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Many of my classmates were surprised when I said I never had seen Gone With the Wind at my ripe old age of 22.  After having watched it, I can understand their shock and surprise as it remains not only a film representative of its time, but also a classic film that embodies everything a good movie should: action, surprise, and of course, a tantalizing love story.  However, in its other purpose of preserving Civil War memory and what life may have been like for Confederate wives during the Civil War, I ultimately think Gone With the Wind is a complete and utter failure due to its stereotypical depictions, falsifying of life on a plantation, and ignorance of women who may not have succumbed to the social destiny that was ever present in the antebellum South.

One of the worst stereotypical depictions of the film is the idea that women, such as the crybaby that is Scarlett O’hara, did not do any work on the plantation until the Union came through and burned it all down.  Not only is this a wrongful depiction in terms of its villainization of the Union, but also of what women actually did during the Civil War. LeeAnn Whites, author of The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890, refers to this when she states that women were, “forced to take up labor for the first time,” which they continued to do throughout the war.[1]  Unlike in Gone with the Wind, women were not just fiddling around the house or working as a nurse.  They were  struggling to manage their plantations everyday in order to preserve their place in society.

Another misnomer that comes with the iconic movie is the idea of life on the plantation for Southern belles.  Even though my grandmother was a fan of true love stories, most of that is just made for the movies.  As fun as a barbeque at Twelve Oaks may have been, many southern women were not so hopelessly in love and had traumatizing relationships with southern men.  As Laura F. Edwards describes in her Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Southern Women in the Civil War Era, a true rebuttal to the depiction of women in Gone with the Wind, many southern women experienced abusive relationships during the time of the Civil War.  Unlike in the movie where men are constantly swooning over Scarlett and begging to bring her cake and crumpets, some men took their authority of serving their country to a whole new level once they came home. , Edwards uses the example of Marion Singleton, who in her diaries and letters, told the story of her abusive second husband and the struggle it proved to be for her.[2]  Divorces were seen as political and socially demeaning for women and in an age where class structure and racial superiority dominate southern livelihood, women were often stuck, no matter if they were with an Ashley Wilkes or not.

Last but not least is the blunt lie that every single woman in the Confederacy supported the war.  This is best represented in the character of Melanie, or Meli.  She not only puts countless hours into the hospital and house, every remark she says is somehow a euphemism for how Ashley must fight for the cause and how his honor and bravery is serving his country so valiantly.  Even more so, the scene at the barbeque where men are speaking in their own quarters while the women take a nap reaffirms this idea.  However, as Victoria Bynum describes in her Unruly Women Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South, women were not as appeasing as they may appear in the film.  She states, if these women challenged the authority of the Confederacy, the courts reserved the right to take control over the women.[3]  Yet, as Drew Gilpin Faust explains in her Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, these sentiments would allow women to become more vocal and demanding for equal rights after the Civil War ended.[4] Thus, even though Gone With the Wind portrays every woman as being completely supportive of the war, many women internally fought against it and would speak their minds when it came to a close.

Thus, even though I admire Scarlett’s tenacity and ability to speak her mind, in terms of Civil War memory, I can only declare her a primadonna of the nineteenth-century as opposed to a true Confederate wife.


[1] LeeAnn Whites, The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890 (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1995), 8

[2] Laura F. Edwards, Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Southern Women in the Civil War Era (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 3

[3] Victoria E. Bynum, Unruly Women Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 11.

[4] Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), xiii