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Gone with the Wind part 3 (ch. 17-30)

Follow the Great Gone with the Wind Readalong at The Heroine’s Bookshelf. Today we discuss part 3.

I’m quite late on this one, as noted before vacation – I hadn’t actually read this part before we set out, so it’s posting after my return. Ho-hum. I should be on track for the last two readings: part 4 on Sept. 26, and part 5 on Oct. 17. For now, you can go check out the discussion of part 3 at the Heroine’s Bookshelf, here. As as aside, Erin at HB is doing a fabulous job of leading these discussions! Not only does she summarize chapters, but she also gives us links for further reading on any number of historical facets of this amazing book.

So. I’m still just devouring GWTW; it’s an epic with momentum, emotional impact, and plenty to think about. It’s entertaining, heart-wrenching, and instructive.

These fourteen chapters are fast-paced and stomach-churning. Scarlett is living in Atlanta as the Civil War really ramps up; casualties increase, and the fervently loyal Southerners begin to face the fact that they can’t win this war. Social niceties that Scarlett (and Melly, and Pitty, and everyone) thought could be relied upon fall apart. Scarlett ends up undertaking some incredible challenges, simply out of necessity: she safely delivers Melanie’s (and Ashley’s) baby, and then grits her teeth and grinds her way home through dangerous, contested territory towards Tara. She enlists Rhett Butler’s help in doing this, but he abandons her – near Tara, but not close enough for safety.

When she gets home, she learns that her beloved mother has died, her two sisters are ill and no more tolerable to her than ever, her father Gerald is no longer a rock but rendered a pathetic simpleton by his wife’s death. Everything falls on Scarlett’s shoulders and, again, necessity births greater strength and skill than she would have thought possible.

I never liked Scarlett, in the sense that I would have wanted to be her best friend; but I always respected her, greatly in fact. Conniving, manipulative, and nasty? Yes. But determined? Oh, yes. And now I respect her more than ever; she’s really pulled it together. She’s my kind of woman, in a way: she doesn’t waste too much time whining, not when it really comes down to it. She rolls up her sleeves, picks her own cotton, earns blisters and calluses and loses weight and saves the farm, when her sisters are ready to roll over and die rather than stand up straight. I respect her immensely.

But I’m also concerned for the vision that Scarlett, and everyone around her, has of some reborn Southland. It’s just not going to happen. (Says I, with the benefit of lots of hindsight!) It’s never going to be the same again. And then Ashley comes home… finally… and Scarlett is still wasting her time pining over him. Just like the reincarnated South she dreams of, her perfect life with Ashley is impossible. I’m frustrated at her slowing down her own progress by mooning over impossibilities.

In response to some of Erin’s discussion points:

The descriptions of war are grotesque and well-done; I can really see and feel and smell the horrors. But I guess I failed to be entirely shocked, if only because this is the reputation of the Civil War in our time. Perhaps Mitchell’s contemporary audience was less clear on this point? I think we all learned in school at least about the idea of the Civil War as awful. But she certainly evokes it viscerally here.

Prissy is a deplorable character – as is Mammy, I must add. I have little patience with the way these slaves are depicted. It’s so obviously stereotyping, using set parts, simplifying these black slave who were – hello!! – real people, like every other population on earth made up of smart, dumb, hard-working, lazy, creative, dull, kind and evil people. My greatest difficulty with this book so far is in the portrayals of the slaves. Does Prissy drive me crazy? Yes. And there’s every chance that somewhere, one specific slave girl had all these characteristics that Prissy does; but it’s just too easy to paint them all with the same brush, and that I do not buy. Mammy’s relief and pride at still belonging to a good family is disgusting, coming from Mitchell’s pen. Pork’s pridefulness on being a “house n*gger” is offensive, to my modern eyes.

Rhett Butler… oh, my. I was at least as disappointed as Scarlett when he proposed, not marriage, but prostitution! (And I wonder if she would really have turned him down, as she planned to, if it had in fact been the former?) I think he’s rather wonderful, and I also think that he and Scarlett are two peas in a pod; she’s self-delusive if she doesn’t see how alike they are. It’s funny, because what she hates in him is what carries her through her own life, too.

The momentum of this section of the book is amazing. I couldn’t put it down. Can’t wait to discuss part 4 with everyone! But some of the portrayals of the south, and of the slaves, are getting a little uncomfortable. What’s next?

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