Popularity of Gone With the Wind

April 3, 2019 by Essay Writer

Margaret Mitchell’s romantic epic, Gone With the Wind, owes its remarkable popularity to the climate of sudden self-destruction and dreariness the Depression created. The Old South’s grandeur, coupled with its Civil War-era decadence, provided much-needed escapism for readers, as well as paralleling the U.S.’s own plight in the 20s and 30s. In addition, Scarlett O’Hara’s feminist role, her devotion to her land, and her indomitable optimism lent hope to those who had lost faith in the American Dream.A spirit of beautiful, colorful life at the onset sets up the South’s inevitable destruction and magnifies the greatness of the land and its people. “Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills. Already the plowing was nearly finished, and the bloody glory of the sunset colored the fresh-cut furrows of red Georgia clay to even redder hues.” (10) The foreshadowing of the “bloody glory” of sunset is striking, but idealism is the main theme presented here. Scarlett’s status as a second-generation immigrant adds further to this atmosphere of opportunity. Her father, a proud Irishman, proclaims “‘Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything, for Œtis the only thing in this world that lasts…And to anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them the land they live on is like their mother.'” (39) The idea of an undersized foreigner claiming a large stake in America as his own must surely have fueled the imagination of the great influx of recent immigrants, many of whom used GWTW as a primer to American literature.Hanging over the tranquil South is the specter of war. Rhett, introducing his role as the novel’s realist, explains to a group of war hawks, “‘Why, all we have is cotton and slaves and arrogance. [The North]’d lick us in a month.'” (113) The South’s economic dependency and lack of stability, as well as its overconfidence, mirror that of the late 1920s U.S. Indeed, the Yankees do lick the Confederates, albeit in more than forty-eight months. The landscape is much changed. “Atlanta was longer…the desperately gay place she had loved. It was a hideous place like a plague-stricken city so quiet, so dreadfully quiet after the din of the siege.” (341) The sounds of a ravaged South, too, rang familiarly in the ears of ghetto-dwellers and tenant farmers alike who lived in similar settings.But reaffirming the hope of the disenfranchised is Scarlett and her determination to resurrect her homeland. “She could not desert Tara; she belonged to the red acres far more than they could ever belong to her. Her roots went deep into the blood-colored soil and sucked up life, as did the cotton…Tomorrow there would be so many things to do.” (413-4) Her self-imposed desire for progress and the future overrides the faults of Reconstruction, perhaps indicating Mitchell’s laissez-faire approach to government. Among those faults are the Northern soldiers, one of whom enters Tara with Scarlett the only able-bodied person in the house. “As he lounged up the walk…a kaleidoscope of jumbled pictures spun in her mind, stories Aunt Pittypat had whispered of attacks on unprotected women, throat cuttings…all of the unspeakable horrors that lay bound up in the name of ŒYankee.'” (432) As his intentions to rape are made clear after he symbolically “[slips] his pistol back into its holster” (433) and asks “‘All alone, little lady?'” (433) Scarlett shoots him with the “heavy pistol…Charles had worn but never fired.” (432) Her utilization of a tool her ex-husband never could use is a clear literary act of feminism, as is her triumphant spirit afterwards and the ensuing sisterhood she feels with Melanie: “Her eyes went to the stubby hairy hand on the floor so close to the sewing box and suddenly she was vitally alive again, vitally glad with a cool tigerish joy…She had struck a blow for Tara – and for Ellen…There was a glow of grim pride in [Melanie’s] usually gentle face, approbation and a fierce joy in her smile that equaled the fiery tumult in Scarlett’s own bosom.” (434)Scarlett’s enduring faith in the future and in herself is indelibly stamped at the climax. Rhett declares his unwillingness to live in the broken present and wishes to find the past: “‘Scarlett, I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken – and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken pieces as long as I lived.'” (1022) Scarlett is initially crushed; “She wondered forlornly if she had ever really understood anyone in the world.” (1023) But the thought of Tara, “a quiet place to lick her wounds, a haven in which to plan her campaign,” (1023) comforts her. Her final statement reiterates her sentiments for a new “tomorrow” after Atlanta’s burning (414), and her faith in her own abilities again avers Mitchell’s feminist leanings: “With the spirit of her people who would not know defeat…she raised her chin. She could get Rhett back…’Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.'” (1024) With its broad appeal to uprising women, the hopeless, and anyone yearning for a long diversion into a more regal time, as well as its firm beliefs in the American Dream in a time when the premise was widely doubted, GWTW’s rank as the most popular American book is undeniable; a more debatable question would be whether Mitchell’s intentions were first of providing desolate America with romance, or rather of pushing veiled political propaganda.

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