I am working with a lawyer who grew up, and lives, in California, virtually her entire life in LA, and who attended undergrad at UC Berkeley as an English literature major. She has never lived in the South. Over lunch recently in LA we were talking about our favorite books, etc. To my great surprise, she said Gone with the Wind (by Margaret Mitchell) is one of the books she most frequently has re-read over the years.
I was shocked. I asked “why”? I told her I had never read it, and candidly never had an interest in reading it. I thought Gone with the Wind was just a simple, overly-long, southern romantic novel. To the contrary, her response was that Gone with the Wind conveys more powerfully than most any other book she has read the difference between those who survive and those who do not survive, and the dimensions of that distinction.
I am now one-third into reading Gone with the Wind, and admit I was greatly mistaken, narrow-minded, and uninformed about this brilliant Margaret Mitchell novel.
This blog is merely to convey my recent reaction to one extremely powerful passage from Gone with the Wind, as I state further below. [Mitchell was a phenomenal writer; there are dozens of other such passages that struck me very powerfully.]
But, let me first clear the air in stating Gone with the Wind very effectively conveys the broader, tragic, and costly narrow-minded ignorance of the South in its Civil War opposition to the abolition of slavery. Also, Gone with the Wind is the only portrayal of the horror of war that took place in the geographic area I know so well, Atlanta. No doubt, wars that have taken place elsewhere are no less tragic, but reading Gone with the Wind as it took place in Atlanta, with Americans killing other Americans, gives me a powerfully vicarious extra-dimension, that I have never previously experienced.
Now my primary blog point. And, this is a spoiler if you plan for the first time to read Gone with the Wind. The excerpt below from Gone with the Wind is after Scarlett O’Hara returns to her home “Tara”, in Jonesboro, Georgia, after General Sherman overtook Atlanta. She is 19. Her mother Ellen died the day before Scarlett makes her arduous journey back from Atlanta to Tara. I purposely, so as not to expand this spoiler, do not detail what events lead Scarlett up to her following internal dialogue, as she pondered her horrific, changed world:
Nothing her mother [Ellen] had taught her [Scarlett] was of any value whatsoever now and Scarlett’s heart was sore and puzzled. It did not occur to her that Ellen could not have foreseen the collapse of the civilization in which she raised her daughters, could not have anticipated the disappearing of the places in society for which she trained them so well. It did not occur to her that Ellen had looked down a vista of placid future years, all like the uneventful years of her own life, when she had taught her to be gentle and gracious, honorable and kind, modest and truthful. Life treated women well when they had learned those lessons, said Ellen. Scarlett thought in despair: “Nothing, no, nothing, she taught me is of any help to me! What good will kindness do me now? What value is gentleness? Better that I’d learned to plow . . . .
Oh, Mother, you were wrong!” She did not stop to think that Ellen’s ordered world was gone and a brutal world had taken its place, a world wherein every standard, every value had changed. She only saw, or thought she saw, that her mother had been wrong, and she changed swiftly to meet this new world for which she was not prepared.
Excerpt from Gone with the Wind (Chapter 25) [I added the bolding].
So, why do I like the above excerpt enough to include it in this blog post? I will not bore you with a long-winded explanation. But, I state two reasons. One, in my view Scarlett arrives at the correct realization that the world is not simply some nice, loving, everyone-should-be-good, kumbaya platitude. This platitude in my view, generally from parents, schools, religious organizations, those already holding the upper hand, is too frequently and easily expressed, with a silent denial of the other side of life (which Scarlett is forced to observe and accept). As a father of daughters, I also believe girls — to their longer-term detriment — are expected to buy-into this little nice, neat platitude as an unfortunate goal so as to “go-along to get-along”.
Two. This point goes to why I enjoy being a lawyer. With a realistic acknowledgment that the world is not simply made up of positive, mutually loving, lack-of-self-interest elements, my primary goal is to help level the playing field for my clients as to the other negative side of the coin, especially when the other party greatly overextends its own self-interest, power, advantage, etc. Also, from a preventive perspective, I find many clients end up with costly litigation or other legal problems simply because they signed documents, or agreed to inequitable terms or circumstances, or failed to object to situations, on the notion that they did not want the other side to get mad, or they assumed the other side was being fair and equitable, etc.
Finally, the more-balanced conclusion Scarlett expresses above, in my view, will add to her longer-term happiness and response to life, even though she has to dismiss the fairy-tale notion of a kumbaya world. A more realistic, and balanced, acceptance of both the good and bad elements of life is akin to the comfort of knowing you have on your seatbelt. Realistically take into account the worst, but hope for the best.