Can you believe it’s already been two weeks? What an amazing discussion…and what an amazing eight chapters we get to discuss today. Welcome to The Great Gone With the Wind Readalong, Part 2!
First of all, thank you to everyone who contributed to a very lively discussion on our last post. You might want to check out people’s personal summaries of Part I (Joanne, Whitney, Katie…am I missing anyone?) and add your comments there as well.
Secondly, congratulations to our randomly selected winner, Madeline, who won a fab set of Scarlett Magnets! Madeline, I’ll be dropping you an email so I can find out where to send them. This section’s fun prize is a copy of The Authentic South of Gone With the Wind, an illustrated guide to the world of GWTW.
Thirdly, there was a great article in the New York Times recently that touched on something we discussed in Part I…the portrayal of marriage among slaves. I highly recommend that you read it…it touches on some of the ugly realities of slavery.
Like last time, I’ll summarize our chapters here, giving some of my impressions and linking to fun resources and information. Then I’ll open it up for discussion. Please be civil, participate and speak your mind! The contest will remain open until we meet again on September 5 to discuss Part 3 (Chapters 17-30).
I continue to be impressed by the scope and skill of this novel. Part 2 brings us to bustling Atlanta, hub of Civil War production and home to the many Old Guard characters who make up the recently-widowed Scarlett’s confusing, structured new world.
Scarlett arrives in Atlanta for what she assumes will be an extended visit and finds herself exhilarated by the bustling city…despite the silliness and annoyance of Aunt Pittipat and the hated Melanie. We meet the dowagers who keep the town hopping and learn more about what is expected of wartime women, who nurse and organize with gusto.
Of note: This is our first real glimpse of Melanie, who embodies the good sides of Southern womanhood. It’s also interesting that the world Scarlett is entering is primarily feminine…I love the descriptions of what women are doing to help the Cause.
Bazaar time! Scarlett mourns her inability to cast off mourning to attend the bazaar, but a strange breach of tradition brings her to a booth and one of the most important chapters in the book. After a sumptuous description of the ballgowns Scarlett longs to wear, we realize that Captain Rhett Butler is a famous blockade runner now…and hasn’t forgotten Scarlett’s impropriety at Twelve Oaks. He alone recognizes her desire to dance the night away…and scandalizes Atlanta when he bids for her in a reel, allowing her to dance at last and forever damaging her reputation.
Of note: Oh, what a chapter! We get introduced to three important songs: Lorena, The Bonnie Blue Flag, and When This Cruel War is Over, which sold over a million copies during the Civil War. We watch Scarlett breach passionately-held mourning traditions that forbid her participating in public activities (click here to see some examples of mourning gowns from the era). And we realize that Rhett Butler is both a ruthless mercenary and a flirtatious force to be reckoned with. There’s a really telling sentence in this chapter when Scarlett is considering Captain Butler: “Of course he wasn’t a gentleman and there was no telling what men would do when they weren’t gentlemen. There was no standard to measure them by.” I feel like this says it all in terms of the structured, predictable, placid world in which Scarlett lives, one in which the social order makes everything clear.
The morning after, and Scarlett is defiant about her conduct. To everyone’s surprise, Melanie takes up for Captain Butler after he returns her wedding ring (and secures an invitation to her house). And Rhett saves the day by getting Gerald O’Hara drunk to distract him from Scarlett’s bad behavior, giving her carte blanche to behave as she pleases.
Of note: This chapter illustrates the extent to which Scarlett is assumed to be under control of whomever is her chaperone (and her parents, for that matter). I love the part where she greets Rhett at the door dressed in her wrapper (here’s a great article on that estimable and forgotten piece of clothing, somewhere between a bath robe and a proper street dress).
We get a glimpse of Ashley’s true thoughts and Scarlett’s true colors in a chapter in which she reads his wartime letters to Melanie. Uh-oh…Ashley thinks the South will lose the war!
Wartime privations aside, Scarlett is having a ball in her newly-freed state. And Rhett Butler is part of that picture. We see his acceptance into society and his quick fall due to reckless remarks about the South’s viability…ideas that Ashley shares and Melanie hastens to defend.
Of note: Here’s a fascinating look at the dress difficulties of the blockade-era South (and a song about homespun, the humble fabric you’ll see quite a lot during the next few parts of this book).
It’s official…Rhett’s an outcast. But that doesn’t keep him from visiting…and tempting Scarlett out of mourning with a dreamy hat from Paris. His flirtatious non-kiss occupies Scarlett’s fancy until she realizes that a hospital gift from the town’s bad lady, Belle Watling, was financed by Rhett’s blockade gold. The cad!
Of note: find this chapter really fascinating for its description of a well-bred young lady’s reaction to a prostitute. The realization that the men in her life might associate with prostitutes shows both Scarlett’s naivete (even though she has had sex, she really has no understanding of why sex would be appealing to anyone and sees it as something to endure) and the double standard of the time. This is also our first intimation that Rhett Butler is not only seeing, but bankrolling the town’s most notorious madam (who some say was based on a prostitute named Belle Brezing). What a scoundrel.
Any thoughts about the sexual double standard are cast aside as the town waits for disastrous news from Gettysburg, and gathers to receive lists of the dead and wounded. We learn that many of the County boys, including all of the remaining Tarleton boys, have died in the battle.
One of the survivors is Ashley Wilkes…and he comes home on furlough in a heartwrenching chapter in which Scarlett remembers that Melanie is his wife, after all. That doesn’t keep her from forcing herself on him after promising to take care of Melly…and it doesn’t keep him from telling her that he sees beauty in her that nobody does and kissing her goodbye.
Of note: The descriptions of a tormented man on leave, Scarlett’s veiled realization that Ashley and Melanie might just be getting busy behind closed doors, Ashley’s not-so-honorable conduct and his backhanded compliments.
A double blow — Melanie is pregnant with Ashley’s baby and Ashley himself is imprisoned at Rock Island. Rhett’s mercenary nature comes in handy as he turns to his Yankee friends to find out the whereabouts of Mr. Wilkes, but that can’t keep Scarlett from despairing over the honorable conduct that keeps Ashley locked up.
Feel free to respond to some of these questions to get the discussion going. There’s no right or wrong answer!
Well…how are you liking Part 2? Things definitely pick up in this part of the book, and I’m longing for reactions of those familiar and unfamiliar with the story.
Melanie: Margaret Mitchell often called Melanie the real heroine of her book, but Scarlett can’t stand her eternal goodness. I think the character is actually pretty amazingly drawn — she’s not just a goody two-shoes, but a principled and human woman. What do you think?
Atlanta: As much a character in the book as Ashley or Rhett, Atlanta becomes the primary setting in this part. How does it fuel the action and the emotion of the book?
Sex: We’ve got prostitutes, double standards, visiting husbands, and illustrations of Scarlett’s own dissociative relationship to the marital relation. What do you make of it?
The little details: I revel in the tiny details MM chooses to show, from waffles (don’t you just love Scarlett’s earthy, improper love of food?) to boots. What caught your eye?
Minor Characters: We’ve got even more great minor characters in play, from Draconian Uncle Peter to pompous Doctor Meade. Who do you love/hate?