Henry Steele Commager
This novel is the prose to "John Brown's Body," and the theme is the same.
Bury the bygone South,
Bury the minstrel with the honeymouth,
Bury the broadsword virtues of the clan,
wrote Benét, and Mrs. Mitchell takes for her story a similar and familiar text:
As for man, his days are as grass;
As the flower of the field, so he flourisheth
For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone
And the place thereof shall know it no more.
It is the Old South that is gone with the wind, but it is more. It is a way of life and of living, something deeply rooted and genuine and good, something--as the wayward heroine discovers--with "a glamor to it, a perfection and a completeness and a symmetry to it like Grecian art" [p. 529]. Sherman's army is the instrument of destruction, the hurricane, but that is only the superficial explanation. For what destroyed the South that Mrs. Mitchell describes with such tender realism was something from within, a weakness, an irresoluteness, a want of faith that is illustrated in character after character and thrown into sharpest relief by the contrasting virtues of the hero and heroine of the novel. Yet Mrs. Mitchell knows that victory can be purchased too dearly and that fortitude can wrest something from defeat. She knows the rest of the 103d Psalm, and it should be remembered, for it is essential to an understanding of the book:
But the loving kindness of Jehovah is from
everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him,
And his righteousness unto children's children;
To such as keep his covenant.
And to those that remember his precepts to do them.