Gone With the Wind bookcover

    The Background

    When I was a teenager, I was captivated by the novel Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell, and the 1939 film starring Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, and Leslie Howard.

    Mitchell was a journalist and, after reading every book in her local library about the Civil War, her husband encouraged her to write one of her own. Over ten years, she worked on the manuscript, never really intending to have it published, but a publisher friend of hers asked to read it. It was sitting in stacks of paper all over her apartment. She gathered them up and handed them off. After reading it, the publisher was eager to see the manuscript in print. Shortly before publication, in a stroke of genius, Mitchell changed the name of her main character from Pansy to Scarlett. What a difference that made!

    During its first six months, the sales of the book (at $3 a copy) reached almost one million dollars. The next year, Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the book. After its publication, Mitchell spent the rest of her life managing its international publication and dealing with copyright infringements (bootleg copies). It's a lesson in the downside of fame and success. Imagine what other novels she might have written, if she had had the opportunity. Only one other manuscript, written when she was 15 and given to a beau, surfaced after her death and has been published. Lost Laysen (1996) is a romance set in the South Pacific.

    Gone With the Wind, pre-release posterThe film won ten Academy Awards (eight competitive, two honorary), and is ranked among the top ten films of the 20th century. The casting for the film is stellar and the costuming and set decoration are stunning and memorable. Mitchell chose not to be involved in the making of the film, as she felt she had no expertise in the field, but she attended the opening of the film and was pleased with it.

    To read more about Margaret Mitchell, check out Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell by Darden Asbury Pyron and Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind Letters edited by Richard Harwell.

    Alexandra Ripley wrote a sequel Scarlett (1991), and it was made into a miniseries, Scarlett (1994), starring Joanne Whalley and Timothy Dalton. In my opinion, the book and the miniseries do not live up to either of the originals. I don't recommend them.

    Spoiler Alert: (elements of the story will be discussed)

    Impressions


    It's fascinating to consider that two people can be faced with the same life-changing events and yet react very differently to them. Scarlett and Melanie both had every vestige of their southern life stripped away from them. Both had to adapt, but both did so very differently. In Scarlett, blind ambition and greed surfaced, but Melanie remained as she had always been, a kind-hearted soul, always believing the best about everyone.

    In a contrast between Scarlett and Melanie, the narrative demonstrates the importance of integrity. While Scarlett had tremendous adaptability and survivor skills, she did not exhibit integrity. Her moral values went to the wayside depending on the need at hand. One example is that she didn't shrink from plotting to marry a man she didn't love, even though he was already engaged to one of her sisters, so that he would give her the money to pay the taxes on Tara (her childhood home). Melanie remained a person of integrity throughout. In my readings, I came across a quote from Mitchell stating that she considered Melanie the real heroine of the book.

    Scarlett is also an excellent example of how someone can throw away their chance at happiness by focusing on and coveting what someone else has. Scarlett nursed her youthful infatuation with Ashley until it cost her, her marriage to Rhett. She chose what she couldn't have over what was already hers.

    Literature and films can be fodder for thought as well as a vehicle for entertainment. Gone With the Wind, the book and the film are stellar at both, and made quite an impression on a teenage girl.