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Sentimentality - Illusion or inspiration?
Motimer J. Adler once said: “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.” This raises the question if purely descriptive, real and “true” writing can evoke such deep feelings in the reader or if highlighting features in fictional representations and thus creating another “sentimental” reality is what makes writing a great piece of art. Margaret Mitchells work “Gone with the wind “ takes the reader to the lost era of southern grandeur, plantations and grand festivities. In describing this time with a sense of longing and nostalgia out of Scarlett O’Hara’s view, Mitchell idealizes this home and the time of slavery and oppression for a part of the population of the United States. But these idealizations serve to evoke feelings of greatness and longing, and thus enable the reader to feel the grief and despair at the loss of it with the female protagonist. It may be true that through idealizing this time a false reality is created and sentimentalists seek consolation by believing these false realities. Sometimes sentimentalists may want to evoke certain emotions, maintain an illusion and thus entertain highlighted thoughts about an object or a time. But if we rule the commitment of presenting the truth of reality higher than the feelings and pleasures of the audience, the value of aesthetic perfection and escapism, then many, what most people consider, great works of art would lose their groundwork for this categorization. Through evaluating a famous novel by Margaret Mitchell we will find that the terms “great” and “sentimental” are not mutually exclusive but that sentimentality is a necessary feature and a source of inspiration to contribute to a literary masterpiece like “Gone with the wind.”
The main idea of sentimentality in Antony Saviles sense involves the evocation of pleasing emotions such as pity, love or affection in the sentimentalist. These emotional responses are in turn based on a selective, false-colored view of what they respond to. The objects of our emotional response are presented in an idealized light as “pure, noble, heroic, vulnerable, innocent, etc.” Thus when Scarlett O´Hara loses her home and the security of the “Old South”, the reader may feel empathy for the main character. This empathy has to be described as sentimental because this emotion can only be enjoyable for the reader if they idealize the antebellum South as it is done in the book. The southern lifestyle is depicted from the view of the aristocratic class where Southern planters were kings of their small realms, believing a system to be the economically most successful and the morally correct way to govern a society in which all the slaves were happy, childlike subjects. For instance the house slaves like Mammy and Pork are presented to the reader as doting on their masters and in turn are welcomed as part of the family. In the book all slaves are treated well by their masters. This idealization suppresses the historical reality in which the state of the poor masses is poor the treatment of the black slaves was mostly abusing.
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