5 Thought-Provoking Themes In Gone With The Wind

1. Why Scarlett?

Honestly, I can’t figure out why Scarlett is the main character of this story. Scarlett represents moral depravity and emptiness. On one hand, I can sympathize – sort of – with Scarlett. Wouldn’t I do the same things under similar circumstances? Isn’t survival the goal? But then the question is, at what cost will survival come? And just how much of yourself are you willing to lose? On the other hand, her stubborn refusal to change her ways and her animal will to survive, make her particularly unappealing to me. Perhaps because I see a little too much of myself in her.

So why Scarlett? Why not Melanie? Even Mitchell admitted that Melanie was intended to be the heroine of the story. Or Rhett? Rhett presents a vastly more fascinating character study than does Scarlett. Though extremely similar there is one fundamental difference between Rhett and Scarlett. Both are immoral, yes. But Rhett is aware of his own fallen-ness, while Scarlett goes around in complete oblivion to her own sins. This makes Rhett somehow much more appealing to me. Pretty much everything you know about Rhett is inferred. In fact, I have a great many questions about Rhett that would very much like answering. Mitchell could’ve written a whole book about his backstory and I wouldn’t have complained!
2. Two Different Kinds Of Strength

A recurring theme of Gone With The Wind is the contrast between people who fall into one of two categories. Though Ashley, Rhett, and Scarlett, by all appearances, would seem to be the strongest, it is they who are reduced to nothing more than frightened children in the face of circumstances beyond their own control. Melanie is the one whose strength the others seek out in their pain, the one they run to for safety and security.
Melanie – and also Scarlett’s mother, though only briefly – represents strength of a different sort in this story. Scarlett hates Melanie because she does not understand her. She senses that Melanie is stronger than herself, but cannot understand this because she sees that Melanie is sickly, weak, and unattractive. This demonstrates a perplexing contradiction. Those who appear weak, may if fact be the strongest among us. In their physical weakness they develop an inner strength few else ever achieve. While, on the other hand, those who seem strong are only so on the outside.
3. Pursuing Happiness

I think the most prevalent theme in Gone With The Wind is Scarlett’s continuing search for happiness and fulfillment in her life, and her complete inability to change this all-consuming desire to find it. Her famous quote about “tomorrow,” which, according to common opinion, represents her refusal to give in even under crushing circumstances, meant something entirely different to me. It showed that she had not changed and was almost… dare I say it? – incapable of change. Which is kind of scary, if you think about it. It shows her refusal to face the fact that she has become a monster in her desperate will to survive. It’s really kind of disappointing, because it almost seems like, at the very end there, that she has changed. She finally sees that Rhett has been there all along and that they were meant to be together… and then to close the book in such a way – ugh! Totally dashed all my hopes for redemption for Scarlett. That is her outlook, however. That she will change – tomorrow. Be a better person – tomorrow. Think about it – tomorrow. And so she continues in her cycle of simply trying to survive, trying to find happiness… but never does. Like in her recurring dream, happiness is ever-receding before her. She can never grasp it, because she is searching for happiness in all the wrong places, demanding it from other people who can’t find it in themselves to give her.

4. Religious Background

While Gone With The Wind is not by any means a Christian book there is a lot of religious content. I suppose because at that time, individuals were so steeped in religion, from childhood on, that to be historically acurate and to honestly capture the flavor of the time, religion could not be left out. Scarlett has this twisted view of God. She views Him as a God of judgment and fiery wrath. God is someone she is afraid of. This seems to be at least partially due to her Catholic upbringing, and her own admission that in some ways, she viewed her mother as God, and worshiped her as such.

Rhett, on the other hand, though he claims to be an atheist, is shockingly insightful. When Scarlett, in a moment of weakness, confides to Rhett that she is afraid she will go to hell for the awful things she has done, he gently points out that those things were done in a desperate attempt to survive very hard times and asks her why she thinks “the Lord” wouldn’t be capable of understanding why she did them. “The Lord” is rather a familiar, almost a caressing, term for someone who says he doesn’t believe in God, to use. But again, with Rhett, all we can do is assume.

5. How To Kill Your Characters

One thing I particularly admired about Gone With The Wind is that Mitchell did not kill off any of her main characters. It would have been easy to. All of the main characters encountered situations in which she very easily could have made the decision to pull their plug. But she chose not to. Writers know that killing your characters is really the easy way out of any kind of difficulty – coming especially in handy when dealing with romantic relationships. Don’t know which guy of the two to choose? Kill one! Somebody in the way? Kill ’em!

It seems admirable to those observing from the outside. “Aw, everybody dies… And, and, it’s just so sad.” But we who know understand the ulterior motive.

Instead of killing main characters, Mitchell kills off characters that you are not particularly fond of, but that the main characters are fond of. This is brilliantly played because it allows us to observe the main character’s grieving process.

Another situation in which this is artfully done is in Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. Neither Katniss, nor Gale, nor Peeta, die. And at least one could have been killed off by Collins without any real suspicion from the audience. Not to mention that it would’ve been convenient, as we have a love triangle here that could only benefit from one of the boys dying so that neither has to be heartbroken when Katniss doesn’t pick him. Instead, Collins chooses to kill off Prim, who Katniss loves fiercely, Finnick and Boggs, who she has grown to care about, Cinna, her only real friend in the Capitol, and nearly all the supporting casts in each of the three books.

So…

Most of us are familiar with the story and it’s easy to get caught up with the book as merely an entertaining and classic romance with familiar characters and a captivating plotline. But if you look past the familiarity, there are some aspects of this story that really get you thinking. One downside is that I found Gone With The Wind to be rather boring, but overall I think it is worth a read.

Wuthering Heights… Is Haunting

Wuthering Heights is the story of Cathy Bradshaw, a willful young woman who destroys everyone around her, and Heathcliff, an orphan boy who falls in love with Cathy. When she rejects Heathcliff, he becomes determined to win her back, and, when she is dead, destroy her family – leaving us to wonder: what kind of love is it that destroys that which it loves?

This was a disturbing read on a number of levels for me. Obviously, Heathcliff’s almost demonic obsession with Cathy gets a little weird, but even aside from that, it bothers me that I don’t really want to like this book – there are so many things about it that drive me crazy – but some small part of me is fascinated despite myself.

The whole book has this weird, dark tone that I find strangely appealing, and I do like the story itself, but anything good I can say about this book has to be canceled out by a number of huge issues that I can find no way around.

1. Point Of View

Point of view is crucial. Most writers are aware of this fact, and all of them must recognize how crucial it is, or fail at their craft.

Perspective can be confusing in Wuthering Heights because there are literally layers of it. The story is actually being told from the perspective of a completely random character we know nothing about, a young tenant of Heathcliff’s. However, it isn’t terribly obvious that the story is being told from his perspective, because most of the story is told from the perspective of the Bradshaw family’s maid, Nelly. Nelly is telling Cathy and Heathcliff’s story to the young man. So, in other words, most of the story is in the form of dialogue. Or monologue, rather.

Bronte made, in my opinion, a peculiar decision when she had Nelly tell the story. Though Nelly was deeply invested in the inner workings of this family and familiar with Cathy’s story because she witnessed most of it, she still does not seem the right person to tell this story.

I’m sure that there are those who would strongly disagree with that assessment. Some people may view Nelly’s being the narrator the best thing Wuthering Heights has going for it. I’m sorry to say that this is probably my biggest issue with it.

If the story was written entirely from Nelly’s perspective, the inconsequential little servant girl watching from the fringes, and was telling it as it occurred, it might just have been a brilliant move – it would have worked well with the tone of the rest of the story, flowed well to have the distant observer, someone on the outside, telling the story. But having Nelly tell the story as an old woman was a big mistake.

2. Let Me Tell You A Story

Nelly is orally passing the story on to a young man staying at the house she takes care of, which makes it seem like Nelly is just casually telling it as nothing more than common hearsay or gossip. This “story” is something she was apart of, she is relating the most painful events of her life. And she is doing it in the calmest manner possible! I’d like to see a little emotional investment or something!

3. Interruptions

Because Nelly is supposedly telling the story to this guy – who is a completely useless character, by the way – and the story is too involved to tell all at once, she actually takes several breaks from telling it.

During these pauses, we temporarily return to present time, which is thoroughly frustrating because we were just starting to actually be interested in this story and we really couldn’t care any less about some random guy having a cold, or taking a nap, or a walk, or whatever!

This phenomenon is also extremely distracting. All the jerks back to present time are jarring. Random Dude and Older Nelly don’t fit into this story.

For those of you who would argue that these pauses build up suspense, you’re wrong. They don’t. They simply kill all the momentum the story was gaining.You can’t mix present and past like that – unless the past comes to us in the form of flashbacks, which it does not in Wuthering Heights.

4. One Good Memory

Another thing about Nelly: how has she remembered all this so perfectly? She recounts her story in vivid detail, including people’s exact words. I know of very few people, especially elderly women, who have that perfect of a memory concerning things that happened when she was in her teens and twenties.

5. Nelly: Both Sides

Nelly is the impartial mediator between Heathcliff and Cathy in this story. She doesn’t actually like either Cathy or Heathcliff, and while her cold indifference to both of them isn’t exactly admirable, it does allow her to coolly observe the whole thing without bias. So maybe she is the person to tell this story after all. Even when Heathcliff despises everyone else, he regards Nelly with something like fondness. Even when Cathy stubbornly refuses to submit to anyone else, she is swayed by Nelly’s opinion. Nelly plays, albeit reluctantly, both sides. She serves alternately as Heathcliff or Cathy’s partner in crime; she is traitorous – and brilliant.

In the end, all of these distractions take away from the haunting beauty of Cathy and Heathcliff’s story. It just goes to show that the details are everything and that little mistakes can ruin the whole story. I like the story, I just don’t like how it’s told.

Whispers In The Reading Room: What Genre Is This?

Recently, I read Whispers in the Reading Room by Shelley Gray. This was an unexpected, unplanned read for me. I received a free, Advanced Reader Copy, sat down and read it in an afternoon.

Shelley Gray is an author I am unfamiliar with. I had never heard of her and haven’t read any of her other books.

Why am I telling you this? I anticipate that my review will reflect my lack of experience with Gray as an author, and I want you to know why.

Though her name sounds very British, Gray actually hails from Ohio. In addition to romance, she also writes Amish fiction, and is apparently best known for her Heart of a Hero series.

Whispers in the Reading Room is actually the third book in the Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, a fact that I was unaware of when I read the book. Perhaps that was the reason for some of the disconnectedness I felt? The two other books in the series are Secrets of Sloane House and Deception on Sable Hill.

Set in the late-nineteenth century, Whispers in the Reading Room centers around a “reading room” or library where Lydia Bancroft works. There she meets Sebastian Marks, a mysterious club owner. Inexplicably drawn to one another, Lydia and Sebastian’s lives become intertwined when a murder occurs at his club – and Lydia is on the suspect list.

I don’t know why this is considered Christian fiction – there is no reason whatsoever for such a label. There is nothing Christian about this book. Not to say that there is anything morally objectionable in it – I just think that a few references to God or the Bible doesn’t make a book “Christian.”

It’s also labeled as a mystery. I beg to differ. There is no mystery in this book. It has none of the elements of a typical mystery, aside from the murder – and a murder does not necessarily make a mystery. It’s more of a romance novel… but even then, not all the necessary elements are present. For example, the marriage proposal occurs in the middle of the book instead of at the end, and there is absolutely no kissing to be found – what kind of romance is that! As I read the book, I was unable to figure what exactly it was that I was reading and found it extremely frustrating.

Sebastian Marks reminded me a little of Rhett Butler from Gone With The Wind, and, since I liked Rhett, I found myself liking Marks’ character. That said, I found his actions laughably unrealistic. Marks is street smart and knows better than to get into a relationship with the naïve young librarian. In the beginning of the book, he has resolved to keep his distance because he cares what Lydia thinks of he him – and he knows that if he gets close to her she will inevitably find out about his underhanded business operations. And then he deliberately inserts himself into her life and doesn’t even withdraw in horrified shock when he realizes what he has done but insists on continuing to see her and even proposes?

Yeah. That seems like a perfectly natural way of handling things. Oh, wait! No, it doesn’t.

But I think that the really major flaw of this book is its inconsistency. This drives me crazy – more than anything else, I want consistency in a story. There is no believing a story that is not consistent.

Take one of the side characters, Hunt, for example. When the book opens we meet Hunt, a kind man, a widower who misses his dead wife, and wants nothing more than to take care of his little girl as best as he can. Hunt is disconcerted by the lack of feeling shown by his employer, Sebastian Marks. But later in the story, Hunt comes across as hard and unfeeling himself, capable of coarse vulgarity. He angrily opposes Marks’ relationship with Lydia, but a reason is never given for his seemingly random dislike. At other times, he is all care and concern. This doesn’t make any sense. Real people wouldn’t act like that without any reason.

I didn’t feel like, as a reader, that I got to know the characters well. Lydia, particularly, is left largely to your imagination. Marks’ past is only ever hinted at. Hunt is inconsistent, and Bridget, a character I felt more of an interest in than the heroine herself, is entirely undeveloped. When I am dissatisfied with the characters, I find that I end up being dissatisfied with the book in general and this was certainly the case with Whispers in the Reading Room.

Though I came away with an unfavorable impression of  Whispers in the Reading Room, I may read the two preceding novels to see if context improves my opinion.