Donovan Roberts Witmer '97
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The first line grabs your attention:
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it.
And, if this makes you want to read the rest of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, it’s easy to find a copy. More than 30 million have been sold since it was published in 1936. As you crack open this classic, hang on for what novelist Pat Conroy calls “The Iliad with a Southern accent.”
The story opens with Scarlett, a plantation owner’s daughter who cares only about wearing pretty dresses and going to parties. It’s at one of these
parties where she meets Rhett Butler— a man who’s handsome and wealthy, but not received in polite society. Their tempestuous love story weaves through more than 1,000 pages.
When the Civil War breaks out, the parties stop. Plantations burn to the ground, money is gone, and food is scarce. That’s when Scarlett gets strong—and gets real. She midwifes
a baby for her sister-in-law, shoots an intruder, and works in the fields. If there’s a problem she can’t solve, Scarlett sleeps on it until she can figure out a solution. “Tomorrow is another day,” she always says.
What were people looking for in the 1930s that made them embrace this novel set in the 1860s? The United States was in the midst of the Great Depression when this book was published. People lacked food, money, and hope. And, Gone With the Wind, at its core, is a story about survival. The Depression-era population could certainly relate. Besides, Scarlett and Rhett’s stormy relationship provided a fun diversion from everyday life.
Most of the criticism of Gone With the Wind lies in what the book doesn’t mention. The institution of slavery is inherent throughout the novel, but Mitchell fails to write about the African-American struggle for freedom. As a white woman who grew up in Georgia, I read the book and couldn’t stop thinking—about Atlanta’s role in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and the separate buses that took me and my classmates to school as late as 1989. Tomorrow really is another day—for all of us—to do great things.
||—Anna Seip is the editor of The Bridge.