Gone With the Wind and Mythmaking in America
The American perception concerning the Civil War obviously varies depending on the regional background a person is from. For instance, during the Civil War (or even today, for that matter) a Northerner would be in opposition to slavery and it would be likely for them to ask the question, why shouldn’t the Union become a united people who would openly welcome diversity and share equal opportunities in the Union? By contrast, Bruce Chadwick in his book The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film makes it clear that the author of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (born in Atlanta, Georgia) had good reason to believe that the Ku Klux Klan had a purpose in the South. Mitchell states, “One of the earliest purposes of the Klan was to protect women and children. Later it was used to keep the Negroes from voting eight or ten times at every election.” * First of all, for that time period, it would be very unlikely that African Americans (coming out of slavery) would be bold enough or willing to risk voting multiple times in an election. This notion seems a little too far fetched. Elaine Mitchell’s mindset seems to be typical for a Southerner, but for someone outside of this region (American West populations) would seem outright racist.
Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz makes it pretty clear how ingrained the South is about the “Lost Cause.” Horwitz clarifies the Southerners’ passion for the Confederacy and their belief in “the Cause.” Horwitz includes the Children of the Confederacy pledge which states (an excerpt), “the War Between the States was not a REBELLION nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery; and always to act in a manner that will reflect honor upon our noble and patriotic ancestors.” ** Absolutely, it is honorable to remember our fallen soldiers, but where does one draw the line when it comes to the domination, maltreatment, and having to suffer inequality because of color of their skin?
In the movie Gone With the Wind the producer David O. Selznick did his best to exclude controversial content from Margaret Mitchell’s novel particularly concerning the Ku Klux Klan and the involvement of many Southerners with the Klan, as was the case for the characters Ashley and Kennedy. Chadwick states, “If Ashley and Kennedy had stayed in the Klan, moreover, it would have completely undermined the movie’s portrayal of them as harmless Southern victims.” *** In the movie the North was considered the evil force and Southerners were portrayed as victims; with scenes of fires burning, plantations and homes destroyed, confederate soldiers strewn injured or dead for miles around, there was no doubt the viewer found himself drawn into the Southern camp with feelings sadness and compassion for the Confederate cause. On the other hand, for the so-called Yankee there is no justifiable reason (regardless of economics with owning slaves) that the practice of slavery should not be acceptable in the Union, but according to the storyline in GWTW the idea that the federal government would dominate the Southern States’ way of life was worth fighting for.
Having been born and raised in the American Southwest, learning about the Civil War was primarily a historical event that did not hit too close to home obviously, nevertheless there are similarities in the discrimination many Hispanics experienced and of course there will always be two sides to a story. For instance, one example that was grounds for punishment in California schools during the 1960s was speaking your first language (Spanish) in the classroom. Teachers were allowed to physically punish a student for upholding the rule that “you must speak English” in school. As ridiculous as this sounds by today’s standards, a plantation owner would see it the same way when it came to freeing his slaves when the Civil War came to an end.
* Bruce Chadwick, The reel Civil War: mythmaking in American film. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), 195.
** Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the attic: dispatches from the unfinished Civil War. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1998), 37.
*** Chadwick, 197.