Unfinished Business Book Club: GWTW

Welcome to our first Unfinished Business Book Club discussion! I hope you’ve been enjoying your reading (and no worries if you haven’t gotten through this week’s reading).

This is a no-stress book club and you’re still welcome in to join the conversation no matter how much or little you’ve read!

Background:

Margaret Mitchell, a Georgia native and newspaper columnist, began writing Gone with the Wind in 1926 when she was recovering from a car accident. She set the novel in Clayton County, Georgia, an area south of Atlanta, and reportedly gave her manuscript to a book editor simply because she was rankled by a friend’s off-hand comment about how ludicrous it was to think that Mitchell could write a book. Mitchell checked her historical references for the book (took her about six months), and she and her husband (a copy editor) edited the manuscript themselves. She reportedly rewrote the first chapter several times. I’ve also read that she wrote the final scene of the novel first, then wrote the events that would lead up to it. That’s a pretty interesting way to write, in my opinion, but it’s also a good way of making sure that all the events in your story lead toward the ending point. The title reportedly comes from a poem by Ernest Dowson, Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae. The idea is one of loss—in this case, the loss of the way of life in the South, the loss of passion for that kind of life.

Discussion:

Now, on to our discussion. I’ll post several questions below, and I invite you to respond in the comments. I’ll respond back and we’ll get the conversation going!

1. I’ve always thought it was interesting that the first line of Gone with the Wind was “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it. . . ” Was this interesting to you? Why? Why is it important that Scarlett isn’t classically beautiful?

2. In the first few chapters of Gone with the Wind, Mitchell spends a lot of time giving us background on Scarlett’s family. How is Scarlett like her father? How is she like her mother?

3. Gerald O’Hara is clearly “new money.” He’s an immigrant and not from the landed gentry. Yet, in chapter 3, Mrs. Wilkes refers to him as a gentleman. Why? Why is that important?

4. Gerald realizes early on that he’s not going to be able to ever be fully accepted into society in Savannah and the coastal areas of Georgia. So, he moves to “up-country Georgia,” which Mitchell describes as “not so impregnable as that of the Coast aristocrats.” Why is it important that Gerald is living in a kind of looser, more country kind of society?

5. Gerald is very focused on what he wants and sets out to achieve it. How did Scarlett exhibit the same kind of attitude in these first chapters?

6. Scarlett clearly looks up to and idolizes her mother. Why do you think Ellen is so special to Scarlett? Why does she admire her? Is there anyone else that Scarlett admires in the same way?

7. It’s interesting to me that Scarlett and her mother are more alike than either realize in that both marry quickly out because of broken hearts. Why do you think Mitchell wrote them this way?

8. What’s your first impression of Rhett Butler?

9. What makes the Slatterys white trash? What is your reaction to the portrayal of class in this novel so far? What do you think about the portrayal of slavery and the roles of women (whether unmarried, matrons, or widows)?

10. What was your reaction to Scarlett’s treatment of her first husband, Charles Hamilton? What about her reaction to widowhood or motherhood? (Did you, like me, mark several paragraphs with the word selfish?)

Feel free to pose any questions you’d like to discuss, since mine aren’t the end all, be all. 🙂

Bonus:

An extra (and not very well-done mp3 of me reading some of my favorite passages):
10/6 Gone with the Wind readings

Next week’s reading:

10/13: Chapters 8-16

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6 thoughts on “Unfinished Business Book Club: GWTW”

  1. Yay! So excited for this….but….I’m going to have to wait until tonight to respond. As tempting as it is to think about GWTW instead of work, the work has to get done. I’ll be back. Promise!

    1. Yay! A reply! And I totally understand 🙂
      And just so everyone is clear, you don’t have to answer ALL of the questions. Just pick one that interests you and start talking. The idea is to invite conversation, not write papers for undergrad students! 🙂

      1. Having never read the book, when I started reading, I was completely taken by the opening line. I started thinking about everything I’ve learned about Scarlett from watching the movie over the years, and I wondered if the line referred not to her physical beauty but her inner ugliness.

        She is, obviously, a complex character, but there is no doubt that she is completely selfish. She cares nothing for others and only seeks her own satisfaction and enjoyment, no matter the pain or trouble it may cause the people closest to her.

        Was she pretty? Yes. Charming? Most definitely. But beautiful? Definitely not, at least not from what I’ve seen of her character.

        What do you think?

  2. I think you’re right, Leslie Ann. Scarlett is such a complex character, and very early on in the novel we see that she is driven by “ME” desires. I think Rhett Butler hits it on the head when he tells Scarlett in their first actual conversation that she is NOT a lady. Because she isn’t, in the sense that ladies are kind and looking out for other peoples’ best interests. Scarlett, like her dad, is focused and driven to get what she wants. I think that’s one of the primary struggles of the novel—the selfish/self interest v. caring about others’ needs first. It’s the dichotomy of Gerald/Scarlett v. Ellen, the male v. female roles (and Scarlett and Ashley are switched in their so-called gender roles/attitudes toward others).
    No, Scarlett is not beautiful. Maybe on the outside, but inside she’s so self-absorbed and out to get what’s best for her that she wouldn’t see true beauty (Melanie) if it hit her on the head!

  3. Great post, and you raise some interesting questions. When I read GWTW, I must say that the first sentence really stuck out at me. I think it all has to do with the force of Scarlett’s personality. The fact that men don’t realize she isn’t beautiful “when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were” goes to show that there’s something about Scarlett’s personality that makes people intrigued by her. Love her or hate her, you can’t deny that Scarlett has a very strong personality, and the book gets at that right away.

    1. Right on! Scarlett’s one of those love-her-or-hate-her personalities. There’s something intriguing about her, or no one would want to be around her. But I totally get why none of the girls in the novel (except Melanie) seem to like her!

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