Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Wind is Still Gone

Having read "Gone With the Wind" recently, I finally got around to viewing the epic length (four hours! That's like watching "Roller Boogie" three times!) film. It happens that the film swept the 1939 Oscars, is the all time highest grossing movie (in real dollars, so up yours, Avatar), and featured such a cavalier use of the word "Damn" that it got Americans all riled up to go fight Nazis. As a piece of art, it was an excellent film--the cinematography, the pacing, the performances--but as a piece of history, it certainly painted a skewed version of slavery and the Confederate "cause". (All slaves in the film seemed pretty happy to be slaves and were well treated for the most part) As I'd noted when reading the book, you could imagine that this was supposed to show the whitewashed perspective of the pro-Confederacy and pro-slavery side, but I imagine many viewers during the segregated 1930s probably saw the film as a vindication of their pro-slavery views.

Of course, the main focus is seeing things from the point of view of the two principal characters--Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler, who was immortalized as the selfish, small minded, yet determined and tough as nails Southern Belle, and Rhett Butler, the charming, cynical rogue who loves her despite himself. I can imagine the story told from the point of view of the other characters:

1) Prissy, the slave girl who famously yelled "I don't know about birthin' babies!"--"Ok, here I am, about ten years old and I'm told we're free and yet here I am sticking around with this crazy mean lady for some reason. So her pal--who I don't work for, by the way--is about to give birth, and I'm thinking, hey Prissy, this is your time to shine! So I tell Scarlett I can totally birth a baby, figuring maybe the doctor will show up and I won't have my bluff called. But then, the doctor is all not there, and I'm like, crap! So I tell Scarlett I can't birth a baby, and she goes and slaps me. I'm totally going to mess up her coffee tomorrow."

2) Melanie Hamilton Wilkes, Scarlett's unknowing romantic rival--"It's so nice of Scarlett to pay so much attention to my husband Ashley, constantly sucking the snake poison out of various parts of his body. And stripping him out of his clothes. I'm sure there's some medical reason for that. She's just so considerate."

3) The Yankee soldier who unluckily strays into the O'Hara plantation while Scarlett is armed--"So I'm thinking, hey, I could totally use some food because Sherman ain't feeding us much. I make it into this house, and the lady of the plantation is standing on the stairs, and I'm thinking hey maybe this chick will give some food to a starving man. Then the crazy bitch up and shoots me in the face. Southern hospitality my ass!"

4) Wilkerson, the O'Hara caretaker who was fired for impregnating a "white trash" woman and came back after the war to buy up the plantation--"So here I am, finally making some good money after losing my job, trying to help out freed blacks and rebuild the South. I assume people will be cool with it, but it's been the cold shoulder for quite some time! So I head back to Tara, knowing that the plantation is about to go under as basically the only staff they have to run it is two former house slaves, three dainty women, and a foppish dandy who seems to be more interested in Rhett Butler than the chicks they have running around there. I figure I can make a fair offer, and I tell Scarlett that, and she tosses dirt at me for some reason, and her crazy old mick father chases after me on his horse and falls off and dies. What a screwy family. I should have gotten hazard pay for working there when I did."

5) Ashley Wilkes, Melanie's husband and the love interest of Scarlett--"So I'm basically a good guy, right? I was right about the war being a bad idea, but I fought anyway, like some earlier version of John Kerry. I opposed slavery, and would have freed my family's slaves once I inherited them if the war hadn't done it first. All I really want is to move to New York and read books and stuff, and now this crazy Scarlett chick who's been after my junk for over a decade is getting all stalkerish now, trying to ruin my marriage and force me and my wife and kid to stay in Atlanta and work at her lumber mill so she can sexually harass me. Too bad the sex harassment laws aren't going to be around for a hundred years."

6) The horse that Rhett, Scarlett, Prissy, Melanie and the baby rode from a burning Atlanta to Tara during a dramatic night--"This sucks. I'm sitting around, doing awesome horse stuff, and suddenly the city is on fire. I'm like, great, I'm outtie, and then suddenly this dude with huge ears grabs me and hitches me to a carriage. Okay, not so bad, we're still leaving dude! Then he stops and picks up like four more people! Not cool, dude! Especially since one of them is all whiny, and it isn't the ten year old slave girl or the lady who just gave birth, no it's this entitled chick who is really not helping matters. We not only have to ride around a burning city and fend off bandits trying to steal me, we then have an all night journey through a battle zone before we finally get to their goddam plantation. You'd think they'd at least have some oats or something for me when we got there. But no."


  1. I read the book too in elementary school, which was highly inappropriate! Margaret Mitchell was writing for her audience and based the story on family tales.

    A points you should clarify. While slavery was and is wrong, many slaves were extremely loyal to their families. It's gross misconception that every family in the South had hundreds of slaves. The vast majority of Southerners were not slave owners. If they were, the family had one, and they were generally very close.

    There are many tales of slaves accompany men to fight for the Confederacy. Many slaves sided with the South and willingly continued to work for their families after the War. Now, there were abuses and sharecropping problems, but don't paint the South so bleakly.

    1. Prissy was a teenager around 15 or 16. At that point in society, every woman at her age should have known how to assist in labor. At the time, it was rare for doctors to assist in childbirth. It was still the domain of midwives and women. Prissy was pretty useless, which was one reason she was shipped off to Atlanta with Scarlett.

    2. Melanie's character is a counterpoint to Scarlett. I always thought Mitchell made her purposely shallow to show more of Scarlett's strength. Scarlett is a silly, selfish woman but she gets things done and is a survivor. Mitchell was killed before she finished writing a sequel, but I think she would have given Scarlett some type of redemption.

    3. When the movie came out in 1939, movie-goers would have remembered tales from their great-grandparents about the looting and raping that Union soldiers did to the South. Most of the troops ransacked farms and took all of the food. Families were left with very little. Untold numbers of women were raped and attacked by Union thugs.

    Scarlett was purely acting in self-defense. She knew her chances of survival were very low if the soldier was allowed to live.

    Incidentally, that's how sweet potatoes became popular. Yankees didn't know what they were and left them, thinking they were roots. Sweet potatoes are still a Southern staple.

    4. Wilkerson was a traitor who tried to profit off of the bad fortunes of the gentry. Sure it's classism, and it still exists. "White trash" is still a derogatory term used in whispering tones.

    As the caretaker, he was an aspiring landowner. Had he not been a cad, he would have been viewed more favorably. In the 1860s he got a woman pregnant before marriage. That was inexcusable. All of society would have judged him for his bad character that would taint any level of success he achieved in life.

    5. I hate Ashley and always have. He was a douche bag.

  2. Adrienne--thank you for your comments on this; it's good to get a southern perspective. I realize that many slaves were in fact loyal to their masters, and many perhaps weren't mistreated, but the book and movie presented a very one-sided view of this. If the movie and book were your only exposure to slavery, a normal person would wonder how anyone could ever oppose the institution. While many slaves did serve the Confederates (as laborers and later, many even fighting alongside the greycoats), there were vast numbers that simply walked off the plantations or assisted the Union forces too.

    1. I agree that Prissy was useless--she was brought to the O'Haras as a package deal when they acquired Dilcey. While a lot of slave owners didn't mind breaking up slave families, the O'Haras were painted as benevolent and willing to spend extra money to please their loyal slaves.

    2. Melanie sort of had a martyr complex. I kind of wonder if she was like that because she knew it drove Scarlett nuts!

    3. This I agree with wholeheartedly--what Sherman's troops did was basically a war crime. The looting and violence that they visited on the civilians did a lot to make Southerners hate the North for a long time afterward. And this is in contrast to how Lee's forces acted when they invaded the North on two occasions.

    4. Wilkerson may have turned into a traitor, but it was Mrs. O'Hara's moralistic decision to fire him for getting a "white trash girl" preggers (a woman that he even married later) that made him turn on them. Plus, they never really accepted him since he was of Yankee origin.

    5. Agree on Ashley! He was a bit too soft compared to Rhett's strong can-do demeanor.

  3. I would just add that any time one human being has ownership of the other, it's impossible to NOT "paint the South so bleakly." There are some behaviors that are inexcusable, immoral, and evil, and slavery is one of them.