GONE WITH THE WIND / Margaret Mitchell

GONE WITH THE WIND / Margaret Mitchell. 1936 (1037 pgs)

First Ten Pages =  .96 % of total book

If only, if only, if only there could be a sound track to this blogisode. One does not have to have read GONE WITH THE WIND to feel they know it. Doesn’t familiarity of the myth and media of a classic familiarize one with the writing itself? (fade up music) Oh, fiddle de dee!

First Paragraph (truncated):  “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father. But it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw. …eyes… brows… lashes… magnolia-white skin…so prized by Southern women… bonnets, veils, mittens… against hot Georgia suns.”

Prevailing Narrative Voice: Distant third person narrative voice. Past tense told chronologically with brief back-flashes to acquaint the reader with past events. In these first ten pages the narrator does not reveal any of the character’s thoughts, using dialogue, instead, to give the reader an inside view. The narrator offers a common point of view, such as, “everybody in the county knows…” to differentiate fact from gossip – as accurate as that might be. The narrator makes it very clear, very early, that none of the three characters introduced in the first ten pages, nor many of their neighbors up in the country of North Georgia “…trouble their heads with dull things in books”.

What the reader learns in the first paragraphs: Similarly to other “classic” (read older) popular stories, GONE WITH THE WIND spends the first paragraph describing Scarlett O’Hara (notice they are the first words of the story) and her unique features, the second describing what she is wearing and that she is a model of Southern women in general, and the third describing her two suitors as models of hot-headed, attractive, aristocratic Southern boys. Even without previous knowledge of the MGM film production the reader gathers a strong impression of the ‘look’ of these people and what they are wearing. The author takes her time with the narrative. Go figure, the story is over a thousand pages. There is plenty of time for set up. Even so, the pace in these three paragraphs is brisk and animated, which matches how the three are adolescent and warm-blooded.

What the reader learns in the first ten pages:  Whoo laws! Gossip! The BBQ tomorrow, who’s dating whom, who’s wearing what, and which parties will announce their engagement. Actually, in the course of the first ten pages, the announcement that Ashley Wilkes will marry Melanie Hamilton, is a show stopper. The boys carry on and yet Scarlett becomes subdued. The boys are too thick to realize their blunder and are sent off to face their mother, as they have just been expelled from their fourth university. Ms. Mitchell is adept at previewing the name of an upcoming character (Ashley Wilkes via his Pa, Charles Hamilton (Scarlett’s future husband) via his sister Melanie, and a guy named Rhett Butler via a cousin in Atlanta) and giving small amounts of character information. She is able to weave particular character traits into general aspects of character within the social order. She’ll mention Scarlett, and follow it with a paradigm of southern girlhood intended to cover many other girls who will emerge within the story. Conversely, Scarlett poses as a model for the opposite of the many of southern belles.

Language: Decorated. Sharp. Flowing. Descriptive. Picturesque. Blunt. Mitchell uses dialogue to slow down the general narrative description and to focus the reader’s attention on small details of the broad landscape. The size of the book alone informs the reader that there is a great deal of territory to traverse. Mitchell strikes a nice balance in the first pages between exposition and revelation.

Character:  In a way, the three prominent characters seem generically similar (the two boys are twins!) to the place they live. Born southern aristocrats, they seem to act the part, when in reality they are the part – a depiction of the real thing. The author sets them up, but gives them details that are at odds with their generic type. The boys are not well educated, and they are proud of it. Scarlett is not attractive, and yet the odd blending of her genetics create a woman one cannot take their eyes from.

Setting:  Very early in the story the name of their home, Tara, is used, but without the resonating meaning it will achieve in later pages. In this way the reader is slowly introduced to concepts of Georgia, War, Southern, Fort Sumpter, Cracker, Mr. Lincoln or Yankee before they have a larger and personal meaning. Setting is introduced, not so much as physical setting, but in terms of character driven narrative. Ms. Mitchell slowly disperses information as she sets up the story. Character comes first. Place follows. And yet, each character is a product of where they come from. GONE WITH THE WIND is another example of the author relies upon the reader’s imagination and prior knowledge to allow the setting to slowly emerge with relatively little description. There is some beautiful imagery on page eight: “It was a savagely red land, blood-colored after rains, brick dust in droughts, the best cotton land in the world.” Aside from the variations between wet and dry, blood and brick, there is an eerie sense of foreshadow in wet, blood and drought preceding the indication of plenty with the best cotton land in the world. Unfortunately, with the approach of the Civil War, all that will come crashing down.

Plot & Expectations beyond the tenth page:  I expect the story to unfold gradually. The year 1861 is prominently placed early in the story and is quickly followed by references that led up to the Civil War. Scarlett O’Hara, however, does not want to think about “the war” as it detracts from her favorite subject, Scarlett O’Hara.

Random Comments:  Time magazine included the novel in its 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. GONE WITH THE WIND sold for the unpresidented cost of $3 in 1936 and was an MGM classic, produced by David O. Selznick in 1939, starring Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable. They say Margaret Mitchell was not pleased with the film.

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4 Comments

Filed under first10pages review

4 responses to “GONE WITH THE WIND / Margaret Mitchell

  1. onegirlriot

    Bryan-

    I have never wanted to read this book because I thought it would be fluffed with flowery narrative. You’ve changed my mind.

    I’ll be back to find more books to pile onto Mt. TBR. :)
    *smooch*

  2. Kimbel

    Nice assessment. I haven’t read the book since high school, and had forgotten about some of initial details. Might be worth a re-read! BTW – I hate to be a weenie, but it’s “unprecedented,” not “unpresidented.” Onward!

  3. Nayanika

    I began reading ‘Gone With The Wind’ for a school assignment and by the first 2 pages, I was hooked! It is an amazing piece of classic literature! Until now I had thought that the ‘Twilight Series’ were the best books that I had ever read, but boy was I wrong! Sigh…..they don’t make them like that anymore.

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