Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 1, 2006

Gone With the Wind

Filed under: Film,racism — louisproyect @ 5:17 pm

Earlier in the month I caught a few minutes of “Gone With the Wind,” a film I had only seen once before in the 1950s with my parents, when I was about 12 years old or so. I only remembered two things. One was the long tracking shot of the wounded Confederate soldiers in Atlanta that was meant to evoke pity. The other was the newly impoverished Scarlett O’Hara eating radishes plucked from the ground and vowing never to be poor again. I imagine that in 1957, this scene might have resonated with my parents who had vivid memories of going without during the Great Depression. Such is the troubled legacy of a film that can make such Jewish working liberals and Americans from all backgrounds feel sorry for slave-owners at the very time the Civil Rights movement was emerging.

Of course that excludes Black people who would have recoiled in disgust at the Stepin Fetchit images contained in the film. This was just as true in the 1930s as it was in the 1950s.

It is a mystery why this racist chestnut does not get the boot that “Birth of a Nation” did long ago. Such racist tripe is really the purview of film school seminars, along with Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will.”

Upon receiving a Supporting Actor Academy Award last year for his performance in “Syriana,” George Clooney said:

We’re the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn’t really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I’m proud to be a part of this Academy. Proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch. And I thank you so much for this.

This prompted Newsday’s Les Payne to comment:

While McDaniel’s “GWTW” role may well have reassured whites, it outraged blacks. They lambasted her role as offensive when protesting the film’s premiere in Los Angeles and its showing in Chicago and New York, according to AMC’s film biography, “Beyond Tara: The Extraordinary Life of Hattie McDaniel.” The late actress Nell Carter, interviewed in the film, describes a Hollywood of the ’40s that slavishly cast black actors “as African savages, singing slaves and domestics.”

In real life, actress McDaniel traded group values for personal gain. “I’d rather play a maid and make $700 a week, than be a maid for $7,” she said. Occasionally she did use her box-office clout to curb Hollywood’s petit offenses. In “GWTW,” she reportedly got Selznik to drop her character’s reference to “De Lawd” and got writers to drop “nigger” from the script.

With such concerns uppermost in my mind, I watched “Gone With the Wind” a couple of weeks ago and was amazed to discover how deeply racist it was. It is far more pernicious than a creaky relic like “Birth of a Nation” since it will always tap into the kind of nostalgia that makes something like “The Wizard of Oz” a favorite of contemporary audiences.

Underlying the romantic patina that overlays the film, you can follow a racist apologetic for the rise of Jim Crow from beginning to end. Did the people who made this film, and for that matter the author whose novel it was based on, see it this way? It is hard to say. Racism is so deeply embedded in American society that it is understandable in some ways that a George Clooney or a David O. Selznick would have blinders on. Even Margaret Mitchell must have seen herself as some kind of enlightened soul based on the evidence of a website commemorating her life and work:

At a time when segregation was the law of the land and the Ku Klux Klan regularly held rallies at nearby Stone Mountain, Margaret Mitchell was working on several projects with black Atlantans, notably one involving medical education.

Her involvement with the African American community began when Peggy was a 19-year old debutante. She was the only one of her debutante group who chose to work in the city’s black clinics. This was a reason why she was rejected from the Junior League.

“Gone With the Wind” revolves around the relationship of Scarlett O’Hara (Vivian Leigh) and Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). O’Hara is a prototypical Southern belle whose life revolves around parties, dinners, gossip and wooing Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), the man of her dreams. Was it a coincidence that both Leigh and Howard were British and therefore apt symbols for an aristocratic, if not decadent, past?

At the start of the film, just about the time war would be declared, we discover Rhett Butler to be an exception to the gung-ho spirit infecting his fellow Southerners:

Has any one of you gentlemen ever thought that there’s not a cannon factory south of the Mason-Dixon Line? Or how few iron foundries there are in the South? Or woolen mills or cotton factories or tanneries? Have you thought that we would not have a single warship and that the Yankee fleet could bottle up our harbors in a week, so that we could not sell our cotton abroad? But–of course–you gentlemen have thought of these things.

From a Marxist standpoint, Butler is of course correct. With its chattel slavery mode of production, the South had not advanced along the industrial lines as the North. It was basically a society that mixed agrarian capitalism with a semifeudal order. In trying to protect this system against the encroachments of a more advanced form of capitalism, it was effectively fighting against the clock.

When war came, Rhett Butler sided with his brethren but mostly for profit–in keeping with his mercenary view of the world. He was a blockade runner who assured Scarlett O’Hara that he risked his neck only for profit. In contrast to Ashley Wilkes, who fought for honor and Southern Civilization, Butler was much more adaptable to changing times.

For a film devoted to the Civil War period, there is actually very little fighting. The audience, like the characters, keeps hearing about battles that take place off camera. Mostly, it is about victimization–mostly at the hands of marauding Yankees who are demonized almost as badly as the Serb soldiers in “Welcome to Sarajevo”. Their only purpose in life seems to be to make life miserable for the lovely creatures lording over places like Tara. In one key scene, Scarlett O’Hara shoots a Yankee soldier intruder to death. As a New Yorker, I was reminded of Bernhard Goetz, the subway gunman who fired on four young Blacks who were looking at him the wrong way.

When Reconstruction arrives, Scarlett O’Hara enthusiastically adapts to the new order. She launches a lumber company and is not above using convict labor to chop trees to the chagrin of her old friends. They feel that convict labor is worse than slavery. Clearly, Margaret Mitchell’s intent was to cast the old order in a positive light. For her, the more cutthroat version of capitalism imposed by the North at the point of a bayonet would involve new forms of servitude but without the benign paternalism of the old system. It must be said at this point that the slaves in “Gone With the Wind” never complain once about their fate and are as devoted to “Miss Scarlett” as poodles are to their master. It is truly revolting stuff.

In contrast to the slaves who stick with Scarlett O’Hara through thick and thin, the newly liberated slaves are almost as threatening as the Yankee soldier that she shot. In a memorable scene that has an almost “Planet of the Apes” sensibility, Blacks walk through the streets of Atlanta in suits smoking cigars. The impression conveyed, whatever the intention of the film makers, is that of a topsy-turvy world gone mad. What is implicit in the film, Mitchell’s novel makes explicit:

The negroes had not yet been given the right to vote but the North was determined that they should vote and equally determined that their vote should be friendly to the North. With this in mind, nothing was too good for the negroes. The Yankee soldiers backed them up in anything they chose to do, and the surest way for a white person to get himself into trouble was to bring a complaint of any kind against a negro.

The former slaves were now the lords of creation and, with the aid of the Yankees, the lowest and most ignorant ones were on top. The better class of them, scorning freedom, were suffering as severely as their white masters. Thousands of house servants, the highest caste in the slave population, remained with their white folks, doing manual labor which had been beneath them in the old days. Many loyal field hands also refused to avail themselves of the new freedom, but the hordes of “trashy free issue niggers,” who were causing most of the trouble, were drawn largely from the field-hand class.

The one good thing that can be said about Scarlett O’Hara’s new appetite for capitalist modernization is that it has liberated her from the stultifying existence of the Southern belle. When she begins traveling about the streets of Atlanta in her own horse-and-buggy, shocked bystanders regard it in the way a Saudi male might react to a female driver.

One day on her way home she is accosted by a white and a Black “with shoulders and chest like a gorilla,” as Mitchell put it, from a nearby Shantytown. They are driven off by one of her faithful ex-slaves who, again in Mitchell’s words, tells her that if the Black had harmed her, he would have killed “dat black baboon.”

In the film, Ashley Wilkes organizes a posse to clean out the Shantytown and restore law and order. Again, perhaps in deference to New Deal sensibilities, the film does not make clear that Wilkes was a Klansman. Once again you have to turn to Mitchell’s unvarnished prose to understand what was really going on:

“Of course, Mr. Kennedy is in the Klan and Ashley, too, and all the men we know,” cried India. “They are men, aren’t they? And white men and Southerners. You should have been proud of him instead of making him sneak out as though it were something shameful and —

As might be expected, white America–especially the South–greeted the film like the Second Coming. At least half of Atlanta’s 300,000 population turned out to greet a motorcade marking the film’s premiere in 1939. The stars waved to the cheering fans and even the Negroes were impressed, according to the NY Times:

On the city’s outskirts many of the spectators were Negroes. They stood on the porches of blackened tumbledown shacks and in the powdery red Georgia clay in wide-eyed groups, filled with the wonder of it.

Looking back, the stars could see them straining their eyes down the road. The common cry among the Negroes as the procession passed by was: “I seen ’em! They came that close!”

Despite its reputation as a citadel of Northern liberalism, the NY Times was aligned editorially with the pro-slavery wing of the Democratic Party before the Civil War. On May 4, 1921, it blithely reported on a Ku Klux Klan rally to be held in Atlanta as if it were a Shriners convention:

KU KLUX KLAN CELEBRATES.

Five Thousand Knights to Meet In Atlanta Today.

Special to The New York Times. ATLANTA, Ga., May 4.–Knights of the Ku Klux Klan from all part3 of the United States, will gather in Atlanta tomorrow and Friday” for a great ceremonial and two-day celebration commemorating the founding of the order six years ago. Incoming trains brought several hundred members today. Other hundreds will arrive tomorrow, and by Friday 5,000 knights of the white robe and fiery cross are expected to be in the city.

The principal event of the gathering will be a big initiation ceremonial tomorrow night. More than 1,000 candidates are to be initiated into the mysteries of the Klan, it is said–the largest single class of candidates in the history of the organization. The meeting will be the first general celebration held since the order began to organize in the North, East and West. Colonel W. J. Simmons is Imperial Wizard of the Klux.

The NY Times review of the film ignored its rampant racism and treated it simply as “the greatest motion mural we have ever seen and the most ambitious film-making adventure in Hollywood’s spectacular history.

If the NY Times represented the moral bankruptcy of official liberalism, the august university to its north, where the dean of Southern apologetics taught, was even worse:

Post-surrender white Southerners recognized that they could rebuild their region not just with bricks and mortar, but by laying a foundation for historical revisionism. To many, this involved reconfiguring facts to conform to political agendas. In the wake of Lee’s surrender, former Confederates launched an immediate verbal and literary counterattack. Curiously, many Northerners not only forgave former Confederates, granting them their historical license, but by the 1870s had joined the revisionist pack. When America’s official Centennial festivities opened in Philadelphia in 1876, the theme of unification predominated. Unlike their European and Latin American counterparts, former Confederate insurrectionists were not concerned with the possibility of being beheaded, or even of prolonged imprisonment. Instead, some sought to recoup their losses at sword point by taking up the pen. In 1881 Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederacy, published his own apologia, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. By the last quarter of the century Southern voices had become cherished chroniclers of the “good old days,” and by the turn of the century Southern historians exerted notable influence, even gaining positions within prestigious Ivy League institutions. None was more impressive than the prolific Ullrich Bonnell Phillips, writing from his position as a professor at Columbia University in New York City. The Phillips school of Southern history dominated the study of slavery for almost half a century after his publication of American Negro Slavery (1918). Phillips and his students preached a philosophy of planter paternalism, asserting that slavery was a benign institution–benevolent slave owners created a “plantation school,” he suggested, to educate backward blacks to the virtues of discipline and productivity.

–Catherine Clinton, “Tara Revisited”, pp. 19-20

Such was the ballyhoo surrounding the film that the Communist Party’s film reviewer was taken in to some degree, calling it a “magnificent bore.” The Daily Worker’s Howard Rushmore took note of its technical achievements, “thematic sweep” and acting, but condemned it for depicting a congenial, feudal South. This did not pass muster with the editorial board, including African American Ben Davis. When he refused to follow their instructions to rewrite the review as a 100 percent slam, they fired him. As it turned out, Rushmore was a tenth generation American whose ancestors fought in the War of Independence and whose grandfather was a Confederate soldier.

Almost immediately after being fired from the Daily Worker, Rushmore transformed himself into a blue-blooded American:

Whereupon, reinventing himself on the spot, Rushmore went to work for William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal-American and for the next 15 years enjoyed acclaim as one of the period’s more fabulous professional ex-Commies, a crusading newspaperman, a sought-after speaker and a prize witness whose testimonies were always welcomed by Red-hunting legislative panels. Rushmore was a key figure in the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee’s explosive 1947 hearings into Red Hollywood. He was the man who named actors Edward G. Robinson and Charlie Chaplin as Commie dupes. He was the man who put the accusatory finger on playwright Clifford Odets and screenwriters Dalton Trumbo and John Henry Lawson. Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin subsequently called him “one of our greatest Americans,” and after a time, while still on the staff of the Journal-American, he took a side position as one of McCarthy’s ace bulldog investigators.

–NY Daily News, February 26, 2001

A week later Ben Davis wrote his own article titled “Gone With the Wind–an Insidious Glorification of the Slave Market.” Accompanying the review was a cartoon of Klansmen applauding an ad for a midnight showing of the film. James Dugan, who replaced Howard Rushmore, wrote a new review that summed up the picture as follows: “the film has a great role to play in a new period of reaction. Desperate reactionaries will feel their spirits soar in the face of this comforting past they would recapture; from it will naturally be inspired all the dark and murderous deeds needed to put down the people once again.”

Perhaps the vehemence of the CP had something to do with the fact that it was hostile to anything “American” in 1939. This was the time of the Stalin-Hitler non-aggression pact and the party was going through the last spasm of fire-breathing radicalism in its history. At the 1940 convention, “Gone With the Wind” was denounced along with the New Deal. Earl Browder, who would eventually symbolize the ill-considered effort to synthesize “Americanism” with Communism said in a speech to the faithful: “We have been forced, reluctantly and belatedly to recognize that all the positive features of the Roosevelt Administration, which we had supported and which had gained for it the loyalty of the great majority of Americans, have one after another been thrown overboard since the outbreak of the war. Peace has been made between the Administration and the ‘economic royalists.'”

Along with the CP, the nation’s Black press blasted the film. The Chicago Defender’s George Padmore, who would become well-known for his collaboration with CLR James, reported on a Black boycott of the film on February 3, 1940. Also writing for the Defender was William L. Patterson, who was one of the CP’s leading Black members along with Ben Davis. On January 6th, he attacked the film’s representation of his people:

“Gone With the Wind” has made the Negro a man a grotesque and ravishing beast–a rapist, an impossibly low and debased creature for whose elevation there is no hope. It has made Negro womanhood a wanton wench ready to accept the advances of any man.

Earl J. Morris, another Defender reporter, focused on the negative reaction in the Black community to the participation of “race actors” in the film, who “forgot all about self-respect, pride and duty to their race.”

African-American media scholar Donald Bogle made an attempt to see another side of “Gone With the Wind” that previous generations of radicals and Black activists would or could not. In “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks,” he sees the various fawning slaves (and soon-to-be servants) as figures of strength and even as symbols of Black Power:

Because they had carried the servant tradition to its highest point, the black characters of Gone with the Wind brought that tradition to a fitting close. In the 1940s, although the servants still appeared in films, the enthusiasm and creativity that distinguished figures such as Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen were gone. In the next decade, McDaniel appeared in some twenty-one features. Her presence still provided rich ribald humor, but her impact was not as great. In Gone with the Wind, her Mammy had brought to light a fact that white audiences had long ignored or suppressed: here was a black maid who not only was capable of running the Big House but proclaimed in her own contorted way her brand of black power.

Ironically, controversies around the Mammy image still linger. In the August 1, 2006 NY Times, there is an article titled “An Image Popular in Films Raises Some Eyebrows in Ads” that states:

At 200 pounds plus — most of that pure attitude — she is hard to miss.

Her onscreen presence takes on many variations, but she is easily recognizable by a few defining traits. Other than her size, she is almost always black. She typically finds herself in an exchange that is either confrontational or embarrassing. And her best line is often little more than a sassy “Mmmm hmmm.”

This caricature, playing on stereotypes of heavy black women as boisterous and sometimes aggressive, has been showing up for some time in stand-up comedy routines and in movies like “Big Momma’s House” and “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” Often, the pieces are produced by directors and writers who are black themselves.

With black creators giving more acceptability to the image, it is now starting to appear more often in television commercials as well. Most recently some variation of this character has appeared in commercials for Dairy Queen, Universal Studios and Captain Morgan rum.

But despite the popularity of such characters among blacks, the use of the image of big black women as the target of so many jokes is troublesome to some marketers and media scholars.

“It is perpetuating a stereotype that black females are strong, aggressive, controlling people,” said Tommy E. Whittler, a marketing professor at DePaul University. “I don’t think you want to do that.”

Ultimately, under a transformed American society, films will be made that do not require subliminal expressions of Black Power, with all due respect to Donald Bogle. There are heroes and heroines that beg for the creative input of screenwriters, directors and actors, like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Taubman and even Nat Turner, the subject of a documentary by African-American director Charles Burnett (such is the woeful state of Blacks in Hollywood that Burnett’s film is not even available in VHS or DVD.) These are the real symbols of Black Power, whose lives will inspire millions long after “Gone With the Wind” has be relegated to the back shelves of film studies departments, where it belongs.

 

10 Comments »

  1. Nice review. I agree there is much to look at in terms of the history of African Americans.

    In particular I think it hard for people to realize there were counter currents in the period before the civil war, during it, and afterward that were viable enough to be mass movements.

    Seeing the consolidation of Jim Crow in the last quarter of the nineteenth century with virulent racism and then withering in the 20th mainly because of communism is an object lesson in how organization transforms social movements that flail around otherwise waiting for a miracle.
    thanks,
    Doyle Saylor

    Comment by Doyle Saylor — August 1, 2006 @ 6:51 pm

  2. If you think the film, GTW, is racist, try reading the book. It’s worse. Not only does it defend segregation, but even goes as far as defending slavery. When I was a kid, it used to be released every 5 years, until being shown on TV in either ’76 or ’77.
    I remember being confused at the opening. All my relatives had grown up on farms, in the South, and talked endlessly about the horrors of picking cotton. Yet at the beginning of GTW, we are shown all these slaves having a great time picking cotton. Even as a 6 or 7 year old I remember being confused by this. I finally broke down and read the book in ’77, just when I thought nothing could be worse than the movie. I don’t recommend that anyone read the book.

    Comment by Ken Morgan — August 1, 2006 @ 7:12 pm

  3. I believe the CP organized boycotts of that movie, when it was new. I used to read old “Daily Workers”, on microfilm.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — August 2, 2006 @ 4:49 am

  4. It’s a mystery as to why I’ve never visited this wonderful blog! Amazing article! I actually just wrote about the film ‘American History X’ on my blog, which largely deals with the same issues as you discussed (the films are cardinally different in purpose, albeit). Racism, xenophobia, and hatred are horrible and we need to be vigilant in the fight against it.

    Great blog. Consider me a regular reader!

    -Comrade Dave
    http://theredmantis.blogspot.com/

    Comment by Comrade Dave — August 2, 2006 @ 4:50 pm

  5. I read this and I laughed! What a bunch of idiotic superstitions and lies. You should become a modern witchhunter! Have you really seen that movie at all??? If you really did then you probably did not understand too much from it. Not to mention that you do not understand what a historical fact means. You then wrote this poorly sophisticated “opinion”. The problem is that it’s totally irrelevant and missed the point… you should probably contact a doctor, comrade!

    Comment by "Comrade" Dymitrij — November 26, 2007 @ 8:48 pm

  6. For the above person who doesn’t seem to like the article, I have one thing to say. Have you properly analysed the movie? or the book for that matter? The media provides good entertainment, but at the end of the day the job of the media is also to uphold the morals in society, as it is one of the few things that brings people across the globe together. GWTW (the book and the movie) were brilliantly written/made, and have had a great impact on people from numerous generations. But we need to see deeper into the text, to read between the lines to see what the actual picture. Not everything is black and white.

    Though the plot line and story ‘seem’ sentimental and romantic, the book in fact is anything but. It is an anti war, anti- romance novel as is proved by the ending of the novel, as well as the waste depicted as a result of the war.

    Coming back to the article, I came upon it while scouring the internet for extra information on GWTW. I’m an English honours student at University and we had the novel as part of our syllabus in our ‘Popular Fiction’ paper, and though I’ve finished with the year I was intrigued enough to read more. the article helped further insight into the basic idea of slavery and racism. Thank you for all the information and a fantastic read. It was truly a pleasure.

    Comment by Juhi Mendiratta — June 22, 2008 @ 8:51 pm

  7. I’m reading GWTW for the third time right now and have seen the film dozens of times. I used to have a Scarlett O’Hara poster surrounded by GWTW dolls because I love the fashions. You might say I’m a fanatic, but I’m also a proud descendent of people who fought to end the abomination of slavery. I firmly believe all races are equal and oppose the exploitation and oppression of any social group.

    There is no doubt that Margaret Mitchell portrays the lives of slaves as ludicrously pleasant. She also employs many racist terms and animalistic descriptions that make a modern reader cringe. She was undoubtedly blinded by her times and Southern upbringing to the extent of her own prejudice, but at least she tried to help African Americans in her own community.

    When I enter the world of Tara, I try to remember that I’m mostly seeing it through Scarlett’s emerald eyes. The perspective is first that of a pampered, sheltered girl and later a more desperate, disillusioned woman. We also get glimpses of the times from the steadfast Mammy, philosophical Ashley, pragmatic Rhett, compassionate Melanie and others. Everything except historical fact is more or less filtered through Scarlett’s shallow outlook, so it’s a mostly firsthand account with as many flaws as its heroine.

    Scarlett cannot fathom a man who wouldn’t fall in love with her, so perhaps she misinterprets the perfunctory fawning of field hands as genuine affection. She’s oblivious to much of the social scorn she engenders, so maybe she also fails to notice that most of Tara’s slaves are not content with their lot. She assumes the Yankee on the stairs and the Shanty Town thug intend to rape her, but maybe her fear and imagination get the best of her.

    It is Scarlett’s defects and contradictions that make her so fascinating to me. She’s a racist by default, but she adores and upholds almost every Black person in the book. (Who wouldn’t have slapped Prissy for lying, regardless of her race or station?) She never shies from using womanly wiles, but she has feminist principles far ahead of her time. Most of all, she doesn’t give up when the going gets (very) tough, and she always provides for those around her despite her intrinsically selfish nature.

    I can understand why someone might skip watching or reading GWTW due to its bigoted content, but they would miss out on one of America’s greatest stories ever told. Just as I don’t advocate removing Huckleberry Finn from libraries because of the N-word, I can’t stop enjoying this tale of love and war in the Old South. If that makes anyone think I’m a terrible person, well…frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!

    Comment by Lost Lenore — July 29, 2009 @ 9:46 am

  8. Thanks for the review and interesting comments.

    I am re-reading the novel for the first time in about 20 years. As a teenager I read the novel often and the movie was one of my favourites. Its been quite a shock to read such overt racism. The novel is in many ways historically very accurate but is viciously deceptive about the plight of the slaves in pre-war society and the hardships they faced during and after the war. Mitchell, who is clearly an accomplished researcher, deliberately and mendaciously depicts them as happy and protected when enslaved, enjoying reciprocal bonds of loyalty and affection with kind masters and then after the war ‘lording’it over former masters and emancipation being one long picnic of drinking, gluttony and rape with no concern for the welfare of even their own blood relatives. I was just aghast at the unhistorical and racist rubbish that infects the entire work and flourishes in the second half of the novel.

    However, I still think it is a worthwhile read for a number of reasons.

    Firstly the novel is not a straightforward romance with simplistic depictions of the war or aristocratic prewar Southern society. It is a considered and critical investigation of the planter class, its origins in the dispossession of Indigenous americans, European immmigrants from all classes, who by combination of luck, exploitation and sharp practice were able to create a new aristocracy in the wilds of Georgia, the role of women both in the wild crude days of settlement and in the administration of planter society (and their role after the collapse of socio-economic structures due to war and defeat). It is not at all clear which perspectives the author presents sympathetically. It would be entirely possible for leftists, racists, feminists or arch-conservatives to draw very different interpretations about what the novel is arguing and I think all would be able to make strong cases. That suggests to me the novel is more complicated in its reflection of ante-bellum planter society than the film which to me is little more than a visual delight.

    Secondly I think the novel is a very good reflection of racist mindset and its important to understand why racist ideology has such a hold in all imperialist countries and where it stem from and how its manifested. The mythical creation of the Old South and the Glorious Cause is not an invention of this novel- Mitchell reflects with a quite authentic artistry.

    Thirdly the novel has many artistic strengths, its evoking of a past time and place, society, idoleogy, economy, and the contradictory political and social forces in motion have a breath of authenticity about them which make it a pleasurable reading experience.

    It also has glaring artistic faults- its 2-dimensional characters are its most irritating aspect – such as the ‘county swains’ like the the killing rages of the Fontaines, the boisterous Tarleton Twins, the dreamy Ashley, the shy Charles or Scarlett’s rivals- the delicate, naive Melanie, the vapid Honey, her jealous sister, the viperish India Wilkes. Then we get to the her childlike Aunt Pittypat, the formidable Matrons of Atlanta society etc. etc. Let alone the devilishly attractive Rhett Butler and the sleepy-eyed Ashley, with their idetntically didactic speeches about what it is to be a Southern gentlemen and its twin the rebellious rascal- BORING, BORING, BORING – need I go on?

    Yet against all these caricatures is set the character of Scarlett and she is neither two-dimensional nor boring. While the author seems to exert herself to depict an unsympathetic anti-heroine, she is actually the most complicated and least-easily categorised of the 100s of characters that populate the novel. The author tries to show her as an ignorant, spoilt child forced to become hard and mean through hardship and deprivation, she spends a lot of time creating the idea that her return to Tara the night Atlanta fell changed her irrevocably and hardened her into something she never was before and never was meant to be. Rhett as Mitchell’s paternalistic mouthpiece never stops psychoanalysing Scarlett and his various speeches also work hard to create this very boring caricature of the bitchy, ruthless Scarlett, who he admires and loves for her bitchy, ruthless qualities. Mitchell also sets up a simplistic internal conflict between Scarlett’s Irish peasant and French aristicratic ancestry, with her Irish coarseness always dominating. Actually I find Scarlett far more interesting than Mitchell’s broad character outlines. She has her own unique brand of perceptiveness, depths, kindnesses and loyalties which become more apparent when she is supposed to be the ‘hardened termagent’ of the post-war years. Did Mitchell deliberately create such boring secondary carictures against which to set her complicated anti-heroine who is clearly not an anti-heroine or did the story inspire the central character to grow in the telling of the tale?

    Don’t know but its fun to think about…

    Anyway I am surprised at how annoyed and fascinated I am by re-reading the novel. Because I read it so often as a teenager I expected it to be a comfort read like eating a favourite childhood meal but it has so many offensive, frustrating and challenging elements that I can’t relax while reading it. However I am not at all bored and, while I have quite different responses to it than I did as a teenager, for a 1000 page novel to keep me entranced from the first paragraph to the last is a sign it is a worthwhile read.

    Comment by Linda Waldron — October 10, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

  9. What’s also interesting about the “Gone With The Wind” book is that–after being apparently lobbied by the New York Post book reviewer who had become a friend of its author after he gave the book a more favorable review than the NY Times reviewer, Columbia University’s Pulitzer Prize judges boosted sales of Gone With The Wind outside the white South by awarding it The Pulitzer Prize. Yet if you compare DuBois’s history of what happened in Georgia that’s described in his “Black Reconstruction” classic book to Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With The Wind” version, you can see why the white editors of all the Southern newspapers during the 1930s promoted the “Gone With The Wind” book much more than DuBois’s “Black Reconstruction” book.

    Comment by bobf — January 30, 2011 @ 1:00 am

  10. yea Gone with the Wind and that scumbag birth of a nation should be banned i don’t give a damn about free speech for racists–and I know what the CPUSA’s attitude was –cause my mother was one of the soldiers in the CP out protesting that piece of crap in fact she tried to block the doors and got busted so don’t tell me about the Party it was one of its finest moments

    Comment by robert alpert — July 10, 2013 @ 8:14 am


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