Nothing is permanent in the world, so adapting then moving forward is the only way to survive. This is a dreadful yet indisputable reality that Gone with the Wind communicates. The changing of political and social environment, wealth, and affection are insurmountable and unstoppable. Scarlett, who is indomitable, resilient, and adaptive, moves forward without looking back. In contrast, the inflexible, delicate, and cowardice Ashley can not let go of his idealist past and gets lots in the new South after the Civil War.
The major change in the book is the Civil War, which resulted in the impoverishment, suffering, and suppression of the Southern whites. Before the war, Southern plantation owners lived noble and extravagant lives based on their lucrative cash crop plantations and exploitation of slaves. They perceived themselves as economically strong and socially superior to the Yankees. However, the shortage of weapons, food, and man resources during the war plummeted Southerner’s confidence and pride. The South lost its lands, slaves, people, and sovereignty. Possessions were pillaged and burned; people were maimed and killed; all rights to vote and rule the provisions were lost. But the radical change of the political dynamic of America did not stop with the South staying defeated and crestfallen. To restore their rights and authority, the chivalrous Southern survivors engaged in political gatherings and activities to regain control of the Southern territories. Eventually, they elected a Democratic governor of Georgia. In this case, there isn’t a permanent political and social structure or authority.
Another profound change is depicted in terms of human affection. Scarlett loved Ashley devotedly and persistently for half of her life regardless of her marrying three times to three men that truly cared for her. Her affection was so deep that the fear of God, guiltiness when thinking of her mother, Ellen, and the pressure from social criticism all fail to deter Scarlett form pursuing their courtship. However, Scarlett’s love towards Ashley diminished, and her solicitation of him became trivial at the end of the book. “She did not care [Ashley’s opinion of her] because she did not love him” and thought “he was only a childish fancy, no more important really than her spoiled desire for the aquamarine earbobs” (940). The qualities that Scarlett used to perceive as honorable and sublime became traits of cowardice and impotent. Not only does Scarlett changed her opinion of Ashley, but she also grew to love Butler, who she argued with vehemently and hated all the time. Moreover, Scarlett was adamant on the matter of having children. She never took on any responsibility of caring for Wade, hated giving birth to Ella and Bonnie, and refused to have intercourse with Rhett to avoid another pregnancy. But this strong disinclination towards children disappeared when Scarlett had her miscarriage latter. She wanted that child and felt it is “a pang” even in her pain to lose it. Almost all the characters changed their affections as time passes.
The changes in living conditions, social status, and relationships with acquaintances all had profound impacts on the characters in the book by breaking down their world views ad challenging their beliefs. However, some people are like ripe buckwheats that “bends” and “springs up almost as straight and strong as before” (670). They endured and moved on with hope and aspiration. Some others are like ripped wheat that breaks and never recovers. They futilely attempted to preserve the past instead of proactively adapting to the new reality. Scarlett and Ashley exemplify these two kinds of people perfectly. Just as Ashey states, “[Scarlett has] come swiftly, directly, and [he], slowly and reluctantly.” (854). Ashley was “winnowed out” because, unable to accept and adapt, he “preferred shadows and dreams” over reality and felt “out of place in the world” (498). His confession at the end of the book also manifests his inability to survive on his own: “All of the strength I ever had is gone with [Melanie]” (938). Ashley always relied on Scarlett and Melanie, and Melanie’s death completely crushed all his desire and strength to live. In contrast, despite loving Melanie and Butler deeply, Scarlett accrued the courage and hope to continue with her life when Melanie passed away and Rhett left her. She resiliently and unwaveringly holds on to the powerful belief that “tomorrow is another day” and “I can stand it then” (959).
Changing is the only thing that is permanent in this world. People that adapt and persist in fighting with hope and courage can thrive. Those who deny reality and only lament for the past are likely to be winnowed out and crushed by the wheels of history.
- Mitchell, Margaret, 1900-1949. Gone With the Wind. New York: Macmillan, 1936.