Not Quite Breezing Through Gone with the Wind

gone with the wind original version

Given how much I love the film, the equally intimidating reputation of the book and its sheer size, I was a little hesitant picking this up. In fact, it’s taken me *years* to pluck up the courage. Nonetheless, I eventually decided to bite the bullet. Set during the American civil war, this sweeping saga is more than enough temptation for any romance lover.

Well, as openings go, I can safely say Gone with the Wind’s first line took my breath away. It instantly created a vivid picture of the heroine. From that point on, it flowed beautifully. A lot of the time, I didn’t feel like I was reading a classic. There was little to distinguish the addictive, page-turning qualities from a book that might be published today. And oh- the drama!!! With some stellar characterisation and plot that explodes at a breakneck speed, I’d happily recommend this to a lot of people who aren’t necessarily interested in classics.

That said, for those who do enjoy the genre, there are rewards scattered through the narrative like shrapnel. Under the surface of descriptive passages, the shadow of the war looms. From the start, Scarlett O’Hara is depicted as though she were dressed for battle. The imagery is permeated with trenches and the like. There was some commentary on the devastating effects, which had some brilliant turns of phrase, though for me this didn’t live up to War and Peace levels.

Scarlett herself is a commanding heroine. She rarely wields any weapon but her charms, yet she uses these to great effect. Often contrasted with the likes of Melly, she shows a competency that some men can’t stand. Not only does she think for herself, she also knows to keep this talent well hidden. I particularly liked her getting the better of that misogynistic git Frank (who believes women are stupid and need men’s help… only to ironically marry the smartest woman in the South #checkmate).

This is also the ULTIMATE enemies to lovers story. Again, a lot of modern readers will love how sexy as hell Rhett Butler can be. I had no idea why she was so obsessed with Ashley for half the book given how gorgeous the alternative was! Not that Rhett is an angel- there’s an edge to him that makes him even more intriguing. With plenty of miscommunication, heart-breaking twists and turns and an ending that will make you swoon with disbelief, plenty of this has stood the test of time- well, sort of.

Now if you’re familiar with my somewhat *over exuberant* style of reviews, you might be sensing a buuuut… Because, well, as much as I’ve praised the protagonist, I hated her. I know, I know, she’s a great example of female empowerment. But she’s so horrible! She screws over every. single. other woman in her path- including her sister Suellen! She doesn’t care about other people’s happiness, only her own. And this is barely the tip of the iceberg.

I would be completely remiss not to mention the racism in this book. Not because I want the past rewritten- I think books like this are important evidence. However, that doesn’t mean I have to like characters like Scarlett- who are blatantly, grossly racist: scoffing at freeing slaves, calling people the n-word with pride, and telling people “you’re not a good slave” (how shameful lol- I swear, if I was a slave, I’d hope to be the lousiest slave ever “employed”- basically saying “how dare you not do an excellent job of the labour I’m not paying you to do”). Consequently, I didn’t see Scarlett as strong- I saw her as abusive. Obviously, she’s a product of her time and far from the only character in the book to act this way. Rhett says at one point that he’d join the Klan for the sake of his daughter’s future prospects (ugh ugh ugh). Plus, this moment in the book made me want to shrivel up and die inside: “With unerring African instinct, the negroes had all discovered that Gerald had a loud bark and no bite at all, and they took shameless advantage of him”. Cos eww- there are about a million things wrong with this sentence and it made my eyes roll back into my head (for clarification, because I like to be direct rather than point fingers aimlessly, that sentence starts with racist stereotyping, frames the perpetrator as a victim, dehumanises people and makes out like they’re the bad guys– have I got it all?). And yes, this is me with my modern bias- I fully own up to that- but the thing is I rate books on my enjoyment and this got in the way of that. Everyone is free to come out with different opinions on this book- not casting any shade here.

Anyway, this meant that despite the tempo of the book and its qualities, it sagged in the middle for me. I simply didn’t find Scarlett remotely endearing and couldn’t root for her. The consolation one might have for such a character is that (minor spoiler) it doesn’t end with everything being rosy. Still, and this may make me a philistine, I preferred the film. Perhaps it was that Vivien Leigh softened the role; perhaps it was something else. Either way, while I liked large portions of this, I wanted to enjoy this so much more than I did.

Rating: 3½/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana half-a-hand-drawn-banana

And I know I might have stoked some flames with this review and my rating- but frankly my dears, I don’t give a damn 😉

rhett butler leaving frankly my dear.gif

So- dare I ask- what do you think of this book? Am I bananas for casting my modern views on a classic? Let me know in the comments!

72 thoughts on “Not Quite Breezing Through Gone with the Wind

  1. Loved this review! This is one of my favorite movies. I’ve yet to pick up the books because of the size. Also, I wonder if it’s really worth it? I dislike Scarlett so much. But still I love the movie?! I wonder to myself would reading the book make any difference in my point of views from the movie.

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    1. Thank you! I also really love the movie! And really relate to what you mean about the size of the book- it put me off for years. Ah I can understand that- a lot of the time I can hate the mc but still love the book/movie- it just depends I guess. Here I think it was cos I felt like I was supposed to respect her for certain decisions and just couldn’t (while it does direct the reader to get she’s not a good person, some of the things are held up as examples of her being strong). It would be really interesting to see your thoughts on this as someone that loves the movie as well! 😀

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  2. I thought the movie was a snore and a bore but I loved the book! Perhaps because in a book you go at your own pace and with a movie, pre fast forward technology, you have to sit through the draggy parts. And no, Scarlett O’Hara is not very likable. Perhaps the problem with reading the book first is that the actors cast don’t look like the people in the book! At least not to me…And no, you can’t read it with a modern frame of mind – if you are reading for enjoyment only then you meet a book where IT is, not where you are.

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    1. That’s really funny, cos it’s the opposite for me, but do understand that! Glad you agree she’s not very likeable. That’s very true! I mean Scarlett in the movie literally looks nothing like her book counterpart. Generally speaking I try to do that and will look beyond comments that aren’t integral to the plot/characterisation (one of my favourite authors, Dostoevsky, likes to casually cite blood libellous stories for instance- but I don’t ever let this detract from the story because it’s a side issue). However in this case I felt a lot of these things were tied into characterisation and that disrupted my ability to switch off the part of my brain that was going “this is just so wrong”. Of course, everyone’s entitled to read and interpret things however they want and I’m not casting any judgement- that’s just how I read. Hope that all makes sense.

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  3. He He, I have to say I liked Scarlett because she screwed people over! Knows what she wants that woman. I found the racism really uncomfortable reading too. Rhett is an awesome character. I read the book ages ago, I’m going to have to read it again now! I have never seen the film. One of the few iconic Hollywood movies I haven’t seen yet.

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    1. hehe I can understand that! I can really see why people respect her for it and didn’t have such an issue with it in the movie (don’t know why, but the difference in medium made all the difference). Glad you agree. and absolutely- Rhett was great! Awesome!! I do recommend the film (though a fair number of people that read the book first aren’t as crazy about it)

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  4. I must admit I have always been intrigued by Scarlet because she’s unlikeable – I read this book whilst being a teenager (20 odd years ago) and her character was amongst first complex ones I encountered then. I’m completely with you regarding about the racism though. Yes, it happened but it doesn’t mean we enjoy reading about it as it is highly upsetting and so unjust.

    By the way I never understood what Scarlett saw in Ashley either… even as a teenager, I kept on thinking WHY?! 😊

    My favourite take from the book: “I’ll think about that tomorrow”. 😊👌

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    1. Oh yeah I definitely think her character was very complex. And I was just saying to someone else, in another medium (aka the film) it worked better for me. And I’m really glad you get what I’m getting at there.

      hehehe I know right!?!?!

      Ah I love that line!!

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  5. I admit, one of my favorite things about this book is how deplorable and unrelatable Scarlet is! This is probably the firsts book I ever read with an unlikable protagonist, and growing to admire her ANYWAY for her strength and determination was an interesting journey in empathy. I think, like Emma, that at the beginning (and often in the middle and end) you are not SUPPOSED to like Scarlet. She’s the ultimate Slytherin, doing literally anything to get her way, even things that I found repugnant. She was whiney and annoying. But despite all of that, she discovers that she, too, is capable of doing amazing things. I found that tension in her character fascinating.

    Also, all the yes to Ashley. What is so great about him anyway? Why would you spend so much time agonizing over someone who A) doesn’t love you B) is dull as a brick C) is completely helpless and D) is making your life exponentially worse?

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    1. I can totally see that! Especially as I really enjoyed watching her be totally deplorable in the film. And I do totally get why people like her for that. I was just thinking about Emma- because that’s always a great example for me of a character I love that’s not supposed to be likeable. hehee she definitely is an absolute Slytherin. I can completely understand why people like her and I do think she’s a fascinating character.

      YES about Ashley!! What a bore! What’s to love? So agree with you there!!

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  6. One of the rare instances I actually saw the film before reading the book!
    The book is an epic, and in a way it’s a masterpiece (also the reclusive Margaret Mitchell’s only novel) – but it’s flawed. I also don’t do well with long novels so I found it difficult to get through. I probably wouldn’t read the book again although I would re-watch the film.

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  7. Love the movie. Haven’t read the book though. It’s so long, it’s intimidating. I have a habit of reading classics through a modern eye. Can’t help it. I think it’s important to address the problematic aspects of a book. But we also have to keep in mind that it’s a product of its time. Like you said 😉

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  8. I read the book when I was 13 (nearly 60 years ago) and even then was appalled at the racism.Disliked Scarlett for her indifference to her children and her manipulative personality – had so much of similar people I had to deal with in real life, she wasn’t endearing to me. Parts of the book made me see how pervasive injustice was – there was no high moral ground then (or now.) How horrible war was. We studied the Civil War that year, all about battles and attack plans, all of it going over my head. So the book provided emotional and cultural insight as a counterweight to war strategies.

    The drama and romance captured my imagination – 13, few friends, lonely – I was the perfect reading audience. Also loved the movie.

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  9. Lovely and thoughtful review! I’ve not read the book, but somehow I was shown this movie in school in 2nd or 3rd grade? (That would never happen now because movies are a no-no in school here). I loved it, though, and have watched it a few times since. Someday I’ll read the book, but I’m worried it’ll be draggy for me, too. It’s a chunk of a read!

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  10. Excellent review! I’m with you on my enjoyment of a book sometimes being affected by my “modern view.” I understand taking into account an author’s culture/era, but widespread casual acceptance of something morally abhorrent doesn’t make it any less abhorrent. For me, I am more able to grimace and overlook “product of its era” racism (or whatever) if it is relatively tangential to the story. I have a hard time enjoying stories that deliberately advocate, glorify, or build their plot around cultural “moral blind spots” (e.g. the “yellow peril” books by Saxe Rohmer or Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice”).

    When it comes to the American Civil War, the whole “lost cause” narrative really grates on me. I don’t know if the American Civil War is of much interest to you, but if it is there’s an excellent book by Edward H. Bonekemper III called “The Myth of the Lost Cause” where he digs into primary documents from BEFORE and DURING the war (e.g. the original secession documents) that paint a very different story from the tragic-noble narrative that prevailed after the war. The author definitely has an axe to grind and occasionally overstates his case, but he at least lays out primary evidence that needs to be considered whether a person agrees with his conclusions or not.

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    1. Thank you! That’s really interesting cos I was just saying the exact same thing to someone else. The example I gave was feeling like the occasional blood libellous stories in Dostovsky don’t make me judge his books unfavourably as a whole, because they’re always tangential. It’s much harder to do that with a story like Merchant of Venice, because the plot is centred around anti-Semitic tropes.

      I do think it’s a really interesting period in history, but have to confess, being from the UK I don’t know that much about it. I definitely be interested in reading Myth of the Lost Cause. It sounds very interesting!

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      1. In my experience, the “noble lost cause where slavery is a red herring” narrative predominates in American historical fiction, but honest evaluation of primary source documents requires a much more nuanced approach.

        Do you have any recommendations for a book on the English Civil War? I’ve picked up the very basics here and there (including BBC’s Horrible Histories) but would love to learn about it from a more scholarly source.

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        1. I actually had no idea- wow. That certainly makes me more interested in the topic.

          Well, I don’t tend to read much in the way of non fic (I’ve been trying to change that in recent years) and never really had a huge amount of interest in that subject (for some reason the English education system is obsessed with the Tudors and very little else 😉 ) I can recommend Du Maurier’s King’s general (although that’s fiction, it does capture the sense of the war). Sorry I couldn’t help more.

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          1. Here’s a sample of the history that is regularly ignored to maintain the “slavery was a red herring” narrative – from a speech by the vice president of the Confederacy: “…Those ideas [America’s founding principles], however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the ‘storm came and the wind blew.’ Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition….”

            Thanks for the book recommendation. That’s very interesting about the Tudor obsession in the education system…I can totally see it even in the British-themed historical fiction and popular-level history books that make the biggest splash!

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  11. That last sentence of your review made me giggle like a loon 🤣 I have not read Gone With The Wind and I doubt I ever will, but it was definitely interesting to read your review. Racism in older books is pretty prevalent and like you say, although they are products of their time, it can get in the way of our enjoyment of them nowadays. In some books it has bothered me, in otehr books less so. It depends on the context I guess. I won’t throw every book with casual racism in it out of the window, but for me it fully depends on the intend of the racism. Is it just ignorance (not in a malignant way), or is it white-is-right kind of vibe. That makes a big difference for me. It sounds it would bother me no-end in this book!

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    1. hehehe I’m glad!! Ah I totally understand that. And yeah for sure- I’m glad I’m not the only one that thinks that way tbh. I completely understand that. For me, it makes a huge difference if it’s integral to the plot/characters (like in this book). Yeah I really agree with you- I won’t necessarily hate a book (though I think it’s important to acknowledge it) but like you said, it depends on the book. And that’s a really good point. Fair enough!

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  12. I haven’t read the book, or seen more than a few clips of the film. But I did happen across a documentary on the author, and Scarlett is basically 90% the author, who was bred to be racist, spoiled, and stuck up. So, while the author could have made different choices as an adult (like Harper Lee did, despite growing up in the exact same culture), I think it’s one of those books that NEEDS to be seen through the correct historical perspective to really understand – and not completely hate – it.

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    1. Wow that is so interesting- I had no idea. That makes me a bit more put off, if I’m honest. I do really agree with you there. And I definitely didn’t completely hate it- I just think in this instance, cos it was so integral to the character, it did detract from the book for me.

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    2. I’ve read several books on Margaret Mitchell, including a few volumes of her own letters. She was nothing like Scarlett. She had Melanie’s interest in reform, & Rhett’s keen intelligence and cynicism. Scarlett was intended to be a terrifying character, but complicated enough to have admirable qualities alongside her horrific ones (like a real human). The heroine of the novel is Melanie, who alone remains unchanged. Mammy is intended to stand as the book’s moral center, alongside Melanie. Rhett is the voice of reality, pointing out everything that is wrong with the Confederacy.

      (Also, hello!) 🙂

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  13. I’ve been planning to read Gone With the Wind for quite a long time now, but now I think it can settle in an unknown corner of my TBR for goodness knows how long. Otherwise, I really enjoyed that last sentence (accompanied with an all too familiar gif)!

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  14. From what I can recall, this book doesn’t stand with much esteem in the world of academic classics, though it’s a classic enough in my book (an enduring work that just about everybody knows by name). I haven’t read it yet; in fact, I don’t own it. I’m not certain it’ll find a place on my bookshelf, but if it does I’m happy to hear that, despite its size, it’s a page-turner.

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  15. I still want to read this book at some point, but I can understand that a lot of it just doesn’t hold up to modern scrutiny. I don’t think I’ll like the heroine of the story very much either. :p Great review!

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  16. I haven’t read the book or seen the film, so I am coming at this without pre-existing strong feelings… BUT I’ve never understood why people get mad when classics are criticised according to current cultural norms. It’s not as if those attitudes have completely vanished and everything is fine now – we are still today dealing with the effects of the harm that has been done (and continues to be done), so not taking that into account in our readings of these texts… makes no sense. In addition, if we continue to hold up these texts as great literature, what message are we giving out to people of colour today? That we have learned absolutely nothing.

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    1. That’s a fair point- I just think that sometimes it’s good to look at something in context and sometimes it’s not as detrimental to the story or its value (and therefore doesn’t need to be dismissed out of hand). Personally, I also think it’s important to look at these things as a form of evidence of racism, rather than brushing it under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist. But yes, I think it’s important to look at things from a modern perspective and always challenge the ideas they propagate- especially in this case.

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  17. I think I’m one of the few people out there who read the book before seeing the film. As a result I think I was able to take it on its own merits more than I would have if I’d already been familiar with the film.

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  18. I love Gone With the Wind and have even read the sequel (by a different author). I agree, that while Scarlett has all the components of being a strong character, I hate her for her abuse of other people. I just want to smack her. She is so selfish and has no qualms about tramping on other people. She somewhat redeems herself in the sequel but I say that lightly.

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  19. I prefer the movie as well. I was so young when I started watching it with family members especially around the holidays that just kind of imprinted on me. (Also my mother wanted to call me Vivian Leigh but my father talked her out of it- so we were very big on the movie in my house.) But her and Clark Gable- maybe it’s time for a rewatch 🙂 Good points about the book though!

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  20. Hahaha. Loved the review. Hey, if the heroine can’t be strong, smart and at least a little kind and respectful to other women, that would tick me off too. I haven’t read this as yet but i will one day… maybe the day after I finally finish Les Mis… but that’s another story! 😉 I saw the movie ages ago… may re-watch instead!

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      1. Hahaha. Not too long really. I bought it. kept it for years and years. Decided it wasn’t gonna happen. Gave it away. Then decided to buy it again. And now I have no idea where it went…. 🤔😊😄

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  21. Great review. One of my favorite movies, been meaning to read the book since forever too! I’ve always maintained that Scarlett is a thoroughly unlikable character. She’s a survivor and she doesn’t mind stepping on other people in order to make sure she makes it through to another day, not only that but she wants to set herself up so she can have no worries for the future after losing everything. She’s clever and tenacious and can sometimes be quite cold. Not to mention all the other stuff you brought up. (I also never got her obsession with Ashley…)

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    1. Thank you! Yeah I love the movie too 🙂 Can completely relate! Ah that’s very fair! She is a very interesting, complex character for sure. I honestly respected her more in the movie tbh… in the book it was a little bit more difficult for me personally. (I know right!?!)

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  22. Oh I love this book and Scarlett O’hara. I have read this one thrice and I have fallen more and more for it. I saw the movie recently and the adaptation was spot on, right? I am glad you enjoyed it too, despite the racism point.

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  23. I haven’t seen the movie, or read the book. I totally get what you mean about reviewing a classic from a modern perspective though. On the one hand, things were different and views change, what was acceptable changes… but on the other, it’s difficult not to cringe from our modern (more enlightened?) perspective… it’s a tough call! I don’t think we should write books off because they contain language or ideas that are not acceptable now, but were not considered offensive when the book was written. Maybe we shouldn’t judge them too harshly for it. But I think we also have to call it out and put it into context when we find it, a modern and an historical context

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    1. Ah I’m glad you see my point of view. Yeah for sure- I do agree with you there- I don’t personally hold the view that it’s good to write books off on this basis. I do think it can be a positive thing to point out things like this- but like you said not necessarily judge it too harshly. Personally, I often will overlook a lot of things for that reason- in this case however it was so detrimental to the main character that it bothered me more. Absolutely!

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  24. I’ve never had any desire to read this book (or see the film) and after reading your review I’m even less likely to do so! I can’t stand female characters who stand on others to get their way unless there’s some kind of redemption for them. Great review though!

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  25. Hehe! I totally get the years it took you to take this book up – it was the same for me! And you know what? War and Peace is sitting right beside me begging to finally give it go even though it’s huuuge! 😂 I really hope I’ll get to it this winter.
    As to your review – it’s wonderful and I wouldn’t give a damn etiher. 😉 And as much as I’m a ‘ the book is much better than the film’-person, I have to admit that I also enjoyed the film more. I think Vivienne Lee was just absolutely brilliant, and Clark Gable too. Which reminds me – I really need to watch it again!!! 😄💕

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    1. hehe I completely understand that (incidentally I had the same thing with war and peace- but that was *totally* worth every second it took to read- and given how hefty it was, that was a lot of seconds 😉 ) I hope you do- and I hope you love it as much as I did! hahaha thank you!! Ah I’m glad you thought so! I completely agree!! hehe me too!! 😄💕

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  26. I sure didn’t expect that “but”, but it is quite unfortunate. A piece considered a classic that unfortunately is “stained” with that mentality. I applaud you for taking it on though. And I absolutely love the review! I particularly will be have to remember the “scattered like shrapnel” expression for future uses. I feel like I learn so many different imagery expressions from you hahahah Love it! 😀

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  27. Goshhhhh… ugh, Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh were perfectly cast. They’re exactly how I envisioned the characters to look like. Vivien is so beautiful… and Clark, omg, so sexy!!!! Ok, moving on. I’m reading this book on the side right now (I’ve read it too many times to count by now) and I understood that this is how they believed themselves to be, but the racism was even more aggravating this time around. Like you, I picked up on the ‘taking advantage of Gerald’ tripe and it really pissed me off. It’s also interesting that the characters knew that you’re not supposed to use the n word unless you’re actually black. But I wonder if this is a realistic portrayal? I’m not completely clear on this.

    Scarlett is selfish, but I find her moments of selfishness not sooo terrible. At first I hated that she stole Frank, but I’m so glad that he kinda got kicked in the butt for it. Will was much better than Frank. I digress, while Scarlett does go after Ashley, I feel Ashley should have been smart enough to not take advantage of it. I cannot stand the guy.

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