Slavery in Gone with the Wind

June 17, 2020 by Essay Writer

The most controversial aspect of Gone With the Wind is the film’s depiction of race relations. Though freed from the novel’s positive portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan, Gone With the Wind’s depiction of slavery remains decidedly simplistic. Adopting historian U. B. Phillip’s “plantation school” view of the institution, the film shows slaves as well-treated, blindly cheerful “darkies” loyal to their benevolent masters.

Slaves are portrayed as normal employees, are rewarded with presents like the master’s pocket watch if they’ve been appropriately loyal, and are allowed to scold the young mistress of the house as if they were a part of the family.

Big Sam leaves Tara only when ordered and with extreme reluctance and later saves Scarlett at serious risk to his own life. Although they were rarely acknowledged and there was no talk of pay after their emancipation, the former slaves show no interest in leaving Scarlett.

The slaves who choose to seek their freedom are looked down on, either portrayed as unscrupulous or as gullible pawns of the political parties.

Though this attitude is less sensationalistic than D. W. Griffith’s far more brutal caricatures of slaves in Birth of a Nation, Gone With the Wind’s refusal to acknowledge any of the complex racial issues of either the Reconstruction Era or the 1930s only supports the stereotypes presented in Griffith’s film. More damaging than Gone With the Wind’s simplistic view of slavery, however, is the film’s depiction of all African Americans as stupid and childlike.

Mammy manages to escape the film with her dignity largely intact, but Pork, the only named male house slave, is forced to appear in scene after scene with a wide-eyed, slightly glazed expression on his face. When faced with work duties beyond those he has always performed, he immediately becomes overwhelmed and panics. Big Sam’s grammar is chopped down to an extremely simplistic level, far below even that of the equally uneducated Mammy. The worst example of this negative portrayal is the young house slave Prissy. Perhaps intended as comic relief, Prissy is stupid, squeamish, a liar, and becomes hysterical over the smallest things.

She is a caricature of a woman, a living holdover from the slaveholder’s old claim that African Americans needed to be slaves because they weren’t able to function on their own. Malcolm X notes in his biography the deep shame he felt as a child when he saw Gone With the Wind, specifically citing Butterfly McQueen’s performance as Prissy. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People tried to arrange a boycott of the film by black audiences and, to a lesser extent, black actors. Slavery Slavery in Gone with the Wind is a backdrop to a story that is essentially about other things.

Southern plantation fiction (also known as Anti-Tom literature) from the early 19th century culminating in Gone with the Wind is written from the perspective and values of the slaveholder and tends to present slaves as docile and happy. The slaves depicted in Gone with the Wind are primarily loyal house servants, such as Mammy, Pork and Uncle Peter, and these slaves stay on with their masters even after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 sets them free. The field slaves, among them the foreman, Big Sam, leave the Tara plantation without any apparent hesitation.

James Stirling, a British writer who visited the Southern United States in 1857, stated there is a distinction between slaves that are house servants and slaves that are field hands in his book, Letters from the Slave States: In judging of the welfare of the slaves, it is necessary to distinguish the different conditions of slavery. The most important distinction, both as regards numbers and its influence on the wellbeing of the slave, is that between house-servants and farm or field-hands. The house-servant is comparatively well off.

A slave narrative by William Wells Brown published in 1847 spoke of the disparity in conditions between the house servant and the field hand: During the time that Mr. Cook was overseer, I was a house servant—a situation preferable to a field hand, as I was better fed, better clothed, and not obliged to rise at the ringing bell, but about an half hour after. I have often laid and heard the crack of the whip, and the screams of the slave. [16] Of the servants that stayed on at Tara, Scarlett thinks to herself, “There were qualities of loyalty and tirelessness and love in them that no strain could break, no money could buy.

Although the novel is over one thousand pages, Mammy never considers what her life might be like away from Tara. [18] She recognizes her freedom to come and go as she pleases saying, “Ah is free, Miss Scarlett. You kain sen’ me nowhar Ah doan wanter go,” but Mammy remains duty-bound to “Miss Ellen’s chile”. [19] Eighteen years prior to the publication of Gone with the Wind, an article titled, “The Old Black Mammy,” written in the Confederate Veteran in 1918, discussed the romanticized view of the mammy character that had been passed on in literature of the South: … or her faithfulness and devotion, she has been immortalized in the literature of the South; so the memory of her will never pass, but live on in the tales that are told of those “dear dead days beyond recall”. [20][21] Micki McElya, in her book, Clinging to Mammy, suggests the myth of the faithful slave, in the figure of mammy, lingers because white Americans wish to live in a world where African Americans are not angry over the injustice of slavery. [22] The best-selling anti-slavery novel from the 19th century is Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in 1852.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is mentioned briefly in Gone with the Wind as being accepted by the Yankees as, “revelation second only to the Bible”. [17] The enduring interest of both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gone with the Wind has resulted in lingering stereotypes of 19th century African American slaves. [23]However, since its publication, Gone with the Wind has become a reference point for subsequent writers about the South, both black and white alike. Slavery in Gone with the Wind is a backdrop to a story that is essentially about other things.

Southern plantation fiction (also known as Anti-Tom literature) from the early 19th century culminating in Gone with the Wind is written from the perspective and values of the slaveholder and tends to present slaves as docile and happy. [13] The slaves depicted inGone with the Windare primarily loyal house servants, such as Mammy, Pork and Uncle Peter, and these slaves stay on with their masters even after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 sets them free. The field slaves, among them the foreman, Big Sam, leave the Tara plantation without any apparent hesitation.

James Stirling, a British writer who visited the Southern United States in 1857, stated there is a distinction between slaves that are house servants and slaves that are field hands in his book, Letters from the Slave States: In judging of the welfare of the slaves, it is necessary to distinguish the different conditions of slavery. The most important distinction, both as regards numbers and its influence on the wellbeing of the slave, is that between house-servants and farm or field-hands. The house-servant is comparatively well off.

A slave narrative by William Wells Brown published in 1847 spoke of the disparity in conditions between the house servant and the field hand: During the time that Mr. Cook was overseer, I was a house servant—a situation preferable to a field hand, as I was better fed, better clothed, and not obliged to rise at the ringing bell, but about an half hour after. I have often laid and heard the crack of the whip, and the screams of the slave. [16] Of the servants that stayed on at Tara, Scarlett thinks to herself, “There were qualities of loyalty and tirelessness and love in them that no strain could break, no money could buy. [17] Although the novel is over one thousand pages, Mammy never considers what her life might be like away from Tara.

She recognizes her freedom to come and go as she pleases saying, “Ah is free, Miss Scarlett. You kain sen’ me nowhar Ah doan wanter go,” but Mammy remains duty-bound to “Miss Ellen’s chile”. [19] Eighteen years prior to the publication of Gone with the Wind, an article titled, “The Old Black Mammy,” written in the Confederate Veteran in 1918, discussed the romanticized view of the mammy character that had been passed on in literature of the South: … or her faithfulness and devotion, she has been immortalized in the literature of the South; so the memory of her will never pass, but live on in the tales that are told of those “dear dead days beyond recall”.

Micki McElya, in her book, Clinging to Mammy, suggests the myth of the faithful slave, in the figure of mammy, lingers because white Americans wish to live in a world where African Americans are not angry over the injustice of slavery. 22] The best-selling anti-slavery novel from the 19th century is Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe, published in 1852. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is mentioned briefly in Gone with the Wind as being accepted by the Yankees as, “revelation second only to the Bible”. [17] The enduring interest of both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gone with the Wind has resulted in lingering stereotypes of 19th century African American slaves. [23] However, since its publication, Gone with the Wind has become a reference point for subsequent writers about the South, both black and white alike.

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