‘Gone with the Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell for 45 Days of Book Stories

Book 22 of 45 Days of Book Stories

STATS OF THE BOOK

Title: ‘Gone with the Wind’
Author: Margaret Mitchell (1900 – 1949)
Date of Publishing: 30 June 1936
Publisher: The Macmillan Company
The copy I have is a 1993 edition of the paperback prints that were branded by the Time Warner Company. As for the book itself, Mitchell gives us a 1024 page modern epic. Mitchell takes us to the American South and places us within families, relationships, ties, and loyalties that are tested just as the Civil War breaks out. Told from the Confederate point of view, it is a moving tale of how war rapidly and irrevocably changes everything. Traditions, rituals, customs, thoughts, ownership, even love, all fly away – they drift away – ‘gone with the wind’. We journey through all these losses through one central figure, Scarlett O’Hara. Told in a narrative style, Mitchell parallel’s all the struggles, the disappointments, and the challenges of war through Scarlett’s personal trials and tribulations. It is a poignant and heart-breaking tapestry that Mitchell gives us. Worthy of note is the fact that the book sold over 1 million copies within 6 months of being published. This number reached 7 million copies sold by 1939, the year that Mitchell’s book was adapted to be immortalised on celluloid. On August 11th, 1949, Mitchell and her husband were in a horrible car accident, and sadly the injuries sustained by the author were too severe, and she did not survive.

CONTROVERSY & GONE WITH THE WIND

“Gone with the Wind” is one of many books, that due to its depiction of slavery, and racist terminology that was prevalent in the time period of the American South that the world is placed in, faces censorship and rebuke. One recent example of this is HBOmax pulling the 1939 movie adaptation of “Gone with the Wind”, off of its streaming service, till they can provide an introductory warning and historical contextualisation for the film.

The book, even when it was initially published was seen as highly unpalatable by Black America. Many African-American artists and voices within the literary community criticised the Mitchell and the book. It is important to highlight and remember that though these voices may not have been mainstream, they were not quite. A great example of this is a striking picture of African-American women protesting outside a theatre in 1940 where the movie was being screened. They were most disturbed by the “happy slave” depiction in the book and film. One protester is seen holding a sign that reads – “YOU’D BE SWEET TOO UNDER WHIP!” We must also note that in the 1930s and 40s there were strong though nascent civil-rights movements that were gathering momentum. The popularity of both the book and film, I feel were in large part, due to the nostalgic element throughout the book. Even as an Indian Girl in grade 6, aged ten and a half, there was an allure to the grandiose depictions in the book.

THE ACCOLADES & BANS FOR MARGARET MITCHELL

Gone with the Wind was Mitchell’s first and last book. In large part, this was due to her premature death. We lost her in a drunk-driving accident, where a drunk taxi-driver crashed into her and her husband’s car. Mitchell began writing the book when she was recovering from an ankle injury in 1926. This allowed her to quit her job as a journalist and become wrapped-up in finishing this epic. The book went on to earn Mitchell the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the year 1937 and the National Book Award for a Novel in the same year as well.

During the same time period, in Europe, Hitler marches into Austria. To be precise, on March 12, 1938, the German troops march into German-speaking Austria and claim it for the Third Reich. This take-over by Hitler and his Nazis – was step one in a systematic eradication and censorship of culture, art and the human spirit and imagination. The Nazi’s banned thousands of books, to achieve this. Gone with the Wind, was one such book. To better understand why the Nazi’s saw Mitchell’s book to be anti the Nazi agenda is best explained by B. H. Gelfant, in his article for The Southern Literary Journal 13, 1980 ( available on JSTOR), titled “Gone with the Wind” and the Impossibilities of Fiction. Gelfant states,

“During the war, totalitarian nations recognized Gone With the Wind’s popularity by strict censorship that the penalty for its possession, according to an American journalist, was death.”

It’s not just the Nazi’s that found Mitchell’s book worthy of a ban. Where the Nazi’s objected perhaps to Scarlett’s individualism and strength of survival, her friendliness with slaves various States within America, Schools, Universities and Libraries have all looked to limit, or then completely ban the book. Their reasons and concerns always are directed towards the depiction of the salves and their owners and the use of the n-word. I would also go so far as to say that the current rejection of the book and the movie is motivated by fear. The glamorous world that we see destroyed by the Civil War in the book, is one we see through the perspective of the Confederacy, who wanted to hold on to “their” slaves. Maybe the voices who call for the ban of the book are concerned that this presentation of the events is not realistic, and is glorifying the side (read the Confederacy) that was morally wrong and was defeated. These concerns are valid, but I personally am not for banning of any books or art. All fascists begin the first moves of censorship in the guise of reasonable arguments of ‘greater good’. The deception begins with explanations and dogma that these bans are ‘obvious’ – that we (the powers that be) must ban these books, artworks, voices, for in doing this they are protecting our morality, our sensibilities, our culture. This is insidious and dangerous in my opinion.


On a side note, there is a great art installation by Argentinian artist Marta Minujín for Documenta 14, in Kassel, Germany gives us a visual representation of this. She took 100,000 books banned by the Nazis and used them to create a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, on a NAzi book-burning site – in Friedrichsplatz Park in Kassel, Germany.)


Why You Should Read This Book?

You may feel, committing to a 1024 page epic, that is a historical-narrative-fiction, set in a time period that you may feel disconnected with is a big ask. Why would you read this? For 3 simple reasons,

  1. It’s a tale of survival, and never giving up. Something we need reminding of in the current COVID-19 era.
  2. No matter the packaging of Vivian Leigh and Rhett Butler through the lens of Hollywood Production companies, this is not a romance novel in a traditional sense. This is a good thing, for worth is determined through the perseverance of the human spirit.
  3. Yes, the book’s language and time-period are highly problematic in 2020, but so are Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Banning books is to ban a part of our history. The reason we must read them is for they teach us of human nature, fortitude and where we are in our privileged now. They also teach us humility, for the present, shall become someone we love’s past that they find “problematic”, no matter how progressive we may feel we are.

I have a question for you, are there books / art / songs that you strongly feel should be banned? Why?