Race, Gender, and Southern Plantation Modernity in “Gone with the Wind”

Lecture Description

Depictions of a desolate landscape abound in southern literature, particularly in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930), Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road (1932), and, perhaps most famously, in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936). Although the works by Faulkner and Caldwell have endured as classics in southern literature, Gone with the Wind has retained a greater public recognition even as its literary merit has been criticized and its historiography repudiated. Nevertheless, its place in the southern imaginary is secure, and scholars recognize its importance in sustaining the “lost cause” myth that continues to animate eager partisans of that point of view. One crucial bulwark of the myth is a rigid understanding of gender relations and, particularly, the purity and exalted status of southern white womanhood. Another is the image of slavery as a benign institution peopled by paternalistic masters and gently treated slaves. Gone with the Wind observes these conventions in parading across its pages southern belles and happy slaves. Slaves labored in the fields with little remonstrance and women like Scarlet O’Hara glided across broad green lawns unfettered by the worldly concerns of the men who adored her. Although neither the book nor the “acclaimed” movie that followed has a wide audience today, the movie, particularly, is revered by many and continues to promote a vision of a southern past that preserves arcane attitudes on race and gender.

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Print Culture South

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