Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (Second Half)

Sep 8, 2012

Heart-achingly perfect.

That is how I would describe this book in just two words. Heart-aching because that is what my heart was doing through all the hurtful things said, the repentant things left unsaid, the poor choices, and the tragedies. And perfect because I don't know how Margaret Mitchell could have captured and portrayed those raw emotions any better

And if I'm going to go beyond the two words and the one paragraph? Well, read on because of course I have more to say!

In my review of the first half, I mentioned the length...it didn't drag, but there were times when it felt a little endless--almost like, the more I read, the farther away the ending seemed. But this was not the case with the second half: the pages flew by. I was caught up in the passion and torment of Scarlett and Rhett's relationship, and during the last 100 pages, I really started to put on the brakes because I could tell that things were not going to work out and resolve the way I desperately wanted them to, and I couldn't bear to see the story come to an end. But at the same time, I couldn't tear myself away.

The second half is set during the four to five years post-Civil War. I knew next to nothing about this time in American history. In my knowledge, the south went from slavery to segregation, and I'd never even heard of this time where politicians and leaders from the north were insisting on rights and equal opportunities for blacks and were taking away those rights from former white slave owners. Of course I'd heard of the Ku Klux Klan but had never thought of its members as being intelligent, kind, and fair men. Since blacks were ultimately still mistreated, it was interesting to see this brief period of time where an attempt was made to make things right. This time period shows that there can be just as much (or even more) misery, dishonesty, anger, and greed after the war as during. War has such far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.

Maybe I've already mentioned this, but I had absolutely no knowledge of the plot or storyline before reading Gone With the Wind. None. Zero. (Okay, not entirely true...I knew there were characters named Scarlett and Rhett and that it took place during the Civil War, but beyond that...nothing.) I find it a little hard to believe myself since there are other stories (Harry Potter and Twilight, for example) whose plot points I have been unable to escape simply because they have become such a standard in everyday conversation and jargon. But somehow, Gone With the Wind had been left fresh and exciting, waiting for me to discover it on my own. There is nothing like reading a story for the first time, and I'm so glad that everything was a surprise, even if some of those surprises were tragic. (For example, when Bonnie had her accident, I had no suspicions or worries that she was going to die. So I was completely caught off guard when it said, "On the third night after Bonnie's death..." I was listening to it at the time, and I had to search for the same spot in the book because I was so sure I hadn't heard right or that I'd missed a big section because it seemed so abrupt, and I was completely blindsided by it.)

In my review of the first half, I also mentioned the superb character development, but Mitchell surpassed herself in the second half. Scarlett and Rhett and Melanie were real people to me. Because the book is so long, there is plenty of time to see all dimensions and sides of every character. For example, even Ashley, whose personality is closed off and usually difficult to read, still has moments where the reader is able to catch a glimpse of what drives and inspires him. We know that for all his talk of and allegiance to honor, he is still besotted by temptations and that he is maybe not quite so noble, or at least not as stalwart, as his appearance would, on first glance, lead us to believe. And then Rhett, for all his immoral and wicked ways, is so vulnerable, I literally felt like I was in pain during the scenes right after Scarlett falls down the stairs. It took the second half (and 500 more pages)  for me to really feel like I understood Rhett's character, but when I did, I felt such an acute grief for Scarlett and Rhett's selfish and childish relationship.

While I'm on the subject of characters, I need to mention a word about the narration of the audio book. Although I didn't start out with the audio, I ended up listening to the majority of it mostly because of the unwieldy size of the book. I thought the narrator was phenomenal. (My one complaint is that she was slow, with sometimes long, dramatic pauses.) She could change the tone and pitch and inflections just enough to make a brand-new, distinctive voice for every character. But what really set her apart for me was that she was able to take the same character's voice, and change it to fit the mood or the situation, and yet make it still sound like that same character. For example, in the scene where Rhett is completely drunk, she made him sound plastered but still like Rhett. I don't know how she did it, but the dialogue was masterfully done throughout.

My one real complaint about the book is in reference to Scarlett's romantic obsession with Ashley. For such a long book, there is virtually no background story or set-up for Scarlett's strong feelings. When the book begins, her interest seems flighty, immature, and as if it will be short-lived. Maybe that's the whole point...that there really isn't a basis for her undying love but it goes on for years and years and ultimately plays a part in the loss of Scarlett's real love.

The story itself has a genius structure. The first half ends with Scarlett losing all things of physical importance to her (except Tara). And at the end of the second half, she again loses everything, but this time it is all of her personal and emotional treasures (Bonnie, Melanie, Ashley, and Rhett). This makes the second half much more heart-breaking because, unlike the physical losses which she really had no control over and which she was able to regain and rebuild, many of the emotional losses are a direct result of her own choices and actions. And I think it was that aspect of it that made my heart truly ache as the book came to a close.

This book took me the whole summer to read, but it has given me such a feeling of accomplishment to finish it and to now be intimately familiar with this icon of American literature. It is one of those stories that will stay with me for a long, long time.

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