional character ought to be. I’m not denying that Scarlett is a manipulative, conniving, jealous, backstabbing woman – because she is – but I love her despite that.
Truth be told, if I were ever to meet Scarlett O’Hara in real life, I’d probably hate her. Yet, immortalized within the pages of a book, Scarlett is a heroine who grabs you and simply won’t let go. I admire her. Although she is chock-full of flaws – more than most people I’d say – I look up to her and celebrate her for her strength.
I suppose that now is as good time as any to admit that Gone With the Wind is the book I think about when I am at the lowest points in my life. When I feel as if the burden of life is crushing me down, when I feel the pain of my family members at its most acute, or when I am simply disgusted with myself, I think back to Scarlett O’Hara, for truly, she is synonymous with Gone With the Wind itself.
Scarlett, for all her flaws, embodies us, humans, in our most real, visceral, and worst forms – but how many of us can claim not to be just like Scarlett on some days? Who can’t relate to her? Truly, how many of us have stood in Scarlett’s shoes, watching someone walk away from us and wondering what we could have done differently to make them stay? Who hasn’t lost love or friendship for the sake of pride? Who wouldn’t do anything in their capacity to keep their family safe, even if it meant debasing their own selves? Which one of us can claim to really not have any regrets at all?
Gone With the Wind is one of those novels for which there is no “right time” to read. At every cornerstone and step of your life, Gone With the Wind is prevalent. Scarlett’s journey is one of endurance as she braves her multiple loveless marriages, the stigma against working women, the heartache of not being able to be with the man she loves, and the stupidity of not realizing what she already has before her. Her journey is one that is difficult to read at times; it is one of desperation and degradation, but it is also one of fierce determination and strength.
At the end of the novel, when Scarlett falls upon the stairs, tears streaming down her face as she watches Rhett walk out of her life because of her own stupidity and continued mistakes – Rhett, the one man who saw her for all her flaws and still saw someone to love beneath that all – we know that she’s going to get right back up the next day, redouble her efforts to win back Rhett, and succeed. That, I feel, is why I love Scarlett, and in turn Gone With the Wind, as much as I do. For a novel about survival, Scarlett is the ultimate survivor; she thrashes against fate to stay alive and never lets anything – any hassle, any obstacle, or any hurdle – get in her way.
I originally set out to write this about unlikeable heroines in literature – because I always wind up loving them – but instead this seems to have turned into a long rant about my love for Gone With the Wind. Whether you like Gone With the Wind or not, whether you’ve read the novel or haven’t even heard of it before, you have to admit that it’s an unforgettable tale. If nothing else, Gone With the Wind will stick with you and it will make some kind of impression on you, good or bad. And isn’t that the best we can ask from literature? For it to change us in the best possible way and teach us to look upon life in a different light? Either way, Gone With the Wind fulfills its duty, as a novel, as a movie, and as a piece that will linger in your thoughts hauntingly for days, months, and years to come.