Thanks for your patience, everyone. It’s a crazy time in the land of the bookshelf, between a new paperback cover, plenty of events coming up, and a jammed life full of reading, writing, and revising. Oh, and working, and living in a house that’s not a complete hovel. You know the drill.
Before We Get Started…
First of all, congrats to Risa, who won an autographed copy of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller’s Odyssey! This week’s giveaway is a fun one: a DVD or Blu-Ray of Gone With the Wind!
Our next and final segment will be October 17, when we will discuss Part 5 (Chapters 48-63).
I have struggled over this section of Gone With the Wind for a few reasons…first of all, it’s LONG and dense and packed. Secondly, it’s just plain traumatic. Finally, it’s full of WTF material that I have found especially problematic this time around.
I feel like Mitchell really ups the ante in this section. Like any good writer, she isn’t content to let her characters suffer a few bumps on the road…it’s all suffering, all the time for our heroine, who must confront, among other things, a total moral collapse, the reality that even though Ashley overtly wants to get it on with her, he will never do so, humiliation, yet another loveless marriage, pregnancy and childbirth, the death of a parent, an attempted rape, public censure due to acting “unwomanly” to secure financial viability, the death of a husband which is blamed on her, AND another marriage. Yeah. That’s a lifetime of trauma and drama, don’tcha think?
Instead of summarizing the chapters individually this time, I am going to draw out my personal WTF moments from this section and add some context to each. Feel free to add your own or weigh in on the other questions below.
Ashley’s behavior in this section really stood out for me. We get a way better view of him as a character, and I’m not liking what I see. His conduct in the orchard scene aside (who could resist Scarlett at the height of her, er, convincing powers?), he is just wilting on the vine. He could have prevented Scarlett from going to Atlanta, though I am not convinced he’s responsible for her conduct. The most surprising moment for me was one I seem to have missed all the other times I’ve read this book: the moment in which he basically tells Scarlett that he is afraid he will break down and have sex with her if he moves to Atlanta: “Then you are surer of yourself than I am. I could not count on myself to keep such a promise. I should not have said that but I had to make you understand.” WHISKEY. TANGO. FOXTROT!!!
Okay, the point is probably moot, but Scarlett goes to great lengths in this section of the book. She becomes willing to prostitute herself to Rhett over the taxes. She steals Suellen (I will spare you my WTF, Suellen? moment)’s beau and makes him wretched. She seems determined to bring everyone down with her. She sinks into alcoholism while pregnant. There’s really not a lot this woman will not do when her livelihood is threatened. Which brings me to…
Killing an uppity black person and a Yankee cavalryman and bragging about them to Scarlett? The mind. It boggles. I will say that MM’s mastery shows through in her masterful handling of this roguish, hard-to-handle character.
WTF, Margaret Mitchell?
This is the part that’s really hard to bear….my total torn feelings when it comes to Margaret Mitchell’s handling of Reconstruction and racial issues in this section of the book. While I do think there is nuance in some of her black characters (Mammy, Uncle Peter, and Pork all show interesting sides of themselves and are portrayed as human in sections), I can’t overlook her use of words like “savage,” “ape,” and “Affikuns” to refer to black characters, much less her liberal use of the n-word to define a certain type of lackadaisical, useless and “trashy” black person.
When combined with the fact that apparently all male characters in the book are part of the Ku Klux Klan (and are portrayed as neutral if not good for their actions) and that the real terror of Reconstruction was the Yankees’ ability to convince black people that they were more valuable than they were, I am at a total loss. On the other hand, perhaps she can be seen as writing the book from an 1865 Southern perspective? Perhaps we need to examine the negative effects of Reconstruction with the same scrutiny we might give, say, post-WWI Germany? How do we reconcile this subject matter in a book that is so sensitively handled in parts?
I want to open up the conversation on these topics, because the book must be examined from today’s perspectives regardless of the time in which it was written. Here are a few articles as food for thought:
- The Problem With Gone With the Wind (Justine Larbalestier)
- Racial Illiteracy and Gone With the Wind
- Gone With the Wind and Hollywood’s Racial Politics (The Atlantic)
- Gone With the Wind Shouldn’t Be Romanticized (deals in part with the film and its portrayal of black characters)
- Gone With the Wind Turns 75, and Shows Its Age
- A call for papers I wish I had known about…I’ll be looking for conference details this November.
- If you’re looking for actual historical coverage of Southern Reconstruction, you could do way worse than this series of video lectures by Yale University’s David W. Blight.
Feel free to respond to some of these questions to get the discussion going. There’s no right or wrong answer!
Thoughts on Part 4?
Tara: Scarlett is even more connected to Tara in this section. What does Tara represent now that Gerald has died?
Trauma: The trauma continues! How do the characters deal with trauma?
Sex: From unconsummated passions to near-prostitution, sex and childbirth are still in the forefront of this book. I love the part where Mammy is curious about Belle Watling. What sexual themes caught your attention?
The little details: More details…which ones stood out?
Minor Characters: One of Mitchell’s real coups, in my opinion, is the way in which minor characters live and breathe. Who did you love and loathe?