Seventy-five years ago this month, a novel by an unknown young journalist from Atlanta was published. Originally submitted as a manuscript stuffed into dozens of manila folders, the book was a love story set against the backdrop of the U.S. Civil War. Today, Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” remains one of the best-selling books of all time. It has been translated into 35 languages, sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide, won a Pulitzer Prize, and earned eight Academy Awards as a Hollywood motion picture. Here are some of the many reasons we still love “GWTW.” – Husna Haq, Christian Science Monitor correspondent
1. Scarlett O’Hara is irresistible.
It’s one of the great “what ifs” of literary history: What if the great Civil War classic had been called “Manuscript of the Old South,” as it was originally titled, and its heroine named Pansy? We may not be blogging about a very important 75th anniversary had better sense not prevailed. Fortunately, the book was retitled and Pansy became Scarlett. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet? Maybe, but perhaps not a Pansy.
2. It provides such a compelling image of the Civil War-era South.
It’s the quintessential Southern saga. Few books evoke the Civil War-era South so powerfully, compellingly, and iconically. “To this day, Mitchell’s novel and the successful film remain the most powerful forces in shaping the perception of Southern life before, during and after the Civil War,” reports Access Atlanta.
” ‘Gone with the Wind’ eclipsed everything else,” says Karen Cox, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “It cemented that vision of the Old South in the nation’s imagination for years to come.”
3. It teaches us about rebuilding a shattered economy.
As “an economic story about how to rebuild a ruined nation,” it’s an apt read for post-recession America, says Michael Kreyling, a scholar of Southern literature at Vanderbilt University. “It’s no coincidence that the book found huge popularity upon its release in the 1930s as America struggled to find ways out of the Great Depression,” says Mr. Kreyling, who sees Scarlett O’Hara as “a ruthless entrepreneur who is not going to be stopped by convict labor or anything.” Yahoo goes a step further, offering “Five Economic Principles You Can Learn from Gone with the Wind,”including property ownership, importance of gold, the relationship between marriage and money, and the effect of long wars on a nation’s economy.
4. It’s the romance, stupid.
It’s an irresistible moonlight-and-magnolia romance. And it’s not just Rhett and Scarlet’s tumultuous love story — it’s Ms. Mitchell’s love note to the South as well. Indeed, the novel is as much an iconic ode to the South as it is a romance between Rhett and Scarlett. So electric was the novel’s fraught romance that the 1939 Oscar-winning film version of the book starring Vivien Leigh as O’Hara and Clark Gable as Butler is still considered by many to be one of the greatest movies (and love stories) of all time.
5. It speaks to everyone.
Although it is a Civil War novel set in the deep South, “GWTW” has tremendous universal appeal. It’s been translated into 35 languages, sold millions worldwide, and on its 75th anniversary, still sparks adulation around the globe. “Am very excited to write about my favorite book of all time,” Indian author Ira Trivedi told Calcutta’s Telegraph. The communist governor of China’s Hunan province said the Atlanta History Center, where “GWTW” gifts and memorabilia are displayed, was the only place he wanted to visit while in America last February, reported USA Today. After a tour and shopping “he finally had to be told to leave by his people,” said an Atlanta History Center worker.
6. It makes us talk about race.
It’s not politically correct, it’s been called racist, discriminatory, retrograde and offensive. But the importance of “GWTW” lies, in part, in the conversation it provokes about an ugly and often overlooked chapter in American history. For her part, Mitchell was often surprised by the criticism when asked about the racial stereotypes in “GWTW,” insisting her black characters were the most honorable in the book.
7. It’s just such a great story.
Some 75 years later, why do we still give a damn? “Gone with the Wind” is, quite simply, a compelling story. “What do they say? It’s a tale well told by a teller who tells it well,” said Michael Rose, an Atlanta History Center vice president, in USA Today. “In short, it’s a good read.”