Monday, July 2, 2012

Gone With the Wind

I don't like camping.

I don't really like being outside all that much.  I am not a fan of fishing.  Boat rides are ok, but only in small doses.  I am not the Mark Trail kind.

This is odd, because I was born into a family of Mark Trails.  My father is the kind of guy who could survive for months in the woods with three matches and a windbreaker.  Both my brothers are Eagle Scouts.  My mother, although not quite as gung-ho as the others, enjoys a beautiful vacation in the great outdoors.

Me?  I like hotels, air conditioning, and room service.  But to each their own.

So here is me, growing up in this family of outdoorsy people.  Who liked to vacation in campers and get fishing licenses every year.  As a result, I became a big fan of the "vacation book" - that huge book you take with you on vacation and read all the way through.  While my family was out doing whatever it is they would be doing, I'd be sitting under a tree with my nose in a book.  Everybody wins!

This is the background for my love affair with Gone With the Wind. When I was 13, our family took a camping trip to Roaring River.  It was a beautiful, fun family vacation about which I remember very little because I took along this paperback that had been sitting on my shelf for about a year.  I had watched GWTW the year before and, being me, immediately ran out and bought the book.  It sat there waiting for the opportune moment to grab my attention, and that moment came as I was cruising for a good vacation
read. 

From that summer on, I have read  GWTW at least once a year.  I have it memorized.  I can pick it up at any point and just start reading because I know what happened immediately before.  It is like an old friend. I have numerous copies and have gone THROUGH numerous copies.  It is, without a doubt, my favorite book.

Why?  Well, for several reasons.  One is the writing - just the beauty of the writing.  I love a well-written book, and this one sweeps me away with the language.  Another is the historical angle.  I love good historical novels.  While it is not England during the Middle Ages, it is still an extraordinary time in history.

But I think the main reason I love it so much is that it is different each time I read it.  When you read GWTW as a suburban, midwestern, Caucasian 13-year old girl, you are all swept up in the romance.  Oh, if only Rhett and Scarlett could just communicate!  Or if only Ashley would just leave Melanie!  Even war is romantic to a 13-year old girl.  You hone in on simplistic viewpoints of what are essentially very complex relationships.  Everything is so black and white when you are 13.  And Scarlett is your hero. 

Later on, as I grew older and experienced more of the world, the racial issues of the book began to become more apparent to me.   I do not deny in the least that it is an incredibly racist book.  It has its faults.  To understand this, you have to understand the context in which it was written.  Margaret Mitchell was a southerner writing in the 1930s about the Civil War.  The fact that she glorified the KKK was most likely a result of what she herself had been taught from a child.  I am not saying it is right.  I am saying it is real.  The older I get, the more apparent these issues become, and the more they bother me.  When I was in my 20s and doing ministry in the inner city of New Orleans, I couldn't gloss over those parts like I could when I was 13.  The reality of the racism was too real around me as well as in the book.  The depictions of African-Americans are deplorable, and the painting of slavery as some well-intentioned program of caring for "the Negroes" like "children" is disgusting, it really is.

The last time around that I read the book, I found myself very frustrated with characters I had once seen as heroic and tragic.  I went from wanting Rhett and Scarlett to reconcile to wanting to knock their heads together.  Good grief, quit whining and talk to each other already!  And Scarlett as a heroine?  I can no longer forgive her horrible parenting.  I want to take Wade home with me.  I want to hug Ella.  I want to teach Bonnie a freaking lesson.  Scarlett and Rhett are really, when you get down to it, horrible friends, terrible lovers, and poor excuses for parents.  They deserve each other.  At least Rhett knows it, but still, he has too much pride to just plain tell the woman he loves that he loves her...so he visits whores instead.  Because THAT always helps.  And Ashley?  Melanie should have left the wishy-washy jerk.  Don't give me that twaddle about being a throwback to a different time.  Get your act together, love your wife and move far, far away from Scarlett. 

In addition, my respect for Melanie has grown over the years.  I can never forgive David O. Selznick for turning her character into a pale, wimpy version of what Margaret Mitchell created.  Melanie is the hero of the book.  She stands the test of time with all her friends.  She fights for what she knows is right.  She is not afraid to do what it takes to save her family.  She recognizes Scarlett for all her weaknesses and loves her anyway.  She may have an idealistic view of the world - but she holds on to the view with both hands and, more importantly, with her heart.  I think she and I would be friends.  I think Scarlett and I could not.  (But then, if you read Margaret Mitchell's interviews about the matter, as I have, she didn't like Scarlett either.  Liking Scarlett was not the point.)

 I guess I have become more cynical in my old age, which I suppose brings me to my final reason for loving this book: it reflects back to me who I am at any given point in my life.  Romantic teenager.  Crusader for justice.  Protective mother.  Self-respecting woman.  The characters have changed with me over time, and I love that about the story.

And if I may return to the topic of the controversial parts - this book generates an important discussion.  It reminds us of where we once were - and that it wasn't that long ago.  We have to remember our past as we look forward to the future.  Is it embarrassing that we owned slaves at one point in our history?  You bet.  Is it ridiculous that the Great American Novel glorifies that time?  Absolutely.  Can we forget these times?  We must not.  It is when we forget that we repeat our previous sins.  So let's talk about it - raw and ugly as it is.  I recognize that someone of a different race may very well feel differently about it than I.  They have every right to.  Let's talk about that as well.  We have to keep the dialogue going if we are going to heal as a nation.  (For another great perspective on the book from a woman who also read it as a teenager, read this article here.)

I am sure as time wears on, GWTW will continue to change for me.  It will continue to be a source of joy and pain for me - as any old and well-loved friend is.  I haven't even scratched the surface in this review with how much and why I enjoy this novel.  But that 13-year girl under the tree and I are still hanging in there with Katie Scarlett O'Hara.  Maybe by the end of my life I will have resolved how I really feel about this dynamic character.

Part of me hopes not.

Rating: 10 out of 5 stars
What's up next: The Seven Mountain Mantle: Receiving the Joseph Anointing to Reform Nations by Johnny Enlow
Top Five TBR:
1. Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst 
2. To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
3. Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
4. The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser
5. Erasing Hell by Francis Chan 




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