Judy's Reviews > Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
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May 04, 12

bookshelves: romance
Read in June, 2008

Having a hard time slogging through the blatant racism in this book. Times sure have changed. And thank God for that.

Okay, nearly forty years since I first read it, the epic love story against the brutality of the Civil War still manages to sweep me up.

But the racism still wrankles, especially the glorification of the Ku Klux Klan--southern gentlemen had no other choice. They weren't bullies terrorizing people because of the color of their skin, they were protecting their women from the rapacious appetites of the newly freed slaves.

Mitchell says more than once that the blacks were like children and couldn't manage without whites taking care of them. There's a part in the book where she describes how Scarlett's mother Ellen would evaluate the Negro children, selecting the best and the brightest to be house servants. The others would be taught a trade and if they failed at that, they become field hands. As the best and the brightest of the race, the house servants were the ones who stayed with their masters, apparently aware of their own limitations.

And yet, this is a book about a strong woman who actively defies the strictures for women of her time. Scarlett runs Tara, she becomes successful at business, she bosses grown men around, even though she was taught that a lady must hide her intelligence and always appear subservient and helpless around men. Since they had little if any rights, that was the only recourse for women at the time.

I find it ironic that Ms. Mitchell never realized that just as the women were playing the role of fragile creatures subservient to the fathers and husbands, their black slaves were doing the same thing--hiding their abilities and intelligence because they had no other choice.

Something else, my daughter is reading GWTW and commented "Everybody dies." I explained that during the Civil War, 800,000 men died and just like the Tarletons, families lost all their sons. A good reason not to go to war.
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Comments (showing 1-40 of 40) (40 new)

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Sharelle Milo I do not believe Mitchell believed the slaves or Blacks were like children. One of the smartest and most insightful characters, Mammy, anchors Scarlett and holds the respect of Rhett. There is something to be said about that. I think Mitchell quietly speaks out against the stereotypes commonly associated with freed slaves in the South. Remember Scarlett's fathers only beat one slave.

message 2: by Judy (last edited Jul 11, 2012 10:13AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Judy Yes, Mammy is Scarlett's anchor, who loves her enough to tell her the truth. A strong character in both the book and the movie. But she is still property. She doesn't even have a name, she's called by her occupation. We don't know where she came from, whether she had a family, or children.

And there is that scene where Scarlett comforts the Hamilton's family retainer Uncle Peter, who'd had to endure the insults of a Yankee woman who'd talked about him like he wasn't even there.

As for stereotypes, Mitchell created the grandmother of all racial sterotypes in Prissy. "Fo' Gawd Mizz Scahlet, I don' know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies."

Beating only one slave is a good thing? That's like saying "I only stabbed her once."

Susan Grodsky Judy, I wish more reviewers would call Mitchell on her racism. Try this thought experiment: A novel set in Auschwitz between Scarlett, the beautiful, spoiled, passionate guard in women's barracks 17, and Rhett, the charming, doesn't give a damn director of Birkenau. There may be a wonderful love story between them, but could you ignore the setting?

Carolyn The book is set in times of slavery, before and during the war. It wouldn't be realistic to have the black people of those times be smart, educated, and well-spoken. But that didn't stop the author from putting in strong black people that actually took charge of Scarlett and others.

You can't go at this book with a modern mind.

Judy Of course I can read this book with a modern mind.

Margaret Mitchell wrote it with a modern mind. As a southern woman living in the relatively modern age of the 1930s, she lived in a world with electricity, air travel, talking movies, voting rights for women and Jim Crow laws.

In the 2008 book Rhett Butler's People, another authorized GWTW sequel, Donald McCaig writes about the very same characters in the same time period without the contrived dialect or the blatant racism. There's a line in it where he says the slave holders in the south felt like they'd been "deserted by their own children--lazy, devious children, but their own children nonetheless."

And while rare, there were smart, educated and well-spoken blacks in the civil war era. Mark Twain describes one inThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck's father is livid about seeing a free black man from Ohio "They said he was a p'fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain't the wust. The said he could VOTE when he was at home."

Margaret Mitchell was a white woman living in a time of legally sanctioned segregation. I understand that's where she was coming from, but it doesn't make the racism any more acceptable.

Carolyn Judy wrote: "Of course I can read this book with a modern mind.

Margaret Mitchell wrote it with a modern mind. As a southern woman living in the relatively modern age of the 1930s, she lived in a world with ..."

But the book itself is not in modern times.

Judy I will concede that "Gone With The Wind" is historical fiction. However, just because the Ku Klux Klan was considered a noble organization by people living in that time and place, doesn't make it any less morally reprehensible.

I'm just saying that Margaret Mitchell's own world view went into the telling of this story. Writers can't avoid that. You write what you know.

Mitchell's mother was a woman's rights activist, taking her on marches for women's suffrage. Those feminist views are evident in Scarlett's refusal to conform to the restrictions for women of that era. If Mitchell wanted to be realistic for the time, Scarlett would have demurred to her father and her husbands, and wouldn't dream of running a sawmill with an iron fist.

And I still say Mitchell's racism, which was perfectly acceptable for a white women living in Atlanta in the 1930s, finds its way into this book. I know that's how things were for her. I'm just glad racial attitudes have changed in the 75 years since GWTW was published.

Camille You missed the whole idea of the story, sorry!

Sharelle Milo I agree with you Camille. I also think it is silly to get upset about the truths of the time period. I don't freak about misogyny while reading Romantic literature or Shakespeare.

Camille Thank you Sharelle.

message 11: by Judy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Judy There is a section in the book where Mitchell describes how the Tarleton twins were given a slave for their tenth birthday, as if they'd received a pony or a dog. There is something inherently wrong in the idea of ten year old boys owning a person.

Having just read Gilead in which one of the characters took part in the bloody Free Soil attacks in Kansas, I can see the reason for the outrage of owning another human being.

For me, reading "Gone With The Wind" now is like watching an old racist cartoon, where black crows do minstrel shows. It was the truth of the time period, but it's still wrong.

Sharelle Milo @Judy,
Of course giving the Tarleton twins a slave for their birthday was the equivalent of treating a human being like a dog or pony. This an example and honest description of the ugliness of slavery. One cannot write an antebellum historical novel while ignoring the truths of the time period. Have you read or seen The Help. One maid was put in a will and given to the daughter. Same scenario as the twins but this takes place during the 60's. We can't read while wearing rose colored glasses.

message 13: by Jen (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jen Klee I'm struggling with the racism in this book also. While I understand that it is "historically accurate" I still find it distracting enough that I keep putting the book down. I will slog my way through, but I appreciate your honest review.

message 14: by Cathy (last edited Feb 13, 2013 03:18PM) (new) - added it

Cathy It's one thing to portray the times accurately, in that the white characters own slaves and are racist -- but the NARRATOR's VOICE is also racist. Because Mitchell herself was. A big portion of the book is an attempt to white-wash lynching and the KKK. That doesn't take away from the power of the story (which I enjoy thoroughly), but yes, it's a racist book. Not just a book about racism.

Michael Llewellyn For many years until her death, Margaret Mitchell quietly donated money for dozens of scholarships to Morehouse College, a black Atlanta institution, and her estate continues her philanthropic practices. Perhaps that's a Margaret Mitchell you don't know.

Michael Llewellyn donations

message 17: by Judy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Judy You could argue that by donating to a historically black college like Morehouse, Mitchell was ensuring that segregation would continue at the college level, doing her part to maintain the equal in "separate but equal."

Michael Llewellyn Indeed you could, just as you could argue that she wanted to help educate future black doctors and dentists. She was praised for her efforts by Morehouse President Benjamin Mays. Mitchell also did volunteer work in black hospitals as a teen and in later life pushed to integrate the Atlanta police department. This is scarcely racist behavior.

Jessica I'm with Penny, Camille and Sharelle. You really don't get it. It's set in a completely different time and ofcourse the narrator's voice is racist as this was a pretty normal way of thinking back then.

Michael Llewellyn And you don't get that that the narrator's voice and author's voice don't have to be one and the same. Mitchell's prose clearly did not meld with her personal views. Calling the book racist is one thing; attacking the author (with an admirable civil eights record)is quite another.

Jessica Is your comment directed at me? My comment was certainly not directed at you! I'm merely commenting on the writes of this review. And correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't my comment specifically say that the NARRATOR's voice is racist? I wasn't talking about the author!

Jessica *writer (damn you autocorrect! :) )

Michael Llewellyn And I thought your "you don't get it" was directed at me! My, but these threads can get confusing. I apologize for the misunderstanding, Jessica, as we're clearly on the same page.

Jessica Apologie accepted! After commenting I read all your comments above mine again and was already scratching myself behind the ear and thinking "what's he on about, we clearly think the same way about this book" :).

Michael Llewellyn Thanks. Btw, I lived in the house where MM wrote the book.

Jessica Oh wow! That is pretty cool! I live in a small town where no self-respecting writer would ever want to live ;).

Michael Llewellyn I no longer live in Atlanta but you might enjoy the story. http://michaelllewellyn.wordpress.com...

message 28: by Sigrid (new)

Sigrid Prissy was 12 or 13 --- she'd be a middle school kid today. I suspect the portrait was not that unfair. What's the reward for being a prompt, efficient, hard-working slave? Nothing! Prissy only got time to herself by dawdling and daydreaming.

The book is told from Scarlett's perspective and it's quite realistic to find relying on an very young and unmotivated teen to be infuriating. Even parents of 13 year old girls are not infrequently exasperated by them.

Nor should it be a great surprise that slavery encourages negative character traits in both slave and owner.

message 29: by Judy (new) - rated it 2 stars

Judy Here's what Malcolm X had to say about the character of Prissy, as portrayed in the film version:

"I was the only Negro in the theater, and when Butterfly McQueen went into her act, I felt like crawling under the rug."

And Butterfly McQueen was playing Prissy exactly as she was written in the book.

Michael Llewellyn Good for Ms. McQueen. Something wrong with a good actress doing her job well? When Hattie McDaniel came under fire for playing maids, she said, "I'd much rather play one than be one."

message 31: by Sigrid (new)

Sigrid Yeah, we'd all like Prissy better if she was hard-working, reliable and took pride in the job her masters assigned her --- fetching, carrying, and mopping up for spoiled, temperamental, and unappreciative Scarlett.

Do you expect Prissy to feel lucky that she gets to run around doing errands for Scarlett instead of slaving in the cotton fields? Maybe when she's dawdling instead of briskly carrying out whatever menial chore she's assign, she's dreaming of a world where she can live at home with her mother and step-father and go to school -- an unobtainable fantasy in the world she was born to.

Readers don't like whiners or characters who don't like their lot in life and do nothing to change it.

Jennifer Honestly depicting the way blacks were treated during that time is not racist it is an accurate depiction of the times. There is an obvious difference.

message 33: by Kat (last edited Jul 29, 2013 05:23PM) (new) - added it

Kat That's not really how it works, for those who are saying that the reviewer shouldn't be bothered by the racism in it. Even if it is "historically accurate", a person can still be bothered by the inherent racism in the time period, the privilege of a white woman writing it in the 1930s, and are still allowed to criticize it. I swear to god, you people.

On the other hand, to the actual writer of the review, thank you for summing up my feelings on the book thus far. I'm enjoying the story and the writing, but the racism is definitely uncomfortable for me.

Charmaine I agree the blatant racism the author shows colours the book. You can write a book set in that time period without having her little snide comments. The part where she claims that all the slaves in power were the lowest of the black race and were often picking their nose and wiping boogers on their new shoes infuriated me. Another part where Scarlett is out riding in her carriage and the big slave appears with his tongue wagging and his eyes rolling in his head in excitement. How can that be seen by anyone as the 'theme of the time'. That was a description by the author that likens him to a dog and him acting like a dog. All the people saying - oh it's just a book set in those days blah blah would feel completely differently if it was a book about people of their own race being depicted as nasty, dirty, stupid, ignorant animals. The smell of the slaves cabin as 'rank niggerish' is evidently the authors opnion. It added nothing to the story - in fact it made no sense as the slaves were long gone by then. Let's not even get me started about the klan being formed to protect decent white folk from the savage black animals that had been loosed on the streets. With Mammy spouting white agenda all the time when she calls the free slaves 'trash' and hold them in such contempt as if the only aspiration she can have in life is being at the beck and call of white people. Funny how you never read historical accounts of slaves who felt that way and were happier being at the mercy of anyone white.

Maggie I understand your point about the racism, but the book is an accurate commentary of its setting. I think the most important thing to realize though is that the book isn't about the Civil War. It's about Scarlet O'Hara. It's about a person who has seen her whole life (quite literally) burn to the ground and has risen from the ashes to save not only to save herself but her family. It's about a person's transformation and will to survive even when those around her difficulty doing the same (ahem Ashley Wilkes). You don't have to like Scarlet, but in some ways you do have to respect her. The core story and message could be set in almost anytime of intense strife, so it might help you enjoy the story more if you look at the War as a backdrop, not the main story

message 36: by Judy (last edited Nov 17, 2013 10:30AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Judy I admire Scarlett O'Hara. At the age of 18, she takes on the responsibility of caring for her household, which includes people she despises--her sister-in-law Melanie & her sister Suellen. She does what needs to be done. She doesn't cling to the idea of the Glorious Cause, but does whatever she can to take care of "me and mine," like tending the fields and marrying Frank Kennedy to pay the taxes on Tara. She deals with reality. That's impressive in any century.

I object to the portrayal of the African Americans in this story. It was written in the 1930s when racism was perfectly acceptable. Mammy is described as an ape, for God's sake! And to prove that attitudes have changed, if you read Rhett Butler's People, you'll see how his crime of "killing a n***** for insulting a white woman" (shades of Emmett Till), was whitewashed for 21st century tastes.

Maggie Again it's a product of its time, both setting and when it was written. It's nice to reflect on the progress society has made. I do think though that in the case of Mammy, and too a much lesser extent Prissy, there is some good character development for some of the African American characters. For example, Mammy and Ellen are the only two characters Scarlet ever second guesses herself around. They are the two that keep her in check (though not often successfully). Mammy has Rhett's respect and Scarlett fears her because she's one of the few people who can see through Scarlet's crap and will call her on it. But I agree that if Mitchell had developed other characters similarly or even more, it would have added a whole new dimension to the book.

message 38: by Xdyj (last edited Nov 02, 2013 07:23PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Xdyj I think there is nothing wrong with enjoying a book without agreeing with everything that is said in the book, & imho there is no need to be too defensive over the romanticization of slavery, KKK & segregation by abusing the "a product of its time" argument. The meaning of words do change & some stereotyping may be excusable, but the horrors of those racist institutions were already well documented & thoroughly criticized by many Americans as well as non-American progressives long before the 1930s.

message 39: by V.G. (new) - added it

V.G. Grace I fully agree with the reviewer. I have read over six hundred pages of the novel so far, and at completion will be writing my own review, taking a critical look at the writing, subtext, themes, and plot. I cannot speak for Margaret Mitchell's personal views on African-Americans, but I can honestly say that while this is a gripping novel, and yes, phenomenally skilled writing, the depictions are frequently insanely offensive. What bothers me the most is the self-absorption of the book, and I am not strictly talking about the individual personality of Scarlett. I am speaking of the overall story arc. The message I seem to be getting over and over and over and OVER again is to 'feel sorry', 'feel pity', 'feel sympathy' for those former slaveowners left in the aftermath of the demise of their way of life, a supposedly "genteel", absurdly luxurious way of life that was only luxurious because it was solely based on the theft of valuable labor. No "kindness" from the fictitious O'Haras towards the enslaved people on their plantation, nor any real-life kindness from random slaveowners changes the fact that the only reason that the world of people like Scarlett was ever steeped in riches was because their fathers and father's fathers were thieves...thieves of the labor of other men and women which greatly enriched not only their families but the entire society. Why again was this "way of life" something to be eulogized in any way, shape, or form? Maybe to the Ashley Wilkes who lived on billlowy clouds and never knew the pain of an aching back beneath a hot sun in the cotton field (until of course the Confederacy's defeat), the life of planter aristocracy was a beautiful dream, but for the slaves whose labor was stolen, it was a life of unpaid servitude and never-ending submission to other people's whims. What about THEIR humanity? Not to mention the depictions of the freedmen are bringing to mind another infamous and offensive representation years before, D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation". I don't know about Mitchell or the tales she may have been told at the knees of old, bitter ex-confederates, but the vast majority of freed slaves concerns' were seeking jobs/deserved equality, struggling to put food in their childrens' mouths and surviving day by day. I ask as the reader, how much of the supposed "horrors" of supposedly raping, pillaging former slaves is historically accurate or hysterical one-sided hyperbole passed down from one Southern generation to the next, resentful that they had lost abundant, free labor to begin with? This is a good page on the history of Reconstruction: http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/exhi... If anyone wants a highly realistic picture of the struggles of former slaves after the war, I'd strongly recommend Alex Haley's "Queen", by the way.
It's offensive to my sensibilities to read some of the stuff put forward in GWTW, and I am glad to see that other people can approach this work with a critical eye.

Demetrius Sherman Mitchell was a good friend and neighbor of the author of Birth of a Nation. The glorification of the Klan and racist propaganda runs through the book. the slaves are cartoon characters and not real humans. The happy slave is slave owner stereotype propaganda to those against it.

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