Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#26: Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell)

on November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012 was a monumental day in my reading life. It took me nearly 4 months to complete its 959 pages, but last night I finally finished reading Gone with the Wind for the first time. I’m proud of the accomplishment and feel as though I have completed something significant. I can’t say that I held the same feelings throughout the experience though.

My journey with GWTW began this summer when a challenge was issued by a blog that I follow to read the novel in honor of Mitchell’s birthday celebration that happened earlier this month. Knowing that I tend to be a slow reader, I decided to start the novel ahead of schedule. I picked up the 75th anniversary edition while on vacation with my parents in Charleston, South Carolina in July. That trip shaped my initial experience with the novel.

While in Charleston, Mom and I visited Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, a beautiful house that served as my mental image of Tara. There was something magical about reading Mitchell’s eloquent depiction of the old South while visiting this grand city. I was mesmerized and enchanted by the characters that sprang to life in the first 200 pages of the novel.

As Mitchell’s war broke out, I found myself in my own personal war zone: the beginning of a new semester of teaching. Schedules became more busy and responsibilities piled up. My time for relaxed reading was a thing of the past. I found myself trudging through the novel and becoming annoyed with Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley. Were these characters really so naive? Was there truly nothing more important to consider while a war was raging and people were dying?

As the mid-point of the semester rolled around, vacation time was on the horizon and I looked forward to getting to do some more reading. By this point, I was so tired of Scarlett’s whining that I simply couldn’t “listen” to it for another moment. I took a break from the saga and reveled in other books. The distraction was welcome and a healthy choice for me. As I finished these diversionary books, I found myself longing to return to the tale that Mitchell was skillfully crafting.

Thanksgiving week brought just the change of pace that I needed to plow through the novel to the end. I was surprised to find that I couldn’t put the novel down when I reached the last 150 pages or so. Perhaps the reason for my excitement was realizing that the end was in sight, I thought. As I pushed ahead, I realized that the story’s unexpected twists and turns (especially the deaths of Bonnie and Melly) caught my attention and pulled at my heart-strings. I was hooked and anxious to see the effect these tragic events would have upon Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley. With baited breath, I looked forward to Rhett’s memorable “I don’t give a damn” just before the novel’s conclusion. I especially appreciated that Mitchell didn’t attempt to tie everything up into a neat package and bring the story to a decisive ending.

I think I understand why Gone with the Wind is considered a classic. The opening and closing sections are wonderful examples of quality prose. The 450 pages in the middle simply pull us along. By the time we reach this less-than-perfect portion of the novel, we are so invested in the lives of the characters that we simply must know how the story ends. Despite its faults (including the depictions of slavery and the KKK), the beauty of the work is its powerfully effective treatment of war as both a national and personal tragedy.

I made a visit to my local Barnes & Noble this afternoon to purchase the film version of Gone with the Wind (which I have never seen). I look forward to revisiting Tara and seeing Mitchell’s famous lovers brought to life on the silver screen.

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