An Open Letter to Margaret Mitchell
Dear Margaret Mitchell,
If you had asked me what my favorite subject was at any point in my education, I would have proudly told you “History”. I found it fascinating. All the dates and battles and events that make up our nation’s past. History has never failed to intrigue and delight me.
I have read so many books over the last sixteen years. In my mind, I have traveled to India and outer space and the ruins of Ancient Rome. But it always felt like a game to me. A fun and thrilling adventure of my mind. I would dive into a book and be engrossed for hours, but always manage to snap out if it when my mom called me for supper or it came time to switch off the lights. I was comfortable with books and knew what it meant to have an imagination. I thought of them all as merely entertaining works of fiction. That all changed the first time I read your book “Gone with the Wind”.
To tell the truth, I did have reservations about reading it. My first issue was the size. At a whopping six hundred eighty-nine pages, with print so tiny my eyes felt strained, “Gone with the Wind” hardly seemed like my cup of tea. And then there was also the content. Over six hundred pages on the Civil War? It sounded a bit tedious and boring, to tell the truth. All guns and soldiers. Where were the magic carpet rides? The fairies and ogres and elephants?
Nevertheless, something made me pick up that book and begin reading it anyway. The first sentence made me smile. “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” I immediately fell for the not-quite-beautiful, fiery heroine. She seemed so real, her faults laid completely bare. I didn’t shut the book after ten pages, like I’d been planning. Instead, I kept reading. And reading. And reading.
I remember that I started “Gone with the Wind” on a Saturday morning. And that I sat in my room all day, my nose buried in that massive volume. By Sunday afternoon, I was finished. With all six hundred and eighty-nine pages.
I closed that book a different person than when I opened it. The salty taste of tears was still lingering on my lips. For a while, all I could do was sit on my bed and think. A book had never done this to me before. My heart felt broken over all that I had read. The pain, the suffering. I had always thought of history as words in a book. Letters on a page. Something that had happened long ago to figments of people, and had nothing to do with me or my life. Now I realized I was wrong.
So many people were affected by the events that shaped our nation. The wars, the battles, the fighting. Those didn’t happen to characters in a book or words in a history lesson. They happened to teenagers like me. To parents like mine. Real people lived and loved and suffered, only to have their years of toil and work fade into the dusty spines of schoolbooks and homework assignments.
After I finished reading “Gone with the Wind” I remember my mom calling me out of my room to practice my piano. I sat on the wooden bench and lifted my hands to the keys. I didn’t know what to play. Everything seemed too happy—too irreverent. I remembered a song I had memorized not long ago. It was a funeral march. I played the song by memory, the notes slow and mournful. And I cried. I cried for the legacy that you had portrayed in your book, Ms. Mitchell. An entire civilization, gone with the wind.
Since reading your book, I have had a new appreciation of my country’s past. I have spent a lot of time thinking about all the lives that were lost to make this nation what it is today. The mistakes and successes and failures that all work together to create a portrait of life and memories. Your book opened my eyes to the joys and sufferings of real people. I don’t care now that Scarlett and Rhett and Ashley were all characters in a book. They no longer seem like figments of my imagination, but representatives of my nation’s history. I thank you for that.