I give what's considered one of the greatest American novels of all time...a 68/100.
The 1930s were a pretty crappy time to be alive. Actually, crappy is an understatement. The Great Depression had the world in an iron grip, as stock prices fell to rock bottom levels never before seen. Banks closed, people lost their jobs to the point of being rendered poor and completely homeless, droughts and dust storms decimated crops and farmers' livelihoods, and everything was going to hell. But as attempts to bring America out from the depression rose from the ashes, the thirties would also introduce new rising stars whose names would be forever remembered for their contributions to film and literature the world over. In 1936, a young woman named Margaret Mitchell wrote a massive novel called Gone With The Wind. It was a huge success in spite of it being her first novel, and filmmakers, seeing the book's popularity, saw an opportunity to make big bucks by way of turning it into a movie. The film business was thriving in those awful times, being considered a reprieve from the hardships of life during the Depression, and in 1939, Gone With The Wind was shown on the big screen to mass critical praise and glowing reception, forever hailed as not only one of the greatest romance movies of all time, but the greatest movie of all time.
Now, tell me you haven't at least heard of Gone With The Wind. Chances are you've probably seen clips of it rerunning on TV, or read about it on various lists of best movies ever on the internet. Gone With The Wind is a household name. I myself only just saw the movie last year, and only recently did I sit down and finish reading the massive behemoth that is the book. As such, today's review will focus on the book, and...I'm not gonna lie, this book is MASSIVE. In total, the current edition has the book at a whopping 958 pages! I've heard some other books are longer, such as Don Quixote and Les Miserables, but I haven't read any of those. Length alone doesn't make a book automatically good, and...it really shows here. So, now that I've read the book that is universally hailed as the great American novel, is it the best book of all time, as many have claimed that it is? Unfortunately, for me, that answer is no, and for a lot of reasons.
The story focuses on a young woman named Scarlett O'Hara, the oldest daughter of a rich plantation owner in the deep South, and her life is as content and happy as can be. But the only thing she really cares about is marrying a handsome man named Ashley Wilkes, even though he's already set to be married to his cousin Melanie Hamilton. But everyone around her is more concerned about the upcoming Civil War, and she really can't stand talk of the war. When she's rejected by Ashley, she finds herself interacting with a strange rogue named Rhett Butler, who has a bad reputation but is quite suave and charming. But Scarlett's perfect world comes crashing down when the Civil War turns out to be much more violent and dangerous than even her family and friends could have predicted, and Scarlett not only has to cope with losing everything, but having to make tough decisions just to be able to survive in her war torn home.
Gone With The Wind is split into five parts total, which each one focusing on a different part of Scarlett's life, with part one focusing on her life as an innocent but flirtatious teenager wanting to get into Ashley's pants, and ending when she's an older, cynical woman who is matured and weary from her experiences of both war, her marital issues, and the consequences of all the decisions she made. All throughout that time, we see her change, grow, and make decisions that ultimately have big effects on her life and those of other people she interacts with. Each arc is very different from the other, with different sets of characters and settings seen through Scarlett's eyes. However, as you can see from the rating I gave it, I honestly don't feel Gone With The Wind is the sacred holy masterpiece people are making it out to be. One of the book's main problems is its massive length, and the reason it's so huge is because Mitchell seems to want to take the longest time possible to make ANYTHING happen. There are several chapters that boil down to either paragraphs of unnecessary exposition, Scarlett talking to somebody and never wanting to get it done and over with, or whining about Ashley every other page. Seriously, the book could really benefit from having several passages, or even whole chapters, cut down to a sentence or cut out completely, in order to make it more digestible.
Furthermore, the book goes too far in trying to romanticize the pre-Civil War South, especially slavery. Nearly all of the slaves are depicted as being happy while enslaved, and any blacks who were freed are constantly derided as being insolent or awful for wanting to be treated the same as whites. Want even more proof? The Ku Klux Klan are portrayed as heroes in this novel, with several main characters being confirmed as being with the Klan, Ashley being one of them. Oh, and do I even need to mention that any slaves that do receive decent development, such as Mammy, Prissy, and Big Sam, are still described as having features that are animalistic and savage? Several passages of the book refer to blacks as being stupid monkeys. Need I explain just how awful that is? Others have explained how awful and unsavory these depictions of blacks are much better than I ever could, among many other things, so I'll just recommend that you check out other reviews for the book that go into more detail about the racism being portrayed in a positive light. Oh, and every single black person talks in broken English. Isn't that just lovely?! NOT!!
And don't even get me started on the characters. Now, for what it's worth, many of them do change and evolve throughout the course of the book, and no character is truly good or evil, which is fine. If characters were always perfect or completely evil, they wouldn't be very interesting to follow. None of the characters are static, and the entire cast changes as the story goes on. However, all the character development in the world doesn't help much if the book doesn't make any effort to make you care about the characters, because in all honesty, save for a select few, the main characters are annoying as hell. Melanie doesn't do anything except swoon and look delicate, Scarlett is a selfish, manipulative, heartless brat who won't stop whining about Ashley and can't seem to decide on whether she wants to get with Rhett or Ashley, and she doesn't give a rat's ass about anyone unless they're convenient for her, such as her second husband. But Rhett doesn't come off smelling like a rose either: Many times, he seems to get a sick thrill out of provoking Scarlett, then laughing at her when she's rightfully mad at him, and need I mention the fact that at one point, he rapes her and deliberately pushes her down the stairs to cause a miscarriage when he thinks he's having someone else's baby? I don't think I need to explain just how horrible his actions are, especially during the time period the book takes place. The rest of the cast are either one-note or are just there to take up page space. Again, this is because of the book's length, and many of them could have been cut out completely without losing anything important.
In all honesty, I can only think of three characters that I genuinely cared about, but not for the reasons you may think: Archie, a paroled prisoner whom Scarlett hires as a stagecoach, and Wade and Ella, Scarlett's two kids before she and Rhett have Bonnie. I think Wade and Ella are the most tragic characters in the entire book, because Scarlett doesn't give a rat's ass about them at all. Scarlett is constantly neglectful towards Wade, pushes him away whenever he understandably wants her to comfort and protect him, scolds him over every little thing he does no matter how asinine, and constantly complains about him being a so-called burden on her over really understandable things, to the point where as a toddler, he's practically a nervous wreck, possibly developing early PTSD, because of both the war and Scarlett treating him like shit. This is obviously because Scarlett sees him as the result of an impulsive marriage to a man she never loved, only getting with Charlie Wilkes to make Ashley jealous, but would it kill her to actually treat him like a human being and not hand him off to somebody else the second he even so much as cries? She's not nearly as mean towards Ella, but some easy to miss lines in the book imply that Ella has some kind of intellectual disability, possibly fetal alcohol syndrome (The book mentions that Scarlett drank while pregnant with her), because when Scarlett actually does try to engage with her, Ella goes off on odd tangents unrelated to the subject at hand and doesn't understand much of what's going on. Basically, the two kids only exist to be neglected by Scarlett, and when Rhett calls her out on what she did to them, it's too late for her to fix things. I seriously wanted to jump in the book and give Wade a hug. That boy's whole existence is so tragic, and he deserves so much better, as did Ella. The third character I found to be the best one in the book is Archie, and I don't think I'm supposed to like him. For one, Archie is a paroled prisoner and former Confederate soldier whom Scarlett hires to be her stagecoach to take her to and from work after she marries Frank Kennedy. When Scarlett mentions that she has overseers at her sawmill whip and kill prisoners if they don't do their work, Archie calls her out on her cruelty and lack of empathy for anyone who's below her...and keep in mind, Archie was imprisoned because he openly admitted to murdering his wife. He is absolutely right in how Scarlett has no compassion for anyone and only uses people as a means to an end, even if it's for her family's survival, and he later quits because he's sick of working under her. Seriously, when I find myself sympathizing more with a wife beater/killer than the main protagonists in this story, you failed. Hard.
Okay, I better get off this soapbox and finish off by talking about the prose. Sometimes, it can be great when it wants to. I really liked how Mitchell wrote about Scarlett going to the hospital to find the doctor only to witness grievously injured and dead soldiers taking up all of the premises and her horror upon seeing everything. She really made use of some good imagery and conveying just how awful the Civil War was for everyone. However, these moments are unfortunately bogged down by a lot of unnecessary exposition and purple prose that, again, makes the book go on for much longer than it needs to be, making it feel really bloated. There's a reason the phrase "less is more" exists. But I can see why the book became so popular. It was written during a time when America was on its knees, and I think a lot of people related to Scarlett and her family and friends' struggles, even though the circumstances behind those struggles were different. The movie and all the effort put into it was what made it considered a masterpiece of cinema, even if I don't feel it really deserves that title for a variety of reasons. Hell, ironically, the movie tried to tone down a lot of the racism that the book had, and keep in mind, this was during a time when people of color were still being segregated no thanks to those Jim Crow laws. However, the book is trying so hard to present slavery and racist viewpoints as being a good thing, like portraying the Ku Klux Klan as being good people, and that kind of thing just does not fly in today's times.
So do I think Gone With The Wind is a great book? No, but I also don't think it's outright bad. It does manage to do several things well, but the bad massively outweighs what little good qualities it has, preventing it from being considered a masterpiece in my eyes, even though many others will disagree.