“Gone With …

 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.

  1. jmmblog said:

    Having also been raised in the American Southwest, I can relate to your remarks about the Civil War not hitting close to home. Growing up I felt this same way about the Civil War. Unfortunately here in the West, we are not really taught about the Civil War and the battles that have happened in the Western region. We are mostly only taught of Gettysburg and battles that were fought out East. The Battle of Glorieta Pass is one of the most important battles in the American Civil War and it was fought in Northern New Mexico. In this battle, the Union soldiers barely won. This prevented the Confederacy from advancing to Colorado and California. Where it was their goal to seize control of the silver and gold mines, as well as the seaports of Southern California. This battle was also Col. Chivington’s claim to fame, as opposed to Sand Creek, which is his claim to shame. I believe that more regional history has to be taught, starting with grade school! If not, people like you and I grow up not knowing important World events and how they have shaped our own lives.

  2. I enjoyed reading your post. It’s pretty crazy to think about the regional perspectives of the war, especially because even today people from our part of the country seem oblivious to the war itself. I also like the question you raised in regards to Chadwick and Gone With The Wind. The Klu Klux Klan did have a purpose in the South if you ask a Southerner’s perspective; but considering the negative image that Sherman received following the war, it’s only fair that an individual from the North would find a reason to belittle the Klans presence in the SOuth. As for the discrimination issue you mentioned, indeed those are still quite prevalent in the American West today.

  3. catymark said:

    The Civil War was truly a regional event, that is certain. Mitchell, being from the south, probably grew up with the idea that Sherman was the bad guy and that the southern plantation owners of the south were the good guys. By taking the Klan out of the movie, it is still clear that the southerner’s view of the war is still present in the film, by the depiction of the loyal slaves (when Big Sam says that he is going to dig trenches for the Confederacy and tells Scarlett not to worry, they will keep the Yankees out) as still being loyal is reminiscent of the attempt to take Native Americans from their homelands and integrating them into society by teaching them in schools that focused on teaching them how to be white. This has not been made in movies that were a huge of a blockbuster as GWTW was, but the way the early films of Native Americans has them wanting to learn to be white. The miniseries “Into the West” that appeared on TNT several years ago does show the reluctance to enter the white world by many of the Native Americans, but is still lacking for the truth. GWTW depicts Sherman as the bad guy, but still the victor. Growing up in the Southwest as well, I can see how the GWTW (or any film, for that matter) has a different effect on the viewer depending on his/her own personal background.

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