books to film

Books versus movie: Visual poetry scores over the prose in ‘Gone With the Wind’

A superb cast and a magnificent spectacle elevate Victor Fleming’s film adaptation.

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936) has always been and probably will always be an unavoidable accident for most teenage girls. Immediate reactions are giddiness, a brief cardiac arrest or a shock to the entire nervous system. Permanent after effects lasting well into adulthood include delusion and denial accompanied by waves of nostalgia and sentimentality. Sometimes, there is debilitating blindness.

A Pulitzer Prize winner, Gone with the Wind remains the defiant and politically incorrect “it” hit that never gets called literature even if it occasionally snags the title of “American Classic.” For critics, its message of land being “the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for – worth dying for” doesn’t hold a candle to the message of let’s all-learn-to-grow-up-and-be-fair in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Neither does Mitchell’s book have what it takes for Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (published in the same year) to make it to University reading lists.

Like her lead characters, the shrewd Rhett Butler and the willful Scarlett O’Hara, it would appear that Mitchell frankly didn’t give a damn for her audience as she wrote her magnum opus pasted on the backdrop of the American Civil War. Mitchell maintains a perverse kind of honesty that indirectly roots for apartheid and exploitation (what else is the bid for saving a plantation and “a way of life” all about except eternal slave labour and white supremacy?) insisting on an alternate universe to Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

A suspension of disbelief and acceptance of Gone With the Wind both for what it is (romantic fiction) and what it isn’t (a textbook) makes this bestseller an unforgettable, even if a one-time thorough read. Later, specific episodes and exchanges make for revisits. After all, there aren’t too many teenage girls who can shoot a marauder in the face, are there?

It is impossible to resist the green-eyed Scarlett O’ Hara who lunges out and yanks the reader through her ten-year journey from a simpering teenager to a scheming and manipulative survivor –a woman thrice married, twice widowed and saddled with a family of tag-alongs whom she never deserts. Fighting through all that is unfair in love and war does not need intellect or sensitivity, but gumption, and Mitchell’s enfant terrible has such gumption in spades. There are no apologies for all the other one-dimensional or stereotypical characters. Even though we know whose side Mitchell is on, there is as much comment on the foolishness of the cause as loyalty to it.

Mitchell’s language is vivid and visceral without being simplistic and there is enough detail – right down to taffeta petticoats and lace pantalets – for faithful depiction on screen. There are enough ideas for a soundtrack too – Dixie, Bonnie Blue Flag and popular reels of the South all make it into the text before they flow into Max Steiner’s soundtrack for the screen.


Along with a perfect cast, it is sheer spectacle that works in Victor Fleming’s film adaptation. Jack Cosgrove’s magnificent technique of paint on glass gives us the resplendence of Twelve Oaks and the matte shot of the burning of Atlanta. Other rivetting moments include the sequence of Scarlett searching for Dr Meade in a depot full of injured soldiers, the shadowy silhouettes at the time of Melanie’s childbirth and the chaos of Atlanta under siege. Whether in grandeur or ruin, Walter Plunkett’s costume designs and William Cameron Menzie’s artwork and choice of colour (Menzie was one of the pioneers of storyboards) make for a film of sweep even if not nuance. Sidney Howard’s screenplay, which survived producr David O’Selznick’s interference, cuts out the tedious parts of Mitchell’s text.

Frankly, My Dear (Yale University Press, 2009) by Molly Haskell is an immensely readable book that offers new insight to the verisimilitude of Gone with the Wind. A Southerner herself, Haskell comments dispassionately on Mitchell’s romanticism. Praising Victor Fleming’s film more than Mitchell’s book, Haskell “disentangles the film’s qualities from the confounding issues of misogyny, racism and intellectual snobbery”, Armond White writes in New York Times Book Review. Haskell recounts the hype around the film: David O’Selznick’s struggles with the original director, George Cukor, the hiring, walk-out, breakdown and reinstating of Victor Fleming, Clark Gable’s reluctance to play the sexy and quick-witted Rhett Butler, the manic force of Vivien Leigh who emerged the winner of the long search for the perfect Scarlett O’Hara.


We also learn of the premiere in Atlanta to which “everyone flew down – except Hattie McDaniel and the other blacks in the cast, whose presence in segregated Atlanta was not wanted… Later, a further humiliation: Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to win an Oscar, yet at the Academy Award banquet at Coconut Grove, the white cast members of Gone with the Wind sat together and at a separate table in the rear sat McDaniel, alone with a companion”.

Even a die-hard “Windie” would flinch.

The impetuous, volatile Scarlett O’Hara has survived over 80 years as both a demon queen and a role model. Spoilt, superficial, greedy and coarse, using wile and guile, hating her burdens but never shrugging them off, she is the strong dose of gumption one needs to square ones shoulders and “tote the weary load”. And yes, Vivien Leigh makes a bewitching Scarlett O’Hara.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Children's Day is not for children alone

It’s also a time for adults to revisit their childhood.

Most adults look at childhood wistfully, as a time when the biggest worry was a scraped knee, every adult was a source of chocolate and every fight lasted only till the next playtime. Since time immemorial, children seem to have nailed the art of being joyful, and adults can learn a thing or two about stress-free living from them. Now it’s that time of the year again when children are celebrated for...simply being children, and let it serve as a timely reminder for adults to board that imaginary time machine and revisit their childhood. If you’re unable to unbuckle yourself from your adult seat, here is some inspiration.

Start small, by doodling at the back page of your to-do diary as a throwback to that ancient school tradition. If you’re more confident, you could even start your own comic strip featuring people in your lives. You can caricaturise them or attribute them animal personalities for the sake of humour. Stuck in a boring meeting? Draw your boss with mouse ears or your coffee with radioactive powers. Just make sure you give your colleagues aliases.

Pull a prank, those not resulting in revenue losses of course. Prank calls, creeping up behind someone…pull them out from your memory and watch as everyone has a good laugh. Dress up a little quirky for work. It’s time you tried those colourful ties, or tastefully mismatched socks. Dress as your favourite cartoon characters someday – it’s as easy as choosing a ponytail-style, drawing a scar on your forehead or converting a bath towel into a cape. Even dinner can be full of childish fun. No, you don’t have to eat spinach if you don’t like it. Use the available cutlery and bust out your favourite tunes. Spoons and forks are good enough for any beat and for the rest, count on your voice to belt out any pitch. Better yet, stream the classic cartoons of your childhood instead of binge watching drama or news; they seem even funnier as an adult. If you prefer reading before bedtime, do a reread of your favourite childhood book(s). You’ll be surprised by their timeless wisdom.

A regular day has scope for childhood indulgences in every nook and cranny. While walking down a lane, challenge your friend to a non-stop game of hopscotch till the end of the tiled footpath. If you’re of a petite frame, insist on a ride in the trolley as you about picking items in the supermarket. Challenge your fellow gym goers and trainers to a hula hoop routine, and beat ‘em to it!

Children have an incredible ability to be completely immersed in the moment during play, and acting like one benefits adults too. Just count the moments of precious laughter you will have added to your day in the process. So, take time to indulge yourself and celebrate life with child-like abandon, as the video below shows.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of SBI Life and not by the Scroll editorial team.