Customer Review

49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ripping Yarn - with one massive flaw, 31 May 2008
This review is from: Gone with the Wind (Paperback)
This is a book with a thoroughly unlikable heroine; it is shot through with jaw dropping racism, so how can it qualify for four stars?

The simple answer is that it is fundamentally an absolutely ripping yarn. Margaret Mitchell's achievement is in creating a set of flawed characters, but then making the reader care about what happens to them. Couple engaging characters with a beautifully paced plot and it is easy to understand why Gone With The Wind is still in print and massively popular.

It is the story of selfish, determined daughter of a plantation, Scarlett O'Hara, her enduring love for neighbour Ashley Wilkes, his marriage to Melanie, who becomes Scarlett's devoted friend, and of course the love of Rhett Butler for Scarlett. The context of the story is the American south before, during and after the civil war. We see the relationships between the characters develop as they go from affluence, through degradation in defeat, and then rebuild.

Scarlett is of course the centre of the book and Mitchell skilfully plays with the reader's emotions towards her heroine. Basically she is selfish, spiteful, snobbish, racist, a hideously bad parent, an exploitative employer, but courageous and engaging. Initially we dislike her as a spoilt brat, her marriages are exasperating, we grow to admire her courage as she fights to survive during and after the war, she becomes a figure of ridicule as she joins the nouveau riche and finally her inability to understand Rhett's love is frustrating, infuriating and eventually tragic.

I have never seen the film, only heard the famous lines, and so was surprised to find that Rhett Butler, rather than being a heartless cad is in fact brutally honest with himself and is a strong and proud man brought low by his love for the unknowing Scarlett.

Despite the fantastic nature of the story, the epic background, the major flaw which cannot be ignored is the appalling racism. I was ready to be accepting and view the racism in the book as a portrayal rather than an espousal of the attitudes of the time. I'm afraid I can't maintain that line, Mitchell is too clearly and openly sympathetic to slavery. Her attitude is basically that slaves are subhuman, that the "good" ones prefer enslavement and that the institution was vindicated by the fact that the North perpetrated some unacceptable acts in abolishing it. Some of the sections after the civil war are just dreadful in their proslavery sentiment. It is almost unbelievable that this book was written and published in a democracy during the 20th Century. This is further illustrated by the toe curlingly embarrassing speech patterns Mitchell gives to the slave characters.

That the book can still have any validity despite this is a testament to the power of the story. The whole thing cracks along superbly with some brilliantly evocative scenes which will stick in the mind for a long time: the first time Scarlett dances with Rhett, the birth of Melanie's baby, the flight from Atlanta, Scarlet and Ashley in the Saw Mill and of course the final scene between Rhett and Scarlett.

In a strange way GWTW reminded me of the Lord of the Rings. It is not a great work of literature. It has some serious flaws, but it is an absolutely fabulous story, and it gave rise to a whole sub genre, while remaining superior to any of its successors.

So final thoughts.
-I highly recommend GWTW as a thundering good read, but be aware you'll need a strong stomach
-Don't be daunted by the size, the plot is well paced and it never drags
-It's not just a girly book, I'm an (ex) rugby playing bloke and I loved the story
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Jun 2009 13:09:41 BDT
And it didn't just get published, it won a Pulitzer Prize ...! You put the point about the pro-slavery views being too clearly the author's and not just the characters' extremely well. We clearly had very similar responses to this book. The comparison wiht The Lord of the Rings is valid, but I do think Tolkien's moral compass was much better adjusted than Margaret Mitchell's!

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Jun 2009 08:49:29 BDT
P. G. Harris says:
I absolutely agree.

I love LOTR, but I'm not blind to its faults (sometimes stilted prose, poor female characterisation) but overt screaming racism isn't one of them.

Posted on 12 May 2011 22:15:37 BDT
Hugh Sedon says:
Although I think your review of the book is excellent, I disagree with you on the racist element. Please see my own review, filed today.

Posted on 25 Jul 2011 15:07:58 BDT
LMJ Firth says:
Excellent review: I have a real love/hate relationship with this book. A strong stomach is certainly needed: as you say, the author too clearly sympathises with her abhorrently racist characters, and the slaves are merely two-dimensional stereotypes characterised as being "like dogs or children" (Mitchell's words!). Too bad, this could easily have been one of my favourite books: the story is impeccably detailed, engaging, well researched, and flows along with never a dull moment. Unfortunately it will always be marred for me by what even for the time must have been quite shocking racist views (I notice all portrayals of the Ku Klux Klan as the brave protectors of Southern women were removed from the film version). I've read this three times and it never fails to simultaneously hook me and draw me into the story and have me ranting and raving about the characters and author. Recommended... if you can stomach it.

In reply to an earlier post on 13 Dec 2011 16:28:28 GMT
Liquorice says:
I disagree with the racism point since it was common at that time. Would we write a book set in the Middle Age where lots of characters are atheistic ? I don't believe so.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Jan 2012 16:54:31 GMT
P. G. Harris says:
I tried to make it clear in my review that I do not think it is wrong to portray racism. My problem is with Mitchell's clear sympathy for that racism.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Jan 2012 14:14:04 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 27 Jan 2012 15:46:25 GMT]

Posted on 7 Sep 2012 07:42:39 BDT
fox says:
I have to say I was irritated by the "politically correct" compaint on the racism that is undoubtedly portrayed within Gone with the Wind.
Given that it is a story about characters within the south who were effectively on the pro-racist side of the war, what on earth would you expect the characters to be like? If you have read the story properly, you surely see that the author draws a contrast between many black characters, showing admirable characteristics of loyalty, resourcefulness, insight, and of having a strong influence in some situations. There is no black character named who emerges like an "animal". What is shown is the effect of slavery on the way people behave, i.e. remove their power and authority and people lose a sense of responsibility. It could not be dealt with meaningful without the realism shown. In Nazi germany the jews were treated in a way that made them compliant and largely they appeared to go along rather than fight back-It was the effect of the way they were being treated and the system of law. Gone With the Wind makes a similar point about the way black people's attitudes to themselves were affected by the way they were treated and the law of the day.
The book is equally "sexist", so I am relieved there are not complaints about that too from the PC brigade.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Sep 2012 15:14:02 BDT
P. G. Harris says:
1. As I say in my review, as I note in comments, my concern isn't the portrayal of racism. To Kill a Mocking Bird portrays racism, but I have no problem with that. My problem with Mitchell's novel is that it seems to me to be sympathetic to racism.
2. I perceive from your tone that you believe objecting to racism (or sexism) to be "PC" and that "PC" is bad. You therefore seem to suggest that objecting to nracism is a bad thing. I can't agree

Posted on 25 Sep 2012 09:15:54 BDT
Bookfriend says:
Thanks for pointing out that this story can be equally well be enjoyed by blokes, as well as women, P.G.
I'm quite annoyed by the mocking this magnificent story can receive by both genders, misguided by the "bodice-ripper" type covers used by publishers.

There's passion inferred in the story between Scarlett and Rhett, but little more than a kiss or two mentioned in detail.
For the rest of the novel - it's a gripping, horrifying, heartrending account of the vast changes to all ways of life the War itself brought, it's aftermath, and the new ways to come for the entire country and all it's people.
Whether we agree or disagree with the viewpoints raised - it's a never-to-be-forgotten "big read" for anyone.
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