Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Mitchell’

Well, here we are again, folks – delving into Part 4 of Gone with the Wind, which takes us through Scarlett’s second marriage, the beginning of her career as a businesswoman (which scandalizes Atlanta), and deep into the years of Reconstruction. As this part opens, Ashley has come back to Tara and it seems like everything will be fine – but of course, that’s not quite how it works in the postwar South. And as Part 4 unfolds, we realize that the end of the war hasn’t ended the trials of the South – in fact, the struggle has just begun.

Every chapter in this section has something in it to break my heart – the threat of high taxes on Tara, Scarlett’s attempt to wheedle money out of Rhett Butler (wearing a dress made from Ellen’s green drapes!), her second marriage to her sister Suellen’s beau, and the increasingly desperate actions she takes to make more money. Scarlett changes in this section into someone cold and hard – the total opposite of the gentle, gracious mother who raised her and whom she always idolized. Some of her actions make me furious; others make me shake my head, but it kills me when she confesses her recurring nightmare to Rhett: she’s terrified of going hungry again.

It’s also worth noting that Scarlett feels remorse – for the first time in her life – after the KKK incident in which her husband and another man are shot and killed. The remorse doesn’t last long, but it softens her for just a moment, makes her human. I wonder, if she had sat with her guilt and regret a bit longer instead of drinking it away, if it would have changed her. As it is, I think she begins her final downhill slide into a callous, lonely, alcoholic life when she lets Rhett talk her out of feeling guilty, and agrees to marry him although she (still!) doesn’t think she loves him. (Part 5 is so full of sordid tragedy that I’m rather dreading picking the book up again.)

And speaking of remorse, guilt and innocence, I love Rhett’s solution to the problem of proving where Ashley and the other KKK members were on the night in question – he swears they were all at Belle Watling’s brothel with him. Finally, he has done a gallant good deed for Atlanta society, but he’s done it on his own terms, and the Old Guard – except for Melanie – don’t appreciate it one bit. What a perfect piece of irony! (Side note: having grown up with a totally different, entirely negative perception of the KKK, Mitchell’s defense of it horrifies me.)

If you’re reading along, or if you’ve read Gone with the Wind before, what strikes you about this section?

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After blazing through more than half of Gone with the Wind last month (and writing recaps of Part 1 and Part 2), I put the book down for a while, because I didn’t want to get too far ahead of the read-along at Erin’s blog. However, it’s time to head back to Atlanta – and Tara – as we discuss Part 3.

In some ways, the Scarlett I see in this section is the Scarlett I like best – the one who steps up and does what is needed, whether that’s delivering Melanie’s baby, getting herself and several others safely back to Tara, and taking over the running of Tara after finding her mother dead and her father unbalanced. (This broke my heart – I love fiery, blustery Gerald and I’d forgotten how lost he was without his wife.) Scarlett is still a teenager (though she’s a widow and a mother), but she has to do a lot of growing up very quickly, as her father, her sisters, the slaves and Melanie look to her for guidance and strength.

I’d forgotten about the scenes with Scarlett’s neighbors, the genteel families of the County who are struggling to escape starvation, and missing their men who are still gone. It broke my heart to ride along with Scarlett as she visited them, though I appreciated the wise words from sharp-eyed Grandma Fontaine about how terrible it can be to face the worst, because then you can’t ever really fear anything again. I do love the neighborly spirit that persists in the County, everyone sharing what they have, though they’ve soon got nothing left.

Melanie, though weak from childbirth, continues to display that “thin line of unbreakable steel” at her core – helping Scarlett beat out the flames after the Yankees set fire to Tara. And Dilcey, the O’Haras’ half-Indian slave, is impressively hardworking and patient. This section of the book is often nightmarish – trauma piled on top of trauma. But some of these characters show their better sides in the face of such tragedy.

Another character we meet here, whom I admire, is Will Benteen, a one-legged Confederate soldier who comes to Tara for food and comfort, and stays because he grows to love it. He and Scarlett oth harbor a fierce love for Tara, and they gradually come to run the plantation as partners. Scarlett, of course, never has the sense to appreciate people for their full value, but she is grateful for Will, whose shrewd business sense, gentle spirit and untiring work ethic help keep Tara and its inhabitants from starvation.

Finally, there are some great dramatic moments in this section – Scarlett and Melanie fleeing Atlanta with the leaping flames in the background; Scarlett raising her fist to the sky and declaring, “I’ll never be hungry again!”; Scarlett shooting a Yankee deserter in the front hall at Tara; and – as the section ends – Ashley returning to Tara. (I love Will for restraining Scarlett here, letting Ashley and Melanie have their reunion.)

The story, of course, is far from over – Parts 4 and 5 yet to come. If you’re reading along, or are a GWTW fan, what do you think of this section of the book?

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