The secret of Gone with the Wind is that Scarlet O’ Hara IS the Confederacy. What Margaret Mitchell effectively does, is take the South as she saw it and turn it into flesh and blood. I never realised it until I was almost finished, but the book is one big metaphor.
Scarlett begins as a wholly unlikable character, spoilt, arrogant, brash, selfish, uninterested in anything that doesn’t directly revolve around her etc. etc. Pretty much the same way the author describes the South/Atlanta.
But just like the south she has other characteristics too. Determination, single-mindedness and a survival instinct that would give Bear Grylls a run for his money. If the film changed quite a bit about the book (the number of children she has, the quantity of racism etc.) one thing above all else remained the same: Scarlett. That’s probably why it was such a success.
I will say that in my humble opinion the book is far from flawless. I can’t imagine publishers today going anywhere near it, simply because of the length. At times its mammoth size makes it almost a chore to read . You could probably cut the book down to half the word count and not lose too much. But then that is probably more a comment on my attention span than quality of the book. In fact, I’m sure some would argue that it is its length that allows Mitchell to define her characters so well. From selfish Scarlett, to selfless Melanie, (one of the few truly likable characters in it) each of the main characters feels very real and believable.
Of course, if you’re the type that enjoys political correctness and happy endings, steer clear of this one. From fine beginnings and great dreams Scarlett’s life, just like that of the Confederacy spirals down and down into one endless pit of tragedy. Despite her determination and drive and incredible ability to pick herself up and struggle on against insurmountable odds, there is no happy ending in store for her, or the old Confederacy, which as I’ve said, I believe she is the embodiment of.