No great shakes as literature, the novel had been dropped on the floor by most literary critics as soon as it dropped in their laps. They thought its love story a bore, its history sectional, its length pretentious, its writing as drab as a bolt of butternut shoddy. The destruction of the South’s civilization in the War between the States, told as the case history of two plantation families, the red-blooded O’Haras and the blue-blooded Wilkeses, had been better told before. The overlapping loves of Scarlett O’Hara for Ashley Wilkes, Rhett Butler for Scarlett O’Hara, could be read in any confession magazine.
But Gone With the Wind was a U. S. Legend. In fact, it was two of them. Legend No. 1 was the only great U. S. war epic the War between the States told from the Southern side. Legend No. 2 was the heroic and unhappy love story of two people who were strong, brutal, brash, realistic, American enough to survive Legend No. 1. Like all good legends, these were told without subtlety, subjective shadings, probings or questionings, its characters were instantly recognizable types. Scarlett’s “I won’t think of it now, I’ll think of it tomorrow” was a catch line. Whatever it was not, Gone With the Wind was a first-rate piece of Americana, and Americans in the mass knew what they wanted before the critics had got through telling them they should not want it.