Just in case you glossed over the title of this post, you should know that it gives away the story. However, I suspect that most people are familiar with the movie, at least. I think it’s pretty difficult to grow up in North America without having seen some parts of it. It’s on television about once a year.
I watched the movie over the last couple of nights to refresh my memory. I picked up the book about a month ago and couldn’t put it down. While reading, I kept trying to remember the movie and wondered at the differences between the two. So, here goes….
The book is much darker than the movie. Mitchell eloquently writes of Scarlett’s thoughts and feelings. They are much more complex and venomous than the movie portrays. For example, in the movie, when Scarlett is going to deliver Melly’s baby, she pauses on the stairway and actually looks concerned for the woman she hates. Not so in the book. As well, Mitchell writes about racial tensions. The book, in fact, was criticized for some of her portrayals of blacks. And she writes of the Klan. In the book, a black man grabs Scarlett when she is driving her buggy past Shantytown. It’s a white man in the movie. In the book, Ashley, Frank, Dr. Meade et al are Klan members so that is why they go to take matters in their own hands after the buggy incident, believing the Yankees will do nothing. Their Klan activities are why the Yankees know about the Shantytown raid. In the movie, Frank mentions he has a “political meeting” as an alibi to Scarlett. But the reference is so weak that if I hadn’t read the novel, I would have missed it. By avoiding any mention of the Klan in the movie, the Yankees’ awareness of the raid seems less plausible.
I also found the escape of Scarlett, Melanie, her baby, and Prissy in the movie to be a little lighter than the book’s description. Prissy definitely gets cuffed by Scarlett more times in the book. The movie makes no mention that Melanie’s baby is starving (because she has no milk) and that’s why finding the cow is such a blessing. There is no rain in the book. I think the movie tried to depict the hopelessness visually with the scene of them (buggy and horse included) hiding from soldiers, under a bridge in the pouring rain.
There are many other darker scenes and relationships in the book. The controversial scene of a drunk Rhett sweeping an angry, uninterested Scarlett off to the bedroom is downplayed in the movie, probably so it looks less like marital rape. Moreover, Scarlett has three children in the book; one from each of her marriages. She has a boy named Wade with Charles, a girl named Ella with Frank, and another girl named Eugenie Victoria (Bonnie Blue) with Rhett. Her horrible parenting—only referred to in the movie by Rhett when he says that cats are better mothers—and lack of love for her children make her a vile character in writing. In the movie, she often looks simply superficial and distracted.
Looking at those finer points may make it sound like the movie doesn’t hold up. It does. It’s actually the best film I’ve seen that was made from a novel. I think some of the darker elements were left out to make it more widely appealing, as well as to avoid controversy.
The movie does an excellent job of compressing events. Here are a couple of examples. Much of Rhett’s and Scarlett’s courtship takes place when they are travelling in carriages. Scarlett and Mrs. Meade are present when Belle Watling gives Melanie money for the hospital. That way Scarlett can immediately see that the prostitute’s gold coins are wrapped in one of Rhett’s handkerchiefs. Also, Gerald O’Hara dies chasing their old Yankee overseer off their property, whereas in the book his accident happens because he’s upset after Sue Ellen (his daughter) tries to have him sign papers proving he’s a Yankee sympathizer. In the book, Scarlett does not witness his death. The only compression in the movie that I didn’t like is Scarlett’s hurried revelation that she is not in love with Ashley – that she was in love with a fantasy of him.
And there are still other differences:
- Many characters, along with Scarlett’s first two children, are cut from the movie, like Will Benteen, a Confederate veteran who helps Scarlett rebuild Tara; Dilcey (Pork’s wife); and Honey Wilkes, whom Charles Hamilton was courting in the book. In the movie, he was courting India before falling in love with and marrying Scarlett.
- In the novel, Scarlett marries Charles the day before Melanie and Ashley marry, which is extremely rude considering the announcing order of the engagements. In the movie, Melanie and Ashley marry before Scarlett and Charles.
- Rhett’s relationship with Belle Watling is sanitized in the movie.
- Rhett’s last words in the novel are: “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” In the film, he adds a “Frankly” to the beginning of them.
- On the night of the Shantytown raid, Melanie reads from David Copperfield in the movie, rather than Les Miserables.
- In the novel, Scarlett gives her ring to The Cause before Melanie follows suit. Melanie makes the offer first in the movie.
Phew. All of that pretty much covers the differences between the book and the movie. I still would choose the book over the movie, but the latter is very good and well worth watching if you’ve somehow missed it.