I started reading Gone with the Wind while I was with my family on vacation in Gettysburg… several years ago. Unfortunately, graduate school got in the way of my finishing it right away. I was not unfamiliar with the story, having seen the famous film several times, so picking it up again was easy. I went in expecting the text to feel dated, and parts of it were exactly that. But I also found it in certain ways to be remarkably ahead of its time.
What surprised me most about the book was how progressive it was, particularly in the character of Scarlett. The book obviously had issues as far as glamorizing slavery and the infamous instance of marital rape; the book is far from perfect. But in Scarlett O’Hara we have a heroine who bucks traditional gender roles and takes pride in her role as a businesswoman. She knows that she is smarter than many of the men she knows, or at the very least more practical, and she shows her frustration at being expected to hide her talents or pretend otherwise. She does not care for having or raising children. Even her relationship with Rhett was quite progressive in the level of honesty and equality between them. His efforts to pigeon hole her into the traditional role of wife are nowhere near as oppressive or strict as many of the other men in the novel or even the other women. So many times while reading, I wondered at how Scarlett would have enjoyed living just one hundred years later, how much she would have loved things we take for granted nowadays like birth control and women having the right to vote. Even though I’d seen the movie before reading the book, it was surprising because many of these elements of Scarlett’s personality and thinking are either downplayed or missing (it’s easier to understand her when there are so many more glimpses into her exact thinking and several significant, younger characters were very noticeably cut from the film’s cast). It was a remarkably progressive character for Mitchell writing this novel in the 1930’s.