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.
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.