Personal Reflections On 'Gone With The Wind'

Two authors, Jesmyn Ward and Jodi Picoult, explain how Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind changed their lives as teenagers.

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The novel "Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell is an American classic. As with any great book, it inspires wildly different responses from readers. It's also the subject of our latest PG-13, where we hear from authors about the books that introduced them to the world of adult ideas.

Fittingly, we have not one but two different reactions to "Gone with the Wind" from two writers. First, an appreciation. When she was a kid, Jodi Picoult fell in love with the book, especially the romance between its central characters, Scarlett and Rhett.

JODI PICOULT: I was one of those kids, always had a book in my hand, always fell asleep reading. So you can imagine my shock when I brought home a book by Judy Blume and my mother said I wasn't allowed to read it. What gives? It's the sex, my mom said. Well, what's a teenager to do? I went back to the library and found a different book that was all about relationships, but I made sure to pick one my mother couldn't possibly say no to - a classic. And that was the beginning of my literary love affair with "Gone with the Wind."

Scarlett O'Hara was nothing like me. She was a flirt. She was manipulative right from that first time she throws a tantrum over Ashley and Rhett Butler happened to see it. I memorized that entire scene, and I recited it all the time: Sir, you are no gentleman, and you, miss, are no lady. Scarlett was this little girl imagining herself as a woman. She's really just a teenager who's not ready for the complexities of relationships but thinks she's an expert. Sound familiar?

There is sex in "Gone with the Wind," but it happens between the lines. And in the end, I don't even think that's what I wanted anyway. I wanted to learn about relationships and how they could be romantic but also bitter and devastating. I don't think I could have picked a better book. For the record? I still have never read that Judy Blume book, but I've read and reread "Gone with the Wind" a half a dozen times.

BLOCK: That's Jodi Picoult talking about how she discovered "Gone with the Wind." Now to author Jesmyn Ward who also read the book when she was young knowing it was supposed to be a classic, but she had a different reaction.

JESMYN WARD: I was not impressed. I felt bad for Rhett that he fell in love with an idiot like Scarlett. She was conniving and dimwitted, and what was she doing chasing Ashley for the whole book? I couldn't believe Mammy would stay at the plantation after she was free. And when I got to the part where Scarlett has to drive through Shantytown, my brain broke. I was dimly aware then that authors made choices. When I read the comparisons of black people to animals, I wondered: Did Margaret Mitchell really see us like this? Do readers see us this way?

When I finished the book and returned it to the library, I was different, angry, lonely. Years later, I reconnected with a former classmate. She told me she remembered that "Gone with the Wind" had been my favorite book in seventh grade. Really? I remember being intrigued and pretty horrified. Was "Gone with the Wind" my favorite book as a teenager? No. Was it one that taught me about America, about the South, about how others saw me? Was it one that made me want to resist those expectations and become something more? Absolutely yes.

BLOCK: That's Jesmyn Ward, author of "Salvage the Bones," and earlier, we heard from Jodi Picoult, author of "Between the Lines." Both with their teenage takes on "Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell.

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Two Authors Remember A Classic

  • Jodi Picoult

    Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone With the Wind was published 75 years ago this month. A 1936 promotional poster for the book shows heroine Scarlett O'Hara running through the streets as Atlanta burns.
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    All hopeless romantics must at some point face the fact: Relationships are intense. They can be painful. Author Jodi Picoult learned that lesson reading Gone With the Wind. In this essay she explains how the book transformed her teenage mind, especially when it came to relationships.

  • Jesmyn Ward

    In mourning: Scarlett broods while Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) woos.
    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    It happens sometimes that you pick up a classic book expecting too see what all the fuss is about, and you're disappointed. Author Jesmyn Ward had that reaction to Gone With the Wind. In this essay she explains why she didn't love it.

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