I must preface my thoughts by saying I feel overwhelmed to talk about this book. In fact, I've been dreading writing anything, which is most unusual for me since one of the main reasons I started this blog was because I like writing reviews.
It's just because it's a favorite of so many, and it has already had thousands of pages written about it by regular readers like me but also by literary geniuses and esteemed critics. So what could I possibly say that would be 1) different or 2) interesting or 3) intelligent?
But in some ways it's easier: Everyone has already read it or seen the movie or at the very least knows the story, so nothing I say here is going to persuade anyone's loyalties one way or the other. So the pressure is off.
Can you tell that I'm stalling?...
I can't write about all 500 pages (and no one would read such a long post anyway), so I'm just going to limit myself to a few thoughts...we'll call these my "reactions to the first half."
First, Scarlett. I can't write this post without mentioning her somewhere, so it might as well be at the beginning. I'm trying to think of another main character like her, and maybe I just haven't read enough, but she seems to stand alone in all her self-centered, defiant glory. And yet, if it was selfishness alone that made up her character, it would be nothing memorable. No, to me it's the fact that in spite of her multitude of flaws, in spite of all the reasons not to like her, I do...as simple as that. Scarlett invokes feelings of sympathy and heartache because, as much as I want to believe my actions would be pure and noble like Melanie's, the sad truth is that I have a little streak of Scarlett in me, and hard times are more likely to bring out those qualities..
While I'm on the subject of Scarlett, I thought it was interesting that once she was back at Tara, this time as mistress, Scarlett was described as being "so changed"...unkind, hardened, and cruel with a quick temper. Did I miss something? Because that's how I thought she acted from page one. I would not have called her "so changed." In her previous life, she might have occasionally masked her personality with the civil graces of the day, but underneath it seemed like she was always on the rough side.
Now about the length...While I don't mind this book being over a thousand pages because it is so well-written with vivid characters against a dramatic backdrop, I will say that I don't think you could publish this book in its entirety today. Is that too bold a statement? Probably, since I have nothing concrete on which to base it. But I feel like an editor would cut out entire sections left and right. I'll give one example of the repetition I noticed:
The journey back to Tara and Scarlett's adjustment to being mistress felt very drawn out. This made the grief and desolation feel more real but also long-lasting. I kept thinking I was coming to the end of Part III because of very conclusive statements. For example, Scarlett's first night back at Tara was concluded by saying that she was no longer a girl but finally a woman. So I thought, This is it. Part IV begins with Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton as wise and hardened woman. But then it continued, and the next day at Twelve Oaks, the "climax" was essentially repeated again, with Scarlett saying that she would no longer long for the past but would give herself completely to the future. But then the section still didn't end. So even though Part III ended up having a very clear and definitive conclusion, I felt like Scarlett's "transformation" was rather anti-climatic, simply because it happened too many times.
(As a side note, it reminded me of the first time my friend heard a performance of Handel's Messiah. If you are familiar with the final Amen Chorus, you know that it goes on and on and on. Well, she was just a little girl, and she kept thinking it was ending, and then they sang some more...and then some more. Finally she was in tears because she thought it was never going to end. My reaction to this book wasn't quite so dramatic (and actually, I can't remember for sure if she cried or not, but it makes for a better story anyway), but I did feel like I was being led on.)
Also, on a related note, I admit to thinking on more than one occasion: "How else is she going to fill up 800 pages? 700? 600? 500?" (Obviously, I haven't seen the movie, or I would know.) I'm especially curious now that the war is over, and I still have half of the book left.
Now moving on to some of the moments that I thought were especially well done...
- Scarlett and Rhett's heated romance: Amidst the horror and devastation of war, these two individuals are united in their selfish desires and egotistical natures. The stark contrast between suffering and greed was very well described.
- Battle of Jonesboro and Melanie's labor: Here was another scene of contrast that really helped the moment feel real. Pitting the deaths of many against the (potential) death of one and the fear of the Yankees invading Atlanta against the fear of delivering Melanie's baby gave this scene depth and dimension. It was this section that made me think, Okay, Margaret Mitchell, you deserve your place among remembered authors.
- Scarlett's grief: As Scarlett's world is crumbling around her, she keeps saying to herself, "I'll think of it later." With each new tragedy, she repeats that mantra: I'll think of it later. I just think Margaret Mitchell captured grief perfectly. Isn't that often how we get through a devastating trial (especially if we're forced to be the strong one)? We push all thoughts and emotions out and concentrate solely on the physical needs of the present.
- Scarlett and Melanie: I just love their relationship...Melanie loving and Scarlett loathing, it just feels so awkward and real.