You probably don’t have it marked on your calendar, but this month, the book Gone with the Wind turned 75. Calendar or no, it’s been hard to avoid; I’ve come across several blogs and magazines that have taken the opportunity to talk about about how awful the book is, in both its style and content.
At one point people’s unhappiness with Scarlett and Rhett would have surprised me, because I first read Gone with the Wind when I was 12. I had never read a story where the heroine was not only unkind and selfish but altogether quite unlikeable, and yet somehow admirable too. Until that point, my understanding of heroes was that they must be wholly pure characters who triumphed without ever dirtying their hands or compromising their morals. Cinderella. Nancy Drew. Aslan. Even Tolkien’s hobbits seemed notably heroic for the qualities they lacked – ambition, greed, arrogance – rather than traits they possessed.
All of these characters were heroic in their goodness and restraint. They did not steal husbands, they did not shoot people and they weren’t selfish, all of which Mitchell’s Scarlett did, and was. But in the end, in Mitchell’s world it was the good woman who died, and the bad one who lived, though we understood she would live alone and unloved.
I have since read many, many books with characters who are sometimes admirable but seldom likeable, and who live their lives in shades of gray. But this was the first, and it had an effect on me. So years later, when I studied the book in a university English class, I was surprised to find that my perceptions of it were quite different than those my 12-year-old self, who had been far more captivated by the individual wearing the drapes and rooster feathers than she was by issues of race and racism.
I was thinking about this when I came across another article about the Higher Ed bubble debate, which essentially argues that too many people are going into debt in order to go to university or achieve a higher credential.
Now, many people have argued eloquently on both sides of the arguement, but for my part, Scarlett and Mami are the best examples I know for why people should go to university if they’re inclined to. I can’t think of anyplace else where you’ll be so thoroughly exposed to different thoughts, ideas and opinions than the rest of your life and social circle affords.
Some of these ideas can change the way you view the world. Some of them can be uncomfortable. The Brazilian film City of God haunts me to this day, and had it not been on the syllabus, I never would have watched it. I certainly didn’t enjoy it and I can’t say what precisely I learned much from it, but I do know my life would be less rich for it. School brings these sorts of experiences to your doorstep, and job prospects and a higher income aside, I wouldn’t trade this exposure for anything.
I wonder if anyone has had a similar experience in school. What have you encountered in your career as a student that has affected you – was it a book? A professor? A concept? I’d love to know.