The last few days I’ve had that little song that Dory sings in Finding Nemo, except instead of “Just keep swimming,” I find myself singing, “Just keep reading, just keep reading, reading reading reading reading…” That may make reading this book sound more tedious than it actually is, because I’m enjoying this version of a familiar tale. When I last posted, Scarlett had just gone to Atlanta to stay with Melanie and Aunt Pittypat, where another encounter with Rhett Butler encouraged her to–how to put this?–lessen the weight of the load of widowhood. She spends a year or two, despite the war and the hospital duties and the mourning she continues to wear, flirting and going to balls, entertaining and being entertained. As the war draws nearer to Atlanta, people begin the process of “refugeeing,” leaving town on the train to Macon, the only town with a rail line not occupied by the Yankees, the only connection left with the “outside world.” Scarlett must stay in Atlanta with Melanie, who is in the final weeks of her pregnancy and cannot be moved. But when Sherman marches on Atlanta, she has no choice. She takes Melanie and the baby, along with her son and Prissy, and leaves for Tara, under (brief) escort of Rhett Butler. She finds Tara still standing, but her mother has passed away and her father’s mind has weakened, many of the slaves have deserted and the gardens and cotton destroyed.
There’s not much to like about Scarlett, but I admire her strength. She’s a complete fool when it comes to men, and her motives may be selfish, but I still believe it takes great strength of character to realize that the world will never be the same, that the rules of the game have changed, and that one cannot survive alone. Mitchell also does a tremendous job of illustrating the devastation of war alongside the desire to go on living a normal life. In these modern times especially, war has become something of a television event (at least for people without loved ones in the armed forces), something far away and troubling, but nothing where we must deal daily with the consequences. I cannot help but think of all peoples living in war-torn countries over the last eighty years, no matter which “side” they were on–still there were homes burned, families torn apart, starvation, lack of medical care. I think about how a story like Gone with the Wind— a story I suppose many people dismiss as a romance, a tear-jerker, and as a movie, a “chick flick”–so successfully portrays the difficulties and casualties (not just in military terms) of war. I wonder if Margaret Mitchell is a genius, because she has cloaked this tale of war in a personal story, a love story, and whether she knew this might be the only way to get people to hear. For the real love story here in a way is love of home, Scarlett’s love for Tara, the Confederates love of their land and way of life. I suppose what makes it all so difficult is that it’s very hard to fault any man for loving his home, for being proud of his people, for believing that his way is the right way, be the man Union or Confederate, English or German, American or Iraqi.
But at what price? And I believe the book asks that question, too. At what point does pride become destructive? At what point does status quo become unacceptable or unattainable? “The center cannot hold.”
A little heavy for a Saturday morning. Maybe I should not read today!