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Gone With the Wind - an All-Time Favorite
Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind is a ground breaking movie, not only for its time but for all time. The first time I saw it was when I was a child in the 70's and it was the first time to show on television. It was my mother's favorite book and movie. She read the book as she recovered from the birth of my oldest sister in 1937.
In 1939 it made its movie debut with great ado. It had everything: a fast paced plot, a strong-willed hero and heroine and special effects. Producer David O. Selznick was on a limited budget and used artists to fill in the grand ceilings and backdrops that appear authentic, and he used old movie sets for the burning of Atlanta. Some may recognize the gates from the original King Kong falling in a blaze of fire as Sherman's troops burned the great Southern city during the Civil War.
Scarlett O'Hara: Survivor
As I said, it was my mother's favorite movie, and it became mine, too. I love the stubborn, spoiled character of Scarlett O'Hara, played by British actress Vivian Leigh. She will not take "no" for an answer, which definitely gets her into trouble. Spoiled she may be, but even during good times and hardships, Scarlett is a survivor.
She is relentless when she wants something and shows a great deal of courage in the face of strict Southern societal rules of pre-Civil War times that span through the War and Restoration. She is judged for her behavior and actions - sometimes it is jealousy, but mostly it is disapproval from the ranking higher classes who refuse to give up their tradition-bound rules of right and wrong. I love it when she flippantly ignores them and does what she has to do in order to survive (or get what she wants).
Rhett Butler: The Archetype Hero
Scarlett's male counterpart, Rhett Butler, played by great American film star Clark Gable, is the ultimate rogue hero. Like Scarlett, he does whatever it takes to get what he wants. He is charming, intelligent, and very handsome.
He is willing to take risks that fly against societal norms. He never misses a chance to remind Scarlett that she is a rebel no matter how hard she tries to be "the lady." Rhett is not a hypocrite, and he loves to taunt Scarlett for doing things for appearances sake. He sees her for what she is and loves her.
The film and novel are American icons that continue to awe, inspire, and entertain people to this day.
It's Rightful Place in Literary History
On a Personal Note as a Teacher
I love the novel and film. I am an American Literature high school teacher. Years ago I feared this great piece of work was being forgotten in our youth living in the age of technology. I could not allow that to happen. I did not delude myself by believing I could get students to read such a long novel, so I began brainstorming how I could fit the film into the curriculum. The characters, plot and subplots, and the historical setting could not be forgotten, so I set to work.
Mitchell began writing the novel during the Modern Age of Literature, when women's suffrage was fighting its way into American society. She was a rebel and a 20's flapper. I believe much of her personality is what makes Scarlett the all-time famous heroine that she is. It took Mitchell years to complete the thousand-plus-page book. She captured most of the literary periods leading up to that age: Romanticism, Realism, and Naturalism.
Romanticism in the Old South
Romanticism was a reaction against the Rationalist Period and catapulted American Literature into the world realm. We can see its elements in the genteel Old South and in the way people lived before the Civil War. Tara, the O'Hara plantation, is a beautiful example of Romantic setting. Everything is idealistic, and, as I tell my students, "Too good to be true."
Scarlett feels she will always get her way and has the "it can't happen to me" attitude that most teens have about themselves. Mitchell spins Romanticism throughout the novel, and Selzinek stays true to her work. Scarlett simpers and schemes to get her way, and feels that she is untouchable - sound like any teens you know?
Then the Winds Blew in Realism and Naturalism
As the movie progresses, we see the crumbling of Romantic ideals as the Civil War takes over the lives of the nation. True to history, the people of this time period were too busy trying to survive to be bothered with romantic notions, so enters Realism.
Realism depicts the realities of life without any idealistic pretenses. Scarlett experiences fear, tragedy, and complete independence as the Union Army sweeps through the South destroying her "little girl" ideals. She has to save her home and family, and goes to many lengths that a Southern Belle would never dream of doing before the War.
Naturalism is an extension of Realism, showing how humans have no control over their environment. The war scenes, deaths, and the fall of the South are perfect examples portrayed in the movie where Scarlett has absolutely no control and must muster the courage to face one terrible thing after another.
Mitchell Includes Moderism
As I said, Mitchell wrote the novel during the Modern Era. The Moderns were dissatisfied with the country during the early 20th Century. They were not idealists and refused to gloss over the injustices they saw.
Scarlett's strong feminine character is the best example of a Modern Era woman: rebellious, standing strong in a man's world, and refusing to give into tradition-bound rules.
Working Gone With the Wind into the American Literature Curriculum
I use the film Gone With the Wind as a transition into Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee also shows a disregard for the genteel Old South tradition-bound rules.
I must admit, I wasn't sure my love for Gone With the Wind and piecing all the literary periods and concepts together would transfer into an enjoyable, productive lesson for today's students. The teenage boys generally groan but by the end of the film, even they are captivated and enjoy the great story and its characters.
It provokes lively class discussion, papers, and projects that span the American literary ages. Gone With the Wind moves us to want to cheer for or smack Scarlett throughout the film, but we are left with a love and respect for her because most of us can relate to her and her actions on one of her many dynamic character levels.
Everyone should watch this film. Entertaining or educational, it is the best ground-breaking motion picture to this day.
Check out Gone With the Wind's Trailers. I am sure you will want to add this classic masterpiece to your video library or give it as a gift to someone who does not have it.