When Will Benteen gives Gerald O’Hara’s eulogy, he suggests that Gerald would never have been “licked” (or defeated) from the outside; however, he was defeated from the inside. This scene confirmed for me what others have already said about Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind. The novel is quintessentially American. I have to consider the manner in which she presents the world in her novel “as is” to be nothing short of brave and American. The story Mitchell weaves includes the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. She doesn’t mince words or whitewash anything.
I’ve read several thoughts about Mitchell’s use of her two heroines, Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Wilkes. On the surface, they seem to be polar opposites and some have attempted to determine that Mitchell wanted one of them to be the true heroine. I am not an expert on Margaret Mitchell; however, I’m not convinced I need to pick one of these women as the true heroine of the story. It’s a given that Scarlett is on almost every page and the majority of the narrative comes from her perspective. While Scarlett is the strong one, the survivor, she comes to this conclusion about Melanie, the seemingly weaker of the two:
Suddenly she (Scarlett) was standing at Tara again with the world about her ears, desolate with the knowledge that she could not face life without the terrible strength of the weak, the gentle, the tender hearted.
I think Mitchell paints a picture of personalities and relationships much more complex than a simple either/or.
I simply flat-out loved this story. While as much as the characters of Scarlett and Melanie intrigued me, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the men – especially Rhett Butler. I found myself respecting the self-proclaimed scoundrel more than I realized. The way he was able to see through the politics as usual and could play both sides to his advantage never ceased to amaze me and make me laugh out loud. He seemed to always be a step ahead of everyone in knowing who would be in power. This is my favorite of his lines and quips (of which there are many) and of course he says it to Scarlett:
“My pet, I’ve been to the devil and he’s a very dull fellow. I won’t go there again, even for you.”
If Mitchell shows weakness in a poor light, it would probably be through the character of Ashley Wilkes. His inability to adjust to changing times stood in stark contrast to Rhett. I don’t think it takes much to figure out who Mitchell considered to have “gumption” among the men. I don’t think it was Ashley.
It seemed tragic for so many of the characters to not realize who they loved or didn’t love until it was too late – but perhaps it wasn’t too late- perhaps tomorrow really is another day.
Here are the other posts I have about Gone With The Wind: