Editor’s note: The Angelicum student below showed this essay to a private Catholic school.  They were so impressed that the school teachers used it in writing classes for the entire school to learn how to write an essay.  We post it for our own Angelicum students to see how a good essay at elementary level should come together.  The student below read both Vanity Fair and Gone with the Wind to form the conclusions in the essay.

What Makes a Book Immortal?

 Gone With The Wind is one of the most popular American books of all time, and is generally considered a classic novel. The book Gone With The Wind is set in the Civil War time period. It follows the life of Scarlett O’Hara, from the time she was about seventeen years old until she was nearing middle age and she had three children and had had three husbands. Gone With The Wind was the only book Margaret Mitchell ever wrote. After reading Gone With The Wind, one might think it strange that such a talented and original author like Margaret Mitchell could have been content with writing only one work of literature. Perhaps Margaret Mitchell felt like she had completely expressed herself in the novel. However, seldom does it happen that authors succeed in expressing themselves wholly, early in their writing career, especially if they have original ideas. Originality is self-expression. But did Margaret Mitchell have original ideas? Upon further investigation, the fact yields itself. Gone With The Wind is not an original work of literature.

Gone With The Wind does not contain original ideas because Margaret Mitchell abstracted the main themes and characters in the book from William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair. Margaret Mitchell, in one of her interviews, admitted that Thackeray heavily influenced her and that she had read Vanity Fair. The similarity of the two novels is very striking. They are so similar that it is clear that one of the two authors had to be influenced by the other. Since Vanity Fair was written before Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell must have been the one to be influenced by the other.

In Vanity Fair, the two main characters are Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley. In Gone With The Wind the two contrasting characters are Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Wilkes. Scarlett is a flirty, rebellious Southern belle who thinks that she knows exactly what she wants, exactly similar to Becky Sharp, whose personality suites her name. Melanie Wilkes mirrors Amelia Sedley, in that both are faithful and loyal young ladies, who only wish for simple and happy lives for themselves and their children. Both books follow the contrasting lives of their two main characters as their fortunes rise and fall, and are complicated by love-triangles.    

Vanity Fair is a study and critique on the society of the times in the mid-eighteen hundreds. Gone With The Wind is also an observation on the times but set in the Civil War period. The novels follow the corruptions of nations, due to some mortal fault in the foundation of the government. Another major theme in both novels is how vanity and wealth corrupt people, and ultimately how the only thing that matters is love.

Margaret Mitchell was a clever author, but could not be called a great one, due to her lack of originality. She was gifted at forming the character’s personality. But the character itself was not hers. William Makepeace Thackeray, on the other hand, could be called a great author. He not only knew how to form a character, but he made that character original. Therefore, though Gone With The Wind is not an original work of literature, it may still stand the test of time, because its origin was a great book, and when Vanity Fair is no longer remembered, Gone With The Wind will preserve the immortal character for years to come.