A friend recently read Gone With the Wind for the first time and was shocked by the racism.
While I totally agree with everything she said about GWTW, I admit that I’ve always liked the book despite the fact that it’s racist propaganda. Of course it is. But I think of it as an interesting period piece — much more so than the movie.
I can’t relate to Scarlett. Like all of the white characters, she is horrible. And Ashley may be even worse. He is presented as being so gentle and honorable, but I cringe when he justifies slavery by insisting, basically, “But we treated our slaves really well!”
The book offers insight into the people who believed in and perpetuated slavery. I also found it noteworthy that the O’Haras are looked down upon by their neighbors for being Catholic and new-money, and are grudgingly allowed a place in society only because Scarlett’s mom came from a “good” family. It gives the book a more layered view of white society at the time, a view that was almost completely absent in the film. Admittedly, that does not make me like Scarlett any better.
I guess I see it as a snapshot of the mindset of Scarlett’s white society, written at a time when some of those who lived through the war — or knew those who did — were still alive to recall it. If you want to understand how these people thought, and, to an extent, how modern white supremacists think, and can read past their own self-delusion and your own disgust, it can be a fascinating read.
(I also recommended that my friend read The Wind Done Gone, by Alice Randall. It retells Gone With the Wind from the perspectives of the slaves. Margaret Mitchell’s estate lost a copyright-infringement lawsuit against the author and publisher, when the court determined that the book was protected as Fair Use, as a parody.)