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Gone With the Wind, a Story About Presence

Holley Morgan is a graduate student at SNHU and currently works as a college essay tutor.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in the film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind."

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in the film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind."

A Story About Being Human

There are a lot of reviews that slam Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, primarily for its portrayal of slavery and romanticization of the South. After reading it myself, I don't feel that Mitchell meant for it to be a political book, although its setting makes the politics of it inevitable.

First and foremost, it is intended to be a love story. Secondly, perhaps, it is about the tragedy of being human, namely our tendency to look at there and think it is better than here. In that sense, the romanticizing of the South, especially pre-war, can contribute to its message.

Mitchell was not alive at the time of the war, so her perception of it was influenced heavily by her family's views and memories of it. There is only so much that research can contribute to characterization. It can give a general idea of how people behaved, but the rest is filled in the blank by the writer's own perceptions and experiences.

I will be focusing more on what I believe Mitchell wished to convey about human nature through the relationships of Scarlett O'Hara, Ashley Wilkes, and Rhett Butler. While theirs wasn't a particularly happy story, it's one that sticks and teaches a valuable lesson about the importance of being present with those we love.

A Strong Feminine Bond

The story starts on the brink of the Civil War, with Scarlett O'Hara feeling crestfallen that the man she is in love with, Ashley Wilkes, is engaged to marry a woman named Melanie Hamilton. Ashley is quite different from many of the men Scarlett has interacted with; he loves the South, but not war, and he's more interested in literature than he is in reality.

Perhaps the biggest draw of Ashley for Scarlett is that he is not available in the way other men are to her. She is utterly bored by Melanie's brother, Charles, for instance, but she accepts his proposal of marriage in hopes that it will make Ashley jealous. The plan backfires when Scarlett becomes pregnant after marriage, as she does not enjoy childbearing or children in general. Melanie, as her sister-in-law, comes to adore both Scarlett and her nephew, Wade. She feels particularly close to both after her brother dies in the war.

Scarlett spends much of her time in the novel disliking Melanie, feeling jealous of her, and wanting to get a moment alone with Ashley. Melanie has a sweet and giving nature, much like Scarlett's mother, which only serves to annoy Scarlett further. It seems that Scarlett idolizes her mother and wishes to be like her but simply cannot. It's not her nature, but it is Melanie's. Meanwhile, Melanie is the one person in the story who never abandons Scarlett and always looks out for her, even after a scandal in which Scarlett was found in Ashley's embrace in one of her coveted moments alone with him.

Scarlett looks out for Melanie as well, mainly because Ashley asks her to while he is away at war, but she resents it all the while. It is not until after Melanie's death from a miscarriage that Scarlett realizes she cared for her all along, that Melanie was the one person whose support was consistent all Scarlett's life. There seemed to be nothing Scarlett could do to break that bond of unconditional love that Melanie felt toward her. After she realizes this, she loses all interest in Ashley and begins to realize what she's had right in front of her all along, but unfortunately, it is too late.

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The Draw of Emotional Unavailability

Another constant in Scarlett's life is Rhett Butler. It is made clear from the beginning that Rhett is not what most would consider marriage material. He has a terrible reputation. But he also has a lot of money, something which Scarlett is especially drawn to after the war, after she vows that she will never go hungry again.

Scarlett and Rhett have an interesting, flirtatious relationship all throughout the novel. He is the one person who witnesses Scarlett's outburst about Ashley in the beginning, when she throws a vase in frustration about not being able to have him. While Rhett teases her about it, it is clear that this was a moment that endeared her to him and captured his interest. Scarlett's tendency to be "un-ladylike" is a big part of her draw to Rhett. It amuses him and adds a level of desirability to her.

Scarlett and Rhett are alike in that they are both attracted to unavailability. Rhett is most drawn to Scarlett, the most in love with her, when she does not feel that way toward him. And by the time she realizes she does love him, he claims he has already decided to move on. They both have a way of loving when it's not good for them, when it's not reciprocated.

The Takeaway

It is my opinion that this epic novel has certainly been written with biases, and I understand why it is problematic in that sense. However, when you put aside politics, it is an excellent exploration of the questions: why do we chase what we cannot have and turn away from wholesome, healthy love when it is freely available? Why are we sometimes the most cruel to the ones who truly love us? Why does unconditional love sometimes turn us off?

Many novels may explore these, but the way in which Mitchell did it is striking. It sticks with you, and if you pay enough attention, you can learn from it. You can either break this pattern in your own life or understand how to avoid it without having to experience it. If a work of fiction can touch its reader in this way, enough to show him something about his own life, then I view it as a success.

As to the pervading theme of tragedy, there was plenty of fighting, death, famine, and poverty, but perhaps the biggest of them all was the tragedy of time. The number of years that Scarlett spent loving a man who ultimately could not be there for her. The years she spent overlooking the true albeit platonic love that was right in front of her the whole time. How she gradually drove away a man who loved her, flaws and all. It can also emphasize the importance of all kinds of love, not just romantic, in the foundation of our lives. In that aspect, the story contains a great deal of truth.

© 2020 Holley Morgan


Holley Morgan (author) from Upstate New York on January 25, 2020:

Thank you, Linda! I hope you get as much out of it as I did, if you decide to read it.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 24, 2020:

Your article is interesting. I've never read the book myself, but I'm tempted to do so now that I've read your analysis. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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