Rich people hide inside their mansion, isolated from the peasant rabble, and there they sit, surrounded by the luxury of generational wealth, waiting for the end of the world…
I re-read this one at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone was stockpiling groceries and TP… and had to laugh when I came to the part in the novel when the characters burn all the books in the library only to fill their shelves with groceries and TP.
Things change, the more they remain the same…
The Sundial is a dark look at human nature, told through the eyes of Shirley Jackson, and one familiar with her personal history as an affluent West Coast debutant-turned bohemian New Yorker transplanted to rural Vermont will understand Jackson’s casting of the villagers as always ‘other’ — a slightly savage force to be endured, while the highly diverse and at times, hilariously misfit, collection of wealthy characters huddled together inside the mansion maintain their rich comforts… even one crowning themselves as leader in the new world.
The darkly hilarious portrayals of wealth and privilege at the expense of the working class are what make Jackson’s work so powerful; this is beyond a preapocalyptic prepping story, this is a story of the self-declared chosen few and their entitlement, which remains truly terrifying.
I’ve been reading & rereading near annually GWTW since 1996 – AAAAND (big sigh) although I’d argue this is a feminist piece (as women such as firecracker Scarlet, horse loving Mrs. Tarlton, & notorious prostitute Belle) are able to live their lives & earn a living in their own way (although Mrs. T never gets to ride her mare Nellie because she’s too busy taking care of the plantation) — this is an inherently racist book.
All Black characters are described in animalistic or child-like manners, and although Mitchell is careful to give the appearance of kind, benevolent relations between master & slave, this is clearly propaganda for a place that never was.
After the George Floyd riots & calls to remove historic statues celebrating the oppression of Black people, this becomes a book through which one must cautiously tread.
Scarlet, as a privileged white woman, is forced to overcome her socialized gender role expectations (of wealthy plantation daughter) and provide for a family who can no longer care for themselves. She gets here hands dirty, works her @ss off, and understands money is the only thing that will keep her safe. She does whatever it takes to provide that stability. All of this is admirable.
The uncritical depiction of slavery in the South is less so (Blacks depicted remain fiercely devoted to their oppressors) and one questions if Mitchell allows Scarlet to break her bonds, why not of the people she is dependent on as well?
Note: the review & rating is still pretty positive because overall, the book is well-structured, well-paced, and shows a complex array of (white) characters, especially as Scarlett takes on care of those dependent around her, and how she is literally dragged down by their incompetence and failure to adapt with the times. I found the change in Scarlett throughout the novel refreshing — a fall from grace, and reformation, and yet as so many others have mentioned, this novel retains it’s racist core, even in light of its publication (1936) between World Wars.
Margaret Mitchell, having lived on the cusp of racism and genocide for most of her life (born in 1900 to an affluent Southern family), in GWTW it feels like she sought escape from the discomfort of war that surrounded her in immediate life by creating a past that never was.
True psychological horror. The darkness behind suburban affluence is apparent in Hangsaman, as is the privilege behind seemingly homogenous gated communities. The restraints of family and domesticity, loss of identity and self are threaded throughout.
For fans of Shirley Jackson – some of her short stories make reappearances here. Those familiar with Jackson and know her short stories, biography, and ‘The Birds Nest’ (Lizzy) will see many familiar elements skillfully interwoven in this chilling coming of age story about 17 year old Natalie going off to college; which strangely echoes Bennington, where Jackson’s own husband works — and where terrible things happen.
Told at times through such a close and perspective the events unfolding around Natalie may be unclear, but key elements of her life (such as a father/husband figure openly carrying out an extramarital relationship with a neighbour at a garden party while her mother is inside the house and that same mother’s own mental health issues) echo the events in Jackson’s personal life.
One ‘complaint’ is that this novel at times feels like three disparate novellas stuck together; with a distinct part one, two, and three, carrying through the same main character through a disconcerting change in settings and surrounding action with each part being able to stand on its own. Honestly, the opening scenes of the garden party are worth reading as an accompaniment to Jackson’s own life, and the continuing adventures of Natalie going to school carry the reader further into psychological distress.
Themes of darkness, seeking self, and identity throughout. TRIGGER WARNING SA.