Gone with the Wind: A Surprising DNF

To be honest, guys, I have no idea what happened with this book. I felt like I was in love with it from the beginning – the sweeping settings and the emotionalism that Mitchell gave to the land and her characters and the nature of the pre- Civil War south. And I was undecided about Scarlett, but was having fun making up my mind. But then I got busy for a weekend, didn’t pick the book up for a few days, and when I came back, something had changed. The book and I just weren’t clicking. Now it feels like every time I open the book it gets closed in exactly the same spot. And I’m not sure what happened.

After Sherman burns Atlanta and Scarlett makes her way back to Tara, suddenly she’s this different woman, and if I didn’t like her before hand I sure hated her now. Gone was what I felt was the fear and uncertainty of the Scarlett in the early parts of the book, and here was this woman who was nothing but shrewd and calculating and, to be honest, mean. And the more I got in to this character’s head, the easier it was to make up my mind that I didn’t necessarily want to be there anymore. But it wasn’t just that. I mean, I still love Mitchell’s writing and many of the other characters she creates – I still adore Melanie and Rhett, and am heartbroken every time the broken Mr. O’Hara makes his reappearance on the page. But that’s not enough. I kind of wonder if perhaps my adoration of the movie doomed my ability to love the book from the beginning. Not that the movie is better than the book or visa versa, but I think in this case my familiarity with one (and by familiarity, I of course mean obsessive knowledge of) kind of preempted any ability to create this world or these characters in my own way. As much as I love Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, they are the Scarlett and the Rhett that I know, and I can’t seem to be able to separate them in my mind.

I’m not saying that this is a book that I won’t return to. I’m hoping to. But I think that this is one of those times and books that, for whatever reason, I just don’t think that right now is the time that I should be reading this book. I kind of believe in the kismet nature of reading, and that if a book really isn’t working, it isn’t necessarily the book as much as the environment surrounding me as I’m reading the book. And right now, with summer and graduation and moving are all looming on the horizon (as well as the fact that I’ve got summer classes approaching), it’s just not the time for this book. I feel like I need something lighter, something thinner, something that I can dig in to and be in, but that won’t require weeks and weeks on end of me doing that. I’ve got some Ray Bradbury short story books on the list, as well as some more Fitzgerald, and there really is nothing like F. Scott to pull me out of a bit of a reading funk and remind me why I love reading and why I’m undertaking this whole process in the first place! I also recently downloaded some non-fiction books on sustainable farming and eating (none of which are new reads, but books that I adore and have checked out from the library umpteenth times) which I’m looking forward to talking about more this Friday!

I’m kind of sad and disappointed that I wasn’t able to get through all of Gone with the Wind. It’s only the second or third book I’ve taken on for this project, and it’s a little disheartening that the whole experience is ending this way. But c’est la vie! Such is life, and I’m one of those readers who tries to never dwell on the DNF for long – there is still a whole universe of plots, characters, and experiences out there waiting to be absorbed! How about you? Do you let yourself DNF, or do you have to finish whatever you pick up? Are you a sprint-reader, or down for the marathon haul, regardless?

Gone With the Wind…Still

You guys. Seriously. You guys. I’m still reading this book. And I feel like no matter how many pages I turn, how many times I tap the digital Kindle page, how many times I pick it up, Sherman is still shelling Atlanta and there is still SO MUCH MORE TO GO! I mean, for goodness sakes, Melanie hasn’t even had her baby yet, and then they still have to get to Tara, and then Scarlett will never go hungry again, and then…well, then the entire second half of the movie starts. But, to be honest, I can’t say I’m disliking all of these facts.

I mean, I feel bad, but because I don’t want things here to seem like I’m dragging or things are lacking. I start to feel bad when I come back week after week talking about the same book (and it’s definitely looking like that final intended deadline I set might have to be revised, but that’s a different topic for a different day) and that’s part of the reason that I think maybe things have quieted down the past week or so – because I’ve just been chugging along, reading the same books as the last time I was here! But other than that? I don’t feel bad about how slow I’m getting through Peg’s classic. I mean, the banter between Scarlett and Rhett is delicious, the portrait of the south that Mitchell creates, and the language she uses to create it – I’m, like, basking in it. It’s just too much to take in a whole bunch of in one setting.

I like to think that I’d get along with the Wilkes, if I’m being honest. And while I know that pretty much everyone has their druthers with Miss O’Hara, I’ll say that the thing that I probably like about her the least is how much she despises Melanie (but, then again, I kind of find it cloying how much Melanie defends Scarlett anyway. Like, there’s gracious and then there’s being a doormat. Like, CLEARLY this woman doesn’t really care for you, and after a while I feel like it stops becoming empathy and starts becoming a lack of self worth). I love the Wilkes family, and there is something about the thought of a family who adheres to philosophy, book learning, and art in a land of whiskey and dogs and hunting and joviality. It’s like in creating these two families (the Wilkeses and the O’Haras) Mitchell has found a way to mirror some of the dichotomies I feel/see in my own life – I too love art and music and literature and discussing all those things. But I also love beer from the can and laying in the mud and just being…well, undignified!

The last 100 or so pages that I’ve read have been largely about the battle to, and in, Atlanta. And while I’ve never been in a state of war, and am never planning on being in one, I can imagine that Mitchell only scratches the surface of what it must be like to see your friends, lovers, family, and neighbors marching off bravely and gallantly only to return broken, dirty, and defeated – or to not return at all. And for what? One of the most touching parts so far was Ashley’s letter to Melanie explaining how futile it all seems, how silly the war is and how even those in it could see that dying for a Cause is so seldom actually worth dying for. I loved it. And it made me sad. All at the same time. That’s what a lot of this Gone with the Wind experience has done so far, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s a great thing, actually, and one that reaffirms the boundary-pushing reasons I’m undertaking this project. I’m not even finished yet!

Vivien Leigh *swoon*

Well, I think that the title of this post should pretty much say it all! I mean, look at that woman. I rarely say that the book is better than the movie, and while I’m not EXACTLY saying that this time, I will say that the movie is pretty damn good in it’s own right. And part of that has to do largely with the fact that I think Vivien Leigh makes an absolutely wonderful Scarlett! And, to be honest, Clark Gable is no shrug as Rhett Butler, who is quickly becoming one of my top favorite literary males of, you know, all time (in case that isn’t redundant enough).

I’ll admit off the bat that this post won’t be quite as…put together as some of the last posts have been! I just got done with a Zumba class and a walk home and my book is all the way upstairs and I just can’t right now. Just can’t. So this post will be sadly quote-less. But I’m loving the book and have quite a bit of raving to do, even without my textual support.

OH ME SWEET EGADS, THE WAY MARGARET MAKES A SCENE! Yes, Margaret Mitchell and I are basically on a first name basis now, seeing as how we’ve been spending so much of our time together lately. And let me tell you – this girl knows how to write a book. I’ve never been to Civil War-era Atlanta, but I feel like I have. And isn’t the true mark of a powerful author? From the moment Scarlett steps off the train to Atlanta, the city jumps off the page at you – everything from the train tracks to the soldiers doing drill, to the woman-as-butterflies who proudly display their blockade-ran dresses. And it’s all so…innocent, almost. I think that’s one of the things that’s so touching to me about my reading so far – the people in this book are so honestly invested in the Cause, in their Southern Pride, and to know that’s just not how history turns out is almost too sad. This truly is a book of the Old South, and while I understand and recognize the horrors that existed under this veneer of chivalry and pride, and I know that many, many people have problems with this book because it does seem to make Uncle Tom’s out of almost all of it’s major African American characters. But to know that these women are cheering and these fathers are singing unto a flag of an army that will loose – whose soldiers, sons, fathers, and brothers will die – is incredibly sad to me, whatever other scruples may exist.

I also feel like this post wouldn’t be nearly complete without talking at least a little bit about Scarlett. I mean, she is, like, the hearts blood of the book (along with the actual town of Atlanta, which is becoming more and more of a mirror-foil for Scarlett). She’s stubborn and conceited and self-involved and mean and caddy – and UTTERLY ADDICTIVE. There is power in her, because she is the one girl who doesn’t want to do what society tells her. She wants to run and frolic and wear her bright dresses and love the one man that she wants more than anything. I actually just had a pretty big debate with Beardman last night on whether or not Scarlett was strong woman or just a cold bitch, in the long run. As you can imagine, I was on the strong woman side: don’t get me wrong, while I think that Scarlett has the power to and does hurt people without regard, I think there is a strength in a woman at that time wanting to march to the beat of her own drum, of making it for herself. If I had my book, I would type out the dozens of passages I’ve underlined where there seems to be so much conflict in Scarlett – conflict between her mother’s blood and her father’s, between all that she is expected to be (and tries to be) and who she actually is. And, speaking for this reader, it’s that conflict in her that keep the pages flying, despite how despicable she’s recently been.

This week has been crazy busy, so I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you all, but hopefully I’ll be back even more next week with some Shakespeare, a Tolkien or two, and maybe even some snippets of the new gardening project I’ve started! And, because it’s on theme and I can, I leave you to your weekend with the many faces of Scarlett and Rhett!

   

A Classics Challenge: March

Howdy, folks! For those of you playing along at home, you’ll know that I finished Middlemarch this week and started in on Gone with the Wind, which left me in a bit of a tizzy as far as which book to feature for March for the 2012 Classics Challenge over at November’s Autumn. The prompt for March focuses on the setting of the book and its importance to the rest of the story. And while location certainly features prominently in both books (after all, Middlemarch takes place in, you guessed it, the town of Middlemarch), I just think it would be more fun to spend this time talking about Gone with the Wind. I should go ahead and be fair and say that I’m only about three chapters in to the book, and may be basing more of these answers than I should on the movie, but it’s in the second chapter that Gerald O’Hara and Scarlett have their famous conversation about “land being the most important thing”, and with words like that straight out of the horse’s mouth, it seems like the decision was made for me! As per usual, Katherine has provided three different “levels” of questions, so without further ado, here’s my contribution to March’s Classic Challenge topic: a discussion of the Tara Plantation in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

Level 1: How has the author introduced the setting? What does it tell you about the character? about the time period? What is the mood of the setting?

Oh, goodness! Be still my beating heart, Margaret Mitchell, you’ve created a place that from the first minute I’ve been longing to step in to! I mean, I may be being slightly unfair in this because, although I’ve spent my entire life in a Midwestern state, I’ve always felt like a displaced southern girl at heart, so there is something appealing to me on almost, like, a genetic level; there’s this admittedly weird but still very strong desire to pick up my budding family and put us smack in the middle of southern breezes, Georgia’s red dirt, the briny smell of southern Louisiana – any and all trappings of the south. But I’m talking to much. You need to hear it from the woman of the hour herself:

“The plantation clearings and miles of cotton fields smiled up to a warm sun, placid, complacent. At their edges rose the virgin forests, dark and cool even in the hottest noons, mysterious, a little sinister, the soughing pines seeming to wait with an age-old patience, to threaten with soft sighs: ‘Be careful! Be careful! We had you once. We can take you back again.'” (p.7)

“The sun was now below the horizon and the red glow at the rim of the world faded into pink. The sky above turned slowly from azure to the delicate blue-green of a robin’s egg, and the unearthly stillness of rural twilight came stealthily down about her. Shadowy dimness crept over the countryside. The red furrows and the gashed red road lost their magical blood color and became plain brown earth.” (p.22)

“The warm damp balminess of spring encompassed her sweetly with the moist smells of new-plowed earth and all the fresh green things pushing up to the air.” (p.23)

So, needless to say, the mood there is evident. In terms of the character and time period, the land of Tara is very much so a representation of the wealth of the O’Hara family, a wealth which firmly entrenches them in the landed gentry of the Old South – a position that, history tells us, will put them firmly on the losing side of the Civil War. Also, knowing the kind of tenacity and strength and survival of the character of Scarlett, it’s too easy to see this in the same plantation that ends up surviving Sherman’s burning, destructive march to the sea.

Level 2: How do you envision it? Find a few images or describe it. Do you feel the setting is right? or was it a weak point of the author?

Oh my goodness yes the author got it right! My half brother lives in South Carolina, my grandparents live in Arkansas, my cousins live in Georgia, and the best vacation I’ve ever taken was to New Orleans, and I’m not a native, but I do know what it feels like to be in the south, and I think Mitchell hits it right on the head. As far as how I picture Tara – I don’t really have to! The movie actually does a rather fabulous job, I think, of capturing the feel of those Old South plantations. See for yourself:

        
Level 3: If this particular setting was changed how would it affect the course of the story?

How wouldn’t it?! I mean, yeah, a lot of Gone with the Wind takes place far away from Tara (namely Atlanta), but Tara is basically a character in and of itself, the way it motivates the actions of the other characters. It’s the place that Scarlett longs to return to once she leaves it. It’s the place that provides her the money and strength she needs to survive. At the end of the day, its the place she returns to when she’s lost everything else. If this setting were different, I feel it’s safe to say that Scarlett wouldn’t be the woman that she is, and if that were the case – well, Gone with the Wind without Scarlett isn’t a story I’d like to imagine!