The Civil War background, the pathos of the South’s defeat, the poverty and suffering (with its clear parallels to the 1930s depression) and eventual economic triumph of Scarlett, so cheering to readers with little to feel cheerful about, and then the “realistic” ending with its bitter-sweet parting of Rhett and Scarlett, contained more excitement than a dozen lesser novels. All readers are enthralled about the details of how the Southern life runs, the humor, the dozens of colorful minor characters all presented in competent and flowery prose. Definitely, it is a must-read novel for love story fanatics who don’t mind to get a strong dose of American history to go along with the love affair of the main characters.
Actually, Gone with the Wind is not solely a love story because it is considered as a coming-of-age story of Scarlett O’Hara. At the novel’s opening in 1861, Scarlett O’Hara is a sixteen-year-old Southern belle, when it concludes in 1873 she is a twenty eight year-old woman. Millichap (1994) recounted that in the twelve year p of the novel, Scarlett “experiences Secession, Civil War, and Reconstruction, as well as romance, love, marriage, and motherhood.
Scarlett lives through the adolescent trauma of American culture, which is matched by a traumatic personal history as much or more tumultuous”. She was fuelled by her own life and that’s why “Mitchell created one of the most arresting tales of troubled adolescence in American literature and in so doing created a novel which will continue to captivate teenagers and fascinate their teachers well into the next century”.
The relevance of this novel in American history is that Scarlett is caught up in the historic period like the Secession, Civil War, and Reconstruction that we all studied in our history class. When the Southwest was defeated during the Civil War, the huge plantations were destroyed and the slaves were freed. This prompted plantation owners to suffer greatly from their downfall. The American Civil War also interrupted cotton supplies that had disastrous effects in the United States. The Great Hunger of the 1840s was a time of agrarian crisis and industrial slump.
We can all experience these parts of American history as readers go through the life of Scarlett O’Hara. By reading the novel, we can see the events that transpired during these periods through the eyes of a woman struggling to redeem herself from all the difficulties brought about by the events that happened. In this way, readers can learn about American history when reading the novel as these were intertwined with the life of the heroine in the Mitchell’s novel.
For younger readers, Scarlett O’Hara’s development from teenaged girl to mature woman proves as fascinating now as it did when the book was first published in 1936 or when the movie first appeared in 1939. The particular, indeed peculiar energy of the story proceeds from Mitchell’s own girlhood, adolescence, and young adult life. During these years she heard the family legends of the Civil War era into which she projected her own development toward womanhood.
The novel combines Mitchell’s family and personal romances with historical facts to create powerful and popular fiction. Also, it was a great hit during the time of its publication because many people can relate it to the Great Depression that happened in the 1920s. As Beye (1993) writes:
Gone With the Wind was published in the depths of the Great Depression. The years of the Depression were followed by the Second World War. It is not hard to see how it spoke to an American audience of that period. The economic and social disaster that the Civil War brought to the white aristocracy of the old South is a good metaphor for the economic and social dislocation that millions of ordinary Americans experienced between 1936 and 1946.
Suddenly vast numbers of people were devastated by hunger, homelessness, and joblessness. Often, however, they were also freed from middle class gentility; women especially were freed from propriety; classes were mixed up; immigrant groups became richer and freer in the experience of America; war made women independent of men as never before.
Reading the book was an awe-inspiring experience, although there are parts that can be dragging. All in all, the love story was quite enthralling indeed and readers can both enjoy the plot of the story and take a slice of American history without a sweat.
Beye, Charles Rowan. “Gone with the Wind, and Good Riddance, Southwest Review 78.3 (Summer 1993): 366-80.
Millichap, Joseph R. “Margaret Mitchell: Overview”, in Berger, Laura Standley (Ed.), Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, 1st ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994.
Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind.