I was four years old when I first saw Gone with the Wind. My mother had the movie on VHS and she let me watch it in the living room while I was home sick from school. As soon as the camera focused on Vivien Leigh in a white dress with ruffles and a red belt about her waist, I was in love. I sat in front of the television with a blanket around my small shoulders, a stuffed animal sitting on my lap, angled just perfectly to see the television also, and a bag of tortilla chips in front of me.
As a four year old who still had a few months before starting school, I never could discern what it was that I was drawn to. Could it have been the ball dresses and the casual elegance of work clothes? Was it the accent so close to my own that I could mimic and speak for hours within? Possibly it was the setting of life in a time period that has always been fascinating to me? Perhaps it was a mixture of all these things; the clothes, the accents, the antebellum setting.
I read the book for the first time five years later. I was a short, hyper fourth grader with a penchant for choosing books that were as big as I was. My Mother would take me to the public library before I had to go to dance and I would have to be physically pushed out of the library by her. When I spied the spine of the book entitled with the name of my favorite movie I nearly jumped high enough to reach it. Once I realized how high above me the book was on the shelves, I grabbed one of the stools that only the librarians were supposed to use and climbed to grab my prize.
It took me two weeks to get through the book. I read it in class, hidden inside my small burgundy desk, during lunch at the table in the cafeteria, and during recess on the swings. My teachers were concerned about my fixation on this book that I was reading when I should be socializing. My mother was just happy that I was so engaged in the book.
I have read the book 2 more times since then, once in ninth grade and once in twelfth grade, and while the power hasn’t changed to me, the message has.
When I was in the fourth grade, I read the book under romantic, rosy glasses. I read about the balls and barbeques, the music and melancholy, and the dresses and dreams. I was enthralled by the amount of love shown in the novel, Scarlett’s infatuation with Ashley in spite of his marriage to Melanie, her love for Rhett, which she realized too late. There is Melanie’s unconditional love for Scarlett, her sister-in-law that almost hates her. There is so much evidence of love in the book, no matter how unconventional.
When I was in ninth grade, it was the way that Scarlett wormed her way into people’s hearts and was able to accomplish anything that she put her mind to. She used the things that she had, her looks, her wiles, her connections and she exploited them to get the best outcome for her life. The idea that even in a time when women had little to no rights, that Scarlett was able to run a mill and own it. She was able to be a successful businesswoman in an era when women either stayed home or, if they did work they made money in quiet ways; women did not own businesses.
When I read it again in twelfth grade, I was escaping from the stress of applying for colleges, the SAT, and all the other things that high school seniors need to worry about. Scarlett’s worries were calming to me; I could convince myself that worrying about college applications and exams that would help me get into college were nothing to worry about compared to wondering where food was going to come from or who was going to pay the taxes so I wouldn’t lose my home. I could tune out my world by immersing myself into Scarlett’s.
Now as a twenty one-year-old woman, I am listening to the audiobook. The words are familiar, the landscape an image saved in the back of my mind, the characters are old friends stepping back into my life to give me a hug and offer me solace from my life. I will always love Gone With the Windand I will always be grateful to the book and Margaret Mitchell for giving me a place in the literary world to stop and forget my worries. Because, as Scarlett says, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
Rachel McCullen, an English major and junior at the University of Mount Olive was born and raised right here in Mount Olive, N.C. She has been reading and writing her whole life and recently has begun her own blog (afarmgirlsfancy.wordpress.com). This is her first time being published.