1939: Gone with the Wind

(Originally published June 21, 2012)

Gone with the Wind: Need I say more?  An American war epic.  A tale of love and pride and passion.  A coming-of-age classic.  Not to mention that it stars Clark Gable.  I was never one for celebrity crushes and fantasy, but then It Happened One Night…

I am not sure I can do the film justice in this little blog, since I am sure it has been analyzed extensively by professional critics.  As an amateur, the best I can do is share my raw first impressions.  And Gone with the Wind certainly elicited some strong impressions!

Truth be told, I actually disliked studying the Civil War in my American history classes because it seemed so overdone and oversimplified.  Thus, I was not overly thrilled about spending four hours (I told you it was epic!) immersed in the trenches of the Civil War.  However, having never seen Gone with the Wind, but having studied American history in college, I actually discovered some fresh new insights.  I found that the film juxtaposed my previous understanding of the Civil War with its emphasis on the American South.

American history textbooks vilify the American South as dangerous and rebellious because of the plantation owners’ attachment to and dependence on slavery.  In contrast, Gone with the Wind portrays the victimization of the South through the eyes of the protagonist.

The lovely, vain, tenacious, somewhat capricious Scarlett O’Hara sees her pampered antebellum world crumble into death and decay around her as the Civil War advances.  Gone with the Wind takes us from Scarlett’s peaceful plantation, Tara, through Sherman’s March to war-torn Atlanta and Savannah; through Scarlett’s three marriages and the tragic deaths of several family members.

Throughout it all, the dashing, also somewhat capricious Rhett Butler appears and disappears, alternately helping and wounding Scarlett as she battles to survive and take care of her family.  Pride plagues both Rhett and Scarlett and often interferes with their love and success.  She cannot appreciate the steadiness Rhett brings to her rickety new environs, and simultaneously, Rhett cannot admit that he is willing to be her stability.

The war and the years afterward harden Scarlett.  We watch her transition from a strong-willed, young girl who cannot decide which of her beaus is handsomest to a shrewd woman who will do anything, right or wrong, to save herself, her family, and her precious plantation.  Her strength, cleverness, and womanly wiles remain intact but adopt a darker visage.

Scarlett remains obsessed with her sister’s husband, driving a wedge into the family and also between herself and Rhett, her potential savior amidst tragedy.  Instead Scarlett creates more tragedy by not appreciating her sister’s goodness, kindness, and forgiveness or the blessing of her own little girl.

And then there is the ending.  After spending over four hours immersed in a war and a culture which has never really interested me, I must say the ending is quite…unforeseen.  Oddly hopeful, yet distinctly unsatisfying.  Let’s just say the movie is aptly titled.  This is not your standard love story, but then again, the Civil War was not your standard showdown.

Major themes:

  • Hubris and humility
  • Family ties
  • Consequences of war
  • Strength of home
  • Unrequited love
  • Hope and futility
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