Friday, April 9, 2010

Confederate History Month Gone With the Wind

Having just finished the novel "Gone With the Wind" I've come to a number of conclusions drawn from the book:

1) Everyone was very happy during the height of slavery, including the plantation owners and slaves themselves. No one ever beat or neglected the health of their slaves.

2) The only people who weren't happy during slavery was nasty "white trash" who didn't own slaves and were totally jealous. These people would later team up with the Yankees to take their revenge out on the former plantation owners.

3) The Yankees were a bunch of meddlers who didn't like the slaves anyway and after the war only used the freed slaves as political pawns to dominate the South. In fact, the Yankees were the real racists!

4) Most "good" slaves were upset with freedom and clung to their benevolent masters after the war. Mammy and Prissy and Pork and Cookie and Uncle Peter? They all stayed with their former masters, and apparently were never paid. In fact, when Scarlett tried dismissing Mammy she was rebuked.

5) The Ku Kux Klan was really just a resistance movement against those meddling carpetbaggers and scalawags and "uppity" freed slaves.

6) Damn it, why couldn't the Yankees leave well enough alone? Everyone was happy before. Except those nasty white trash.

At first, I thought "well, this was written in the South in the 1930s, when Jim Crow was still dominant, maybe the author was a bigot" but by the time I finished the book I looked at it slightly differently. The opinions about the slaves, Yankees, and society at the time were really showing the reader the mindset of the defenders of the "old ways"--after all, if you were going to profit off of slavery and fight for the Confederacy, you had to be able to convince yourself that you were on the moral side. You had to imagine that the slaves were happy, and that the masters were benevolent, and that the Yankees were just cynical invaders bent on domination. That narrative simply showed us how those die-hards could live with themselves, rather than argued that this was the reality--even if the author didn't intend it that way.

(I had heard that there was a version of this novel written from Mammy's point of view, which might be interesting except that Mammy (like the other slaves) was given such an extreme accent that it would be almost unreadable.)

This comes at a time when Virginia's governor has proclaimed Confederate History Month, and there was some uproar over the fact that the proclamation omitted discussion of slavery (the governor has since apologized, but damage was done). It sort of rankles me because there's plenty that southerners can be proud of, from producing great food and culture (novelists, artists, musical forms), sports figures, and some of this country's greatest leaders (Virginia alone produced four of our greatest presidents). The time when eleven of the southern states seceded from the country really shouldn't be considered their moment of crowning glory--particularly in Virginia, which was one of the last states to secede and where nearly a majority of its citizens were against secession (which led the western third of the state to actually secede from Virginia itself, one bit of irony in history). While the Virginia was a key part of the Confederacy (housing the national capital, and producing some of the best fighting men and officers of the army, and being host to many key battlefields), the entire endeavor was a terrible failure resulting in death and destruction for everyone involved. 150 years later, isn't it time to say "oops"?

That isn't to say that there were other factors animating the Confederates who fought--many not too keen on slavery itself but with more loyalty to their states and hating the idea of Federals marching in. And the North wasn't exactly a bunch of Boy Scouts what with Sherman's march, etc. And one could argue that any mechanism by which we bring states into the Union should have another mechanism by which states can leave (yes, I'm thinking of New Jersey). But it can't be denied that the Confederates were at war with the U.S., that they were fighting to preserve slavery, and that had they managed to win it would have been disastrous for the South in the long run. These are facts. It's about time we Virginians directed our pride towards more deserving things.

1 comment:

  1. "I'll think about it tomorrow." --S. O'hara

    God, she so deserved a bitch slap.