George Will

Scarlett certainly was no sentimentalist. When Rhett Butler, the embodiment of unapologetic realism, asks her if she ever thinks ``of anything but money,'' she replies with words that struck a chord with a nation that had heard quite enough of the song ``Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?'': ``No. ... I've found out that money is the most important thing in the world and, as God is my witness, I don't ever intend to be without it again.''

In 1936, The Washington Post reviewer called the novel ``unsurpassed in the whole of American writing,'' which was a bit strong, considering what Hawthorne, Melville, Twain and Wharton had produced. What could, however, accurately have been said of ``Gone With the Wind'' was that it was the most cinematic novel yet written in America. A month after it was published, $50,000 was paid for the rights to turn it into the movie that has grossed (adjusted for ticket-price inflation) a record $3.8 billion worldwide.

Like another Southern woman who wrote a novel about her region, a novel that is still in print nearly half a century later and that became a classic movie (Harper Lee, ``To Kill a Mockingbird,'' published in 1960), Mitchell never wrote another. In 1949, at age 48, she was killed by a taxi driven by a drunk in Atlanta, which was already on its way to becoming the symbol of the New South.

Mitchell had been born in 1900, just 35 years after Appomattox and 23 years after Reconstruction ended. Her sensibilities were not what ours are. The novel has passages that cannot be read without cringing. (``Not trust a darky! Scarlett trusted them far more than most white people. ... They still stuck with their white folks and worked much harder than they ever worked in slave times.'') But to read such passages is to be stunned, once again, by the amazing speed with which America has changed for the better. In 1936, in Mitchell's Atlanta, the pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, had a son who was 7.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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