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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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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Tue April 5th, 2011, 6:32 am

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.
You're right about that. I had forgotten. I was thinking more about my overall impressions at the end of the novel, I think. Certainly, Rhett admired Melanie and did not think well of Scarlett's attitude to her, which made me feel that Margaret Mitchell wanted readers to admire Melanie more than I ever really did. To me, Melanie was almost a younger version of Scarlett's mother, good-hearted and kind, but not dynamic in the way Scarlett was, even though (like Ellen) she was able to quietly stand by her principles at times when it took a certain amount of strength to do so. The moment in the novel when I most admired her was when she recognized the worth of Scarlett's more energetic approach to life. It seemed that, unlike Scarlett's mother, she was able to see the value in that. Of course, that was after the war was lost and after Ellen had died. But I also get the impression that because Melanie was younger, she was more flexible and able to grow than Ellen was. Ellen's attitude to life seemed to be set and unchanging.
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.
Interesting. Now that I reflect on it, she never seemed to offer much love to any of her children, and they all turned out to be self-centered. Suellen, for example, was every bit as selfish as Scarlett without the intelligence or creativity that gave Scarlett the capacity to grow (a little bit, anyway). Scarlett's father may have been a self-indulgent "Peter Pan" type, but he could be quite affectionate, especially with Scarlett. Although Ellen always behaved graciously, her disdain for him came across quite clearly. The relationship between her parents may have contributed to Scarlett's sense of shame at not being more like her mother. Scarlett and her father both had a spontaneous approach to life and a zest for action, qualities I found appealing in them, but which Ellen did not appreciate.
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Post by SGM » Tue April 5th, 2011, 6:45 am

Melanie wasn't weak. It was Melanie who took control after Scarlett killed the Confederate soldier. But as Ashley (who I agree was weak) said, Melanie like him represented a society that would not survive for much longer. Scarlett and Rhett represented the future. Melanie, however, was intelligent and strong enough to see this and see outside the prejudices of her society.
Last edited by SGM on Tue April 5th, 2011, 7:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
Currently reading - Emergence of a Nation State by Alan Smith

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Ludmilla
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Post by Ludmilla » Tue April 5th, 2011, 12:53 pm

[quote=""LoveHistory""]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.
[/quote]

Scarlett challenged her manager, but other things prevented her from following through, and she very quickly drops it and decides making money is more important. From thereafter, she ignores how the convicts are treated. It's my understanding that Georgia as well as other southern states had a bad reputation for its use (and abuse) of convict labor for many, many decades.

Re the attitudes of southern women, I agree they reflect the attitudes of their time. I think where the novel becomes most problematic and downright uncomfortable for me is its portrayal of the attitudes of slaves like Mammy and Uncle Peter. They may have felt loyal to their white families, but realistically I doubt their feelings were as clear-cut as Mitchell represented them.

Michy, I also viewed Ellen as a walking ghost.
SGM said: 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).
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He was also much more educated and people smart than Scarlett. She was always going to be at a disadvantage when dealing with Rhett.

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Ludmilla
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Post by Ludmilla » Tue April 5th, 2011, 1:22 pm

[quote=""SGM""]Melanie wasn't weak. It was Melanie who took control after Scarlett killed the Confederate soldier. But as Ashley (who I agree was weak) said, Melanie like him represented a society that would not survive for much longer. Scarlett and Rhett represented the future. Melanie, however, was intelligent and strong enough to see this and see outside the prejudices of her society.[/quote]

As Scarlett later realized, Melanie was good in a crisis. I didn't consider her weak, but she was only willing to see outside prejudices up to a point. Her turning a blind eye to certain issues aggravated me (sometimes she could be like Pittypat). I also began to feel much more with this re-read just how parasitic the Melanie-Ashley-Scarlett triangle was. As MLE pointed out, they shaped each other and encouraged an unhealthy co-dependence to their detriment.

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Post by Ash » Tue April 5th, 2011, 1:58 pm

Great discussion here! I always liked Ellen, thought she was involved with her daughters. The fact that Scarlett often thinks back to her says that she made an influence on her, even if Ellen would have been appalled by some of the decisions Scarlett made.

BTW another read, Lamb in his Bosom, was a book that apparently inspired Mitchell. Its a book about poor farmers in Georgia, just before the war started, and continues to the end of the war. The title sounds like the book is a religious tract, but its so not. It won the Pulitzer in 1936, a year before Mitchell's book was written.

http://www.amazon.com/Lamb-Bosom-Modern ... 156145074X

Re Magical Thinking - CNN has a project to end modern day slavery. Here's a video about the SE Asian fish market as an example

http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.c ... ps/?hpt=C1
Last edited by Ash on Tue April 5th, 2011, 2:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Tue April 5th, 2011, 2:39 pm

[quote=""Margaret""]Interesting. Now that I reflect on it, she never seemed to offer much love to any of her children, and they all turned out to be self-centered. Suellen, for example, was every bit as selfish as Scarlett without the intelligence or creativity that gave Scarlett the capacity to grow (a little bit, anyway). Scarlett's father may have been a self-indulgent "Peter Pan" type, but he could be quite affectionate, especially with Scarlett. Although Ellen always behaved graciously, her disdain for him came across quite clearly. The relationship between her parents may have contributed to Scarlett's sense of shame at not being more like her mother. Scarlett and her father both had a spontaneous approach to life and a zest for action, qualities I found appealing in them, but which Ellen did not appreciate.[/quote] I totally agree. And although I didn't mention it in my earlier remarks, you bring up another aspect of Ellen which I certainly picked up on and which shaped my lukewarmness towards her. That is, I felt she always looked down on Gerald O'Hara (I don't mean physically, although she did that, too :) ) and didn't appreciate the life he had made for her; nor did she value his adoration.

[quote=""Ludmilla""]As Scarlett later realized, Melanie was good in a crisis. I didn't consider her weak, [/quote]

I never considered Melanie weak, either; in fact, I think she was the perfect example of a true "steel magnolia": soft, gentle and pliable on the outside, but with a strong steel core that only emerged in times of deepest crisis. Melanie's ability to always put a good spin on others' behavior was something I always envied and admired, because most of the time I am not wired that way. I don't think it was delusional or Pollyanna-ish; I think she was just a deeply good person, raised in a gentle and loving environment, and so she transferred that onto other people. Her finest moment, to me, was when she reached out to Scarlett at Ashley's birthday party.

I have many times encountered people who put a more positive spin on my words or actions than what I was actually feeling inside when I said or did it, and I have always found such a response humbling; it makes me want to be that more positive person. Perhaps this is what Melanie was doing, either consciously or subconsciously.

[quote=""Ash""]Great discussion here! I always liked Ellen, thought she was involved with her daughters. The fact that Scarlett often thinks back to her says that she made an influence on her, even if Ellen would have been appalled by some of the decisions Scarlett made.

[/quote] I think Scarlett's admiration of her mother was more that of adoration of a plaster saint or an unattainable paragon, than love of a flesh-and-blood mother. If Ellen hadn't been so distant and detached, she probably would have realized that Scarlett's ladylike-ness was just a thin veneer.

I admit, though, that my reaction to both Gerald and Ellen are strongly colored by my own life experiences, much more so than my reaction to any of the other characters.

Someone else mentioned (I forgot to add it to my quotes) that they disliked the depiction of happy, contented slaves in GWTW; I think this is a fairly common characteristic of pre-Civil Rights fiction, especially if it is set in the South or written from a Southern point of view. There is even a passage in Anya Seton's My Theodosia that is cringeworthy; not because it talks about happy slaves, but just the way she describes the physical appearance of the slaves.
Last edited by Michy on Tue April 5th, 2011, 2:43 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Ludmilla
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Post by Ludmilla » Tue April 5th, 2011, 4:07 pm

Scarlett's relationship to her father is interesting... if you've only seen the film, you've only seen part of the circumstances that led to his reckless jumping of the fence. Scarlett was the only daughter he related to, and although he babied and coddled her, she was in many ways the "son" of the family. It did occur to me as well, that part of Melanie's faith in Scarlett may be derived from the fact that Scarlett fulfills the role of husband in terms of monetary support and seeing them through hard times. Melanie knew Ashley was weak and relied on Scarlett to fill the void Ashley couldn't.
I think this is a fairly common characteristic of pre-Civil Rights fiction, especially if it is set in the South or written from a Southern point of view.
This is true, and I don't penalize fiction for reflecting the attitudes of its own time or the author's time (in this case, I think GWTW reflects an amalgam of both). I suppose part of the reason it makes me uncomfortable is that I live in the area where the novel is set. S. Clayton is no longer predominantly white. It's mostly black with a rapidly rising Hispanic population these days. To give you an idea of how far forgotten GWTW is for people who live around here (much of the land has been gobbled up by housing developments), I was chit-chatting with another mother at my daughter's school while waiting for her to return from a field trip. I mentioned that the Fitzgeralds (Mitchell's great-grandparents) used to own much of land around here and her response to me was who is Margaret Mitchell?

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Brenna
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Post by Brenna » Tue April 5th, 2011, 5:31 pm

I know this is more based on the movie, but I thought people might be interested in this review from a favorite blogger. He addresses a lot of the issues mentioned here. http://garethrussellpopular.blogspot.co ... -1939.html
Brenna

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Post by LoveHistory » Tue April 5th, 2011, 8:37 pm

Ok, now I'm feeling compelled to defend Ashley, and that doesn't happen often. Let's at least give the guy credit for not going into full-out jackass territory and carrying on an affair with Scarlett. He could have, but he didn't. He was in a lousy situation, and he didn't handle it well, but he could have made it even worse than he did, and he never sank that low.

Michy and Margaret, if it weren't for the fact that all the names are the same, I'd almost think we are reading different books. I've never gotten a sense that Ellen didn't respect or love Gerald. Certainly it wasn't a grand passion like she felt for Phillipe, but it was emphasized early on that he was allowed to think he ruled the roost because of everyone's love for him. When she told Mammy that she was going to marry him she made a point of saying "He's a kind man." That meant a great deal to Ellen. In an age where men could openly scorn or abuse their wives, she could not possibly have failed to appreciate the way he worshipped her.

Everyone has mentioned Ellen's losing Phillipe as contributing to her distance. I find it interesting that everyone has glossed over the fact that she lost three baby sons. At that time she very likely would have considered that a failure or even a punishment from God. That's a lot to deal with.

I take issue with the idea that she didn't show love towards her children. The novel is told from Scarlett's point of view so of course there are no tender scenes between Ellen and the younger girls. But on one of her trips home from Atlanta Ellen regrets that they haven't had time to sit and talk so that she can feel that Scarlett is her little girl. Scarlett responds by burying her head in her mother's neck and declaring "I'm always your little girl."

Scarlett and Suellen were selfish yes, but Careen was not.

Scarlett's adoration of her mother was entirely understandable. She wanted to be like her mother but it wasn't possible because their personalities were so very different. Had Scarlett understood that she would have saved herself a lot of grief over not being what she wanted to be. When we are disappointed in ourselves that often hurts worse than others being disappointed in us.

i.e. the situation with the manager of Scarlett's sawmill. Margaret you are forgetting that when Scarlett found that the manager wasn't feeding them she opened the locker and fed them herself. Not sure but I think she fired him too.

I fail to see any reason why Ellen should have thought that slavery was wrong, given her upbringing. And of course her attitude was set and unchanging. With the exception of Grandma Fontaine that was the rule in the older generations. That's just human nature. It's not as extreme now as it was before, but resistance to change is entirely normal.

As to the loyalty of the slaves, that only covers the house slaves. The field hands were much less likely to feel the same way. House servants were better dressed and often ate better than those who did more menial work. There was even kind of a class division between slaves because of those distinctions. It's entirely possible that a well-treated slave, who'd been told from birth that slavery was the natural order would have felt pride in their status and loyalty to their owners. Plus Mammy, Pork, Uncle Peter and others are fictional characters so there's leeway in that.

Scarlett was actually closer to Melanie than to her sisters due to circumstances. You don't have to like your sisters to love them. Scarlett is rather pathetic in her inability to understand how she truly feels about the people closest to her. She loved Rhett, but didn't realize it until the end. She loved Melanie, but didn't realize it until nearly the end. She didn't love Ashley the way she thought, but didn't figure it out until Melanie was dying and she saw how much he really loved his wife. One of my favorite parts of the book with regard to Melanie is when she throws Honey out for criticizing Scarlett. Melanie was the only one who knew about Scarlett's terrible nightmares while they were at Tara during the later part of the war. She accepted, if not understood, Scarlett's almost pathological need for money. Melanie is the one who went in to Scarlett's bedroom in the night and comforted her. She really knew everyone better than anyone else did. She knew Rhett, Scarlett, and Ashley better than they knew themselves. A wise little waif, that one.

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Post by Divia » Tue April 5th, 2011, 11:40 pm

[quote=""Ludmilla""]Re the attitudes of southern women, I agree they reflect the attitudes of their time. I think where the novel becomes most problematic and downright uncomfortable for me is its portrayal of the attitudes of slaves like Mammy and Uncle Peter. They may have felt loyal to their white families, but realistically I doubt their feelings were as clear-cut as Mitchell represented them.
[/quote]


The relationship between plantation mistresses and their slaves is an interesting one for me. Both women were in servitude. One to their husband the other to their master. Plantation mistresses needed their slaves in order to help them run the plantation. And yet they knew that their husbands were sleeping with some of these girls and they still had to work side by side each other.

I'm sure there were some slaves who were loyal to their masters, though to be fair it is hard to be loyal to someone when that slave knows they can be sold, raped or beaten at any given moment.

However Mitchell was reliving those charming southern stories where the mammy was fiercely loyal to the master's children and that slaves loved their masters etc. etc. I guess she didn't hear any stories about Nat Turner. :eek:
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