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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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Michy
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Post by Michy » Wed April 6th, 2011, 12:29 am

[quote=""LoveHistory""]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.[/quote] You are absolutely right -- he was a cad, but he could have been much, much worse. He was enough of a true gentlemen to not descend 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.
I think that is one of the things that makes GWTW so great -- Mitchell created characters so complex and multi-faceted that they can be interpreted different ways by different people.

About Ellen losing her baby sons -- yes, I am sure that contributed to her emotional detachment, also. I had a vague memory that she had had several sons who died in infancy, but it's been so many years since I read the book that I couldn't remember if I read that in GWTW or some other book. I really must re-read it. Soon. :)
A wise little waif, that one.
For me, Melanie is the most admirable character in the whole book. Yes, Scarlett was tough and strong, a true survivor on whom many depended, but she walked on too many people and used too many people; I admire her, but I wouldn't want to be like her. Melanie, on the other hand, is truly the kind of person I would like to be.

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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Wed April 6th, 2011, 2:10 am

Divia, I don't think Mitchell was trying to create a southern utopia. Undoubtedly there were slaves who felt the way Mammy did. She chose not to cover the worst of it for reasons we don't know, maybe it was too close to those days and she knew it would have opened deep wounds. There's been plenty of coverage for the rotten slave owners. There were some who were decent to their slaves as well, and both sides of the story deserve to be told. She also used Rhett and even Ashley at times to point out that the entire culture was doomed. Rhett repeatedly points out the problems with belief in "the cause" and the little fantasy world that the south had created for itself. He couldn't have done that if his creator hadn't believed it herself.

The book may not be as gritty as it could be, but it's far from whitewashed or romanticized to the level you seem to think. I apologize if I seem to be putting any words in your mouth here, I'm going by the impression I have based on what you've commented in the past, as well as in this thread. Oh, and I love your analysis of how the plantation mistresses were in a form of servitude as well. Excellent point.

Somebody mentioned Rhett being more people smart than Scarlett was. I think the reasons for that are two-fold: 1) different, more analytical temperament; 2) 17 years older than Scarlett--no matter how bright she was she could never match his life experience.

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Post by Ash » Wed April 6th, 2011, 2:56 am

A side note, that doesn't necessarily have to do with the story, but does speak to how pervasive slavery was. I was rather surprised, shocked and disgusted just a few years back to find out how many Jews actually had slaves. Jews over history often assimilated to some extent in to the general culture in which they lived, so as to fit in and gain status. In that time, they did that through having slaves. Its ironic that every year at the passover seder, we read how we long for a world where all men (people) are free, and no one is enslaved. I gotta wonder how they felt in that time reading that famous line, while their slaves were serving their meal. Or even worse, how the slaves felt.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed April 6th, 2011, 3:57 am

There's plenty of slavery in the Old Testament, Ash. And laws to ensure humane treatment, if the owner followed them.

Again, I would point out that the solutions to slavery at the time were not simple. In the deep south, a slave of working age and ability who was freed would soon have been re-exploited. To gain freedom in a functional sense, a black person would have had to move hundreds of miles away from their people and the climate / milieu they had been raised in. And most wouldn't have exchanged their families and social structures for freedom. Humans are pack animals.

Also, the house slaves were VERY invested in the status quo. They were the 'upper class' of the slave world, often much better off than the crackers, definitely than the poor whites. Destruction of that system would have put them at the mercy of the less-fortunate field hands, who usually carried strong resentment over the favored treatment that the 'house darkies' received. So Mammy, Peter, and Pork were not far off the mark. Note that Prissy wails in indignation at the very idea of her having to milk a cow. She was born a house slave -- not a field hand. You get the same response from Pork at the thought of hoeing cotton.

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Wed April 6th, 2011, 5:17 am

[quote=""LoveHistory""]She chose not to cover the worst of it for reasons we don't know, maybe it was too close to those days and she knew it would have opened deep wounds. [/quote] This is pure speculation, but my guess would be that Mitchell chose not to probe the issue of slavery more deeply simply because that was not the type of story she wanted to tell. I think that, first and foremost, she set out to write an entertaining book, not a social critique of the antebellum South. She left that for other writers to do; she simply wanted to tell a good tale. And in that she succeeded fabulously.

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

This thread has become so full of rich, interesting ideas, I find myself wishing I had re-read the novel, because I have clearly forgotten a lot of details, even though many scenes do stick in my mind and I still remember some strong reactions I had to the characters and their situations.

Divia makes a very good point about the mistresses and the slaves both being in a position of subjugation. It reminds me of Valerie Martin's excellent novel Property.

I don't think Mitchell portrays the slaves as all that happy with their lot. While they don't express resentment at being enslaved in so many words, Mammy and Prissy, the two slaves we get the fullest portrayal of, don't come off as particularly happy people. Prissy is easily frightened and evades responsibility, while Mammy makes a lot of "some people" comments that are clearly directed at Scarlett and make her disapproval of some of the things Scarlett does very clear, despite their indirectness. Whether Mitchell intended it or not, it's possible to read between the lines of the way these two characters are portrayed to get a sense of how powerless these two people felt. Mammy seems to have been quite intelligent, but in a position in which she could no longer openly rebuke Scarlett as she would have when Scarlett was a small child. One of the really nice things Rhett does is give Mammy that red petticoat - he does rebuke Scarlett at one point for not treating Mammy with more respect.
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Post by Michy » Wed April 6th, 2011, 5:53 am

[quote=""Margaret""]This thread has become so full of rich, interesting ideas, I find myself wishing I had re-read the novel, because I have clearly forgotten a lot of details, even though many scenes do stick in my mind and I still remember some strong reactions I had to the characters and their situations.[/quote] I'm feeling the same way!

while Mammy makes a lot of "some people" comments that are clearly directed at Scarlett and make her disapproval of some of the things Scarlett does very clear, despite their indirectness. Whether Mitchell intended it or not, it's possible to read between the lines of the way these two characters are portrayed to get a sense of how powerless these two people felt.
Mammy is a great character. In the beginning she typically refers to Scarlett as "ma lamb." But it gradually changed over time -- she was opposed to Rhett and Scarlett marrying, and didn't she refer to them both as mules? I thought that was great.

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Post by Divia » Wed April 6th, 2011, 10:10 am

There were black plantation owners, so why would it be shocking if there were Jews who were slave owners? :confused:

Love History, I can only go on what I saw in the movie. It was pretty much romanticized or the slave aspect was for me.

I remember going to Jefferson's home and the tour guide was quick to point out that Jefferson feed his slaves and he gave them medical care and clothes. Well no duh. :rolleyes: Of course he woould because he put a lot of money into those slaves and it would be bad business sense to allow them to die from starvation.


I dunno if the house slaves were better than poor whites, if thats who you are saying are "crackers." Even poor whites had their freedom and thats a more powerful status than house slave.
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Post by Ludmilla » Wed April 6th, 2011, 10:33 am

Michy said: Mitchell created characters so complex and multi-faceted that they can be interpreted different ways by different people.
That, and for the sake of criticism it's easy to focus on one aspect of a character and not do justice to another.
About Ellen losing her baby sons...
I always felt this was one of the reasons that Ellen extended herself so much to provide medical care to others in need. By the time we meet her, she's been spreading herself too thin. In some ways, I think Gerald O'Hara was her Frank Kennedy. He saved her from a life she was desparately ready to escape after feeling so heartbroken (and unforgiving, probably) about Philippe. Remember when Scarlett says to herself she's going to be good to Frank (but of course she can't deny her own nature so she isn't), but Ellen, being so different, was good to Gerald in her own quiet way. She may not have loved him, but partnered with him in all the ways a wife was expected to for a successful marriage. And Gerald worshipped her and was so very grateful. That was my impression of them.
LoveHistory said: Somebody mentioned Rhett being more people smart than Scarlett was. I think the reasons for that are two-fold: 1) different, more analytical temperament; 2) 17 years older than Scarlett--no matter how bright she was she could never match his life experience.
I thought it very telling toward the end when we get inside Rhett's head and he's musing about their age difference. He's 45, not a young man anymore, and grief and alcohol are beginning show on him. Scarlett is only 26 or 27, and he realizes that she's just reached her prime and it would be years yet before age will mellow her into someone who has settled and reached her potential. He'd be an old man if he waited that long for Scarlett.

I think there will always be those of us who must take a longer, more difficult road in the maturing process. The lessons Scarlett has to learn about love aren't easy even for most people. The book tells us she decided she loved Ashley at age 14. She's 16 at the picnic.
Michy said: my guess would be that Mitchell chose not to probe the issue of slavery more deeply simply because that was not the type of story she wanted to tell.
This is how I've always felt about the book. I can't fault an author for not delving deeply into something that is outside the scope of her story. It was afterall from the viewpoint of white landowners. I was surprised to find that some of the more prejudicial scenes in the novel were very uncomfortable to read now. I think that just shows how far our society has come since Mitchell wrote her story.

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Post by Ludmilla » Wed April 6th, 2011, 12:21 pm

[quote=""MLE""]Again, I would point out that the solutions to slavery at the time were not simple. In the deep south, a slave of working age and ability who was freed would soon have been re-exploited. To gain freedom in a functional sense, a black person would have had to move hundreds of miles away from their people and the climate / milieu they had been raised in. And most wouldn't have exchanged their families and social structures for freedom. Humans are pack animals.
[/quote]

I agree these kind of issues are inherent in any kind of social system... some are just more extreme and exploitative than others. I think Thomas Jefferson and John Adams discussed in their correspondence this particular issue -- what to do with slaves once they were free. The moral responsibility doesn't end with just granting freedom. One of the great tragedies of the American Civil War was what came after.

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