The sales of Margaret Mitchell's novel in the summer of 1936, at the virtually unprecedented price of three dollars, reached about one million by the end of December. The book was a bestseller by the time reviews began to appear in national magazines. Herschel Brickell, a critic for the New York Evening Post, lauded Mitchell for the way she "tosses out the window all the thousands of technical tricks our novelists have been playing with for the past twenty years."
Ralph Thompson, a book reviewer for The New York Times, was critical of the length of the novel, and wrote in June 1936:
I happen to feel that the book would have been infinitely better had it been edited down to say, 500 pages, but there speaks the harassed daily reviewer as well as the would-be judicious critic. Very nearly every reader will agree, no doubt, that a more disciplined and less prodigal piece of work would have more nearly done justice to the subject-matter.
Racial, ethnicity and social issues
One criticism leveled at Gone with the Wind is for its portrayal of African Americans in the 19th century South. Former field hands during the early days of Reconstruction are described behaving "as creatures of small intelligence might naturally be expected to do. Like monkeys or small children turned loose among treasured objects whose value is beyond their comprehension, they ran wild—either from perverse pleasure in destruction or simply because of their ignorance."
Commenting on this passage of the novel, Jabari Asim, author of The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why, says it is, "one of the more charitable passages in Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell hesitated to blame black "insolence" during Reconstruction solely on "mean niggers," of which, she said, there were few even in slavery days."
It has also been argued that Mitchell downplayed the violent role of the Ku Klux Klan. Bestselling author Pat Conroy, in his preface to a later edition of the novel, describes Mitchell's portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan as having "the same romanticized role it had in The Birth of a Nation and appears to be a benign combination of the Elks Club and a men's equestrian society."
Regarding the historical inaccuracies of the novel, historian Richard N. Current points out:
No doubt it is indeed unfortunate that Gone with the Wind perpetuates many myths about Reconstruction, particularly with respect to blacks. Margaret Mitchell did not originate them and a young novelist can scarcely be faulted for not knowing what the majority of mature, professional historians did not know until many years later.
In Gone with the Wind Mitchell is blind to racial oppression and "the inseparability of race and gender" that defines the southern belle character of Scarlett, according to literary scholar Patricia Yaeger. Yet there are complexities in the way that Mitchell dealt with racial issues. Scarlett was asked by a Yankee woman for advice on who to appoint as a nurse for her children; Scarlett suggested a "darky", much to the disgust of the Yankee woman who was seeking an Irish maid, a "Bridget". African Americans and Irish Americans are treated "in precisely the same way" in Gone with the Wind, writes David O'Connell in his 1996 book, The Irish Roots of Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. Ethnic slurs on the Irish and Irish stereotypes pervade the novel, O'Connell claims, and Scarlett is not an exception to the insults. Irish scholar Geraldine Higgins notes that Jonas Wilkerson labels Scarlett: "you highflying, bogtrotting Irish". Higgins further states the Irish American O'Haras were slaveholders whereas African Americans were held in bondage, therefore the two ethnic groups are not equivalent in the ethnic hierarchy of the novel.
Another criticism of the novel is that it promotes plantation values. Mitchell biographer Marianne Walker, author of Margaret Mitchell & John Marsh: The Love Story Behind Gone with the Wind, is of the opinion that those who believe Gone with the Wind promotes plantation values have not read the book. Walker states it is the popular 1939 film that "promotes a false notion of the Old South". She goes on to add that Mitchell had no involvement in the production of the film.
Speaking on the subject of whether Gone with the Wind should be taught in schools, James Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, says the novel should be taught in schools. Students should be told that Gone with the Wind presents the "wrong" view of slavery, Loewen states. In 1984, an alderman in Waukegan, Illinois challenged the appearance of the book on the reading list of the Waukegan School District on the grounds of "racism" and "unacceptable language". The main complaint was that the racial slur nigger appears repeatedly in the novel. In the same complaint were several other books: The Nigger of the 'Narcissus', Uncle Tom's Cabin, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Awards and recognition
In 1937, Margaret Mitchell received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Gone with the Wind and the second annual National Book Award from the American Booksellers Association. It is the second favorite book by American readers, just behind the Bible, according to a 2008 Harris Poll. The poll found the novel has its strongest following among women, those aged 44 or more, both Southerners and Midwesterners, both whites and Hispanics, and those who have not attended college. Mitchell's novel was also the second favorite book in the U.S. in a 2014 Harris poll with the Bible again number one. The novel is on the list of best-selling books. As of 2010, more than 30 million copies have been printed in the United States and abroad. TIME magazine critics, Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo, included the novel on their list of the 100 best English-Language novels from 1923 to the present (2005). In 2003 the book was listed at number 21 on the BBC's The Big Read poll of the UK's "best-loved novel."