The first time I read this novel was three years ago, in 2014, when my reading theme was evaluating banned books. I loved this novel. In my original review I commented about how “amazing, innovative, funny, well developed and brilliantly written” this novel was. I abhorred Scarlett, as I still do, as being “beautiful, self-centered, harsh, spiteful, bullheaded, strong.” I wrote about the relationships portrayed between owners and slaves. “In Gone With the Wind the loyalty of the slaves to many of the white families is evident and a source of pride for those slaves. It was interesting at the very least to read this depiction of life in the south after the Civil War.” I ended my review by stating that “there is no hiding the struggles that occurred, the language that was used, the maltreatment that people suffered, the change that happened because of that time in our history. At least with this novel, we are getting a frankly honest depiction of what life may have seemed like for Confederates.” Mitchell crafted a beautiful novel, there is no denying that. But there is so much more to this novel than I realized and in this second review I plan on dissecting more into exactly what it was I felt this time.
Was Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind supposed to be a glorification of the south? Or was it meant to expose the south for what it truly was. Early on in the novel it becomes very obvious that Scarlett took pride in her low education and found pride in those around her that had little to no education. The one family in the novel that appreciated education and the arts was seen as “queer” by people in the county. Gambling was preferred by many of the characters in this book compared to being educated. Classism runs rampant throughout as well, with even the slaves of the rich plantation owners looking down at those who had less, even thoough the slaves had less still by their bondage. The pride before the fall of the confederacy is seen early on in the novel as well. No one believed the war would last long and those who digressed were shot down, belittled and ignored. As the story went on and defeat was imminent was when the hate truly began to show through, especially later on in the novel when the Reconstruction era began. The Yankees were taking over and those they referred to as the “Old Guard,” those families seen as Southern Aristocracy, were hard pressed to allow it to happen. And then rose the Ku Klux Klan and the stern belief that the “darkies” could never be as good as them and damn the Yankees for making them believe that they could be. Killings ensued as history will tell us but one statement plays out in my mind over and over and it’s said by the most beloved character in the book, Melanie. She was the one who would take vagrants in her home, always had a kind were, and loved Scarlett vehemently. She said “I won’t forget… I’ll teach my grandchildren to hate them people- and my grandchildren’s grandchildren if God lets me live that long!” I read those words and it was like a bell went off. Because many haven’t forgotten and they’ve spread that hate through the generations.
Everything became clear to me after reading that one quote from Melanie. Sweet, poor, sickly Melanie who ran the social world of the Old Guard simply because she was so pure of heart. And yet here she was, spewing hate. I laughed myself stupid the first time I read this novel. I found every single snide comment Mitchell made about the uneducated confederates. I devoured her account of the life in the south before, during and after the Civil War. I know the history of the Civil War so none of that came as shock. I was more shocked the first time around that Mitchell would add so much detail to the novel, to show the depths of despair to which the confederacy had fallen! But this time around well aware of the plot and the low levels to which Scarlett would sink, I was able to comb through the intricate detail towards the attitude of the south and now this novel feels like its main purpose was to expose the south. Expose the core of southern beliefs and what Melanie said has shown itself to me to be that core.
Many won’t agree and that’s fine, but we can’t deny that hatred, bigotry and racism are taught. Melanie’s moment of truth when she states that she will teach that hate in the hopes that her descendants never forget is damning of this entire novel. If Mitchell wanted this to be a novel to glorify the south, then in my eyes she failed. Too early on she laid a foundation that exposed why the south was damned from the beginning. Throughout the novel she showed the pride that kept the south steeped in hate for so long, never truly acknowledging the fact that in war there are losses on both side and only briefly engaging in the horror that was truly slavery. This is all-out exposure and by having Melanie, the pride of the south, state such a hateful truth, she put the nail in the coffin. This is a damn good book and I appreciate it for its honesty. I’m glad I took the time to reread it. Took years away from it and came back to it. Got lost in the pages and the story of the horrendous Scarlett O’hara and the ruthless Rhett Bartlett that saw through her. But more than anything I’m grateful for Melanie and the calm and cool fashion in which she exposes herself to the hate that has lasted generations in the United States. She said it more eloquently than any man screaming “its heritage not hate” ever could.