The Dissatisfying Resolution of Gone with the Wind

“All great literature (and all great storytelling) has two elements: conflict and resolution.”

Dr. B already had my attention, but when he started in on this, I couldn’t wait to hear more.  I was sitting in the first class meeting of my first graduate class, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t began working on my master’s degree sooner. This was where I belonged.  This was where I felt connected to people like me.  This was the place that I could finally talk seriously about books.

He continued, “Resolutions are found to be satisfying by large numbers of people.”

Hmmm.  I could see that.  But wait!  What about all of the books I found to be dissatisfying.  The class agreed with my thoughts and we all began naming what we thought were exceptions.  He denied every suggestion, explaining that it would still be considered a satisfying ending.

I chimed in.  “What about Gone with the Wind?” At this he chuckled, but maintained his theory, even about this book.  I contended that Scarlett being so thickheaded and Rhett declaring that he did not give a damn was not satisfying to me.  Smiling through his thick beard, Dr. B explained that large numbers of people disagreed with me.

And he’s right.  The book, published in 1936, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.  (It’s also number 21 on the BBC book list.)  There are over a hundred printings of the first edition, and the novel has sold over 28 million copies as of the 1990s.  It received praise in the popular presses and spent 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.   There was some criticism from literary critics, particularly Bernard DeVoto.  However, the popular success of the novel tells us that the overall story, including that darned resolution, is satisfying.

I have to admit that I, too, enjoyed the novel.  It is roughly a thousand pages and took a few weeks to read, but I lost myself in the world of the south, wondering what would happen next, whose lives would be changed forever, and when Scarlett would never go hungry again.  Every twist and turn of the plot and the changing of the years held my attention.  I alternately hated Scarlett and loved her, reprimanded her and cheered for her.  I found myself swooning over Rhett.

But I was not satisfied.  He could not just turn his back on her, although she was a difficult minx with too much fiery passion and a likely personality disorder.  She was still the heroine, and they still had a life to keep building together.  How could Rhett abandon her?  Was it the grief?

I do not know what it is like to lose a child, but I do suppose it would wreak havoc on a marriage.  Their little Bonnie Blue name was the light and joy of Rhett’s life, and likely one of the reasons he put up with Scarlett’s difficult nature.  Of course he lost his will to continue fighting, living so tumultuously.  He’d seen death in the preceding years of the war, death that counted for nearly nothing once it all finished.  Bonnie’s innocent death, the result of a ridiculous accident, became too much for him to handle.  Their disloyalty to one another certainly didn’t help the situation, either.

So, because of my dissatisfaction, I turned eagerly to Scarlett (1991) by Alexandra Ripley.  I knew that this author couldn’t possibly live up to Mitchell’s storytelling abilities, nor could she really tell the true story, but whatever she had to write I wanted to read.  I wanted to escape back into the world of Rhett and Scarlett and suspend my belief that Mitchell’s resolution had been the correct one.  I wanted an alternate reality.  I guess I was seeking a fix.

Big disappointment.  Of course, Ripley puts Rhett and Scarlett back together.  In Ireland.  Really?  Ireland?  Of course there is conflict and tension that is ultimately resolved through connection and romance.  But it was all too much.  I finished the book, but I was left feeling hollow and worse that before.  This romance novel constructed out of the more realistic world I had enjoyed so much at Mitchell’s hands, had let me down.  I guess fixes always do that.

What’s your take on Gone with the Wind?  Are you satisfied with the ending?  How would you rewrite it?