“Lost in the Wind”

Growing up in the South, Gone With the Wind, was required viewing.  I first saw this film in 1967 at the age of eight.  As a teenager, I again watched this classic.  GWTW  was even shown in school classrooms to depict the historic era of the “War Between the States” and Reconstruction.  As described by Bruce Chadwick in The Reel Civil War, most southerners viewed this movie more as a documentary than a fictional romantic movie.  Chadwick goes on to address the “four-pronged presentation of the Plantation Myth . . . 1) All white Southerners owned plantations 2) White Southerners and slaves took care of each other 3) The North was responsible for the war and 4) the South was and is devastated by the war.” *  In addition GWTW presented the “Lost Cause” in a “matter-of-fact” methodology that seemed to acceptable to the majority of Americans; not just Southerners.  (Minority acceptance is another issue.)  The problems, viewed with a modern perspective, are glaring.  The humiliating depiction of African Americans is outrageous by today’s standards.  The villainization of the North and the depiction of the “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags” are over-the-top and insulting.  Even Southerners are viewed as naive, backward, and victims.  In Chadwick addresses many of these issues and how they were more acceptable in the 1930s and 40s.  However, several of his explanations fall short of convincing.  The author stated that the producer of GWTW , David O. Selznick, desired to keep the KKK out of the movie.  However, even as a teen, I understood that Ashley Wilkes and Frank Kennedy were riding with the Klan on the raid on the Shantytown.  Chadwick also downplayed the harsh treatment of “carpetbaggers,”  “scalawags,” and blacks.  The film certainly presented these groups negatively.  (Perhaps not as harshly as the novel.)  Even the street scene that Chadwick described blacks as nonthreatening is inaccurate.  The fact that blacks were taking up space on the sidewalk would have been considered threatening by southerners and others during the first showing of the film and, for many, in the 1960s redistribution.  The author’s description of the admirable Mammy as the one who ran Tara falls shallow when one considers that Mammy wasn’t allowed to dine with her white “family” or attend parties.  Mammy “knew her place.”

It is difficult to overstate the impact of Gone With the Wind upon the popular view and understanding of the Civil War and Reconstruction.  As a southerner, growing up with the perspective of “The Lost Cause,” it is difficult for me to analyze this impact.  Did this film influence the nation and their view of these eras or did popular views of the time shape the presentation and depiction of the movie?

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4 comments
  1. chrisrivera1985 said:

    I believe the film influenced the view of the era. Naturally more research on the topic will have to be conducted to give a fair assessment of this statement, but I don’t think in the 1930’s Americans had a grandiose concept of the plantation society in their psyche. I think this is most telling in the fact that the film makers couldn’t even find a house that matched the epic proportions described in the film and they essentially had to ‘build’ their concept of how big a plantation house was. If anything, I imagine that those in the 1930’s never heard much stories about the old south from their fathers or grandfathers. I do believe the film accurately depicts the south as looking upon the antebellum era in a kind of ‘ancien regime’ if you will that was never going to be the same. As a result I think the film influenced the nations perception of the era.

  2. drobnicker said:

    I believe the film assessed what was going on in the 1930’s and what would sell to the public. In Chadwick’s article he emphasizes the retreat from the reality of the depression as well as the oncoming of World War II that the movie provoked emotionally. People wanted to believe in hope within their own lives. This was one of the first technicolor movies of the time so that alone was very magical. The same year audiences viewed The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach (a John Wayne Classic), Wuthering Heights (love story), Jezebel came out in 1938 starring Bette Davis as “a beautiful free spirited southern belle who asserts her independence in the antebellum south” Seems these similar narratives were the popular moneymakers of time.

  3. In the Reel Civil War, Chadwick does an excellent job of describing how Hollywood set the scene at the beginning of the movie to ensure audiences would fall in love with the O’Hara’s. The movie’s sell would not have been as great if they were seen as actual slave holders instead of paternal figures who cared about their slaves and treated them with respect. Chadwick states, “From the beginning of the film, viewers are cheering for them and resentful of anyone who tries to hurt them. (This opening scene of the likable family that engages in detestable practices was used with similar success in the opening wedding scene in The Godfather)” (191). The fact that even an educated person such as yourself was influenced by the film leads me to believe that many more people who are not the history nerds of the world would definitely see Gone with the Wind as fact.

  4. zfwerkowitch said:

    The idea of the Lost Cause was summed up perfectly at a couple of different points in the film. In class and readings so far, the Lost Cause was described in almost the exact same terms that Rhett Butler used at the party immediately before secession.

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