Has literature ever given us a more indulgent, self-absorbed character than Scarlett O'Hara?
Upon finishing Margaret Mitchell's novel, I found myself surprised and saddened. Because the story gained and retains such popularity, I assumed there must be a happy ending! I was wrong.
Though Scarlett endures multiple hardships and tragedies, in the end, she remains largely unchanged by them. She is somewhat stronger and more self-sufficient, but she is still alone and without understanding of herself or others. I held out until the bitter end, anticipating that "Aha!" moment when Scarlett would grasp what it means to love and be loved, but the author does not allow us the luxury of that resolution. She does leave us with a very slight hope that perhaps...just perhaps...she is on the verge of figuring things out.
Mitchell creates a whole host of fascinating characters, most of whom are indelibly flawed but don't realize it. The only one who sees himself clearly - Rhett Butler - too readily embraces and even flaunts his flaws. Yet he arouses our sympathies in a way the ruthless Scarlett does not.
The narrative is compelling enough that the nearly 800 pages passed easily and I found myself longing for a sequel, which Mitchell never provided. Apparently, by the time she finished this novel, she was weary of her characters and in spite of great success and many supplications, she refused to take them up again to continue their story.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I definitely recommend it! For a much more thorough and academic review, read this article, which offers more detailed analysis of the literary and historical issues surrounding the novel.
NOTE: I have not watched the movie. After viewing a couple of clips on YouTube I don't think I will bother. The portrayals of both Rhett and Scarlett seemed much more flippant and less complex than they had been in my imagination and I wasn't willing to relinquish my vision of them!