Friday, January 02, 2015

"One of us is changing or maybe we just stopped trying"

So sang Carole King. And those lyrics went through my mind when I tried to re-read Gone with the Wind.

How I once loved this book! I read it for the first time in 1974, when I was still in high school and when Carole King was still heard through transistor radios. I reread it every summer for at more than a decade. The last time I can specifically recall carrying it around with me was the summer of 1986.

I have always understood Scarlett, more than I want to. I admired Melly and wanted to be more like her. I balanced the scales by recasting Ashley as Robert Redford. In the movie, Leslie Howard's Ashley was much too wimpy to be a credible alternative to Clark Gable's Rhett, America's first popular post-feminist hero. And I adored Will Benteen, the saturnine farm hand who marries into the O'Haras because he loved Tara as much as Scarlett did, even if he never made the movie.

Yet in 2014 (and now 2015), I found it unreadable

The attitude toward slavery -- specifically the glowing terms used to describe Gerald O'Hara's purchase of Dilcey and Prissy -- made my skin crawl.

I grew up in The Land of Lincoln. We are taught to revere Abe, as all right-thinking Americans should. Maybe that's part of it. Though I was a proud daughter of Illinois back in the 1970s and 1980s, too.

A lot of it has to do with my repeated tours of the Peyton Randolph House in Colonial Williamsburg. Seeing the way "good" masters treated the human beings they owned made me rethink the way the O'Hara and Wilkes families are portrayed in the Gone with the Wind.

I've been sending my mind away to a new happy place -- the 1860s. But the West, not the antebellum South.*

I didn't include my hardcover copy of Gone with the Wind in my box of discards because I'm hoping that in another few years I can revisit it and enjoy it again.

But I'm a little sad. Because by losing Gone with the Wind, I feel like I've lost a friend. 
*Of course, the more I read about how the Indians were treated, the sadder I become about the West, too.

2 comments:

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  2. So many of the heroes of our youth turn out to have feet of clay. I've never read Gone With the Wind, and I never much cared for Scarlett from the movie, though I do admire her strength.

    Maybe you'll be able to enjoy her story again. It's worth holding onto the book, for the sake of the pleasure it gave you.

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