An incredible encapsulation of the people, culture, and events of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction years in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Centers around the life of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a genteel and lovely French mother and a first-generation Irish immigrant father, who made his fortune and built a life and a beautiful plantation named “Tara”. We see their bucolic life before the War, which had a foundation built on the backs of their 100+ slaves. We see into their life, and how they viewed it, and how, when that foundation crumbled as a result of the War, we watch this family and their neighbors survive (or not) the difficulties they now have to face on their own.
“As God is my witness, as God is my witness they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this, and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.” –Scarlett O’Hara
There are a lot of moments, of course, that make a person cringe as you read this book: the way their slaves are viewed as children or how they have “child-like minds”, disturbing references to their race which don’t need to be repeated here, derogatory terminology, etc. We don’t witness any beatings or auctions or anything like what is represented in other literature of this time period, but we do witness the fashion in which the whites treat their slaves–even those they truly love and consider part of their family–in a haughty, entitled manner. Those things are hard to read, but it seems that this is an accurate time capsule of how people viewed their world and those in it–in that time period. Even during the Reconstruction years when the Yankees were in Atlanta fighting for equal rights for the freed slaves, a lot of them seemed to hold their own dim views of the former slaves, even when trying to punish the Confederates by confiscating their property, their money, their right to vote and hold government office, etc.
The impression left is that they put illiterate former slaves in high positions but then the Yankees used them as puppets to vote the way they wanted (to favor the Republicans/Yankees) and to quiet or completely remove the voice of the Democrats/Confederates. There also was a lot of rampant crime by understandably insolent and angry freed slaves who wanted to get back at the whites. They were able to get away with these crimes because of new laws stating that whites could not charge the ex-slaves with any crimes. It appears that this complete flip-flop in society’s rules is what caused the formation of secret meetings between former Confederate soldiers which evolved into the Ku Klux Klan in 1865. There was a lot of “justice” served in the darkness of night by both whites and blacks.
This story is considered an epic romance. It is definitely an epic. The romance part is questionable. It is definitely a story of a dysfunctional kind of love. It is based on a young girl’s selfish and cold-hearted method of obtaining whatever she wants, often to the detriment of others. It is a story of stolen, lost, or unrequited love. This story brings out many emotions, although with very little happiness: contempt, guilt, sadness, disbelief, frustration, anger, disappointment, shock, and grief. No matter how malicious some people can be, it is still hard to witness when they themselves have to face the terrible deeds they have done.
“With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.” –Rhett Butler
This, of course, is a book not to be missed. Highly recommended.