“Gone with the Wind”

The American Film Institute (AFI) has decided that Gone with the Wind, a 1939 movie starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, contains some of the best lines in movie history, two of which are listed in AFI’s Top 5. This fact allows most people to forget that before it became one of the most popular movies of all time, Gone with the Wind began as a novel by Margaret Mitchell written in 1936. The novel takes place in Clayton County, GA and Atlanta during the Civil War and Reconstruction-Era Deep South. It follows the development of its protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara from late adolescence through early adulthood as she struggles with her family’s new found poverty after the war. She began writing the novel in 1926, but it was not until 1935 that she found a potential publisher for her work. Recognizing its potential, Harold Latham of Macmillan, agreed to publish the novel. After six more months of careful editing, Gone with the Wind finally went to the presses. The rest, as they say, is history. It sold over one million copies in its first year on the shelves. Mitchell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 for her work. It is interesting that she never published another novel in her lifetime, even though fans then and now are left puzzled by the novel’s ending. In what would become a post-modernist cornerstone, the book ends with several issues unresolved, most notably the status of O’Hara and her lover Rhett Butler. Announcing that he does not “give a damn” about her, Rhett leaves Scarlett at story’s end. The rest is open to interpretation; the ending is completely up to the reader in that respect. Mitchell herself said that she does not know what happened between the two lovers, only that the story ended where she wanted it to. As far as the film goes, it was a huge success, garnering critical acclaim even to this day. AFI lists it as the No. 4 movie of all time, behind Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and the Godfather respectively. As for Rhett’s parting statement (“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,”), it has been at the top of movie quote lists since its premier, with no end in sight. Gone with the Wind is the defining work on Reconstruction-Era America and captures perfectly O’Hara’s (and therefore, the South’s) resistance to change. For that reason, it has remained highly relevant and continues to captivate readers over 80 years after its initial publication.

 

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