Gone With the Wind, Gone too far?
My love for this book was just like Scarlett and Ashley Wilkes. I was head over heels until I realized what I was ignoring all along was crucial.
When I first read Gone with the Wind my senior year of high school, I fell in love with this book. I read all 1037 pages in eight days. After that, I read it again, and nine times after that. I could quote the movie at any given moment. After telling everyone I knew that they should invest in a copy, buying laptop stickers and joining a Facebook fan club, I was a full-blown “Windy”.
I'm more or less ashamed it took me so long to figure out I was missing a key issue with the book. I was completely blind to the whitewashing, white heroism, and the complete inaccurate representation of slavery.
Yes, that's right, I too was brainwashed by Margaret Mitchells Gone with the Wind.
The story starts with pre-Civil War Scarlett, a beautiful, bold, and bratty sixteen-year-old southern belle living her best life on her family's plantation. Then the story turns to discuss the romance between Scarlett and Ashley Wilkes (essentially Scarlett is in love with the boy next door, she finds out he's getting married to his cousin, yeah just roll with it). Then she meets the strikingly handsome Rhett Butler. Long story short there's one huge love triangle.
Even after the first chapter I was intrigued and didn't even think twice about the relationship between the slaves on Scarlett's plantation and Scarlett’s family. As the story continued, I found myself thinking, “was slavery even THAT bad?” it seemed like the slaves in the story were enjoying themselves. There was no whipping or torture like I had seen previously in slave documents. Mammy, Scarlett's personal slave was treated as part of the family. She was almost like a second mother to Scarlett; she could even tell Scarlett what to do without much push back from her master. Even worse as the south and north began to fight, I began to side with the south. I felt bad for Scarlett when the Yankees took her belongings and burned her city. After all the south were people too.
I went on a while telling people that the book changed my life. I told people that it opened my eyes to the Civil War from the side of the south. I wanted to be just like Scarlett, headstrong, brave, and stubborn. I also wanted my very own Rhett Butler. It wasn't until my freshman year of college that I started to discover I was completely wrong about this book.
This is not the reality of slavery. This book does one fine job romanticizing history.
My question then became, should we leave Gone with the Wind in libraries and in theaters, even if it is an inaccurate representation of slavery?
The problem is not that Gone with the Wind solely exists, it’s that many people only know the American Civil War and Slavery from this story. Many readers think that Gone with the Wind is a work of non-fiction, where in reality Gone with the Wind is pure fiction.
People who have experienced events personally are usually the best at telling their story and assigning meaning. Those who have no personal connection to the issue can only interpret how those who lived through this would feel. Gone with the Wind was written by a white woman with no personal connection to slavery. Therefore, she has no credibility to describe slavery as a joyous situation between an enslaved person and master.
Many people love Gone with the Wind because of its watered down, romanticized version of slavery and historical events. For example, historically, Sherman’s march to the Sea was one of the most devastating chapters of the American Civil war. Union soldiers marched their way through Georgia setting fire to cities along the way. There was no mercy for citizens of the south. Southern citizens, young, old, rich, and poor all felt the wrath of the Union soldiers. This created a foothold for the North and ultimately was one of the reasons for the Norths victory.
The burring of Atlanta as portrayed in the book, was the climax. Scarlett is stranded in Atlanta as the Union soldiers’ approach with torches. Melanie, her best friend is in the middle of giving birth, with no help from a midwife or doctor, and back home at Tara, Scarlett’s mother is dying. Readers feel this sense of sympathy for the O’Hara’s
We neglect to comprehend that this is an untrue version of the truth. The story also has a handful of inaccuracies regarding the roles of the house slave.
Mammy, Scarlets and the family’s house slave was portrayed as this second addition to the family. There Mammy was almost a second mother to Scarlett because her biological mother was too busy dealing with other southern belle responsibilities to discipline her children. In many times throughout the book; Mammy yells at Scarlett for being a brat, being “white trash”, or being too flirtatious. It was made to look like Mammy was not only a mother to scarlet but also an equal to her. At one point in the story, Mammy flat out tells Rhett Butler (a rich white man) that she doesn’t like him one bit. This is completely inaccurate to the truths of being a house slave at the time. This quote originally published in “Gale Library of Daily Life: American Slavery”, and then published on Encyolpedia.com, explains the harsh realities of being a house slave.
“The life of a house servant was often harsh and demeaning. Women house servants, in particular, were both desired and routinely raped by the plantation owner. Because they lived in close proximity to the master’s family, the house servant was naturally absorbed into its many social conflicts. The master’s desire for a slave mistress caused severe problems if he was married. In many cases, the mistress of the house resented the presence of female house servants. Women house servants served as a constant reminder of marital infidelity. In response, mistresses would often abuse their female house servants physically by slapping their faces, boxing their ears, and flogging.”
The only real accurate detail in regards to the relationship between master and slave is the relationship between Prissy and Scarlett. Prissy, a young enslaved girl is the daughter of two well-respected slaves on the plantation. The O’hara’s were going to sell Prissy off due to her lack of intelligence but, the parents begged the O’hara’s to let them keep their baby. The O’Hara’s agreed reluctantly. Frequently in the novel and in the movie, Prissy is referred to as a “simple-minded darkie”. That, as well as negro, and darkie, are used throughout the story.
Then I thought back to my original question. Should this book and movie still be allowed to show in movie theaters around the nation, and be allowed in libraries nationwide? Even now in 2019, we all see the news of innocent people of color being arrested, or even shot for minor offenses. This as well as the rise of the white supremacist movement and words of our president, now more than ever we need to reflect on why the injustice in this country is not getting any better.
As I began my research, I came across this opinion article in the Washington Times. Alyssa Rosenberg, the author claimed that thought the book is racist, “it is one confederate monument that is worth keeping.”
She explains that people do not read or watch Gone with the Wind to get a history lesson.
“The truth is, there’s more to “Gone With the Wind” than its stereotypes”
The problem is that many Americans only know slavery as what is portrayed in Gone with the Wind. As much as people push back saying that it is more about the romance than the history, I know firsthand how the book shapes your meaning of history.
Then I came across this article. This was the article that changed my views completely.
This article was published in The Southern Literary Journal. “Gone with the Wind” as Vulgar language” by Floyd Watkins explains that we should not support Gone with the Wind regardless of the circumstances. He questions how if we can’t support slavery and we know it is wrong, then how can we support novels and rhetoric that does just that.
“ But all the errors of Gone with the Wind are not of omission. Much in the novel is bad, false to the facts of rural and Southern life particularly, false to history, and, worst of all, false to human nature.”
When I first started to discover that this book had flaws, I thought of the book similarly to how I would view a racist grandparent. Grandmas and Grandpas grew up in a different time. They may say some things that might not fly in today’s society.
As much as they have flaws, you love them and accept it as just a part of who they are. After all, they don’t know any better right? Wrong.
However yet again I was wrong, this story has flaws that should not be accepted or ignored. This story does not have the capability to change which makes it all the more dangerous.
Gone with the Wind will never really go away. You can’t just take it off library shelves and expect it to shrivel up and die. Besides, it has already done plenty of damage. Some people frankly don’t give a damn if the story is racist or not. My hope for the future is for those who read or watch the story to understand that this is not the reality of the civil war or reality of those who were enslaved. Throwing a huge disclaimer up before the movie starts would be nice, but isn’t going to happen. Readers or the audience needs to be able to generate that disclaimer for themselves. I hope others can read the book and be able to fact check, something I wish I would have done a long time ago. In all seriousness, it’s time to do something more than just say sorry about this racist novel. Nobody can say it better than Rhett Butler himself. “My darling you’re such a child, you think by saying ‘I’m Sorry’ all the past can be corrected”.