Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Selections: Gone With the Wind

Welcome to Sunday Selections, a meme devoted to sharing and discussing our favorite quotes and passages from our favorite books. If you'd like to share a selection, please leave a comment with a link to your post.

This week I've chosen to share the one of my favorite passages from  Gone With the Wind. This is from the scene where Scarlett, having arrived home to find Tara ruined, is rummaging through the slave quarters, hungry and tired, desperate, looking for food. This is the moment Scarlett changes, the moment that drives all of her actions through the rest of the story:

Gone with the WindAfter a long time, she lay weakly on her face, the earth as soft and comfortable as a feather pillow, and her mind wandered feebly here and there. She, Scarlett O'Hara, was lying behind a negro cabin, in the midst of ruins, too sick and too weak to move, and no one in the world knew or cared. No one would care if they did know, for everyone had too many troubles of their own to worry about her. And all this was happening to her, Scarlett O'Hara, who had never raised her hand even to pick up her discarded stockings from the floor or to tie the laces of her slippers - Scarlett, whose little headaches and tempers had been coddled and catered to all her life.
As she lay prostrate, too weak to fight off memories and worries, they rushed at her, circled about her like buzzards waiting for a death. No longer had she the strength to say: "I'll think of Mother and Pa and Ashley and all this ruin later - Yes, later when I can stand it." She could not stand it now, but she was thinking of them whether she willed it or not. The thoughts circled and swooped above her, dived down and drove tearing claws and sharp beaks into her mind. For a timeless time, she lay still, her face in the dirt, the sun beating hotly upon her, remembering things and people who were dead, remembering a way of living that was gone forever - and looking upon the harsh vista of the dark future.

When she rose at last and saw the black ruins of Twelve Oaks, her head was raised high and something that was youth and beauty and potential tenderness had gone out of her face forever. What was the past was past. Those who were dead were dead. The lazy luxury of the old days was gone, never to return. And, as Scarlett settled the heavy basket across her arm, she had settled her own mind and her own life.

There was no going back and she was going forward.

Throughout the South for fifty years there would be bitter-eyed women who looked backward, to dead times, to dead men, evoking memories that hurt and were futile, bearing poverty with bitter pride because they had those memories. But Scarlett was never to look back.

I love this passage for several reasons other than it being one of the key scenes of the novel. Whenever I come across the subject of imagery in writing, this scene always comes first to my mind. The depiction of Scarlett's thoughts as buzzards, scavengers, circling and diving down on her is masterful. I can see it happening to her so clearly in my mind; I can see how these truths that she is forced to face overwhelm her, terrify her, have the power to destroy her.

And then, in that next quiet moment, I can see her change. I can see her make that decision to overcome in typical Scarlett fashion: suddenly, tenaciously, and knowing exactly how to succeed. I can see her harden her heart in preparation, determined to do whatever it takes.

The last paragraph is amazing: an epic, poetic, haunting description of a generation of Restoration South women in thirty-eight words. It's a shame Margaret Mitchell never published another novel. In Gone With the Wind she proved herself a master of the craft of writing. It is one of the most beautifully written novels, a true American literary gem and I'll be sharing several other passages in future posts.

1 comment:

  1. This is always the point in the book that makes me cry, no matter how many times I read it.


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