Gone With the Wind
Historical Accuracy of the Film Gone with the Wind
The key to improving the future is being able to understand and learn from the past. If the past is not studied, the likelihood of repeating the same mistakes over and over again is extremely high. Repeating the same basic mistakes, with new variations, that people many years ago made does not progress into the future, but rather keeps bringing the past back.
For example, had the roaring twenties in the 1920’s not occured, people would not have learned of the dangers of buying much more than they could afford and just putting it on credit. After that economic boom, the Great Depression of the 1930’s happened and as a whole, society changed for the future. People realized that they had to be more careful and conscientious of how and where they spent their money. Throughout the past, another lesson that has been learned can been seen through America’s colonial rule and the difference in how Spain and France treated their colonist.
When the Spanish came and settled colonies, they used force to rule and completely disrupted the normal life of the Native Americans. On the other hand, the French were civil with Natives and allowed them to continue living how they had been, but just asked for help with fur trading. The outcome of this treatment was very beneficial for the French because when the Seven Years War, also known as the French and Indian War, broke out in 1756 because the French had their natives as allies. This helped them tremendously because the natives were more familiar with the land and had weapons and battle methods of their own. The records of both of these events were crucial in being able to learn from them. People recorded their version of what happened during both of these time periods by keeping journals, writing newspaper articles, and passing down events from word of mouth. As technology progressed, people were able to start keeping track of historical events by making short films and eventually, movies. The movie Gone With the Wind produced by David O. Selznick in 1939 is a film that was used to capture a vital time period in the South.
The movie is fictional, but explores many topics that were historically accurate of what life was like for many different types of people who lived back then. The movie follows the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a young woman who lives on a beautiful plantation in Georgia, and her tangled love life with Mr. Ashley and Mr. Butler. Scarlett is seen as a scandalous character and sometimes comes across as unladylike. Soon after she is married to Charles Hamilton and he dies, the Civil War begins and Scarlett moves to Atlanta where she is met face to face with the men from her past. As the war progresses, resources in the city become more sparse and the Yankees have the upper hand in the war. Once Scarlett is able to escape back home to her town in Georgia she sees how much damage the war has caused and makes it her mission to rebuild the town back to its previous status. Many complications arise, but Scarlett persist and eventually successfully restores Tara, but yet again has several major setbacks. While Gone with the Wind is a classic example of the past being glorified, it brings to light some of the serious truths of the past, such as slavery, the female role in society, and the Civil War.
The topic of slavery is not one that has been swept under the rug. Students begin learning about the harsh treatment of certain peoples at a young age and as they grow older are exposed to many of the misconceptions of slavery. The film is set in the South, which leads to a skewed point of view on the topic of slavery. The movie depicted the slave who lived in the house, Mammy, as a woman who is a part of the family. She was shown as happy, able to discipline Scarlett, and seemed as if she was a regular worker. Sadly, this was a very accurate representation of how many people who lived then felt about owning slaves. This depiction of slavery further adds to the fact that many southerners did not see a problem with slavery, and even if they believed it to be morally wrong, they still went along with the bandwagon and owned slaves to do their work for them. President Jackson was a culprit of this; as much as he supposedly disliked slavery he still owned his fair share (Kagan and Hyslop 23). The movie also had a sign in the beginning of it that read Anyone disturbing the peace on this plantation will be prosecuted.(Gone with the Wind Selznick). In today’s times, a sign like this would be very rare and seem extreme, however back in the time of slavery it was common and no one had a second thought upon reading something to that nature. If a slave were to be caught revolting or doing anything that was not approved by their master, they would typically be brutally beaten or in some cases even killed.
An example of this is illustrated in the event where nineteen slaves overthrew a boat headed for the Bahamas; the slaves killed several people and demanded the ship be sailed to Nassau (Horton and Horton 119). When word got back to the American government of what their slaves had done, they were furious. The American government wanted the slaves to be transported back to America immediately for trial. However, due to revolutionaries in the Bahamas, this group of slaves was set free and not forced to return back to where they were wrongfully treated. Although this group got lucky, one can only infer what would have happened to them if they had been released back into the American government’s hands. Unfortunately, this is the situation all too many slaves had to face. Another example of escaped slaves can be seen in a letter written to the State Directors of the Federal Writers Project. In this letter, Henry G. Alberg, the author, explicitly states that there were advertisements for fugitive slaves. This letter is an essential clue into how people of color used to be treated because now, in more modern times, while walking down the street there would never be a flyer claiming a reward for a person who has run away from their master.
In Charleston in 1720, a group of slaves led a violent revolt. They tried to flee to Georgia, but were found and eventually the whole group of them were executed. Another famous example of slaves rebelling is the Stono Rebellion. This rebellion, also known as Cato’s Conspiracy, was in 1739 in near Charleston, South Carolina. A group of slaves robbed a store and began their journey. As they ventured through states, many people died and their group that began as twenty had grown to near one hundred. Following this rebellion, many of the whites in the South had a growing fear that another uprising would taken place, so they placed even stricter laws on their slaves. These laws tried to prevent those who were enslaved from accumulating into groups, growing food for themselves, and made a new ratio for blacks to whites on plantations. All these new laws were in hopes to prevent a future revolt. In Gone With the Wind, slaves were portrayed in the way that Southerners wanted the rest of the world to see them as, even though it may not have been completely accurate. Gone with the Wind also sheds light onto a female’s role in society during the 1800s.
The film depicted how women were portrayed and showed many of the struggles that they endured. Firstly, as seen through many characters, such as Scarlett, marriage was a big deal. Due to the fact that women did not have much of their own social status, they relied heavily on their husbands to be successful and wealthy. Many women were stay at home mothers during this time period, so marrying well was a must (Gender & The Civil War). When it was time for a female to get married, she had to make sure that her husband would be able to provide for not only her, but also for their future children. A woman’s family played a significant role in choosing her spouse. Her father would need to approve of her fiance and his family. In Scarlett’s case, her parents were selfless to her and did anything they were able to ensure her happiness. Her father cared about her more than anything, as did her mother although her mother was an almost impossible role model, due to her strong will and determination compared to her spirited daughter, for her to grow up to be like. When it was time for Scarlett to marry, Gerald and Ellen supervised her choice and gave their input, but ultimately let her decide whom she wanted to spend her life with. This would have very uncommon in this time period. In the film, women are also seen doing what they can to make themselves appear as feminine as they can. This can be seen when Scarlett was preparing to go to the party in one of the beginning scenes ( Gone with the Wind Selznick).
Mammy, the house slave, brought up a giant platter of food and tells her to begin eating. Scarlett stuffed herself then, in the privacy of her own home, so that when she was out in public, surrounded by all the people of importance in her life, she will be able to eat very little and still be satisfied. This was a common practice back in the day. Women were constantly watched and judged based on their appearance. They had to be very conscious of how they presented themselves. In a time where the female body was very critiqued, women were even more self -aware of their bodies then they are today. In order to combat this insecurity, women would be very careful about what they ate in front of other people, especially men. Women would also be tend to wear elegant dresses that were fitted weeks before an event, so they had to be confident that their attire would still fit properly. In the movie, there is also an accurate representation of how women helped out on the plantation. While these women were wealthy thanks to their husbands fortunes, they also played a role in the overseeing of slaves. In the movie Ellen, Gerald’s wife and Scarlett’s mom, played a vital role in this (Gone with the Wind Selznick). She would be the figure out what the next days work would be, mainly for the house slave Mammy. Back in the 1860s, the time period the movie was set in, as much as men wanted to be able to handle the plantations themselves they did often need assistance from their wives since running a whole system of slaves was time consuming and challenging.
Another accuracy from the movie relation to a woman’s role in society is the idea that much of the time woman stayed at home with their children while their husbands went off to work. In the movie, this is seen through the husbands and male figures, such as Rhett, going out to fight in the war. Scarlett and other females stayed at home to hold down the plantations and stay with children. This is somewhat similar to the idea of republican motherhood that was present throughout the Revolutionary War that took place almost one hundred years before the Civil War. Republican motherhood was the philosophy that mothers would stay at home and raise up the next generation. In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett stayed behind with her sister-in-law, Melanie, through the midst of the war in Atlanta while she is pregnant and gives birth to her child. While Scarlett was not the child’s mother, it still showed the ideal that the child’s father would leave to go to fight, while the mother and other prominent female figure in its life stayed behind to ensure he or she would be properly raised. While the movie depicted many of the hardships that females were faced with in the nineteenth century, it also portrayed many of views and events of the Civil War.
The Civil War took was caused mainly by the dispute over slavery in the Northern and Southern states. The broke out on April 12, 1961 and revolutionized American society. Many of America’s citizens at this time had opposing views of the war and the ideas surrounding it; secession and slavery. Many plantation owners in the South were in favor of the war because they had a dire need to own slaves since the South’s economy was mainly based off of cash crops that were grown, tended, and picked by slaves. In the movie, Rhett Butler and many of the other men were the representation of the draft. The draft forced men eighteen and older to go fight in the war. Only men with money could purchase exemptions (Kagan and Hyslop 246). Exemptions cost up to $300, about as much as the average worker made in an entire year, and men who purchased these were often seen by others as traitors (Kagan and Hyslop 246). In this aspect, the movie was correct in sending all of the eligible men into the war because even if having a substitute go in for them was an option, they did not want others to think down upon them for not being courageous enough to protect their side of the nation.
The movie also portrayed the economic differences between the South and the North properly. The South was the cotton kingdom, but did not have much more. The North was far more industrialized, which gave them the advantage of having better weapons and road ways ( Kagan and Hyslop 24). In Gone with the Wind, shortly after the war began the Southern’s came to realize that the North had far more money than them, which would lead to their defeat. One of the gentlemen in the movie, Mr. Butler, stood up to his friends by pointing out the fact that the South did not have any cannon factories and by saying, the Yankees are better equipped than we. They’ve got factories, shipyards, coal mines, and a fleet to bottle up our harbors and starve us to death. All we’ve got is cotton, and slaves, and arrogance. (Gone with the Wind Selznick). At this point in the movie, all his fellow men are upset with him for speaking poorly of the South, but once they go to war they realize he was unfortunately correct.
Gone With The Wind Film Review
Academy award winning Gone With the Wind is a classic that will forever remain among some of the greatest love stories. This story follows Scarlett O’Hara as her life changes drastically before, during, and after the civil war. Scarlett faces death, famine and poverty as she attempts to maintain her home, the O’Hara plantation, and tries to find the love of Ashley Wilkes.
As the story begins we learn of Scarlett’s love for Ashley as she attends a barbeque party at the Twelve Oaks plantation. Scarlett is soon faced with the delima that the love of her life is not only getting married to another woman, but he’s also headed to war. The civil war strikes the South and soon every young man Scarlett has known is sent off to war, many of which will never return. The beginning of the war truly marks the beginning of the hardest of times Scarlett faces. Throughout this essay I will compare and contrast how accurately Gone With the Wind represented the South during and after the Civil war.
The American civil war began on April 12, 1861 when the confederates invaded Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina (History.com editors). The North and the South were divided and tensions were high. The Union (The North) wished to free all slaves and maintain the U.S. as one country while the Confederacy (The South) were fighting for their rights to own slaves and wished to separate from the North in order to form their own government. The confederacy felt that it was their God given right to own slaves and even had men that would travel and give sermons on the matter (Vail). Threats of secession had arose in years prior but it wasn’t until the election of Abraham Lincoln, which the south felt was an act of war, that any of the states actually took action (History.com editors). Shortly after his election the first seven slave states seceded and the civil war began (McPherson).
At the beginning of the war, men in the South had a very patriotic outlook on the war which was very well represented in the movie during the barbeque party (Vail). War was the top subject of discussion by many of the men in the movie, they all wished that the war would start and hoped that they could go off and fight for their country. Rhett made a comment about the war being ridiculous and the men began to treat him as if he was a traitor and he was forced to leave.
The war brought famine and poverty across the South and soon food became at such shortage the confederate soldiers were forced to have fasting days (Vail). In the movie we see that all of the crops quickly disappear along with the farm animals and wine as the army confiscated what they could for their men. All able bodied men were taken to be used for the war efforts which left the women at home struggling to keep the farms running and support their children. Men were initially enlisted for one year periods but that soon led to every man between the ages of 18-35 were to serve as needed (History.com editors). Death tolls began rising quickly and the confederates soon didn’t have enough men which left them to resort to using slaves they removed from plantations. In the movie all but three of the slaves that were working the O’Hara plantation were taken and used for digging trenches for the confederate soldiers.
Women during the war were left with many duties to uphold such as maintaining homes, caring for children and acting as nurses in makeshift hospitals much like Scarlett did (History.com editors). Scarlett served with Melanie, her true love’s wife, in a hospital that was set up in a church. The floors were covered with dying and dead soldiers that were in terrible condition which soon became so bad that Scarlett couldn’t stand to work anymore. There was a scene where the camera panned out and there was hundreds if not thousands of bodies laid out in the street which I feel was a bit of a dramatic representation. Doctors were too busy trying to keep up with the new incomes of dying soldiers that they couldn’t help anyone else, Melanie began to give birth to her child but there wasn’t a doctor that could stop to help deliver the baby so Scarlett had to step up and act as a nurse in order to deliver the child. She took Melanie and her new baby back to the O’Hara plantation hoping her mother would be able to help but she soon learned that her mother had died of typhoid like many others.
As the war came close to ending, Scarlett took on the responsibility of repairing her home but the only people available to help here were her sisters and the few slaves that hadn’t been taken. The women all worked together in the fields and around the house to rebuild the farm so they would have enough food, however most wealthy families depended on their slaves to run their farms sense they never had to do it themselves (History.com editors). As the war ended many wounded soldiers ended up at the plantation so they could be taken care of by the women and slaves which was very similar to reality (History.com editors). The men slowly began to return home and the help that was much needed around the plantation was met but along came new challenges. The North raised taxes extremely high which left Scarlett desperate to find money.
In conclusion I feel that Gone With the Wind did a very good job at representing the civil war. While several things may have been dramatized such as the scene in which the town appears to be burning down, the director represented the war pretty well. Many of the important details of the war were covered such as how enthusiastic the men were about the war before it began and how high the number of deaths was. They showed the roles of women in the war efforts and just how rough it got in towns in the South while the war was raging on. There was a good bit of the movie that is devoted to the love story that progresses for Scarlett which does lead to some details being overdramatized but I still believe that this movie represented the South very well.
Gone With the Wind: Racial Injustice
The Antebellum Era in the American South lasted roughly seventy-five years, beginning in the late eighteenth century and ending with the outbreak of the Civil War. During this time, Southern society was deeply divided by wealth. Only 0.1 percent of whites owned more than 100 slaves, while 76.1 percent owned none at all. Even so, Southern whites were unified by a deep belief in white supremacy. The poor saw slavery (and racism) as their only source of prestige. They were not ready to let it go (Corbett, et al).
By the mid-nineteenth century, the nation had become polarized over slavery. White Southerners ardently supported its preservation and expansion West. Conversely, every state north of the Mason-Dixon line had abolished it by 1804 (The Antebellum South). Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency in 1860 made it clear that the schism between the North and South was irreparable. Over the next year, seven Southern states seceded from the Union and established the Confederate States of America. On April 12, 1861, Southerners fired the first shot of the Civil War at the government-controlled Fort Sumter in South Carolina. Four more states joined the Confederacy (Civil War).
Lincoln, desperate to preserve the Union, was initially hesitant to act against slavery. But in 1862, it was evident that black enlistment in the Yankee army was necessary (Fowler) and, the following year, Lincoln passed the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to free over three million slaves in the South (Civil War; Reconstruction). This ultimately proved to be a successful military tactic: public opinion shifted to favor the North, the Confederacy lost much of its labor force and 186,000 black soldiers flocked to Union lines. On April 9, 1865, the Confederates surrendered to the Yankees. Seven days later, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated (Civil War).
Throughout the Civil War, Georgia was a significant aid to the South. The state seceded on January 19, 1861 and, by that time, 25,000 soldiers had already enlisted to fight in the Confederate army. In 1864, General William T. Sherman tore through Georgia on his famous March to the Sea. He disconnected the last railroad supplying Atlanta, leaving the Confederates with no choice but to abandon the city. This Union triumph secured Lincoln’s victory in the Presidential election that year (Fowler).
The Civil War was the bloodiest war fought on American soil in history: 620,000 soldiers lost their lives. So much bloodshed and devastation made it difficult to repair the schism that divided the North and South (Civil War). In May 1865, Vice President Andrew Johnson assumed the Presidency and announced his plans for Presidential Reconstruction. Johnson was a firm believer in the Union and states’ rights. He allowed the South to take restoration into its own hands as long as it respected the Thirteenth Amendment, which had abolished slavery throughout America that December. With such leniency, the South was able to restrict the freedom of former slaves through a set of laws known as the black codes. Outraged, many Northerners renounced their support for Presidential Reconstruction and instead endorsed a more progressive approach, termed Radical Reconstruction. This movement gave African-American men a voice in politics for the first time in the nation’s history and, if somewhat temporarily, made great strides toward improving race relations (Reconstruction).
Part II – The Film
The film Gone with the Wind (1939) begins in 1861. The sun is setting on the cherished land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields, and everywhere, white men eagerly anticipate the war that will silence their Northern adversaries.
Scarlett O’Hara, the film’s protagonist, is a classic Southern belle. She is raised among the planter elite, tended to by the hundreds of slaves that work on her family’s plantation. Her charm attracts many suitors, but Scarlett has set her sights on the dreamyand engagedAshley Wilkes. When she cannot convince him to leave his bride-to-be, Melanie Hamilton, Scarlett accepts a marriage proposal from Melanie’s brother. Both he and Ashley leave to fight in the Confederate army shortly thereafter.
Scarlett is widowed as swiftly as she is wed: her husband dies of pneumonia soon after his departure. Ready for a change in scene, she goes to live with Melanie and her Aunt Pittypat in Atlanta. Thus begins her acquaintance with Captain Rhett Butler, a rich blockade runner with a deplorable reputation. He had previously witnessed Scarlett’s love confession to Ashley and, observing her character, fallen in love with her.
Meanwhile, Union General Sherman blazes through Georgia, leaving the state in ruins. He lays siege on Atlanta, scattering the townsfolk and the forcing the Confederate army to desert. Rhett Butler helps Scarlett and a recently mothered Melanie escape. When the women return home, they find Ashley’s plantation abandoned and burned to the ground. Tara, the O’Hara’s plantation, is deserted: only two slaves and Scarlett’s sickly family remain. There is no food to eat, nor money to spend. But Scarlett does not lose hope and sets everyone to work to recover what was lost.
The Confederacy surrenders. Thousands of soldiers trudge home through the broken South. Among them are the unwelcome Carpetbaggers and Yankees, intent on disrupting the long-standing social order of Georgia. The taxes on Tara skyrocket and a formerly destitute couple offers to buy it from Scarlett. Infuriated, Scarlett’s father mounts a horse and chases after their carriage, jumping a fence and falling to his death. Still unable to pay the taxes, Scarlett convinces her sister’s lover, Frank Kennedy, that her sister has forgotten him. They marry, and Frank pays the debts on Tara.
One day, Scarlett is attacked while driving her carriage. Frank goes after her assailants and is shot in the head. Rhett Butler seizes this opportunity to propose to Scarlett. She accepts, they move to Atlanta, and soon after, Scarlett gives birth to a baby girl named Bonnie.
Scarlett and Rhett have a rocky marriage. It is clear to both parties that Scarlett has not forgotten Ashley, and jealousy consumes her husband. When Scarlett and Ashley are discovered embracing, Rhett suggests divorce. He leaves for London with Bonnie, returning only when she begs for her mother. When they arrive, Scarlett tells Rhett that she is pregnant. During a heated argument, she hurls herself at him, falling down the steps and losing the baby.
A whirlwind of tragedy ensues. Scarlett recovers, but only just before Bonnie falls to her death in a horse jump and breaks the last bond between her and Rhett. Melanie Hamilton also dies in childbirth. It is then that Scarlett realizes how much she loves Rhett, but she is too late. He leaves her, saying frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
Part III – Comparison & Evaluation
The 1939 film Gone With the Wind is a rose-colored idealization of the Old South. It speaks more to the sentiments of 1930s Southerners than it does to actual events; the film can be regarded as no more than a glimpse into the Southern white’s perspective.
Gone with the Wind is rife with inaccuracies, but the portrayal of African-Americans is perhaps the most distorted. 1930s cameras transformed systematic degradation into a mutually beneficial exchange between master and slave. The enslaved peoples are depicted as happy in their lifelong servitude; they have no desire to leave their masters–even after they are legally freed by the Union–and the runaways are portrayed as foolish victims of Yankees propaganda. Incompetent and unintelligent, slaves repeatedly turn to their astute masters for guidance (Portrayal of Race Relations: Gone with the Wind). Mitchell respins the Civil War to ennoble the Confederates, painting the Union as a brutish intruder out to dismantle Southern society. Mitchell’s decidedly racist take on slavery was likely influenced by the political realities of her day. Slavery was dissolved in the mid-nineteenth century, but racism continued to plague the Nation long after abolition. The 1930s was marked by lynchings, segregation and stark prejudice against black people that bled into literature and cinema. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People boycotted the film after its release in 1939 (A History of Racial Injustice).
Scarlett O’Hara, the brilliant and beautiful protagonist, bears little resemblance to the traditional Southern wife–indeed, she weds three times, lusts after a married man and murders a Yankee soldier. But most importantly, Scarlett seizes control of her own finances to ensure the economic stability of her family, often at the expense of weaker men. Scarlett is a personification of the changing gender roles in the 1930s, when the Great Depression forced women into the workplace. This phenomenon, in conjunction with flappers and bold actresses, popularized a more modern view of women that influenced many literary and cinematic works of the era (Ebert).
Gone with the Wind, although decidedly flawed, had some historical factualisms. The high morale expressed by Southern gentlemen in the beginning of the film was documented repeatedly in history. The Confederates were fighting to preserve a way of life, not the abstraction of the Union, and therefore approached the war more passionately than did the North (Civil War). Atlanta was also accurately portrayed. Scarlett goes to the bustling city to live with Melanie and her Aunt Pittypat. There, she and Melanie nurse fallen soldiers in churches and other makeshift hospitals. As the Union General William T. Sherman approaches Atlanta, thousands flee the city. Scarlett and Melanie manage to escape only as it is going up in flames. Truly, the population of Atlanta did skyrocket during the war. Sherman’s famous March to Sea caused an influx of refugees to pour in from demolished cities in Georgia; the Atlantan population reached almost 22,000 in 1864. As the population grew, so did its productivity: it became a hub for the manufacturing of weapons and clothing. There was not enough room in the hospitals for the wounded, so soldiers received care in municipal buildings (Davis). But the same daily cannon fire described in the film reduced the city to rubble in August, 1864. That month, Sherman cut the last rail line to Atlanta, forcing Confederate troops to abandon the city (Fowler).
Gone with the Wind (1939) is inherently flawed. It idealizes the Antebellum South, dehumanizes African-Americans and vilifies the Union. The film cannot be used to understand the true history of the time period. However, it provides insight into the emotions felt by the Confederacy. It is likely that they saw society the way it is depicted in the movie, and one cannot truly appreciate history without understanding all perspectives, no matter how warped. To this end, it could be used to educate students on viewpoints that are discussed less frequently in history class. It has other redeeming qualities, as well. Scarlett is, frankly, a more progressive female lead than those of modern-day Hollywood. The film is quite faithful to the book by Margaret Mitchell. And from an artistic standpoint, the cinematography is unmatched. The colors and backdrops were groundbreaking in the 1940s and are still dazzling by today’s standards. It is difficult to overlook the blatant racism of Gone with the Wind, but it is undeniably a cinematic masterpiece.
A History of Racial Injustice. A History of Racial Injustice – Equal Justice Initiative, Equal Justice Initiative, racialinjustice.eji.org/timeline/1930s/.
Civil War. History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009, www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/american-civil-war-history.
Corbett, Scott P., et al. Wealth and Culture in the South. Lumen Learning, Open SUNY Textbooks, courses.lumenlearning.com/ushistory1os2xmaster/chapter/wealth-and-culture-in-the-south/.
Davis, Stephen. Civil War: Atlanta Home Front. New Georgia Encyclopedia, University of Georgia Press, www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/civil-war-atlanta-home-front.
Ebert, Roger. Gone With the Wind Movie Review (1939) | Roger Ebert. RogerEbert.com, Ebert Digital LLC, 21 June 1998, www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-gone-with-the-wind-1939.
Fowler, John D. Civil War in Georgia: Overview. New Georgia Encyclopedia, Georgia Humanities and the University of Georgia Press, www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/civil-war-georgia-overview.
Gone with the Wind Awards. IMDb, IMDb.com, Inc., www.imdb.com/title/tt0031381/awards.
Portrayal of Race Relations: Gone with the Wind. SparkNotes, SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/film/gonewiththewind/section4/.
Reconstruction. History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2009, www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/reconstruction.
The Antebellum South. Lumen Learning, Open SUNY Textbooks, courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-ushistory/chapter/the-antebellum-south/.
Gone With the Wind: Great Timeless Passion Between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Background
- 3 Production
- 4 Cultural Reception
- 5 Controversies
Set in the old south during a trivial time for the states during a time of war. Margaret Mitchell depicts a great everlasting love story of a passionate couple surviving a dreadful time. While unfolding the destruction and burning of the Old South, but also the rebuilding of cities that were affected by the civil war. Gone with the Wind is an exhilarating, hauntingly, intense film that viewers will remember for generations.
During the time of filming, it was a time of great political strife in the world. With the beginning of unrest in Europe and the possible involvement of the United States was worrisome. As Americans watched the Old World of Europe Crumble, they were assured by the film that their American world would live on, no matter what might happen (Levy). In London during the war, Gone with the Wind was well received as well as unshackled Europe after the war. It was not accepted in Germany, where they viewed Scarlett O’Hara as a bad role model resulting in the banning of the film.
On the home front, the film references the period of The Great Depression. When Scarlett returns to Tara and has the powerful monologue of As God as my witness, as God as my witness, they’re not going to lick me. I’m going to live through this, and when it’s all over, I’ll never be hungry again-no, nor any of my folks! -if I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill! As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again (Gone with the Wind). This was a huge boost for the Americans who survived that Great Depression.
One of the most valuable things to come from the film was the renewal of southern pride. The producer’s glorification of the Old South was seen by southerners as a healing of North-South tension still left over from the civil war (Levy). Over a million people assembled to Atlanta for the premier.
With an all-star cast, casting for the film proved to be a trying task and one that was thoroughly followed by the word (Harry Ransom Center p3). In response of the public interest, an immense amount of fan mail was sent. The producer decided that it would be best for an unknown actress to play Scarlett. Selznick decided to send Katherin Brown on a journey across the eastern united states, especially in the south to find the unfamiliar actress who would play Scarlett in the Southern Talent Search (Harry Ransom Center p3). However, unsuccessfully they found other actors to play other parts. Alicia Rhett was discovered during this search and was later cast for the role of India Wilkes (Harry Ransom Center p3). However, Selznick finally found his Scarlett, whose name was Vivien Leigh. This casting turned into the most controversial (Martin p8) because Leigh wasn’t southern nor American, she hailed from Britain. It took the director two years before deciding that Leigh would be his Scarlett.
When casting for the leading male role, an offer was given to Clark Gable who at first declined. The reason for turning down the offer was due to Gable believing no screen adaptation could live up to the expectations of the general public (Bauer p2). Due to compulsion from the studio as well as public demand, Clark decided to accept the offer to play Rhett.
With the leading male role cast, next up would be the casting of Scarlett’s other love interest being cast. Ashley Wilkes played by Leslie Howard. Howard was forty years old when filming began. Leslie was known to dislike the role, feeling he was not right for that role he would not be believable as the handsome twenty-one-year-old Ashley (Dayani p5).
Gone with the Wind remains one of the longest movies to receive the Best Picture Oscar (Dayani p8) with the movie coming in just under four hours. While still remaining the highest-grossing box office films of all time, also setting bests for Academy Award wins and nominations. With many of the actors receiving Oscars for their roles.
One of the first scenes to be shot was the burning of Atlanta. With a cost of $25,000, it was also the most expensive (Dayani p4). This scene resulted in 15,000 gallons of water to drown the flames and a total of 30 acres of backlot being burned. Some abandoned sets from notable films like King Kong were also set ablaze (Dayani p4). Over 113 minutes were filmed with only a few short minutes being used.
Overall, Gone with the Wind was a well-received in the United States, but there were protests. Soon after rights to the novel were received, the studio received a series of postcards and letters arguing that the book was un-American, anti-Semitic, anti-Negro, pro-Ku Klux Klan, pro-Nazi, and fascists (Harry Ransom Center p2). Due to such a reaction from the general public, some scenes and choice of words were removed from the film. Some of the reasons it became an American staple was due to feminism, addressing the social turmoil from the Great Depression and toned-down white supremacy.
Some of the greater controversies surrounding this iconic film including unfair wages, prejudice and the animosity between Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. The imbalanced wages were drastic between the lead actor and actress. While Clark Gable was said to have received almost $120,000 for his 70 non-consecutive days of filming. While Leigh only received a measly $25,000 for over 125 days on set (Dayani p8).
Due to the segregation law in Atlanta at the time Hattie McDaniel who played Mammy, later won an Oscar for Best supporting Actress. McDaniel was not allowed to attend the premier (Mahoney p4). Due to this the actor who portrayed Rhett, Clark Gable decided to boycott the premier.
The dislike between the two actors is well known. Vivien was known to loath doing scenes that involved Gable, she claimed he had foul smelling breath. Many say he had horrible smelling breath was due to his dentures (Dayani p16).
Popularity of Gone With the Wind
Margaret Mitchell’s romantic epic, Gone With the Wind, owes its remarkable popularity to the climate of sudden self-destruction and dreariness the Depression created. The Old South’s grandeur, coupled with its Civil War-era decadence, provided much-needed escapism for readers, as well as paralleling the U.S.’s own plight in the 20s and 30s. In addition, Scarlett O’Hara’s feminist role, her devotion to her land, and her indomitable optimism lent hope to those who had lost faith in the American Dream.A spirit of beautiful, colorful life at the onset sets up the South’s inevitable destruction and magnifies the greatness of the land and its people. “Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills. Already the plowing was nearly finished, and the bloody glory of the sunset colored the fresh-cut furrows of red Georgia clay to even redder hues.” (10) The foreshadowing of the “bloody glory” of sunset is striking, but idealism is the main theme presented here. Scarlett’s status as a second-generation immigrant adds further to this atmosphere of opportunity. Her father, a proud Irishman, proclaims “‘Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything, for tis the only thing in this world that lasts…And to anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them the land they live on is like their mother.'” (39) The idea of an undersized foreigner claiming a large stake in America as his own must surely have fueled the imagination of the great influx of recent immigrants, many of whom used GWTW as a primer to American literature.Hanging over the tranquil South is the specter of war. Rhett, introducing his role as the novel’s realist, explains to a group of war hawks, “‘Why, all we have is cotton and slaves and arrogance. [The North]’d lick us in a month.'” (113) The South’s economic dependency and lack of stability, as well as its overconfidence, mirror that of the late 1920s U.S. Indeed, the Yankees do lick the Confederates, albeit in more than forty-eight months. The landscape is much changed. “Atlanta was longer…the desperately gay place she had loved. It was a hideous place like a plague-stricken city so quiet, so dreadfully quiet after the din of the siege.” (341) The sounds of a ravaged South, too, rang familiarly in the ears of ghetto-dwellers and tenant farmers alike who lived in similar settings.But reaffirming the hope of the disenfranchised is Scarlett and her determination to resurrect her homeland. “She could not desert Tara; she belonged to the red acres far more than they could ever belong to her. Her roots went deep into the blood-colored soil and sucked up life, as did the cotton…Tomorrow there would be so many things to do.” (413-4) Her self-imposed desire for progress and the future overrides the faults of Reconstruction, perhaps indicating Mitchell’s laissez-faire approach to government. Among those faults are the Northern soldiers, one of whom enters Tara with Scarlett the only able-bodied person in the house. “As he lounged up the walk…a kaleidoscope of jumbled pictures spun in her mind, stories Aunt Pittypat had whispered of attacks on unprotected women, throat cuttings…all of the unspeakable horrors that lay bound up in the name of Yankee.'” (432) As his intentions to rape are made clear after he symbolically “[slips] his pistol back into its holster” (433) and asks “‘All alone, little lady?'” (433) Scarlett shoots him with the “heavy pistol…Charles had worn but never fired.” (432) Her utilization of a tool her ex-husband never could use is a clear literary act of feminism, as is her triumphant spirit afterwards and the ensuing sisterhood she feels with Melanie: “Her eyes went to the stubby hairy hand on the floor so close to the sewing box and suddenly she was vitally alive again, vitally glad with a cool tigerish joy…She had struck a blow for Tara – and for Ellen…There was a glow of grim pride in [Melanie’s] usually gentle face, approbation and a fierce joy in her smile that equaled the fiery tumult in Scarlett’s own bosom.” (434)Scarlett’s enduring faith in the future and in herself is indelibly stamped at the climax. Rhett declares his unwillingness to live in the broken present and wishes to find the past: “‘Scarlett, I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken – and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken pieces as long as I lived.'” (1022) Scarlett is initially crushed; “She wondered forlornly if she had ever really understood anyone in the world.” (1023) But the thought of Tara, “a quiet place to lick her wounds, a haven in which to plan her campaign,” (1023) comforts her. Her final statement reiterates her sentiments for a new “tomorrow” after Atlanta’s burning (414), and her faith in her own abilities again avers Mitchell’s feminist leanings: “With the spirit of her people who would not know defeat…she raised her chin. She could get Rhett back…’Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.'” (1024) With its broad appeal to uprising women, the hopeless, and anyone yearning for a long diversion into a more regal time, as well as its firm beliefs in the American Dream in a time when the premise was widely doubted, GWTW’s rank as the most popular American book is undeniable; a more debatable question would be whether Mitchell’s intentions were first of providing desolate America with romance, or rather of pushing veiled political propaganda.
Scarlet O’Hara: Symbol of the Delusional South
Gone with the Wind opens with a grandiose description of the South: according to the opening text, this is the region where “gallantry took its last bow” and “knights and their ladies” took a stand against the onslaught of Northern aggression. This terminology tries to tie the genteel South depicted in the film to the ideals and perception of the chivalric medieval times. This tie is appropriate, as both times have been misrepresented historically; that is, many romanticize the medieval era of European history and the antebellum era of American history. For them, it is easier (or less painful) to see the beautiful damsels and the gallant knights in shining armor—the equivalent of the belles and the plantation owners—than to see the serfs and lower classes struggling to build a castle or tend a field, just as slaves kept plantations and tended crops. The mechanism by which these time periods were established and maintained—i.e. slave labor—is overshadowed to the point of nonexistence by the spectacle of the settings and characters associated with those periods. Gone with the Wind gives viewers a distracting visual stimulus—what Tom Brown, quoting Laura Mulvey, calls ”to-be-looked-at-ness”—in its over-the-top sets and costumes, but it also presents the character of Scarlett O’Hara as an object to be observed. The irony here is that, through various actions, Scarlett becomes a representation of that portion of the South’s population (both past and current) who cannot see past the perceived grandiosity of the past, yet she is also a representation of that same grandiosity. She, as well as those who cannot see the horrible truth behind the constructed legend of a South that never was, cannot look beyond her own interests to see the truth.
There are numerous examples within the movie which show Scarlett’s lack of vision. She marries Charles Hamilton out of frustration and spite, in hopes of angering Ashley Wilkes; and she marries Frank Kennedy only to use his money to pay the taxes on Tara, thus protecting a home and way of life that can never return. She is an opportunist and a user. She seems to have no notion that her ideal childhood at Tara never really existed—it appeared care-free to her, but it was bought with the blood and sweat of an enslaved people. Scarlett never acknowledges this fact. She, as the lead character of the film, represents the great southern separation of perception from reality—a delusion still present at the 1939 premiere of the film. As Edward Campbell states in “The South as National Epic, 1939-1941: Gone with the Wind”: “One critic reported that thirty-eight survivors of the Civil War emerged from the theatre convinced that the movie was ‘true. . .to the South of their own childhoods.’” I postulate that the “survivors of the Civil War,” both those present at the premiere and those not, entered into a state of mass psychosis. The only way to deal with the atrocities of slavery and the pain and humiliation of the South’s defeat was to suppress them and turn them into something more palatable. In essence, certain Southerners made a ball gown out of their dingy curtains, and many have been dancing in the delusion ever since. I would like to say that this delusion is dead, but one need only look to Civil War reenactments and plantation-themed weddings to see that it is not.
The most prominent example of Scarlett’s refusal to accept reality is found at the end of the film. Bonnie is dead, Rhett has left, and Scarlett has collapsed at the bottom of the staircase. Rather than accepting what is at hand, she stares into the camera and thinks of Tara again. Her longing for what was is still her driving force. She wants to go back and rebuild Tara (and possibly her relationship with Rhett), but it is impossible to do so. Scarlett will not accept this fact, and the movie ends on this perceived high note. This is appealing to those in the audience who refuse to accept reality. Movie goers buy in to Scarlett’s denial of her circumstances because they too deny their own. She cannot accept her lot in life, and neither can they.
On pages 163 and 164 of “Spectacle/Gender/History: The Case of Gone with the Wind,” Tom Brown describes the “historical gaze” found in epic films such as Gone with the Wind as a kind of foresight found in the prominent figures in those movies. He states that they “seem endowed with a clairvoyance through which they appear to recognize events to come.” If this is the case, then Scarlett’s “gaze” only works in the short term and in reverse. She can only see the outcomes of her actions as they relate to her status, and she cannot see far into the future because she continually looks backward to the Tara of her youth.
If anyone in the film has a real “historical gaze,” it would be the young man playing the horn in the middle of town as the lists of fallen soldiers are distributed. He is weeping as he plays an up-tempo song while the news of death is passed around. The ridiculousness of the whole situation is revealed as the camera singles in on his tear-filled eyes. The song the band plays sounds lively—almost celebratory—but it cannot mask the horror of the situation, just as Scarlett’s doggedness cannot restore Tara and her youth, and the delusions of grandeur associated with the antebellum South cannot erase the truth of its daily workings.