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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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Ash
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Post by Ash » Wed April 6th, 2011, 1:40 pm

There were black plantation owners, so why would it be shocking if there were Jews who were slave owners
Mainly for the hypocrisy of it all. For one thing, Jews have been persecuted and reviled for centuries, and I would have thought the last thing they'd want to do is to mistreat others. For another, like I said about the passover seder, we are raised with the idea that slavery is bad, that no one has the right to enslave another, and that we pray that someday all slaves will be free. But we are people like everyone else, and like everyone else sometimes do things to fit in, that they might not do otherwise.

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Brenna
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Post by Brenna » Wed April 6th, 2011, 3:00 pm

[quote=""Ash""]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.[/quote]

I agree with Divia. If you look back over the centuries, everyone it seemed at one time or another had slaves. African tribes had slaves and sold those slaves to white slave traders. What was done to immigrants (and to a certain extent continues to this day in the United States) in the 20s and 30s was in some ways worse than slavery. The hypocrisy of the whole slave system is everywhere in history.
Brenna

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Wed April 6th, 2011, 3:14 pm

[quote=""Ludmilla""]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. [/quote] I agree -- I think Scarlett was, like so many of us (me included :o ) one of those people who must go through the school of hard knocks; even after all she went through in GWTW, at the end of the book she's really only just begun her education process and has many more years of learning/hard knocks ahead to mellow and mature.

Even if Margaret Mitchell had not died so early I don't think she would have ever written a sequel. But it's interesting to speculate that what if she had? How would she have defined Scarlett's character say, 20 years down the road?

[quote=""Brenna""] If you look back over the centuries, everyone it seemed at one time or another had slaves. [/quote] This is an unfortunate fact of human history; I don't think there has been a civilization that hasn't practiced slavery in some form. It is an ugly aspect of human nature that we have a tendency to exploit and bully those who have less power. Last year I bought a book called The History of White People (written by a black woman, BTW) and it starts out by talking about this very thing. For most of human history, though, slavery wasn't defined through racial divides (i.e. whites vs blacks) but was often among people of very similar ethnicity, usually a by-product of wars (the losers became the slaves of the winners). Of course, here in the US we tend to focus on our own slavery issues because they are the most recent and because it took place on such a large scale on our own soil.

I didn't finish the book because I felt it just wasn't the right book for me at that time. But it's still in my TBR and I will definitely finish it one of these days.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed April 6th, 2011, 5:14 pm

Okay, all this has sent me back to the book, even though I have so much to do and I know it so well, I wasn't going to re-read it for the discussion. I read the first couple of chapters last night, and I don't see any distance in Ellen at all, not if you accept the character as being who the author says she was. She had a bad start, and her match with Gerald was not a love match; and perhaps in the sense of romantic passion she was 'a gentle shell'. But her behaviors were that of a determined, strong woman, very involved in the upbringing of her daughters and the welfare of her husband and those around her.

We all remember different words from the book. The phrase about Ellen that has always struck me was "Scarlett never saw her mother's back touch the back of any chair she sat in." In other words, a woman in the habit of disciplining her body (and her soul) to the best of what was expected of her, not taking the easy route, even when it came to sitting down.

Also, this book covers a character from age 17 to 27, written by a woman from 22 to 32 (or thereabouts). Her choices at that time are just as likely to be rebellion against what she was taught than the result of it. Rhett, who was 35 to 45 in the book, is actually the same age as Ellen. He might well have been one of her young admirers.

So Rhett has gone through his rebellious stage and is now re-assessing, with more maturity, what was worthwhile in the principles he was raised with. But throughout the decade, he actively cheers Scarlett on into becoming a monster.

And there is the difference between the two greatest influences in Scarlett's life: Rhett and Ellen. Selfish and cynical, and selfless and accepting.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Wed April 6th, 2011, 6:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Wed April 6th, 2011, 6:52 pm

[quote=""MLE""]I read the first couple of chapters last night, and I don't see any distance in Ellen at all, not if you accept the character as being who the author says she was. [/quote] Every time I read GWTW, Ellen's emotional detachment came through very strongly to me. But...... that was 20+ years ago. I expect that when I read it this time around my reactions to many things will be different, perhaps even my reaction to Ellen - ?

Ok..... I have now decided to shove aside everything else TBR and start on my re-read of GWTW. :) April is so busy, though, that I don't know if I'll be able to finish it before the end of the month......
Last edited by Michy on Wed April 6th, 2011, 6:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Wed April 6th, 2011, 10:46 pm

Do remember though, MLE that Rhett's behavior changes later in the book.

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Divia
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Post by Divia » Wed April 6th, 2011, 11:15 pm

[quote=""Ludmilla""]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.[/quote]

Many of our leaders, including Lincoln entertained the idea of shipping ex slavesl back to Africa. So while some of the radicals didn't believe in slavery(not saying Lincoln was a radical) some of them still didn't want the ex slaves, or even free blacks, in this country. THey were still looked down upon.

I believe Jefferson said that slavery was a "necessary evil." Slaves were needed to do the manual labor while he could think the big thoughts.
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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Wed April 6th, 2011, 11:17 pm

[quote=""Divia""]Many of our leaders, including Lincoln entertained the idea of shipping ex slavesl back to Africa. [/quote]

Hence Liberia.

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Fri April 8th, 2011, 4:18 pm

[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] My edition has an introduction by James Michener, and he mentions this. He says that Mitchell's private correspondence indicates that she was obsessed with wanting upper classes Atlantans to like her book, and he suggests this is the reason she didn't take a more generous approach to the issues of slavery and freedom. While I think my earlier comments are probably close to the truth -- she simply wanted to write an entertaining story, not delve into social commentary -- I think he has a point, as well.

[quote=""MLE""]Okay, all this has sent me back to the book, even though I have so much to do and I know it so well, I wasn't going to re-read it for the discussion. I read the first couple of chapters last night, and I don't see any distance in Ellen at all, not if you accept the character as being who the author says she was. [/quote] I finished reading the backstory of Gerald and Ellen, and her emotional detachment still comes through to me loud and strong. Mitchell describes Ellen using phrases such as (I'm quoting from memory, so I probably don't have them exactly verbatim) "her spark had died out, leaving just a shell for Gerald to marry..." "... she left the greater part of herself behind forever in Savannah...." "... she would have been strikingly beautiful if there had been any life in her eyes, any warmth in her smile...." However, she was also, as you say, the epitome of a Southern upper class lady, indefatigable in the management of her household, her family and her plantation, and also spiritually devout. I suppose different aspects of her character stand out to different readers, and for me it's her emotional hollowness and distance. I admire her, I even sympathize (to a degree) with her situation, but I just can't warm up to her....

One little irony that I've never picked up on in previous readings.... in the early scene where the family is relaxing after supper, waiting for Ellen to return, Careen is crying over a romance she's reading about a young woman who threatens to take the veil after the death of her lover. She had no idea that was her own mother's story.

I'm at page 100-something -- just finished the barbecue scene at Twelve Oaks -- and what is standing out to me the most overall this time around is Mitchell's marvelous technique. As a younger reader I simply absorbed the story and fell under its spell without paying much attention to how Mitchell did it. But as an older reader I'm more conscious of things such as the lush, technicolor way she describes the landscape of northern Georgia. And the myriad details she weaves into the story (such as the old man at the barbecue) that don't advance the plot at all, but simply add to the atmosphere and yet manage to never slow down the story at all. What a magnificently gifted writer she was.

ETA: Another observation Michener made in his intro, was that the characters of Scarlett and Rhett change throughout the book, while the characters of Melanie and Ashley do not. I had never thought of that before, but he's right. True they are secondary characters, but just barely; they have almost as much coverage as Scarlett and Rhett. So it's interesting that Mitchell made them more static......
Last edited by Michy on Fri April 8th, 2011, 4:32 pm, edited 2 times 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) » Fri April 8th, 2011, 6:56 pm

I think that was the theme of the book, Michy: the resilient versus the static. There was much to admire in the static, but in the long run, the resilient is what survives.

At the end, Rhett has thrown in the towel. He's become static. It is Scarlett, ever resourceful, never giving up (although with blinkers that keep her from adjusting her vector to avoid snares) who carries the theme forward.

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