February 1st, 2011, 8:00 pm

Culinary Book of the Week: Gone with the Wind

My good friends know that I have problems with Gone With the Wind. Is it a great book? Absolutely, because we get a complicated heroine who wins our sympathy, at least in the book, a Civil War that disrupts her life and that of those around her, and a hypnotic style that draws us in right to the very conclusion. Which can be a problem if your gorgeous copy of the book keeps threatening to split in two like the Titanic, but I digress.

The book's high quality, however, also belies its weakness; given that the characters are white middle to upper-class Southerners, they have a very stereotypical view of African Americans, slavery, and the Freedmen's Bureau. This would be passable given the historical context, but Margaret Mitchell crossed the line by showing slaves that were actually stupid and lazy, not to mention downright arrogant. To add insult to injury, these slaves were included in the film, submissive character and all.

Gone is also great in its description of food, particularly in the last half. Scarlett and her family starves after a pre-Civil War life of sumptuous barbecues, giving a description of the yams they find that haven't been burned to the ground. Rhett then provides Scarlett with an assortment of wines and luxurious New Orleans foods after marrying her, including Gumboes and "meringues filled with chocolate," all of which provides a soft contrast to Scarlett's alcoholic tendencies, even when pregnant. I don't advocate drinking to avoid stress, and it becomes nightmarish in mere paragraphs, but the good descriptions help the reader deal with the tragic drama. And that's why Gone With the Wind is a culinary book.

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