Feb 13 2011 5:00am

Splain It To Me, Lucy. How Is Gone With The Wind Romantic?

Gone With The Wind Book Cover

Last February, I went to hear a panel of romance writers discuss their work.  Since the event was being held in a bookstore and it was close to Valentine's Day, the moderator—a bookseller—asked the panelists to tell the audience what they thought was the most romantic book they'd ever read. Gone With the Wind, gushed several of the authors.

I read Gone With the Wind when I was a teenager—or I should say, more correctly, I tried to read Gone With the Wind.  After putting it down several times, out of sheer frustration, I finally just threw it against the wall. I'm older, crankier, and less patient with books now than when I was younger, and it used to be a point of honor for me to finish a book—regardless of how long the story, how plodding the pace, or how irritating the characters.  And I still believe it’s important to give books a fighting chance.  Some, like Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, take a while to get going (in Tattoo’s case, about 125 pages); others, like Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain, really only make sense after you've finished them and taken some time to digest all the complex imagery.

 But Gone with the Wind?

I understand the themes. It’s the struggle between the romantic illusions of the old South as embodied by Ashley Wilkes and the emergence of a brash, new realism, as embodied by Rhett Butler. And I get the appeal of Scarlett's fierce dedication to the land and to preserving her family heritage. (Tom Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic has a fascinating chapter on the popularity of Gone With the Wind in Japan; it turns out Gone with the Wind was one of the first color movies shown in the country after World War II. Not surprisingly, the image of a woman on the losing side of a war declaring her determination to rebuild her family home had a powerful appeal.)

 But romantic?   

 Before I started working on this piece, I went back to look at the book, to see if perhaps I'd been mistaken about its romantic allure. The copyright has apparently expired, so thanks to the Gutenberg project, I was able to download a copy for free.  As I started reading, once again, I found myself wondering what it is that makes people love Scarlett O'Hara. Seriously. In addition to Margaret Mitchell's famous description of her heroine’s green eyes and 17-inch waist, she describes her heroine as “predatory.”

 When Scarlett sees a man flirting with another woman, she immediately sets her sights on him. Once she’s lured him away, she generally finds him boring and dumps him. Isn’t that the definition of a 21st-century mean girl?

 By the way, what bores Scarlett? Books, music, and art. 

Gone With The Wind Clark Gable Vivien LeighYeah, I know, Southern belles weren't well educated, and Scarlett’s disdain for education is a foreshadowing of the critical difference between Rhett Butler and Scarlett and her great unrequited love, Ashley Wilkes. Ashley's a dreamer, and Rhett and Scarlett are doers. But when I first read the book, I couldn't help thinking Scarlett wasn't too bright, an opinion that was reinforced by her actions throughout the course of the book. 

Scarlett sets her sights on Ashley Wilkes, a man who is engaged, and then married, to another woman. Despite being told why she and Ashley can never be together by half the characters in the book, including Ashley, she continues to pursue him. (See previous opinion of “not too bright.“ Or, as my mother, a true Southern belle from Vicksburg, Mississippi, would say, ”Dense? I'd love to.”) Moreover, Scarlett has no respect for Ashley's choice and no sympathy for his wife, Melanie, even after Ashley and Melanie have a child together.   

 To me, Scarlett's obsession with Ashley isn't a misguided romantic illusion—it's selfish, self-centered, and, even worse for a romantic heroine, dishonorable.  When Ashley rebuffs Scarlett, she impulsively agrees to marry Charles Hamilton, a man who loves her, but for whom she has no affection. She's cruel to him, and even crueler to the child they have together. 

 At what point am I supposed to start liking this woman?  

 As for Rhett, when we first meet him, we learn he's been ostracized from polite society after taking a girl for a carriage ride, keeping her out all night, and then refusing to marry her—thereby destroying her reputation. Upon hearing this tale, Scarlett secretly admires Rhett for being honest about his feelings, and considers him brave for bucking society's rules. It's a pattern Rhett continues with Scarlett, seeking to seduce her, proposing to keep her as his mistress.  He encourages her to buck society’s rules, which is presented as “freeing her,” when in fact, what it does is make her unacceptable to any man but Rhett. And while some might argue that Rhett refrains from revealing his love for Scarlett for fear that she isn't over Ashley, his treatment of her frequently borders on cruel and destructive. 

A great part of the appeal of the romantic hero is his ability to see the heroine for precisely who she is, and to love her in spite of her flaws, But what does it say about Rhett that—as he constantly tells Scarlett—he sees them both as selfish, manipulative, and determined to get what they want at any cost?

And yes, I hung in long enough to get that it's Scarlett's selfish determination that enables her to rise above the terrible experiences of the war, the deaths, and the destruction of her family home. And I know that she pays a terrible price for her stubborn blindness with the death of her daughter Bonnie (though arguably Bonnie pays a higher price) and the loss of Rhett, whom it takes her an interminably long time to realize she loves. 

But has Scarlett learned her lesson by the end of the book?  Do I believe she will and thus win Rhett back?  Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.


Before turning her hand to writing commercial fiction, Joanna Novins spent over a decade working for the Central Intelligence Agency. She does not kill people who ask her about her previous job, though she came close once with an aging Navy SEAL who handed her a training grenade despite warnings that she throws like a girl.  Published in historical romance by Berkley, Joanna also writes YA spy novels as Jody Novins.

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Natasha Carty
1. WickedLilPixie
I've tried to read the book, I've tried to watch the movie but it always turns out the same way, I also just don't give a damn!
Charli Mac
2. CharliMac
Never seen nor read the tall tale. I think the reason why people refer to them so much as one of the greatest romances is the lack of a HEA. The most revered love stories leave you crying at the end and screaming why! Today it would be labeled Historical Fiction with strong romantic elements, IMO. It's not a straight up romance.
3. MsWinston
The copyright on "GWTW" will not expire in America until 2031. Project Gutenberg is located in Australia, which has differnet copyright laws, but in response to objections from the law firm that represents Mitchell Properties (the entity that holds the American rights), Project Gutenberg was supposed to have removed the book from its site until 2019. As to the popularity of the book as a romance, I think that it is so deeply entwined with the myth of the old South (and if you doubt that, come to Virginia where the myth is still alive and well) that the way Mitchell actually wrote her characters has been overlooked by many.
Kinsey Holley
4. KinseyHolley
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I've never finished it and I never will. Don't like the movie, either. Scarlett's just a bitch and I have no sympathy, admiration or anything for her. Same for Rhett - they deserve each other.

Part of my hatred probably comes from the fact that I'm Southern (well, Texan) and I despise all the mythologizing and romanticizing of the Old South. Yes, there were good people back then and yes, they suffered terribly (especially Vicksburg.) But their entire way of life was predicated on an intolerable and inexcusable crime against humanity and there's just no way to romanticize or ignore that.
5. Jodie Wilson
Thank you for writing this post, Joanna! I couldn't agree more. Besides the central theme on the old South, I'd hardly, then or now, catagorize GWTW as a romance, historical or otherwise. Much like you I tried reading it several times, even attempted watching the movie, which I DID manage to finish and came away with nothing. There is absolutely nothing romantic about this highly overrated tale. Niether Rhett or Scarlett, in their manipulative, selfish manners endears them to me. As the credits rolled, I felt cheated, and wondered, what is it about these too that is so appealing?

For me, Jamie and Claire, Noah and Allie, they ARE/ought to be revered BECAUSE of their HEA. Noah as an old man, reading to his beloved wife because she has forgotten him and the love they shared, that is romance! What is romance if the characters are dead? Or never together at all? 'Tis misery!
6. Angi Morgan
I've never thought of GWTW as romantic or a romance. It taught me everything I didn't want to be when I grew up with one exception: determination. But the relationships in the book are completely undesirable to emmulate.

I read romance for the guarantee of a Happily Ever After. I get enough "real" from every day life.

7. Madeleine Robins
I read Gone With the Wind the same summer I read Vanity Fair, and have always thought of them as companion pieces. What's admirable about Becky and Scarlett is their ruthlessness in a society that allows women no agency whatsoever. I've never thought GWTW was romantic...but then I find the Police song "Every Breath You Take" creepy, and the wedding where it was the couple's "special song" gave me nightmares.
8. Milena
I once tried watching the film version with my then-five-year-old daughter. She watched it for about half an hour, then said: "This is a very boring film about a very stupid lady." I was so proud. :)
Katie Paul
9. calico18
I agree wholeheartedly that GWTW is NOT a romance. Scarlett and Rhett are selfish and self-serving, and while I can like Rhett better because he never hides it, Scarlett inevitably pisses me off. Talk about the original mean girl.

I like the film, mainly as just a great work of the film period it was made in, the thirites and forties. But then so was Cleopatra, starring the indomitable Liz Taylor, when it came out in 1963. Yet another story I cannot think of as romantic. Both warn about the dangers of being a mean girl to me.

Props to the little girl of Milena's who saw Scarlett as she was. A very stupid lady.
Wendy the Super Librarian
10. SuperWendy
I've tried to read the book....and just can't. It's written in a style that is notoriously hard for me to slog through, so I blame it on that. Scarlet being selfish and self-absorded somehow doesn't bother me as much.

I think a lot of the "Greatest Romance Ever!" feelings stem from the movie. Yes, Scarlett is still selfish and self-absorded in the movie version....but her determination comes through with flying colors. And Clark Gable's portrayal of Rhett as the charming rogue who falls HARD for Scarlett only to have his feelings trampled all over....well, that's hard for me to resist at any rate. But ultimately I think it's the chemistry between the two actors. Back in the olden days (pre-DVD), I had been known to fast foward through my VHS copy just to get to the Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable dialogue scenes. I read somewhere they didn't get along all that great in Real Life....but there's no denying their chemistry together on film.....
11. clothdragon
I never thought of it as a romance, but it has been one of my favorite books since I read it in high school. I like that Scarlett thinks that Ashley is the only person she'll ever love for almost the entire book even though the rest of us can see he's wrong for her, that she clings to childish dreams as the world falls apart around her, and that she, a woman in the 1800s finds a way to live through the civil war mostly on her own terms. She does things I don't like or approve of (she does things SHE doesn't like or approve of) but she lives through a war that killed thousands - and didn't become a soldiers playtoy.

--But that's my opinion :)
Helen Rudd
12. hmr28
I hated this book! My mother gave it to me to read when I was 13 and devouring romances claiming "This is the most romantic book you will ever read, nothing else will every measure up after you have finished it". Um, yeah. not so much. I was so mad (so many times), but really when there was NO hea. I mean, come on, you can't have a ROMANCE without a HEA..right? My mother insists that we as the readers are supposed to understand that Scarlet throughout the book has received everything she wants...therefore we can assume at some happy point in the future, Rhett will come crawling back to her. Yeah, my mother was apparntly living in la la land when she read this book.
13. goddessani
While at university, had a roomie take me to see the film one night. I was dead bored the first half (there was an intermission) and fell asleep the second half. Whatever.

Tried to read the book once since we all know books are better than films. Fell asleep during the first chapter and that was that.

I don't consider Wuthering Heights a romance either, for what its worth.
14. EvangelineHolland
GWTW is breathtaking and unforgettable--the film, not so much, since despite the marvelous acting and scope of the cinematography, it does make the plot seem like a romance. However, it really is as much a piece of "Old South" propaganda as Thomas Dixon's The Clansman and the D.W. Griffith adaptation of that book, The Birth of a Nation. That said, I adore Scarlett precisely because of her strength, selfishness and arrogance. Losing Rhett is bittersweet, but GWTW is not about Scarlett's romantic life, but about the resilience of a woman in the face of adversity, a woman who is willing to flout societal conventions to survive and succeed--which I consider a timeless and inspirational theme.
Donna Kissam
15. The Cat Bastet
Saw the film many times before reading the book. I was surprised to discover the book wasn't, in fact, about a rogueish guy who finally realizes he'd rather be with the nerdy girl he's always kind of admired whose boring husband is cheating on her with his only surface-interesting wife and who really needs to be lifting the nerdy girl's skirts instead of crying into them. His head can stay where it was, though. Seriously, just turn off the tv right there.
16. Marianne Stephens
Thank you! I saw the moviemany years ago...once...and thought
"where's the HEA"? This was no romance story! Maybe a convuluted too long love story, but not romantic. I wanted to drown Scarlett and kick Rhett in the butt a few times.
Another "romance" story...Bridges of Madison Country? Really? Cheating on your spouse makes it romantic? I watched the movie...again, once...and decided never to buy the book.
There's a difference between love and romance stories...and sometimes we're greatly disappointed.
Ashley McGee
17. AshleyMcGee
I believe the urge to believe Gone with the Wind is a romance lies in the theme of unrequited love on what could technically be considered two sides: Scarlett's unrequited love of Ashley Wilkes and--should we assume that Rhett is truly in love with Scarlett all along--Rhett's illusions of his love (and patiene) for Scarlett. Readers can identify with an unrequited love theme because who hasn't had a crush on someone, even an open, honest crush? What makes me really enjoy this book is the destruction of those romantic illusions. Both Scarlett and Rhett are caught up in illusions, and by Melanies death, both have been disillusioned. Scarlet maintains that even though Ashley is married and has child with another woman, it has always been she that Ashley loves. When Scarlett said, "Oh, Ashley if you had only told me you loved her instead of me..." Ashley's response should have been, "But I did. Repeatedly." Scarlett's been disullusioned of a lot of things at this point: the trope of the Southern Belle is dead, her ancestral home is in ruins (until she goes back to Ireland in 'Scarlett'), and now Scarlett's only love is telling her that even in death he will love Melanie more than her. At the end of GwtW, Scarlett gets what's coming to her.

Rhett Butler's reaction is more interesting. I believe that throughout the novel, he's always thought that Melanie was a better woman than Scarlett. He admired Melanie's loyalty and patience, and perhaps wished that Scarlett had even an ounce of either of those. He hated Ashley Wilkes for possessing the hearts of two women: Melanie Wilkes, the saint, and Scarlett, his own wife. In Scarlett's case he can be well justified, but Melanie is just as unattainable. Mitchell portrays both women as unattainable, but the fact remains that Melanie is literally spoken for. Scarlett will never be Melanie, and I believe that revelation is what drives Rhett back to Charleston after her death. The sight of his own wife, whom he's chased the entire novel, is abhorent to him in light of who he has just lost. Rhett had hoped to discover all of Scarlett's goodness in his own child, but with Bonnie's death, even that innocent hope is dashed. With both saving images gone, Rhett leaves.

The end of the novel is the best part, should one decide to trudge pateintly through the rest. I've always thought of GwtW as a war story, since the back drop is so necessary to the novel's themes. I've hardly ever thought of it as a romance, though I'm inclined to believe that--ignoring all the rest of the story and characters--we ultimately want to see Scarlett with Rhett, and our admiration of Scarlett's declaration that "Someday I'll get him back!" is drawn from romantic ideals that weren't there in the first place.
Louise Partain
18. Louise321
I never thought of this book as a romance actually. Thought of it more as what war does to romantic ideals as well as how stupid those romantic ideals are to start with, never mind the human misery that propped up those visions of chivalry and honor and fair damsels. It seems to me that the actual theme of the book was proclaimed in the first paragraph and that MM proceeded to smash the romantic ideals using a selfish willful headstrong heroine and an anti-hero along with a weak and pale idealist to point up what is left after war smashes the dreams. Even Melanie is not what she seems. While she appears calm and every inch a lady, she bears children in the middle of the complete collapse of the Southern ideals and defends herself and Scarlett in the midst of it all. She is a clear-eyed realist wrapped in a ladylike exterior and by far the most nuanced of the leading characters. It was women like her who were left to fend for themselves and their children when their reckless husbands fought and died for a way of life that had trapped them all in rigid roles of romantic ideals. Truly such a stupid willful desire not to see what they were doing and where they were headed deserved to be Gone With the Wind.
Olivia Waite
19. O.Waite
When I was twelve or so, my mom, dad, sister, and myself all came down with the flu at the same time. So Mom decided that while we were lounging we should watch GWTW because it was really long and we wouldn't have to get up to change the channel for about four or so hours.

And I hated it, so very, very much.

I wanted people to act like grown-ups and listen to each other rather than blundering through for reasons that seemed increasingly silly as the war got worse and worse. And I wanted to not be feverish and nauseous during the "whoops, no more anesthesia" scene. I wanted that quite a bit, actually.

But it's really hard not to love that last scene with Rhett and Scarlett. And you probably have to sit through all the other things for that scene to be meaningful and significant.

I guess what I'm saying is: my feelings about Gone With the Wind, they are complicated.
20. bookstorecat
"I don't consider Wuthering Heights a romance either, for what its worth."

Agree very much. That's another one where I really can't sympathize or identify with either of the "romantic leads." While I was reading it, I kept thinking, "What the hell? All these people are HORRIBLE. Why would I care what happens to them?"
cate nugent
21. nurcat
I loathe this book, & to say it's one of THE most romantic books ever is a joke. A more narcissitic, self serving & spiteful heroine than Scarlett would be hard to find. When I finally got to the end of it - and what a slog that was - all I thought was - good - she finally got what she deserved !
I'm also another reader that hates Wuthering Heights, truthfully ALL of the Brontes output. I find their characters & their plots irritating & annoying beyond belief.....Give me Dickens any day .That man knew how to spin a yarn
Kinsey Holley
22. KinseyHolley
Bookstorecat: Re: Wuthering Heights, agreed. Can't stand Cathy or Heathcliff.

Have you read Jasper Fford's Tuesday Next series? I love the depiction of Heathcliff - selfish, dramatic, a little dim, a complete pain in the ass.
Liz Maverick
23. Liz Maverick
@KinseyHolley @goddessani The only thing I like about Wuthering Heights is the Kate Bush song.
24. Elizabeth Graham
I loved both GWTW and Wuthering Heights when I was sixteen. And that was a long time ago. Now I can't read either one. Also don't want to watch either movie. What got me at 16 was the intensity of Heathcliff's passion for Cathy and I daydreamed about a man feeling that way about me. Same thing with GWTW. Rhett's passion for Scarlett was what riveted me. Everything else in both books wasn't important to me. My younger daughter also was nuts about Wuthering Heights for quite a while.
Now both of us are older and hopefully, wiser.
25. shirley tuttle
In reading your comments, I get Claire and Jamie from the Outlander seriers. Who are Noah and Allie?
26. Karen H
Gone with the Wind is NOT a romance. I read it at about age 15 and when I finished, I literally threw it against a wall because Scarlett seemed so blase about losing Rhett and I liked him so much better than her. Unfortunately, throwing it against a wall was very bad because 1) it wasn't my book (and I'm usually very careful with other people's property) and 2) it was after midnight and my poor mother came rushing upstairs to find out what was wrong. I want a happy ending or else. Wuthering Heights is also not a romance and I didn't care for Heathcliff and I despised Cathy.

And herein lies blasphemy, I know, but I just read Outlander and I did not like it either. With all the awful stuff that happens to Jamie and Claire, I almost couldn't read it except everybody said how great it was and I expected to eventually understand. Never did. Won't be reading the rest of the series that, according to the synoposes, seem to be more of the same. Also will not read the Dragon Tatoo books because I just don't have time for the awful stuff. I know she's supposed to be a really strong character and that's all good but I'm a strong enough woman myself that I don't need to read about others and I cannot think of any reason I would want to experience the awful stuff.
C.D. Thomas
27. cdthomas
"Both warn about the dangers of being a mean girl to me."

And, you know, the slavery thing? Where two house slave women are more loyal to Miss Scarlett than the men and kids they surely must have loved in their lives, when there was no shotgun ordering them to stay at Tara once the South fell.
28. Elizabeth56
I'm with Karen: GWTW, Wuthering, and Outlander all did not work for me.
and ethomas on the strange slaves' loyalty. Too many poeple seemed to just not get it. I'm not convinced that Scarlet has learned anything, after all those words and pages. Tara is just all she has left. Desperate for anything, that's not my heroine.
Lee Hyat
29. leehyat
When I read it first as a teenager, I remember feeling cheated by the end of the book. There was no HEA and Scarlett was a mean, selfish, horrible girl I couldn't drege up any sympathy for. How could any hero love a woman like that?
I definitely wouldn't call the book a romance let alone the most romantic book!
Having read it again, as an adult, I have to say I did enjoy the story but only because (...I'd locked away my romantic self and told her we'd have fun with real romance novels later...) I knew I was reading a historical saga and didn't have any false expectations the second time round.
30. Kaye Dacus
My sister and I shared an apartment in college for three and a half years . . . and I was forced to watch GWTW a couple of times a month (it seemed like) because it was---and continues to be---her favorite movie. As a longtime romance reader and writer, I hated it. Hated the storyline, hated the characters, hated that it was four hours of my life I couldn't get back. And I minored in Civil War history, so the era in which it's set has nothing to do with those very strong feelings against it.

In trying to get me to understand why she loved it so much, my sister encouraged me to read the book. So I tried. I gave up after about 100 pages. I wasn't willing to waste that many hours of my life on something so distasteful to me.

So now, when I go to writers conferences and hear or see written on blogs where other romance novelists refer to GWTW as the "romance" novel that inspired them to start writing, I know which novelists' books to avoid reading.
31. Fleur du Nil
As an African lady I have a hard time with this story without constantly thinking of the outright racism entwined in the story line but I tell myself it is told from the white point of view, they may have owned the bodies of their slaves but they did not know what they thought. This being said, I do like the point that Scarlett did not really love Ashley all that time. I think a lot of women fool themselves in to thinking someone is the love of their life and waste their time and thoughts on a man who they didn't really love. I do think Ashley led her on though.

@Cdthomas: you must not know much about southern history to truly believe there was no "shutgun" keeping them at Tara. Many blacks stayed at their place of employ because a) the Klan and others led a campaign of terror to keep blacks from leaving (just google the terrorism that occured for blacks trying to leave to the north from the end of slavery up through the civil rights- many blacks, particularly men were abducted from train stations and lynched for trying to go north for opportunity. the fact is the southern system before and after slavery economically and socially depended on cheap, illiterate black labor) b) where and what would they leave for? c) they were often financially or emotionally manipulated into staying.
32. HaleyKate
I read GWTW when I was in middle school and its been my favorite book since. Scarlett is by no means perfect and for that matter neither is Rhett. Perhaps the real conflict with the whole greatest romantic story of all time is the fact that is is more realistic in its outcomes than anything else. Sometimes you don't always win. Scarlett was willing to break every rule she had been taught in order to survive. If that made her a bitch then so be it. Melanie, was the same way only here's the kicker: she had everything she wanted. She had a supporting family, the love of her husband and friends and society. Scarlett never had that. She was hated by nearly everyone she ever met and lusted after because she was different from the eyelash batting fools that were considered proper. Who got them food at Tara? Scarlett. Who sacrificed her freedom/happiness to make sure her family had a home to live in? Scarlett. Without Scarlett being the "Mean girl" and forcing her genteel spoiled friends and family to actually work they would have starved. Sure they could have left Tara for Atlanta, but what would they have done for food and money? Could they have even survived the aftermath? Scarlett is a realist. No one likes the girl that calls it like it is and does what she has to do to survive. Except Rhett Butler. And who doesn't want a filthy rich, passionate smart ass to be in love with you? It is my opinion that the only real reason that Scarlett had for pursuing Ashley Wilkes was the fact that no one would have ever questioned her again. He was the respresentation of everything she wanted her life to be. Everything she had been trained to want and to be her whole life. Had war not happened, Scarlett would have been a society matron, which is everything she was "supposed" to be. She would have raised her kids and had a properly dull life. But war did happen and war changes people. A great quote from the book is "Pride tastes real good for breakfast." Scarlett had pride enough to take care of her own. She could have left Melanie to die in Atlanta. She could have let the tax collectors take Tara. She chose not too. She chose to fight for what was hers. Sure she could have handled things a little better later in life but hindsight is 20/20. She knows she's done wrong, she knows she screwed up. But she didn't just lie there and take it. The woman is a fighter, kinda like Rocky but in a hoop-skirt. She didnt just lie there on the staircase and cry herself to death. No. In a most optimistic, determined way, she sat up dusted herself off and went to face the day with a new spirit to win back all that she had lost. Even when by that point, she literally had almost nothing left. She never questioned herself or her ability to win them all back. To hell with the haters. That is why I love GWTW and Scarlett O'Hara.
Carmen Pinzon
33. bungluna
@HaleyKate - I don't think I hate GWTW, but I don't consider it a romance. I agree with most of what you're saying, particularly with regards to Scarlett's family and how she's the one who draged them on. Still, this is NOT a romance. Sorry, no hea, no real hero, just a heroine and her journey, imo.
34. HaleyKate
@bungluna - I would agree that there is no standard hero. I would argue that the romance part of the story has to do with Scarlett's perception of life. it is not until the end that she realises that she is in fact in love not only with Rhett but with living life the way she chooses. I would argue that the "hero" of the story is the ability to make a choice. Scarlett has fought the entire book to be able to make a choice all on her own. At the end Scarlett gets her HEA - the ability to make a choice - when she realizes that even though everything has crumbled around her she still has tomorrow to go out and try again. She has that choice and no one can take it away from her. True, not a textbook HEA but and HEA all the same. At least to me.
Carmen Pinzon
35. bungluna
@HaleyKate - I understand what you are saying, but still can't see it as a romance. Maybe I have a narrow definition of romance: two people developing a relationship that leads to them being together with hopes of a future at the end of the story. They can be boy-girl, boy-boy, girl-girl, vamp-were, two-peas and a pod, I don't care. There has to be a hea that involves them going together into the future. Unless you consider Scarlett and her independence a couple, this story just doesn't fit my idea of a romance.
36. HaleyKate
@bungluna, this is interesting because my perception of GWTW exactly fits your definition: two people developing a relationship that leads to them being together with hopes of a future at the end of the story. I truly believe that Rhett and Scarlett find their way back to one another and have a epically passionate life. However without the issues they went through in GWTW they would not be together. Perhaps it’s the open end quality of the story. It’s not defined as to what happens to them. My question to you is this: Would you reconsider your opinion if the ending had Scarlett succeeding in stopping Rhett from leaving? Would that have made a difference?
Carmen Pinzon
37. bungluna
@HaleyKate - I have to be honest and say "maybe". I just don't see Rhett as hero material. I haven't read the book in ages, but I remember wondering what all the hoopla was about. And wanting to throw the book against the wall when what's his face was desole after Melanie's death. I'm afraid my opinion of the men in this novel is very low.
Heather Mihalovitz
38. meurh2365
Not to be rude (or actually yes I do), but maybe you have been reading a few too many Danielle Steele novels. GWTW is the only novel I have read several times, or find worth reading again and again. It is so incredibly romantic and true to life. I guess I just don't see how anyone can think otherwise. I guess some people are not into great literature and only have the inteligence to write poorly written blogs about not understanding thje most basic of human emotions. As for why people love Scarlette? Maybe its because shes highly intelligent (contrary to your idea of her being a dumb southern bell) and has it out for any moron half whit existing in this sad world. Is she a bitch? Sure, but the best of us are. Right?
Elizabeth Halliday
39. Ibbitts
I have never thought of "Gone With the Wind" as a romance. It's a story of finding a way to go on living when everything you have ever known has turned to ashes and everything you thought was true turns out to be a lie. It's a story of how to survive when you find out that conscience and motives and intentions don't put food on the table. It's a story about, when everything around you is dying, how you pull yourself up and refuse to lie down and die with it. I have read the book and seen the movie many times. Sometimes it's not all about entertainment. Sometimes it's about learning about the past so the same mistakes won't be repeated in the future.
40. Gypsyspirit
Thank you Ibbitts for expressing it so well. I always wondered how this Pulitzer prize winning story got marketed as a romance. But then, we are having this conversation almost 80 years after publication, so the marketing obviously worked.
41. jsmom2
Spoiled, self-absorbed, and petty are not characteristics I look for in my heroines. Women can be strong and self-sufficient without being selfish and mean. What a DNF for me.

and I think this is an very well-written blog
Joanna Novins
42. JoannaNovins
Fascinating point on GWTW being marketed as a romance but not really being one. Am blanking on the famous author whose book had gone through many covers, many with a romance theme on the front which he hated. (The book wasn't a romance, but the covers sold the best.) Romance sells better than any other segment of the commercial market, so it's not surprising that publishers try and cash in on it. I do get the GWTW is about survival--again, I'd encourage people to check out Confederates in the Attic which looks at why the Civil War captures our imagination and the many different messages people draw from it. (Interestingly, Civil War is among the periods that are not considered by publishers to be "marketable" in romance. As are most periods of American history and war eras.)

And yes, I've read a number of the Jasper Fforde novels. Love them (love that the characters find Heathcliffe annoying.)
43. AFT
I came across your post while researching something else about GWTW, and I just wanted to respond. I do find GWTW romantic, although I think it's a more complex novel than just a simple historical romance. Reading your post, I think it's just a matter of taste. I am rereading the novel now and appreciating it more than I ever have.

I see both Scarlett and Rhett as complex characters, just as people are in real life. They are both likable and unpleasant. Scarlett isn't book smart, but she has "street smarts," which turns out to be what she needs in the post-war South. Ironically, I think Margaret Mitchell was book smart, as she gives plausible knowledge to Ashley and Melanie, and early on has Ashley and Charles exchange "pitying" looks with each other over Scarlett's cultural ignorance (and she puts the reader in their shoes, so that they also see Scarlett that way in that moment). So she portrays book learning/high culture as both positive and negative as well.

As a mom, I now appreciate both with understanding as well as horror the terrible way she treats her son Wade. It makes me like her less and... yet... doesn't she somehow give voice to the things that pass through ever mother's mind at least once in awhile? The longing to be free, the irritation at the constant duty, etc.

That's what's appealing about Scarlett in the end, I think. She's odious in many ways, yet she also is, besides Rhett, the only character who can be honest with themselves and can face reality. While the rest of the South is deluding themselves about the sanctity of their "Cause" and their likelihood of winning, Rhett and Scarlett are the only ones who see through the silliness (well, besides Ashley and sort of Melanie, but they remain committed to the old ways).

Rhett is also appealing because he helps "free" her from the cultural constraints that had been oppressing her, and his worldview, while often cycnical, is also very frank and honest, even exposing the warts of society, and so it's exhilirating to read, since you feel, as the reader, that you are being liberated as well.

I think, too, that the character of Scarlett reflects the growing equality of women, even in the 1930s. Readers would feel stifled by the constrictions of the antebellum South, and therefore Rhett and Scarlett, with their more frank (and 20th century) appraisal of things, would be refreshing. And they are.

Rhett is romantic because he pines after Scarlett for so long, and clearly loves her even though he would probably be better off remaining a bachelor. He ends up losing much for her. And he's a virile, worldly, powerful male in a book full of wimpy, confused men. He knows how things *really* are, and has the power to navigate waters other people can't, which always makes for an attractive hero. I'm sure there are lots of downsides you could find to this analyzing it from a feminist perspective, but that's the appeal, positive or not. He's the all-powerful, almost omnipotent male who can rescue the female but is weakened only by her charms.

Those are the things I see that make the novel appealing, in addition to very strong characters like Melanie. But as I said, to each his own. No requirement to like this book!

Please don't wiretap me. :-)
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