Gone with the Wind part 5 (ch. 48-63)

Follow the Great Gone with the Wind Readalong at The Heroine’s Bookshelf. Today we discuss part 5.

So first off, head’s up: this post contains spoilers. I imagine there are still folks out there who have never read OR seen Gone With the Wind (I hadn’t!) and if that’s you, I recommend you go away (she says very sweetly) so that you can enjoy the surprises that I enjoyed as I discovered this book for the first time. Fellow discussers and readers-along, welcome.

Oh, Scarlett. Sigh. This was a painful section to read because of all the missed opportunities for happiness that she and Rhett bungled in their respective pride. It was clear to me throughout that they had tender feelings for one another, but they’re both so proud, and Scarlett is so thick, that they don’t get it together in time. For me, that was the tragedy of part 5 – yes, eclipsing even deaths.

So in this section, Scarlett and Rhett are married, and Scarlett achieves relative contentment; she finally has money and security, and has some fun with her new unscrupulous friends. Her relationship with Rhett is only partially stable, and she’s bothered by his odd attitude and the fact that she has still failed to control him, but she pushes these thoughts away. Melanie continues to be a rock, several times solidifying her role as supporter and true friend to Scarlett, who learns to grudgingly appreciate her, at least most of the time. Scarlett’s lust for Ashley seems to cool, but she’s so accustomed to pining for him that she continues to do so even as his polish fades. The birth of Bonnie sets Rhett off in a whole new direction in life; it’s odd to see him so doting and blind to the spoiled child he’s creating, but of course it’s also endearing to see his love for his daughter.

What did you think of Melanie not believing in Scarlett and Ashley’s unfaithfulness? Is she showing again her admirable strength, or is she a fool for her naivete and blindness? I do feel a hint of the latter; but on the whole I agree with Rhett and (as far as I can tell) Mitchell, that she behaves heroically. Once she decides that a person is her beloved friend and deserving of her support, this woman holds on, doesn’t she? I think Scarlett respects her, too, somewhere deep down. I really liked the maturity that finally came out as a result of the “hair shirt of shame”:

With one of the few adult emotions Scarlett had ever had, she realized that to unburden her own tortured heart would be the purest selfishness. She would be ridding herself of her burden and laying it on the heart of an innocent and trusting person. She owed Melanie a debt for her championship and that debt could only be paid with silence.

Finally, here’s Scarlett showing some personal growth! And no great surprise that it comes through Melanie.

I marveled a bit at a society so deeply concerned with gossip that apparently no one thought to say… “Look, Melanie, I don’t care if Ashley boinked Scarlett or not. I like you and I like India and I’m just going to be neutral on the bedroom concerns; is that okay?” I feel like Melanie might have been open to that kind of frank dismissal of her private business; really that might be her first preference: to have people consider her marriage a private matter and butt out. This is a modern angle, I guess, but as a modern woman it’s the first reaction that comes to my mind, if I were an outer-circle acquaintance of the parties involved.

The end-of-book tragedies that destroy Scarlett’s world all over again fell a little short for me. Bonnie was gorgeously cute, but also spoiled and obnoxious. She wasn’t developed much beyond her role as Rhett’s plaything, his doll, and at best, his new lease on life; I was excited for him in that last aspect, but as a character Bonnie didn’t hold great value for me. I think I felt her death coming on, and when it happened it didn’t move me as deeply as I think it was supposed to. Scarlett grieves, but again not profoundly; she’s never cared that much for her children, and if Bonnie was her most loved, that still wasn’t saying much. Her love was heavily tainted with jealousy, too. I felt that Bonnie’s death was a plot device: things had to fall apart again, and she was the object on which all of Rhett’s energies had focused, and around which Scarlett’s world had begun to revolve, so she fell. But it struck me as a clinical move made by Mitchell, rather than the wrenching death of a child that might have twisted my heart. It fell flat.

Melanie’s death, now, got to me much more – Melanie having been such a strong character who I’d come to love and admire. Although she had her flaws right til the end, too: a blind love for Ashley in all his flaws and a refusal to see Scarlett’s duplicity, which was part of her virtue but also earns some disrespect. It was heart-wrenching that she died, yes. But Scarlett immediately then began her triple revelations, and I lost patience. She loves Melanie! Melanie was a real friend! Ashley is boring! Rhett is a) wonderful, b) just like Scarlett, c) loves her and d) gasp, she loves him too! The reader, of course, knew all these things 100’s of pages ago, so her dramatic realizations and emotional flailings just exasperated me. It’s a shame, really, because this book had me firmly in its grasp for the bulk of it. But in the end I think I lost patience.

I spent the book rooting for Scarlett. I identified with her in her worst moments, and refused to pass judgment. But she let me down by not meeting reality when she most needed to, and for coming around when it was just too late, and then for being so dramatic about it at the end. Rhett became more and more sympathetic, admirable, and crush-worthy as the book went on; but he, too, failed to step up when it most mattered. While I accept his argument that Scarlett valued what she didn’t have, I think he was a bit late in letting her see his love; I think he might have won her with a little tenderness. But maybe he was right and her “love” for Ashley needed to run its course. The ending was certainly tragic – two people destined to be together missing one another like ships in the night. But it may have gone on just a bit too long to hold my interest.

On another note – what do you make of that night that Scarlett and Rhett shared in chapter 54? I know that it is understood as a rape scene by some, but I’m not sure I buy it, for this reason: she enjoyed it, and women don’t enjoy being raped. Clearly it was rough and passionate and she wasn’t sure what to make of it; but she enjoyed it, both in the moment and in thinking about it again the next morning. She blushes, thinking that a “lady” doesn’t enjoy such things (i.e. rough sex). But I think rape is a stretch. What do you think? It seemed like the stark honesty of that night, if nothing else, offered the couple one of those chances to share their feelings for one another and seek happiness, but of course they missed the chance when he dashed off the next morning.

So to wrap up here: I loved this book very much. It’s a page-turner. It has heroes, villains, real human characters, war, love, death, and perseverance. It had me completely wrapped up in its pages – I sat by the pool in Key West and trembled with Scarlett and Melanie on that bumpy ride out of Atlanta with the world burning around us. A hell of a great book, although with some real issues regarding racial sensitivity. But the ending fell a little short for me; the tragedies felt a little manufactured, Scarlett’s pain was a little protracted and tiresome, and I was disappointed that her tortured romance with Rhett didn’t have the least final redemption. I thought we’d earned some, but clearly I was wrong. On the other hand, I did appreciate the note of hope or at least the note of uncertainty it ends with. Where is Scarlett headed next?

Finally, thank you so much Erin for finally getting me to open these pages. It was well worth it. Thanks also to my fellow readers-along; it’s been fun to have someone to share with and to see our different reactions. I’m betting some of you found the ending much more satisfying than I did, and I look forward to hearing your reasons.

5 Responses

  1. Hey Julia – followed you here from the GWTW readlong. Interesting comments – I’ve read the book so many times it’s hard for me to even remember what I thought and felt on a first read, except that I think I was 16 or so, as as I reread it over the years, I “got” Scarlett in a way I couldn’t have grasped at 16 any more than she could have understand her crush on Ashley at 16.

    Bonnie’s death isn’t really a tragedy in itself, it’s more the last nail in the coffin of Rhett & Scarlett’s failure to communicate. First there’s the morning after the night before, the not-rape (and Mitchell did understand spousal rape, that was one of allegations against her abusive first husband), then there’s the coming together after Rhett’s trip, when he jokes about her miscarrying; then her miscarriage itself. Bonnie’s death is more like an echo of those previous losses, rather than a stand-alone event.

    Enjoyed reading the comments & sharing some other perspectives. Hopefully, next book I can follow all the way. 🙂

    • Thanks Beverly. Sounds like you agree that Bonnie’s death doesn’t carry a great emotional impact. But I just felt like… shouldn’t it? For the death of a child to be sort of ho-hum doesn’t feel right. Do you think Mitchell intended it to be anticlimactic? That’s the part I struggle with.

      • As a mother, I’m not very comfortable with torturing and killing children, though as a writer, I torture and kill characters all the time. Even children. I recently wrote a backstory for a character that had her molested & raped by her stepfather. This had me laid out in an emotional fetal position for a couple weeks, but fit her, and made sense in the larger context.

        For Scarlett, Bonnie’s death was bad, but not as emotionally wrenching as losing Ashley in the beginning, or her mother, or Melly, or Rhett in the end. Or even her father. Mitchell didn’t give Scarlett the same kind of emotional investment in that child to make a bigger statement with the child’s death. As Mammy says, Scarlett can bear it.

        I think it was just one more door closing to the possibility of Rhett & Scarlett having a deeper relationship. Someone else used the “ships’ passing in the night” analogy, I picture a long hallway of doors. They were SO close, the night of the “staircase sex” scene, then in the morning – doors closed. Miscarriage – another set of doors closed. Bonnie’s death – another set of doors closed.

        To me, rhythmically and storywise, that aspect of Bonnie’s death didn’t feel wrong. And the impact on RHETT was significant.

  2. I feel like we’re watching the whole novel through Scarlett’s eyes, so we feel Bonnie’s death as Scarlett did. The fact that you’re questioning your emotional reaction on that point suggests to me that Mitchell was successful: she got you to experience a terrible tragedy through Scarlett’s heart.

    • Jillian, many thanks! You put your finger on it! I think you’re right, although I hadn’t thought of it that way. It was supposed to lack emotional impact because of our sympathies with Scarlett. Thanks so much for clearing up this point for me!!

      Now another question: did we never find out if the kid in New Orleans was Rhett & Belle’s child? Do we assume it was?

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