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“Race” and GWTW (spoiler alert)

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message 1: by Altair (new)

Altair IV “Gone with the Wind” is a story in which blacks and whites closely interact with each other. On page 654, chapter 37, Margaret Mitchell shows Scarlet’s feelings and I believe her own, by writing: “To the credit of the negroes, including the least intelligent of them, few were actuated by malice and those few had usually been “mean n******”even in slave days. But they were, as a class, childlike in mentality, easily led and from long habit accustomed to taking orders. Formerly their white masters had given the orders. Now they had a new set of masters . . .” Racism is the doctrine that inherent differences, meaning differences at birth, makes one category of humans superior to another, not that differences in experiences results in one category being superior. Writing that ex-slaves “. . . were as a class, childlike in mentality, easily led and from long habit accustomed to taking orders” that is it was their experience as slaves that led to their inabilities, not that they were black is an anti-raciest statement and is actually a very strong criticism of slavery. After reading this I am left with the clear believe that neither Margaret Mitchell, at least when she wrote the book, nor Scarlet were racist.

There are seven slaves/ex-slaves importantly mentioned in this story. I will start with Jeems, the Tarleton twin’s body servant, as he is in Chapter one.

Jeems was not presented as a genus, but he was clearly presented as having a good deal more insight and as being more thoughtful than the twins. It was Jeems who pointed out that Scarlet became quiet after they started talking about Ashley marrying Melanie (chapter I, page 12). The twins had no idea of what Scarlet was feeling. Then Jeems was able to manipulate the twins into letting him go with them to Able Wynder’s place when the twins wanted to send him home (chapter I, page 20).

Mammy is a great character. It is sometimes difficult for someone with freedom, power and wealth, to be assertive and outspoken, but Mammy showed these characteristics while being a slave, without freedom, power or wealth. She was shown to be insightful and smart. In chapter III on page 59 “But Mammy was under no illusions about her [Scarlet] and was constantly alert for breaks in the veneer. Mammy’s eyes were sharper than Ellen’s and Scarlett could never recall in all her life having fooled Mammy for long.” Mammy knew Scarlett better than Scarlett’s own mother did. Then in chapter IV, on page 65, “Her [Mammy’s] voice trailed off as she went down the long open passageway, covered only by a roof that led into the kitchen. Mammy had her own method of letting her owners know exactly where she stood on all matters. She knew it was beneath the dignity of quality white folks to pay the slightest attention to what a darky said when she was just grumbling to herself. She knew that to uphold this dignity, they must ignore what she said, even if she stood in the next room and almost shouted. It protected her from reproof, and it left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to her exact views on any subject.” Mammy knows how to get by even as a slave, while still allowing her feelings to be known. She is a survivor. Mammy was born a slave, she had no reasonable alternative, but that did not stop her determination. She did not give up.

Then Mammy had native intelligence. Chapter 30, page 501: “In the matter of “comp’ny” Mammy was equally adamant. No lice-ridden soldier should come into Tara. She marched them behind a clump of thick bushes, relieved them of their uniforms, gave them a basin of water and strong lye soap to wash with and provided them with quilts and blankets to cover their nakedness, while she boiled their clothing in her huge wash pot. It was useless for the girls to argue hotly that such conduct humiliated the soldiers. Mammy replied that the girls would be a sight more humiliated if they found lice upon themselves.” Then “When the soldiers began arriving almost daily, Mammy protested against their being allowed to use the bedrooms. Always she feared lest some louse had escaped her.”

Mammy loved Ellen and Scarlett. I don’t feel it is racist to say that, I feel it shows Mammy’s humanity in a positive light. She raised both from when they were babies and most likely breast feed them. I see Mammy as being proud of raising both Ellen and Scarlett and I feel it is human nature to want to be proud of one’s life’s work even if one is a slave.

When Scarlett threatens, after the war is over, to send Mammy back to Tara Mammy asserts “Ah is free, Miss Scarlett. You kain sen’ me nowhar Ah doan wanter go. An’ w’en Ah goes back ter Tara, it’s gwine be w’en you goes wid me. Ah ain’ gwine leave Miss Ellen’s chile, an’ dar ain’ no way in de worl’ ter mek me go. An’ Ah ain’ gwine leave Miss Ellen’s gran’chillun fer no trashy step-pa ter bring up, needer. Hyah Ah is and hyah Ah stays!” (Chapter 47, page 844). Then a little later Rhett (Chapter 47, page 846) states “Mammy’s a smart old soul and one of the few people I know whose respect and good will I’d like to have. But, being a mule, I suppose I’ll never get either from her. She even refused the ten-dollar gold piece which I, in my groomlike fervor, wished to present her after the wedding. I’ve seen so few people who did not melt at the sight of cash.” Mammy has principles, she cannot be bought, she called Scarlett and Rhett “mules in horses harness” but she is not inflexible and after she saw how Rhett acted when Bonnie was born she changed her mind about him.

One of the most emotional chapters of the book is chapter 59 and the last 7 pages of this chapter shows Mammy going to Melanie for help with Rhett’s despair over Bonnie’s death. These pages show Mammy’s tender emotions and caring. She is shown as being human not a stereotype, but as a very real person that anyone can identify with. This is the very antithesis of racism. Mammy was also shown to be smart in deciding to go to Melanie.

And at the very end it is Mammy that Scarlett loves more than anyone else, more than Ashley, more than Rhett, more than Melanie, perhaps even more than Ellen, Scarlett loves and wants to go to Mammy – “And Mammy would be there. Suddenly she wanted Mammy desperately, as she had wanted her when she was a little girl, wanted the broad bosom on which to lay her head, the gnarled black hand on her hair.” (Chapter 63, page 1037).

To be continued. Kindly comment and kindly read and comment on my other posts – Thoughts on Gone With the Wind . . . and What would Melanie have said.

Altair IV


message 2: by Altair (new)

Altair IV Continued from the first post.

In chapter 24, after having just gotten back from Atlanta and after the Union Army had left Tara, Scarlett very frustrated with the answers given to her by Pork while she giving him orders thinks “How stupid negroes were! They never thought of anything unless they were told (page 409)” But there were two other things. First on page 412 Scarlet hears a scraping noise on the back porch and the author writes “Poor Pork, trained for forty years to clean his shoes before entering the house, did not forget, even in a time like this.” To me this is Margaret Mitchell pointing out the importance of habit. Second Pork later begins hunting and fishing (chapter 26, pages 454 and 455), bringing back “. . . rabbit and possum and catfish . . .” and “. . . foraged far, at times not coming home all night, and Scarlett did not ask him where he went” (chapter 28, page 472). This cumulated with Pork going to Macon with the horse and a wagon for five successful weeks bringing back “. . . dress goods, seed [both cotton and garden seed], fowls, hams, side meat and meal.” During this trip he had to use “. . . unfrequented roads, the old trails, the bridle paths.” Further he had returned with money left over. (Chapter 29, page 487). He being gone for so long and being so successful showed his intelligence and ability to think for himself no matter what Scarlett may say or think. Even Scarlett’s first frustrated statement that “. . . They never thought of anything unless they were told” does not seem to be justified in that Gerald stated (chapter 24, page 411) “Pork and Mammy did something with the silver – put it in the well . . . “ when the Union Army came and it was shown that Pork drove the sow and her litter into the swamp to protect them from the Union Army. This was at a time when no white person except Gerald was able to give orders and he may not have mentally been in any shape to give orders. Pork also showed emotions common to any human when his wife Dilcey came to Tara (chapter 4, page 62) and when telling Scarlett about his son (chapter 24, page 409). Then at the beginning of chapter 41 Pork showed humble gratitude when Scarlett gave him Gerald’s gold watch and Scarlett said “If ever anyone deserved a watch, you do . . .” These are emotions that are common to any “race.”

Dilcey, the mother of Prissy and Pork’s wife was head woman and midwife at Twelve Oaks (chapter 2, page 24) showing that she has skills and intelligence. She bragged about her daughter, maybe more than was due Prissy, but that showed motherly caring for the girl (chapter 4, page 63). One of my favorite scenes in the book is where Scarlett, Dilcey and Prissy are together picking cotton (chapter 26, page 456). The description is “Dilcey worked tirelessly, silently, like a machine, and Scarlett, with her back aching and her shoulder raw from the tugging weight of the cotton bag she carried, thought that Dilcey was worth her weight in gold.” It is the image of the three, a woman of color who had been a slave, a white woman brought up privileged and the young girl, working together to benefit each other and the ones who depended on them. To me this is a great picture of integration and the shade of one’s skin not mattering.

Arriving at the train station in Atlanta Scarlett was met by Uncle Peter, Miss Pitty’s coachman. Scarlett then went on to recall what Charles had said about this man: “Uncle Peter practically raised Melanie and me, for we were very young when Father and Mother died. Aunt Pitty had a falling out with her brother, Uncle Henry, about that time, so she came to live with us and take care of us. She is the most helpless soul – just like a sweet grown-up child, and Uncle Peter treats her that way.” So Uncle Peter, a black man, was in fact the head of the household, with basically three children. He made the decisions as to where Charles went to school, when Melly could go to parties and tells Aunt Pitty when she should wear a shawl (chapter 8, page 143).

In chapter 38 pages 671 to 673, a tall thin woman from Maine deeply offends blacks in general and Uncle Peter in particular while speaking with Scarlett and while Uncle Peter is present. Peter is understandably very hurt by this and says, afterwards to Scarlett with a tear in his eye “Dy talked in front of me lak Ah waz a mule an’ couldn’ unnerstan’ dem.” This is a powerful episode where Margaret Mitchell not only shows Uncle Peter’s strong, justifiable pride and his indignation at being spoken about in that way, feelings that any person would have, but also the very hurtful effects of racism. Peter is presented as a human, a human with valid feelings, not as a stereotypical member of any particular “race” and he is shown to be deserving of respect.

Near the beginning of the book Jonas Wilkerson, a white man, is the overseer of Tara, but Ellen wants him dismissed. She then states “Big Sam is a good foreman and he can take over the duties until you can hire another overseer” (chapter 4, page 71). This was to have been temporary, but three years later, when Scarlett sees Big Sam in Atlanta (chapter 17, page 306) Scarlett thinks “But what was Big Sam doing here, so far away from home, especially now that there was no overseer on the plantation and he was Gerald’s right-hand man?” So, while Sam was not officially given the title of overseer, he had been acting in that capacity and that “promotion” had not been temporary.

Of all the slaves/ex-slaves Prissy is the one described in the most negatively stereotypical way. But she is basically a child, most likely in her early teens. In chapter 8, page 144, Prissy is described as having recently graduated from “. . . brief skirts and stiffly wrapped braids into the dignity of a calico dress and starched white turban . . .” This graduation occurred earlier in Prissy’s life, due to the exigencies of war, than what was normally the case. Further “Prissy had never been more than a mile away from Twelve Oaks or Tara before” and being a slave most likely was not formally educated and would have been illiterate. In this regard I feel it’s important to compare Prissy with Aunt Pittypat, a middle aged woman, who had received some formal education. The white Miss Pittypat is presented as being as silly as or sillier than the mixed “race” Prissy. Furthering this comparison is the following line in chapter 10 page 200 where Miss Pittypat tells Prissy to “. . . find my salts . . .” and Prissy replies “Dey’s in yo’ skirt pocket.” But there is a ray of hope for Prissy. In chapter 21 on pages 365 and 366, Prissy admits to not knowing anything about “bringin’ babies.” Then she says “Maw wouldn’ nebber lemme be ‘round folkese whut wuz havin’ dem” and “Ah jes’ see one baby birthed, an’ Maw she lak ter wo’ me out fer watchin’.” So Dilcey, Prissy’s mother didn’t want her to see the birth of a baby, but Prissy tried anyway, most likely secretly. Why would Prissy take that chance? Well one reason would be out of curiosity and curiosity is a commendable quality that is a first step toward learning and wanting to learn.

Another incident of importance was when Scarlett was attacked while riding home from one of the mills (chapter 44, pages 787 to 789). It was a white man and a black man who attacked her and a black man – Big Sam – who saved her.

So as I see it Margaret Mitchell more often than not presented the slaves/ex-slaves in “Gone with the Wind” in a positive manner, by showing their human qualities, their capabilities and pointing out that to the extent that the ex-slaves were childlike in mentality and easily led it was from a long habit of being accustomed to taking orders under slavery. It was slavery that was the problem not that the ex-slaves were black.

But that is not all. Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mammy. She was the first black person to win an academy award and this was because of Margaret Mitchell’s book.

Kindly comment and kindly read and comment on my other posts – Thoughts on Gone With the Wind . . . and What would Melanie have said.

Altair IV


message 3: by Altair (new)

Altair IV The following deals with events in Margaret Mitchell’s life in regard to this topic:

While at Smith College in Massachusetts for one year at 18 years of age Margaret Mitchell refused to be in class with a black student (mentioned in American Masters Margaret Mitchell American Rebel, 12). However, the following indicates that Margaret’s feelings toward blacks soon changed. According to an article posted on The Margaret Mitchell House website, when Margaret Mitchell was 19 years old, “She was the only one of her debutante group who chose to work in the city’s black clinics. This was a reason why she was rejected from the Junior League.” (1) Also see (2, 3) Stated as well in the Margaret Mitchell House article is the following: “She also supported the early efforts to desegregate the city’s [Atlanta’s] police department.” (1, 4)

Then in many other articles I found that in 1941 Margaret Mitchell secretly started a scholarship fund to help put black medical students through Morehouse College. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11) She wanted to do something to increase the number of black doctors in Georgia. The following is an excerpt from a letter Margaret wrote in 1946 dealing with the issue of there not being beds for black patients. “I’m very interested in better hospital facilities in Atlanta, especially for colored people. Recently our colored laundress, who worked for us for over twenty years, died of cancer. … It fell upon me to find a hospital bed in which Carrie could die more comfortably than at home. …I do not want ever again to go through the agonizing experiences I had. There just were no beds. …Carrie was like my own family and I would have paid all that I would have paid for a relative. … I do not think people who have not experienced so heartbreaking a time can realize the need for more beds for our colored population who are able to pay something for medical and hospital care. …I hope so much that some thought will be taken of this particular problem. …Atlanta is big enough now to have colored people in the white-collar class, and I wonder how many of them have been in the situation of our Carrie, willing to pay but being unable to buy a bed in which to die.” (8) I feel this letter shows Margaret Mitchell’s strong compassion for people no matter what race they are in this case a black friend.

In an article on the Atlanta magazine website (7), Mary Rose Taylor founder of the Margaret Mitchell House, is quoted as saying in regard to recently discovered letters written by Margaret Mitchell on the subject of race ‘These revelations add to the growing body of evidence that Margaret Mitchell had deep and caring relationships with people from all walks of life, including African Americans.” In the same article it is noted that “The institutionalized discrimination in her hometown was ‘an embarrassment to her [Margaret Mitchell],’ says Andrew Young, civil 8rights leader, U.S. congressman, United Nations ambassador, mayor of Atlanta, and filmmaker.” Andrew Young’s documentary on Margaret Mitchell aired in 2010.

I feel people tend to be products of their time and place and Margaret Mitchell grew up at a time when there was overt racism and wide spread segregation all through the United States in both the north and south and this seemed to have had an effect on her when she refused to be in class with a black student at Smith College in Massachusetts at age 18, but by age 19, when she chose to work in Atlanta’s black clinics, Margaret Mitchell, showed a caring for people of all races and this caring feeling appears to have stayed with her the rest of her live and in particular while she was writing GWTW. I do not believe she had racist feelings while writing the book.

1. http://edpapenfuse.com/gwtw/ecp-10-22...
2. https://amazingartdecodivas.blogspot....
3. https://www.timesledger.com/stories/2...
4. http://www.gpb.org/georgiastories/sto...
5. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/20...
6. https://www.deseretnews.com/article/4...
7. http://www.atlantamagazine.com/civilr...
8. https://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/view...

Videos from Andrew Young’s Change in the Wind:
9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWmp-... 1 minute
10. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_co... 1 minute

Videos from PBS American Masters Margaret Mitchell American Rebel
11. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC6C2... 11 minutes
12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9Dkd... 46 minutes

PS, in comment 2 above I wrote that Prissy is described in the book as most likely being in her early teens (in thinking more about this I now feel even younger than that), never being more than a mile away from Twelve Oaks or Tara before” and being a slave most likely was not formally educated and would have been illiterate. I compared her to Aunt Pittypat who is presented as being as silly as or sillier than Prissy, even though the white woman is middle aged and had some formal education. It seems to me that the movie may have given many people a mistaken idea of how old Prissy is meant to be. At the time the movie was made Butterfly McQueen, who played Prissy, was about 27 years old and did not look like a girl who has recently graduated from brief skirts and stiffly wrapped braids, as Prissy is described in the book. Prissy is not meant to be a young woman, but a girl. This is not Butterfly McQueen’s fault I feel she did a fine job portraying a teenage or pre-teenage girl.

Altair IV


message 4: by Altair (new)

Altair IV Contrasting with Margaret Mitchell’s more positive portrayal of the slaves/ex-slaves is her portrayal of the white, male slave owners starting with chapter I. In that chapter we see the Tarleton twins shown as being silly and immature and not having a clue about Scarlett with Stuart saying “My Lord! Ashley don’t mean anything to her, ‘cept a friend. She’s not crazy about him. It’s us she’s crazy about.” (Page 12) They have no idea why Scarlett didn’t invite them for supper. Then when Scarlett said “There won’t be any war, and I’m tired of hearing about it” the twins reaction was “’Not going to be any war!’ cried the twins indignantly, as though they had been defrauded.”

Later in chapter I, on page 19, Margaret Mitchell writes, “The Troop met twice a week in Jonesboro to drill and to pray for the war to begin.” Then a little later on she writes “Drill always ended in the saloons of Jonesboro, and by nightfall so many fights had broken out that the officers were hard put to ward off casualties until the Yankees could inflict them. It was during one of these brawls that Stuart Tarleton had shot Cade Calvert and Tony Fontaine had shot Brent.” This was particularly telling at a time when even minor wounds could be fatal if infected.

Then we arrive at the barbecue (chapter 6, pages 105 to 112). Gerald starts shouting in response to John Wilkes, “ ‘God’s nightgown, man! Pray for a peaceable settlement with the Yankees after we’ve fired on the rascals at Fort Sumter? Peaceable? The South should show by arms that she cannot be insulted and that she is not leaving the Union by the Union’s kindness but by her own strength!’ With this other of the male guests joined in: ‘Of course we’ll fight —‘ ‘Yankee thieves —‘ ‘We could lick them in a month —‘ ‘Why, one Southerner can lick twenty Yankees —‘ ‘Teach them a lesson they won’t soon forget —‘ ‘Peaceably? They won’t let us go in peace —‘ ‘No, look how Mr. Lincoln insulted our Commissioners!’ ‘Yes, kept them hanging around for weeks — swearing he’d have Sumter evacuated!’ ‘They want war; we’ll make them sick of war —‘ And above all the voices, Gerald’s boomed. All Scarlett could hear was ‘States’ rights, by God!’ shouted over and over. Gerald was having an excellent time, but not his daughter.” (Page 105).

After a time Ashley was asked for his opinion. He replies: “ ’Why, gentlemen, if Georgia fights, I’ll go with her. Why else would I have joined the Troop?’ he said. His gray eyes opened wide and their drowsiness disappeared in an intensity that Scarlett had never seen before. ‘But, like Father, I hope the Yankees will let us go in peace and that there will be no fighting —‘ He held up his hand with a smile, as a babel of voices from the Fontaine and Tarleton boys began. ‘Yes, yes, I know we’ve been insulted and lied to — but if we’d been in the Yankees’ shoes and they were trying to leave the Union, how would we have acted? Pretty much the same. We wouldn’t have liked it.’ ” And then: “ ‘Let’s don’t be too hot headed and let’s don’t have any war. Most of the misery of the world has been caused by wars. And when the wars were over, no one ever knew what they were all about.’ ”

Ashley wasn’t saying that Georgia should not secede; he wasn’t even saying that Georgia should not fight; he was only saying that he hoped there would not be a war, but that was enough to raise a clamor of dissenting voices. Most of these white, male slave owners wanted a war even if they could get everything they wanted without one.

While Ashley was speaking Mr. McRae, the deaf old gentleman from Fayetteville, spoke up: “ ‘You fire-eating young bucks, listen to me. You don’t want to fight. I fought and I know. Went out in the Seminole War and was a big enough fool to go to the Mexican War, too. You all don’t know what war is. You think it’s riding a pretty horse and having the girls throw flowers at you and coming home a hero. Well, it ain’t. No, sir! It’s going hungry, and getting the measles and pneumonia from sleeping in the wet. And if it ain’t measles and pneumonia, it’s your bowels. Yes sir, what war does to a man’s bowels — dysentery and things like that —‘ ”

Rhett Butler listened with “. . . a glint of amused contempt in his black eyes – contempt, as if he listened to the bragging of children” then said “ ‘Has any one of you gentlemen ever thought that there’s not a cannon factory south of the Mason–Dixon Line? Or how few iron foundries there are in the South? Or woolen mills or cotton factories or tanneries? Have you thought that we would not have a single warship and that the Yankee fleet could bottle up our harbors in a week, so that we could not sell our cotton abroad? But — of course — you gentlemen have thought of these things.’ ” Then went on to say: “ ‘I have seen many things that you all have not seen. The thousands of immigrants who’d be glad to fight for the Yankees for food and a few dollars, the factories, the foundries, the shipyards, the iron and coal mines — all the things we haven’t got. Why, all we have is cotton and slaves and arrogance. They’d lick us in a month.’ ”

With this Scarlett thought “ ‘Why, he means the boys are a passel of fools!’ ” and that was exactly the point that the author Margaret Mitchell meant to make. Then later on page 111, “Even while she felt the hot blood of wrath still in her cheeks, something in Scarlett’s practical mind prompted the thought that what this man said was right, and it sounded like common sense. Why, she’d never even seen a factory, or known anyone who had seen a factory. But, even if it were true, he was no gentleman to make such a statement — and at a party, too, where everyone was having a good time.” With only a few exceptions Margaret Mitchell was saying that these rich southern male plantation owners were arrogant, short sighted, explosive, murderous, ignorant, dogmatic and immature. They are shown to have wanted a war, whether or not they could have seceded without one and they got the war that lead to all of the troubles of war and reconstruction that followed. They asked for the war and they got it.

Kindly comment and read my other posts in this section.

Altair IV


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