*Spoiler Alert: I let my thoughts free-flow down below*
There was something about this book that brought me back to it, after all these years. I thought about how long this book had been on the top of my favourites and yet, the reasons why that was true were fading from my mind. So I picked up my tattered copy again and read. And when I finished I knew that this time, with the consciousness of a full grown adult, this book would stay etched inside me forever. There is something so powerful about Gone With the Wind that no other book can compete with it in my mind.
It is only in retrospection, that you realize that Gone With the Wind is, in essence, a love story. Until you’re done turning the very last page, all you can appreciate is the perfection with which the novel captures every complex emotion that can ever exist. Love, loss, hatred, death, pain, hunger, hatred, jealousy, selflessness, ruthlessness, dedication, honor, hopelessness, despair, longing- I cannot think of a single emotion that I ever felt that is not covered within these 1000-odd pages. To even try and summarize something so rich and complex, is akin to pulling at the threads of humanity’s entire existence.
The beautiful country belle Scarlett O’Hara has one thing on her mind: the heiress to acres of cotton fields of one of Georgia’s best plantations, she has been raised to capture men with a host of fine airs and graces which men seem to like. She can have anyone she wants but like a child, her eyes are set on one dreamy-eyed young man she can never hope to understand. Even as the worst she could then imagine starts to take shape, something far worse rears its ugly head across the horizon- the Civil War. Caught between death, illness, destruction and fear, she fights to fight against the few things she can discern with every fibre of her being. Her constant contradiction within herself is a fight between her distinct maternal and paternal inheritance. And soon, everything she had ever known starts to crumble around her, leaving the reins in her hand.
The ruthless Rhett Butler is a self-made man but not the kind Southern hospitability would ever allow into their drawing rooms. In Scarlett he finds something he never thought to see in a charming, well-bred young lady: a fight for life, childish desires breaking her apart from the inside. And so he adds gently to the storm brewing around her, lifting her on the crest of a wave she doesn’t even see.
Their never-ending tussle and their presence in each other’s lives is at the heart of this breathtaking piece but surrounding it are questions of morality, of vitality, freedom, peace, love, humanity- questions of existence itself. What would you do if your whole world is torn apart and you are left to rebuild from scratch? If every little thing you hold so dear is shown to be worthless by your conquerors and your way of life challenged with a brutality that puzzles you? Would you throw back your head and fight fearlessly and unscrupulously like Rhett and Scarlett or fall back, knowing you do not belong in this new world like Ashley or be a shield for your loved ones, acting as a bulwark against everything they love, without questioning their motives, like Melanie?
And yet, by the time I turned over the last page, what stayed with me the most was not the horrifying sunlit scene of Melanie’s torturous childbirth at the inexperienced hands of Scarlett O’Hara, nor the long and hard months of hunger-struck toil with which Scarlett rebuilds her plantation into a modest farm, nor her months of work at the lumbermill while pregnancy bloats her figure, nor her widowhoods or her marriage to Rhett or the miscarriage or the loss of her favourite child. What hits the most is in the end- how beautifully the loose ends of her life come together, woven into a picture she can finally read. How much sense it all makes, the wrongs that seem right: the light in Rhett’s eyes, her long and hazy thoughts about Ashley and her hatred for Melanie- they’re pointing her home! That is when you hope with her and you forgive her her long list of errors because she was driven by the horrors that swept through her. She was a child put into a terrible world and left to fend for so many people. She who had been trained for balls and men-baiting and eye-batting and wearing silk gowns and having stays keep her waist at eighteen inches! You see how her defenses had sprung up and you forgive her yet in the end all that is left for her is her adage, ‘I’ll think about it tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day’.
Rather than a review, this post became a sort of musing. I cannot explain why this book has such a hold on my body and soul. I think it is because every paragraph paints such a picture and the pieces of Scarlett’s life are so complex, so real and solid. The scenes stay with me, the characters stay with me, their stories fill my heart with love and sadness, their struggles become my reality and the excuses they gave, the way of life they supported becomes a helpless blotch on history’s page.
I shall return to Gone With the Wind over and over again, as long as I live, this I know.