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April 2011 BOTM: Gone with the Wind

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon April 4th, 2011, 8:54 pm

Now I didn't see Ellen as weak. Or Melanie either, for that matter. Melanie engaged in what the phychobabble terms as 'magical thinking' -- believing something in the hopes that it will become true. And in all fairness to her, sometimes that works with people, at least to a degree. Melanie's trust in Scarlett, and her dependence on her when she was in a difficult labor, made Scarlett rise above herself.

As to Ellen, here was a woman whose heart had been broken when her cousin/lover died, but instead of retiring to a convent, she chose to make a new life for herself with the rude older Irishman and did a pretty good job of it, too. She ran the plantation in a humane fashion, and expended herself caring for those around her less fortunate, both black and white. I saw her as very involved in her daughter's lives and having a strong influence on Scarlett, even after she was dead. The fact that she owned slaves is neither here nor there-- that is the society she lived in. She did what she could to make the lives of others better, and did not spare her own labors in doing so.

I know women like Ellen, and I admire them and wish I were more like them. I suspect Margaret Mitchell had a few of these tough, strong ladies in mind when she wrote Ellen.

SGM
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Post by SGM » Mon April 4th, 2011, 9:24 pm

[quote=""Ludmilla""] He and Scarlett may have been a lot alike[/quote]

Rhett was far more honest than Scarlett (none of her self-deception). He may dislike the society he comes from but he very much understands his part in it. That was his redeeming feature and what in the end makes him a likeable character. I never could take to Scarlett (just as I couldn't take to Amber in Forever Amber).
Currently reading - Emergence of a Nation State by Alan Smith

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Posts: 3562
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon April 4th, 2011, 9:32 pm

[quote=""Margaret""] It's a problem for Scarlett, I think, that she so idolizes passive people like her mother ...

It seems as though Margaret Mitchell herself romanticized people like Melanie and Scarlett's mother. But accepting a brutal system is not a virtue, and they were both slave-owners. While they may have spoken politely to their slaves and didn't beat or starve them, they closed their eyes to what was an inherently brutal system.
[/quote]

I think that's an unfair judgment, Margaret. It assumes that today we have risen above all that cruelty, and we haven't. People then didn't see the worst of the brutality of their economic system because they chose not to look at it. We are the same today. We participate in systems where people are brutalized, used up, enslaved, and murdered, and think ourselves better than the Old South merely because we can't be bothered to look. When was the last time you ate chocolate? Ever taken the time to look at what goes on to produce that delicacy?

Ellen was aware of the cruelties, and although she could not change the whole system -- nor probably ever even considered that it was possible -- she did what she could. For instance, the firing of the overseer when his relations with Emmie Slattery came to light. (Yes, it doesn't fit our current morality, but there were very real reasons then why sleeping with a girl without marrying her would make her life miserable.) And since, in fiction, we must take the circumstances at face value, under Ellen O'Hara's management the slaves were well enough off that many felt loyalty to the family.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Mon April 4th, 2011, 9:45 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Mon April 4th, 2011, 11:09 pm

I think that's an unfair judgment, Margaret. It assumes that today we have risen above all that cruelty, and we haven't. People then didn't see the worst of the brutality of their economic system because they chose not to look at it. We are the same today.
I'm in no way assuming that people have risen above all that cruelty. I think it's important not to romanticize people like Melanie and Ellen for precisely that reason. It's all too easy to ignore the brutalities inherent in our own system of life and assume that because we aren't directly and consciously choosing to perpetuate them, we're off the hook. On the other hand, it's hard to equate a person's purchase of a chocolate bar in ignorance of the production methods half a world away with a person's use of slave labor on her own property and in her own home. (Are the production methods for South American chocolate equally bad? That's what I usually gravitate to, purely for self-indulgent reasons.)

You do make a good point about Ellen making active efforts to relieve the plight of the people stuck at the bottom. I'm sympathetic with her situation as someone born into a slave-holding system and with more power to relieve the condition of her individual slaves than to end the system altogether, but I don't believe Ellen ever expressed qualms about the morality of owning slaves. Margaret Mitchell was a product of her own time and place, and while she had an impressive amount of insight into human nature, she was living in a society which still very much considered black people inferior to white people and treated them as such. The novel reflects this. At the same time, because of Mitchell's skill and integrity as a writer, it's also very faithful to the complexity of life in the South in the period before, during and after the Civil War. A different novel with flatter characters and a more strongly biased, romanticized perspective would hardly be readable today, much less evoke this kind of discussion.
Last edited by Margaret on Mon April 4th, 2011, 11:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon April 4th, 2011, 11:32 pm

Margaret, I don't know about South American Chocolate, although I do know about their clothing-manufacture sweatshops. Not For Sale, one of the NGO's I work with, (see link in my signature) has developed an iphone app (and one for android) where they have hundreds of college students following the supply chain of products to rate each by a percentage of how slave-free the product is. You can simply scan the UPC and if the product has been rated, it will give you enough information to make a decision. There are millions of products to cover, but this is a start.

As people become more conscious of how their purchases affect the lives of others, I believe things are going to change.

Also, when judging a person of that culture, you have to get down to the options. Ellen may well have felt that her slaves were better off on Tara than freed to be exploited by others--something she would have seen happen often. Many negro slaves were freed by their masters when they became disabled or too old to work, which was frowned upon by more humane slaveholders. I have read several accounts written by former slaves of what happened after they were suddenly freed, and it was not pretty.

This is one of the issues that NGOs dealing with human trafficking must always consider: aftercare. You free the Thai or Filipino girls and boys from forced sexual service in San Francisco brothels, and the INS ships them back to their home countries, and there are new pimps waiting at the Manila or Bankok Airports to pick them up and ship them out again.

Margaret Michell was no passive accepter of the status quo. Her favorite charity was to fund scholarships for black students to go to medical school, which she did at a rate that amounted to a significant sacrifice for her husband and herself.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Tue April 5th, 2011, 2:36 am, edited 3 times in total.

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princess garnet
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Post by princess garnet » Mon April 4th, 2011, 11:53 pm

This has been a great discussion. I read this book twice, as a high school junior and undergrad. I own a memorial paperback edition to the movie featuring Rhett and Scarlett on the cover.
I don't have very much to add. I agree with previous points MLE has raised. To add, Margaret Mitchell had her own share of scandal during her life.

One scene which stands out for me is the family praying the Rosary.

I'd like to mention Margaret Mitchell wrote Lost Laysen as a teen and gave it to a boyfriend as a gift. It's probably out of print but you may able to find it at a library.

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Post by LoveHistory » Tue April 5th, 2011, 2:25 am

Margaret, have you gotten to where Scarlett finds out that her manager hasn't been feeding the convicts? That's a telling point about what goes on deep in her mind.

Melanie didn't really own any slaves. Uncle Peter sort of belonged to the whole family but it was really more like he owned them.

As to Ellen and slavery, do take into consideration that she would have been raised to believe that there was nothing wrong with slavery. It's very easy to look back at that period today and impose our own standards of conduct on the people who lived then, but it is very difficult to think one thing when all your life you've been told the opposite.

Ellen was certainly not weak, and I don't think Melanie counts as weak either. Ashley absolutely was. I also don't agree that they never got angry. They just didn't express it the same way you or I would. They were taught all their lives not to shout or curse, or otherwise indicate their level of agitation in a way that most of us would recognize. Ellen and Melanie constituted the ideal of southern womanhood. I think that's part of Scarlett's dislike of Melanie: that she a lot more like Ellen than Scarlett was.

I think if Scarlett had internalized her religion it would have made a world of difference. When she felt guilty it was mostly along the lines of what her mother would think if she knew, not what was actually right or wrong. Given her natural weaknesses it would have taken a lot of time and patience to accomplish that. Time that Ellen didn't have with everything else she did. Instead Scarlett was spoiled. She even got around Mammy when it was really important to her to get her own way.

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Tue April 5th, 2011, 2:27 am

Margaret Michell was no passive accepter of the status quo. Her favorite charity was to fund scholarships for black students to go to medical school, which she did at a rate that amounted to a significant sacrifice for her husband and herself.
I did not know this and am very pleased to learn it. Will look up the link for Not For Sale.
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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Tue April 5th, 2011, 2:52 am

LoveHistory, we must have been working on those posts at the same time, because yours didn't show up until after I posted.

I've read GWTW at least 4 or 5 times, but did not re-read it for this, so all the details are not fresh in my mind. From what I remember, Scarlett's behavior over the convicts was entirely reprehensible - she was just out to make as much money as she could so that she personally would never be hungry again. But perhaps I have forgotten something important?

I think a lot of us were raised to believe there's nothing wrong with one or another wrong that is integral to our own society. It's up to us to grow past that and learn to make our own judgments about things. For example, when I was a kid, the movement to protect the environment was nowhere in sight. Today, although liberals and conservatives argue about how and to what extent the natural environment should be protected, there's a fundamental awareness that we do depend on Mother Nature and have a responsibility to safeguard the environment.

Ellen was trying her best to live in a graceful and compassionate way, and that is praiseworthy. However, her acceptance of the system of slavery is not, even though it might have taken a martyr's courage for her to speak out against it. Scarlett was very selfish, but if she had been a more compassionate person, the dynamic way in which she spoke what was on her mind and acted (with a lot of creativity sometimes) to get things done would have been a tremendous virtue. But in Ellen's world-view, that dynamism was simply not lady-like, so women should not behave that way.

One of the scenes in which I really liked Scarlett was when she forced her sisters to join her harvesting the remnants of their crops so they would not all go hungry. Her sisters would probably have starved rather than get their hands dirty with what they considered to be a slave's work, if Scarlett hadn't forced them into it. Scarlett saw what needed to be done, and she did it.
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Post by Michy » Tue April 5th, 2011, 4:11 am

Wow, what a great discussion, and you all have brought up some great points. I think it is yet another testament to Mitchell's gift as a writer that she could create characters so complex and multi-faceted that they can be interpreted in so many different ways.

[quote=""LoveHistory""]Yes, a jealous creep. [/quote] The one thing we all seem to agree on is that none of us cared much for Ashley. Even as a teenager, I was not at all impressed by him and was able to recognize his weakness and ineptness. Even though he knew all along that Scarlett wasn't the right woman for him, he strung her along because it fed his physical attraction to her. He loved Melanie, but he lusted for Scarlett. A cad. But when I really lost all respect for him was after the war, when it became glaringly obvious how ineffectual he was, and that he would never be able to stand on his own two feet.
Leslie Howard wasn't really a good choice.
I've never seen the movie, and so I can't comment on his performance, but I do know that he didn't want the part; he had to be bribed. So perhaps some of that came through in his performance.
Rhett's words were sometimes romantic, but I agree his actions weren't. He is really much more complex than many people give him credit for being. His anger and mockery of the south and all of the traditions and institutions of it are proof that he still cares and feels wounded by the rejection, however much he may say he doesn't care. Further proof of this is after Bonnie is born and he changes his tune for her sake. All the things he was raised to believe became important when he had a child of his own, and her future to consider.
I totally agree. I've always felt that Rhett was essentially a better person than Scarlett. Way down deep, he could recognize nobility and essential goodness in others, which is why he deeply respected both Melanie and Mammie; Scarlett respected neither of them. She was emotionally stunted and cared more about a piece of land (Tara) than about people. Also, she took everything and everybody at face value, and so went through life terribly misunderstanding nearly everyone, and appreciating almost no one. And of course, Rhett wasn't a good influence on her. For instance, when he came to propose to her and found her crying and drinking over the death of Frank Kennedy. It was the first time in her life Scarlett had ever felt remorse for anything she'd done, and Rhett proceeded to convince her she wasn't really sorry at all.


[quote=""Margaret""]It's a problem for Scarlett, I think, that she so idolizes passive people like her mother and Ashley and Melanie. [/quote] That's an interesting point and I agree with you that she definitely idolized her mother and Ashley; however, I don't see where she ever idolized Melanie. She had nothing but disdain for Melanie, never recognizing her fine qualities, and calling her "mealy-mouthed." It wasn't until Melanie was dying that Scarlett belatedly appreciated her.


[quote=""MLE""]
As to Ellen, here was a woman whose heart had been broken when her cousin/lover died, but instead of retiring to a convent, she chose to make a new life for herself with the rude older Irishman and did a pretty good job of it, too. She ran the plantation in a humane fashion, and expended herself caring for those around her less fortunate, both black and white. I saw her as very involved in her daughter's lives and having a strong influence on Scarlett, even after she was dead. The fact that she owned slaves is neither here nor there-- that is the society she lived in. She did what she could to make the lives of others better, and did not spare her own labors in doing so.

I know women like Ellen, and I admire them and wish I were more like them. I suspect Margaret Mitchell had a few of these tough, strong ladies in mind when she wrote Ellen.[/quote]
This is very interesting food for thought, since it's quite different from how I've always felt about Ellen. I've always seen her as essentially a walking ghost, just going through the motions of her life but being empty inside. All of her love, her emotions, her essential self, dried up and died with her cousin (as evidenced by the fact that her last words as she died were to call out for him). Perhaps if she had been more than just an empty shell, she could have been more effective at counteracting Scarlett's negative traits. It's doubtful, though; Scarlett was just too much like her dad, but more self-centered. I really liked Gerald O'Hara, but probably because he reminded me a lot of my own dad. :) And strange as it may seem, I never warmed up to Ellen because I felt she never appreciated what she had in her family, but instead let herself waste away emotionally over a long-lost love.
Last edited by Michy on Tue April 5th, 2011, 4:19 am, edited 3 times in total.

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