Disclaimer: I’m continuing this week’s Mother Day tradition by reviewing one of my mum’s all-time favorite novels. I want to take a moment and discuss the controversy surrounding this novel i.e. the fact that it romanticizes slavery and the Old South. While the white, rich, plantation owner perspective was problematic at the time of publishing (1936) and for a few decades after, considering the long slog to end racial inequality and persecution. I’d like to think that at this point in time nobody is siding with the slave owners – and if you are, you’re a moron. The book does suffer from mostly just showing the white side (which again, while unpleasant, was the reality for an entire class of people) and there are quite a few racially-problematic issues with the superficial depiction of black people, the normalization of oppression and the racist language. However, I don’t think we should squirm away from the harsh realities of that particular time in history and use every opportunity to open a discussion on the topic (if not a history book!).
I beg that you read 12 Years a Slave or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to name only a couple, if you want to obtain a well-rounded literary view on the topic.
I also wouldn’t read this novel for the romance aspect. I personally see it as a coming of age/survival story and enjoy the book mostly because of the main character, Scarlett O’Hara. The story starts with Scarlett, aged 16, not a great beauty as opposed to her screen-double, Vivien Leigh, but very charming and thoroughly infatuated with her neighbor, Ashley Wilkes, who alas is to be engaged to another. And then the Civil War hits and what would have otherwise been a vanilla costume soap-opera turns serious – what follows is plenty of death, destitution, miscarriage and all around hard graft in a changing world.
I love the fact that the main character is a strong woman. You can debate that if you will (Scarlett can be quite unlikable for those more morally stern) but I think that she is a woman that plays to her strengths and the times – she marries several times (first out of childish spite but later in calculated move), and she runs her own business. She lacks traditionally feminine qualities – she isn’t maternal at all, nor does she seem overly concerned with love or the people that stand in her way-, particularly when compared with her friend/unknowing rival, Melanie Wilkes, who is arguably the epitome of a lady. I do think many people forget about Scarlett’s young age (she is just 28 at the end of the novel) and perhaps forget to take into account the impact of the many challenges she has faced and to what degree they could have stunted her maturity growth.
I’m not here to argue whether she is a good person but she does make for an interesting character.
Conversely, many of the male characters in the novel are quite weak and indecisive. Scarlett’s male counterpart is without a doubt Rhett Butler and it seems that they deserve each other. This seems true at times – they are both just as immature and selfish. However, while he makes just as many questionable choices, he begins to doubt more of his selfishness, starts exhibiting more of a moral battle and personality growth. His demon is definitely alcohol and, combined with his repressed emotions and Scarlett’s emotional infidelity and taunts, makes for a violent result. Their relationship does seem to slowly grow more and more unhealthy.
All in all, I give this book 3.5 out 5 bonnets!
You know I love coincidences by this point. I got the book a while back from a charity shop for an absolute bargain. I absolutely like going in not knowing what books I will find (well besides the many copies of 50 Shades of Grey, Twilight and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) – it feels like a treasure hunt! It’s a 1978 edition and it comes complete with a dedication.