#47 Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Cover of "Gone With the Wind"

It’s no wonder this book is a doozy—it was always going to be. Margaret Mitchell, writing in the 1930s, aimed to cover the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era, as well as the three marriages of an insufferable woman, in a single novel. It’s a war epic and a love story and a character portrait and a historical drama, all in one. And even though it was the only novel Mitchell published during her lifetime, it won the Pulitzer Prize.

Not too shabby, as statistics go.

Among Scarlett O’Hara’s admirable qualities are:

  • a shrewd intelligence,
  • a ferocious ambition, and
  • a steadfast determination to survive.

Unfortunately, her survival skills are limited to:

  • flirting shamelessly with every man that crosses her path,
  • using them at her every whim without a smidgen of gratitude, and
  • marrying them, if necessary, for their wealth/status/resources.

Scarlett O’Hara is hard to like and hard to hate. She’s sharp and tough, and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty—she even runs a plantation and, later, a sawmill when there’s no one else around to do it. But even as she rises to her potential as a born leader, she relapses into pettiness and narcissism. She spends most of the book ridiculing the few people who care about her and relentlessly pursues her closest friend’s husband. She finally meets her match in the opportunistic Rhett Butler, but she’s too stubborn to notice. Scarlett’s ultimate legacy is to leave us tearing our hair out over what might have been, if only she’d let it.

Also, there’s something in there about the importance of land. Apparently it’s the “only thing that matters.” This sounds very American, if you ask me—and it’s gotten us into a whole lot of trouble before and since.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time? 

Epic historical drama and a Southern belle gone bad? YES PLEASE.

Favorite Quotes:

You’re so brutal to those who love you, Scarlett. You take their love and hold it over their heads like a whip.

How closely women clutch the very chains that bind them!

That is the one unforgivable sin in any society. Be different and be damned!

Babies, babies, babies. Why did God make so many babies? But no, God didn’t make them. Stupid people made them.

Read: 2000

#45 Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Lord of the Flies

I’m guessing most people enjoy this book, for whatever sick reason there is to enjoy this book. Its intense violence makes it a favorite, obviously, among students of American Literature. At least we all know now that leaving British schoolboys to their own devices on a remote Pacific island is NOT a good idea. It is a bad idea.

I remember endless debates in Freshman English about the conch shell—less, I admit, about whether the symbolism was heavy-handed than about the pronunciation of “conch.” We also had to decide whether Simon was a Christ Figure, because practically every book has a Christ Figure if you’re paying close attention and want a good grade.

If Lord of the Flies is any indication, Golding had a remarkably cynical view of human nature, in that order and reason quickly give way—if we let them—to chaos and reality TV. Here are all the LotF life lessons to keep in mind for our own survival:

  1. Boys’ choirs are always straddling the edge of evil. Do not trust them. 
  2. There are no monsters under the bed, in the closet, or out in the wild. Humans are the only monsters. 
  3. Bullying can kill. Like, literally KILL, via boulder. So maybe just don’t bully anyone. Ignore that one little impulse. Otherwise you’ll grow into an unstoppable guilt factory of an adult, reckless and lonely, and we’ll all go KARMA, BITCH, and also SUCKS TO YOUR ASS-MAR. Except hopefully we won’t, because that’d be bullying too.

Is It One of the Greatest Books of All Time? 

I’m not allowed to say since I’m not holding the conch shell. (But yes.)

Favorite Quotes:

They looked at each other, baffled, in love and hate.

We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?

We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages.

We’re English, and the English are best at everything.

Read: 2004