#21. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Gone with the Wind, first published in 1936 by Houghton Mifflin, is a romance novel written by Margaret Mitchell, who received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the book in 1937. The story is set in Clayton County, Georgia and Atlanta during the American Civil War and Reconstruction, and, written in the bildungsroman style, it depicts the experiences of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to come out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea. The book is the source of the 1939 film of the same name, which I also watched.
Margaret Mitchell began writing Gone with the Wind in Atlanta in 1926 to pass the time while recovering from an auto-crash injury that refused to heal. In April 1935, Harold Latham of Macmillan, an editor who was looking for new fiction, read what she had written and saw that it could be a best-seller. After Latham agreed to publish the book, Mitchell worked for another six months checking the historical references, and rewrote the opening chapter several times. Mitchell and her husband John Marsh, a copy editor by trade, edited the final version of the novel. Mitchell wrote the book’s final moments first, and then wrote the events that led up to it. As to what became of her star-crossed lovers, Rhett and Scarlett, after the novel ended, Mitchell did not know, and said, “For all I know, Rhett may have found someone else who was less difficult.” Gone with the Wind is the only novel by Mitchell published during her lifetime.
The author tentatively titled the book Tomorrow is Another Day, from its last line. Other proposed titles included Bugles Sang True, Not in Our Stars, and Tote the Weary Load. The title Mitchell finally chose is from the first line of the third stanza of the poem Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae by Ernest Dowson:
“I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind…”
Scarlett O’Hara uses the title phrase when she wonders to herself if her home on a plantation called “Tara” is still standing or if it is “gone with the wind which had swept through Georgia.”
“Was Tara still standing? Or was Tara also gone with the wind which had swept through Georgia?” (Page 397, para. 5)
In a general sense, the title is a metaphor for the departure of a way of life that existed in the South prior to the Civil War. When taken in the context of Dowson’s poem about “Cynara”, the phrase “gone with the wind” alludes to erotic loss. The poem expresses the regrets of someone who has lost his passionate feelings for his “old passion”, Cynara. I can see this applied to the Old Guard, which includes Ashley, as they yearn for the old times and ways, and even feel like a fish out of water, as life progresses on after the Civil War, and up through Reconstruction.
The Civil War came to an end on April 26, 1865 when Confederate General Johnston surrendered his armies in the Carolinas Campaign to Union General Sherman. The battles mentioned or depicted in Gone with the Wind are:
(1) Battle of Fredericksburg, December 11–15, 1862, Fredericksburg, Virginia, Confederate victory.
(2) Streight’s Raid, April 19–May 3, 1863, in northern Alabama. Union Colonel Streight and his men were captured by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
(3) Battle of Chancellorsville, April 30–May 6, 1863, in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near the village of Chancellorsville, Confederate victory.
Ashley Wilkes is stationed on the Rapidan River, Virginia, in the winter of 1863, later captured and sent to a Union prison camp, Rock Island, on the Mississippi River. I really hadn’t paid that much attention to Rock Island, Illinois. It was fascinating to read and learn about a place that was prominent in the Civil War that wasn’t too far from my home town.
(4) Siege of Vicksburg, May 18–July 4, 1863, Vicksburg, Mississippi, Union victory.
(5) Battle of Gettysburg, July 1–3, 1863, fought in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Union victory. “They expected death. They did not expect defeat.”
(6) Battle of Chickamauga, September 19–20, 1863, northwestern Georgia. The first fighting in Georgia and the most significant Union defeat.
(7) Chattanooga Campaign, November-December, 1863, Tennessee, Union victory. The city became the supply and logistics base for Sherman’s 1864 Atlanta Campaign.
Then there was the Atlanta Campaign, which took place from May–September 1864, northwest Georgia and the area around Atlanta:
(1) Confederate General Johnston fights and retreats from Dalton (May 7-13) to Resaca (May 13-15) to Kennesaw Mountain (June 27). Union General Sherman suffers heavy losses to the entrenched Confederate army. Unable to pass through Kennesaw, Sherman swings his men around to the Chattahoochee River where the Confederate army is waiting on the opposite side of the river. Once again, General Sherman flanks the Confederate army, forcing Johnston to retreat to Peachtree Creek (July 20), five miles northeast of Atlanta.
(2) Battle of Atlanta, July 22, 1864, just southeast of Atlanta. The city would not fall until September 2, 1864. Heavy losses for Confederate General Hood. Interesting enough, Ft. Hood, Texas, was named after this Confederate, General John Bell Hood.
(3) Battle of Ezra Church, July 28, 1864, Sherman’s failed attack west of Atlanta where the railroad entered the city.
(4) Battle of Utoy Creek, August 5-7, 1864, Sherman’s failed attempt to break the railroad line into Atlanta from the east, heavy Union losses.
(5) Battle of Jonesborough, August 31-September 1, 1864, Sherman successfully cut the railroad lines from the south into Atlanta. The city of Atlanta was abandoned by Hood and then occupied by Union troops for the rest of the war.
(6) Savannah Campaign, conducted around Georgia during November and December 1864.
“If Gone with the Wind has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong, and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption.’ So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.”
— Margaret Mitchell,1936
Scarlett and Rhett are survivors because they adapt to the changes brought about by the war and Reconstruction. Some of the old ways had to be cast aside to allow for this survival, and while Rhett figured out just how far and for how long to cast these traditions aside, he embraced them at precisely the right moment to keep from holding the ostracized position and contempt that Scarlett held and received for most of the book.
“Influence is everything, Scarlett. Remember that when you get arrested. Influence is everything, and guilt or innocence merely an academic question.” (Page 623, Para. 1)
As despicable as Scarlett may have been, many of the folks who survived only did so because of Scarlett’s charity. While relatives in Charleston survived because of the said charity, they continued to criticize Scarlett’s unfashionable behavior that earned that money. Ashley wouldn’t have survived without Scarlett’s support, either. The focus on proper etiquette for a lady was very frustrating from my point of view, and I cannot help but wonder if I would have acted very similar in her shoes. I wonder if this resistance that she felt in owning and operating a business pushed her over her mark in her ruthless behavior towards others.
While survival seems to be the biggest theme, love and honor must rank up there with it. There is no great depiction of love and honor than from Ashley and Melanie Wilkes. Without love and honor, Ashley would have succumbed to Scarlett’s temptations when he was at his breaking point. It was both love and honor that saw Melanie standing at Scarlett’s side, against the opinion of Atlanta. I honestly don’t feel that Scarlett really learns to understand what love is until the very end of the novel.
Mitchell does a great job depicting the true horrors of war and the scars of which that are slow to heal, if they heal at all. She shows in a variety of ways the effects even though the main character is slow in realizing, or acknowledging these changes and effects. It’s hard to say how we would have reacted ourselves, were we in her shoes.
One criticism leveled at Gone with the Wind is for its portrayal of African Americans in the 19th century South. For example, former field hands (during the early days of Reconstruction) are described behaving “as creatures of small intelligence might naturally be expected to do. Like monkeys or small children turned loose among treasured objects whose value is beyond their comprehension, they ran wild—either from perverse pleasure in destruction or simply because of their ignorance.”
It has also been argued that Mitchell downplayed the violent role of the Ku Klux Klan. Bestselling author Pat Conroy, in his preface to the novel, describes Mitchell’s portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan as having “the same romanticized role it had in The Birth of a Nation and appears to be a benign combination of the Elks Club and a men’s equestrian society.” It’s fair to say that the origins of the KKK were not what is always depicted. As Mitchell portrays them in Gone with the Wind, they were originally for the rights of the white democrats who were oppressed by the torturous and suffocating regulations of Reconstruction. They were called upon to seek justice when no justice was exacted by the law. It’s important to say that there were no set rules, or guidelines set up across the South by the individual Klans that rose up and stood their ground by the darkness of night. Regarding the historical inaccuracies of the novel, historian Richard N. Current, a well-groomed expert of American history points out:
“No doubt it is indeed unfortunate that Gone with the Wind perpetuates many myths about Reconstruction, particularly with respect to blacks. Margaret Mitchell did not originate them and a young novelist can scarcely be faulted for not knowing what the majority of mature, professional historians did not know until many years later.”
Growing up, I was never very interested in the Civil War; after all, it was a war brought on by the bickering over the legitimacy and morality of slavery, right? Despite that not being accurate, it wasn’t until I took a class in “American History pre-1865” from Nashville State Community College that I learned the truth about our Civil War. I know that sounds horrible, that I was unmotivated to pursue the truth in this matter, but I was more interested in getting the truth out about the treatment and extermination of the Native Americans, which was also an ongoing situation. I set a heavy blame on the education system for this shortcoming of the truth in our country’s history. I am extremely familiar with the saying “The winner writes the history books”, but I’m a person that would rather know the truth, even if it is less glamorous, even if it casts a bad light on people that I was taught to admire, and that includes Abraham Lincoln. The causes of the war were so much more complex, and the abolishment of slavery was more of a tool and a rallying point to the ignorant. So while my generation still typically thinks that war was about slavery, it’s only natural to witness the same concept of thought in the book, the lies Southerners were told about Yankees, that the Yankees would rape and murder women and children as they made their way through the areas. The Yankees did burn a lot as Sherman made his way to the sea, and the destruction of the railroad system was complete. But they did not rape, and they did not murder women and children as the rumors of the Confederacy had indicated. And as I look how people inherently put their faith in the honesty and integrity of our current government, I can legitimately see how the Ignorance of military strategy and blind faith in their government gave the Confederacy false hopes. It was very interesting that Dr. Meade compared the Confederate troops to the Spartans at Thermopylae.
As I prepared to read Gone with the Wind, I expected to see such words as “darkies” and the word “nigger” was seemly presented in reference to a negative situation, and most frequently said by a “darky”. What I found very interesting, was the presentation and usage of the word “Cracker”, so much that I was prompted to do a little bit of research at the origins of the word.
“Their family had more money, more horses, more slaves than any one else in the County, but the boys had less grammar than most of their poor Cracker neighbors.” (Pg. 4, para. 3)
I find typos and grammatical errors very quickly in books. Aside from reading dialog in dialect, (which I find to be really irritating and frustrating), Mitchell frequently used the word “pore” in place of “poor”, and “treble” in place of “triple”. I could find no support in the history of the English language in the United States, even the southern United States that supported this behavior.
Although Mitchell refused to write a sequel to Gone with the Wind, Mitchell’s estate authorized Alexandra Ripley to write a sequel, which was titled Scarlett. The book was subsequently adapted into a television mini-series in 1994. A second sequel was authorized by Mitchell’s estate titled Rhett Butler’s People, by Donald McCaig. The novel parallels Gone with the Wind from Rhett Butler’s perspective.
The copyright holders of Gone with the Wind attempted to suppress publication of The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall, a novel written from the viewpoint of the slaves. I find this truly sad, because I would have liked to have their viewpoint, as Mitchell presented a softer side on how the slaves were treated at Tara.
The 1939 movie “Gone with the Wind” was definitely a classic. Casting was successful when they presented Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara. Those actors fit both characters to a “t”, just as I pictured them in my head as I read the book. As successful as these characters were, though, I feel that the rough edges, coarse plot, and raw emotions were smoothed out in the movie. Perhaps that was etiquette for the time period that the movie was produced in, but I felt it really didn’t do the book justice. Several secondary, but important characters were omitted from the movie, as well, which I feel hurt the emotion in the movie a bit more.
Archie, an ex-convict and former Confederate soldier who is imprisoned for the murder of his adulterous wife, was taken in by Melanie and then later became Scarlett’s coach driver. He gives her an ultimatum, stating that if she agrees to use convict work gangs at her saw mills, he would not escort her as her body guard any more. She decides to ahead with the plan to use convicts at the saw mills, and he leaves her unprotected, opening her up for the attack, the retribution of which would lead to the death of her second husband. Archie’s role in the cleanup of that retribution was pivotal, in my eyes. It’s interesting that Archie was from Milledgeville, and was one of the folks who were missing the “old days”. Milledgeville was the original capital of Georgia, and, after the legislature moved the capital to Atlanta, a symbol of the “New South” in 1868, Milledgeville symbolized the “Old South”.
Will Benteen, a “South Georgia Cracker,”, Confederate soldier and patient listener to the troubles of all, came to Tara on his journey home from the war, and after his recovery he stays on to manage the farm at Tara. Will lost part of his leg in the war and walks with the aid of a wooden stump. It was thought that Will was possibly an Oglethorpe’s debtor. Fond of Carreen O’Hara, he cannot pursue that relationship as she decides to enter a convent in an attempt to deal with the loss of her beau during the war. Not wanting to leave Tara, the land he has come to love, he later marries Suellen and has at least one child with her. Will is Scarlett’s link to Tara while she is in Atlanta, and brings her the news of the death of her father. The movie also doesn’t show how Suellen is responsible for the death of her father, as she pushed him into nearly signing the Yankee oath, so that she could get some money in compensation. Will’s quick thinking saves the immediate family from a blow out at the graveside when friend and neighbors wished to attack Suellen in their graveside words.
Scarlett actually had one child per marriage. Wade Hampton Hamilton was her son with Charles. He was born in early 1862 and was named for his father’s commanding officer, Wade Hampton III. He is a fine example of Scarlett’s lack of motherly love. Ella Lorena Kennedy was the homely, simple daughter of Scarlett and Frank. She is also mousy, like her brother.
Some other references to Gone with the Wind I found were quite interesting. The section of US 41 and US 19 from Interstate 75 south through Jonesboro to the Clayton/Henry county line is called Tara Boulevard, in honor of the book and movie, and the placement of the fictitious plantation near the town. The Tara Field airport (located in Henry but operated by Clayton) is also named for it. Country singing legend Dolly Parton named her Nashville mansion Tara.
“He drew a short breath and said lightly but softly: ‘My dear, I don’t give a damn.’” (Page 1035, para. 13)
(One page from the end, when Rhett is telling Scarlett to basically piss off).