I've read a lot of novels - some ordinary, some extraordinary - but few have left me as spellbound and captivated on completion as 'Gone with the Wind'. The first (and only) novel of Margaret Mitchell, this masterpiece transports you back in time to a completely different world - a world set in the American Civil War of the 19th Century. A world inhabited by the enchanting Rhett Butler, the determined, brave and confused Scarlett O'Hara, the unbelievably sweet, selfless and good natured Melanie Wilkins, the firm and caring Nanny, and many more.
Admittedly, the story lacks pace in the initial few chapters. It takes a while for the reader to get used to the narration style, - which at times uses a level of detail that can test anyone's patience - understand the characters, each of whom is sketched in careful detail, and get into the plot. However, once the stage is reached where the reader is completely at ease with the characters and the setting, the book is quite unputdownable. In particular, the charm of Rhett Butler is sure to conquer any reader. The sheer casualness, blunt frankness, and subtle sarcasm that the character constantly exhibits invariably fascinates the reader and wins the character the reader's fullest admiration.
Other characters, too, have been sketched in a very impressive manner. Scarlett O'Hara, the story's protagonist, a young girl with a fighting spirit and a great level of courage who is shown to be unsure of where her affections lie, is a character whom the readers would both love and hate at the same time. They would love her because the story is narrated primarily from her point of view. Her emotions, her traumas, her struggles, her joys, her sorrows, her frustrations, and her relationships with other people are what the book is mostly about. And, even though she has several shortcomings, Scarlett O'Hara is portrayed as a woman with several admirable qualities. This being the case, the reader cannot help but empathise with her, feel for her, and get to admire her character. The reader would also occasionally hate her, when she does certain things which would violate any moral code.
The other important character in the novel is Melanie Wilkes. Hers is easily the most lovable character in the novel. Rhett Butler rightly describes her as 'a great lady'. Her absolute selflessness, her genuine concern for people around her, the unshakeable trust she has in her husband and in Scarlett, the righteousness she shows in defending Scarlett in her time of difficulty, and the general goodness that she constantly exudes make her an epitome of all that is good in the world. While the possession of all these characteristics might seem a tad incredible, the character itself is portrayed in a way that makes it very real. Indeed, one sometimes thinks how good the world would be if it were inhabited by more people like Melanie.
There are other characters who make an impact, too. The firm Nanny who genuinely cares for Scarlett, the charming but unsure Ashley Wilkes, the strict, unexpressive and caring Ellen (Scarlett's mother), all find a very warm place in the reader's heart.
The plot itself is pretty simple. A young girl loses everything in the Civil War, and fights her way back through its remains. In doing so, she meets a lot of people, and develops a wide range of relationships with them. She loves some, hates some, and manipulates some. It is these struggles and relationships that the story is mostly about. The way it is narrated is what sets this story apart. Emotions are described so vividly that one can imagine the associated scenes with little effort. Characters are sketched in such minute detail that one can write pages about each of them. And the ending is sure to disturb the reader and leave an impact on his mind for a long time.
One can go on and on about the beauty of the novel and the magic spell it casts on the reader. However, for the sake of brevity, I will put it in a nutshell. 'Gone With the Wind' is a classic. It is a piece of masterful work which no lover of fiction would want to miss.