I just reread this book for our Great Books book club (note that we don't read just Great Books, but like to include Pulitzer/National Book Award/etc.I just reread this book for our Great Books book club (note that we don't read just Great Books, but like to include Pulitzer/National Book Award/etc. selections so that we can include a greater diversity of voices) and this is still one of my favorite books. I first read "Gone With the Wind" in Middle School, if I remember correctly. While there are new insights or, perhaps, different takes to be gleaned now that I'm almost 30 years older than when I first read the book, it still crackles with life. Margaret Mitchell had a real knack for capturing dialog and painting vivid scenes and characters.
One good friend reread "GWTW" recently and said that the racist attitudes made the entire work nearly unlikeable (to paraphrase), which is quite different from her earlier opinion of the book as a whole. It's true that depictions of both enslaved and free blacks in the novel smack of minstrelsy and are unquestionably racist. However, I think that the attitude depicted was a true representation of many white folks' attitudes during/after the Civil War and in the 1920s and 30s when the novel was written. That does not make it any easier to read those sections, but I do not think it lessens the work as a whole. With a few exceptions where we dip into Melanie's or Beau's (or a few others') heads for a few moments, the story is told from Scarlett's point of view, although in third person.
Instead of continuing my lengthy opinions on the work, I'll include the discussion questions that I cobbled together using various sources, including a visit to the Margaret Mitchell museum in Atlanta (small, but interesting).
1. In her youth, Margaret Mitchell played with gender roles; for much of her early life, she dressed in boys clothing and went by the name “Jimmy.” She also rebelled against her mother, who was an active suffragette and leading citizen of Atlanta, committing various outrageous acts as a flapper. How do these biographical elements manifest in the book?
2. Although “GWTW” is set between just before the Civil War through Reconstruction, how much do the novel and its characters actually represent the Jazz Age (following WW1 and the 1918 flu pandemic that killed her mother) during which the novel was written?
3. In Gone with the Wind, Mitchell depicts several Southern female stereotypes—especially that of the helpless, passive, and sometimes silly woman, such as Scarlett’s sisters, Aunt Pittypat, and Ashley’s sister, India Wilkes—and then undermines them by delimiting their roles. Some critics argue that Scarlett is a traditional heroine who escapes the limits of her role and is forced to expand her horizons. Do you agree with this viewpoint? Who is/are the heroines in “GWTW?” Do you find it interesting that men generally aren’t depicted as heroes in this book?
4. Gloria Steinem proposed that Scarlett O’Hara was a victim, not a feminist. Given historical context, each character’s innate traits, and their relationship with their husband(s), do you consider not only Scarlett O’Hara, but also Ellen O’Hara and Melanie Wilkes feminists?
5. Some critics believe that Scarlett represents the South, both “Old” and “New;” Scarlett changes throughout the novel, which parallel the changes that take place in the South. Do you agree with this proposition?
6. As a child, Margaret Mitchell “sat on the bony knees of veterans and the fat slippery laps of great aunts and heard them talk” about the Civil War. What do you think of how Mitchell, a Southerner from a family that fought and survived the Civil War, depicted the war?
7. Many readers and critics argue that “GWTW” depicts a racist and patriarchal attitude towards slaves. Margaret Mitchell’s attitude was actually different in real life. Why might she have decided to depict slavery in this manner?
8. Mammy, for example, looks down upon field slaves early in the novel and later upon “trashy free issue” blacks. What do you think of the class demarcations and how they change throughout the course of the novel?
9. As Scarlett is approaching Ashley for advice on how to raise money for the additional taxes on Tara, she describes him as follows: “God intended him to sit in a great house, talking with pleasant people, playing the piano and writing things which sounded beautiful and made no sense whatsoever.” However, it isn’t until the end of the novel that she sees her love for Ashley as a fantasy.
So was her love for him ever real? Does she transfer her love to Rhett, or did she actually love Rhett all along? Alternately, is Scarlett what Rhett describes as a typical Southerner: “But it’s in one’s blood. Southerners can never resist a losing cause.” Has Rhett taken on Ashley’s place as a typical Southern male?
10. Were you surprised at how closely the movie adaptation mirrors the book (some dialogue is word-for-word and costumes match Mitchell’s descriptions) and how the movie departed from the book in other cases? ...more
The audio book version of this book is excellent; the narrator adopts Teddy Roosevelt's voice when reading excerpts from letters, interviews, etc. andThe audio book version of this book is excellent; the narrator adopts Teddy Roosevelt's voice when reading excerpts from letters, interviews, etc. and really brings the President to life. Of course, Edmund Mortis is to be credited for such a thorough and interesting account of TR's early life and delves into this larger-than-life man filled with contradictions. ...more
Some reviewers have removed stars on "Alice Adams" because of racist remarks and depiction of African Americans. While I agree that those portions werSome reviewers have removed stars on "Alice Adams" because of racist remarks and depiction of African Americans. While I agree that those portions were difficult to read and were, frankly, cringe-inducing, they were a pretty accurate portrait of how many white Americans viewed some of their neighbors in the 1920s.
For me, the book didn't seem Pulitzer- or 5-star-worthy because the moral was driven home too forcefully. It's hard to believe that anyone acted as hysterical as Mrs. Adams, as false as Alice, or as odd as brother Adams; had these elements of character been refined, the morality play wouldn't have felt quite so ham-fisted. I also think Arthur Russell's character was like a cardboard cutout, but that may have been intentional as I reflect further. With that said, Booth Tarkington is an author that is somewhat overlooked today despite the genius of "The Magnificent Ambersons" and flashes throughout "Alice Adams" and is worth reading. There were portions of the book that were practically tactile due to his nuanced descriptions.
Another reviewer drew an interesting comparison between "Pride and Prejudice" and "Alice Adams." If I can find it again, I'll link it in to properly credit then. However, I believe there are more differences than similarities. Elizabeth Bennett may have been embarrassed by her loony family at times, but she loved them and didn't pretend to be something she was not. In fact, what makes her live and breathe just over 200 years later is that she is always Lizzie, whether making flawed judgements or not. Alice, too, shares many similarities with real people I've known who wish to move in higher circles, but who wish to get there off of others' efforts. From that perspective, she's quite real. And what woman hasn't flirted audaciously at least once in her life, which it seems Alice could not help. Lizzie actually comes from an upper echelon family, whereas Alice is firmly lower middle class. But, both women were constrained by the limited opportunities for women to advance on their own, although Alice did have the possibility of business college for a likely future as a secretary open to her. Also, the romance between Alice and Arthur is tenuous versus true love between Lizzie and Mr. Darcy.
Perhaps Alice, despite being very Midwestern, is more like Scarlett O'Hara; she wants what she cannot have and is ultimately punished for it. Although the very ending of "Alice Adams" had a religious feel, one gets the sense that Alice may find happiness. However, it almost seems like Alice has to join a cloister given her severe dress, so we aren't sure that she'll ever find the right man for her.
I kept having déjà vu while reading the book and finally looked for a movie version. Indeed, there is a 1935 adaptation starring Katherine Hepburn and a young Fred MacMurray that I must have seen and will rewatch as soon as it shows up....more