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*Posted on behalf of Amanda Hlavacek.  Please direct your comments to her.*

Despite the numerous times that I have watched Gone With the Wind, it was not until I read the article by Bruce Chadwick that I understood the “political meeting” which Rhett attempted to save Ashley, Frank and Dr. Meade from was a Ku Klux Klan gathering.  I became fascinated by the role which Margaret Mitchell assigned the Klan members “as providing needed protection against blacks and white agitators.”*  However, when I tried to research the topic, I was unable to come up with anything to support her suggestion.

I was also fascinated by Rhett proclaiming that he had made his fortune from blockade running, supported by Dr. Meade’s statement at the Atlanta ball that Rhett was responsible for providing the material for the women’s dresses.  From my basic understanding of blockade running, cotton was exchanged for war materiel, not clothing items.  Historian Alice Strickland explains that in addition to those items many “luxury items such as fans, parasols, cloaks, childrens toys, ladies shoes, and other commodities” were carried on the blockade running ships.**  Strickland further states that cotton was in high demand in Nassau in the Bahamas, where blockade runners would sell it for a high price as well as to exchange it for desperately needed medical supplies.***

While blockade running was extremely dangerous, it yielded high personal profit in addition to supporting the Confederate war effort.  For Rhett to say that he made his money from running would be accurate.  Economic historian Stanley Lebergott asserts that for cotton, “[t]he English and Europeans paid about $500,000.  The North spent over $700,000.”****  The profits could have been exorbitant.  One Charleston company grossed nearly $20 million.*****  However, if this was to be Rhett Butler’s sole income during the war, it is unlikely that he made his fortune from it unless he was extraordinarily successful.  Strickland asserts that blockade runners were typically able to make three trips before being captured, and only those lucky few were able to make eighteen trips.******  If Rhett was able to make multiple runs, the potential exists for him to have cleared as much as $85,000 per trip (one-way).*******

Since GWTW focuses more on Scarlett’s story and that of the O’Hara’s experiences, it is impossible to fully grasp the extent of Rhett’s blockade running unless one was to read Donald McCaig’s Rhett Butler’s People in which the story of GWTW is told from Rhett Butler’s perspective.  It is a compelling read, and I would suggest it is much more historically accurate than Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.

*Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film (Alfred Knopf: New York, 2001), 195.

**Alice Strickland, “Blockade Runners,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 36 (October, 1957): 87.

***Strickland, 88.

*Posted on behalf of Mario Arellano.  Please direct your comments to him.*

Gone with the Wind (1939) highlights the evolution of gender roles.  First, gender roles began and remained traditional in that men displayed power and masculine characteristics whereas the women displayed sanctity and innocence.  Bruce Chadwick’sThe Real Civil War also speaks to the male gender issues not only during the Civil War but also during the many decades after.  Similarly, the women in the film maintained traditional gender roles whereas all sought the perfect man or someone to take care of them for the years to come.

During and after the war however, the women in the film realized their handicap and aimed to achieve more not out of pride but out of necessity. As time progressed, women in America aimed to achieve more by relying on the African American precedents, as well as their much earned right to establish themselves as citizens by taking on new roles and new challenges.  Moreover, female gender roles were evolving and continued to evolve following the American Civil War whereas opportunities to express one’s beliefs and opinions grew to the point that they would forever continue to evolve.   Indeed this was quite evident in the film.

From the beginning, the males in the film aimed to display an image of power and strength in arguing for the Confederacy going to war. They not only romanticized the idea, but they even went as far as to threaten Captain Butler when he made the comment about the North possessing more of the resources needed to fight a war.   In addition, Bruce Chadwick speaks to the issue of male gender roles claiming that Clark Gable’s character Captain Butler questioned the idea of crying on film because of the idea that it might tarnish his masculine image.*  This suggests that nearly sixty five years later, men still desired to display manly images of themselves similar to the men in film.

On the other hand, Scarlet’s attitude from the opening scene to the part where all the boys left for war tended to focus on the female desire to find love.  Her personal image is worth mentioning because she went above and beyond to acquire the attention of the boys at the picnic.  Hoping to win the heart of Ashley and secure her own future, Scarlet displayed a sense of innocence in order to win the attention of all the males at the party including Ashley.  Then later in the film after realizing she has nothing left to rely on because the war ruined her families land and Ashley was now married, Scarlet does something totally outside a females means in purchasing a lumber mill to provide herself and her family.  Prior to the war, the idea of a female performing predominantly male jobs remained unheard of.  However, as the times changed during and after the war, Scarlet was forced to take action in order to make amends.

Viewing the film from the gender perspective, it is quite apparent that the evolution of gender roles continued to change during and after the Civil War. Women accepted new roles out of necessity while men aimed to portray masculine characteristics to compensate the ongoing changes that women continued to take advantage of.

*Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 2001), 186.

In observing the film, Gone with the Wind (1939), I found it very interesting in the way that blacks were depicted in the movie at that time. Even knowing that the roles of the actors were the roles of slaves during the Civil War Period, I still found it shocking to see how ignorant and dumb the blacks were portrayed in the movie. They appeared as to not have any real concern for themselves, their own family, or for the freedom from slavery. The only real concern of theirs that was shown in the film was the concern that they had in taking care of their owners and their owners’ well-being. The slaves were all mostly shown happy and as so ever loyal to the Confederacy.

Loyal and Happy Slaves – Gone with the Wind (1939)

One critic at the time, Lincoln Kirkstein from Film Magazine, wrote: “History has rarely been told with even an approximation of truth in Hollywood because the few men in control there have no interest in the real forces behind historical movements and the new forces that every new epoch sets in motion. Gone with the Wind deserves our attention because it is an overinflated example of the usual false movie approach to history.”* Kirksteins’ remarks make it apparent that the love/hate relationship between history andHollywood is anything but new in society. His remarks also solidify any notion one might have about the film being made as not to tell history as it happened, but to entertain and make the most profitable grandeur films in the process.

Even in the south, before filming had begun, controversy surrounding the historical integrity of the film was brought into question during the search for the actress who would play Scarlet. “Several chapters of the Daughters of the Confederacy threatened to boycott the film because an English actress landed the role. Indignation grew so intense that it spilled over onto the floor of the Daughters’ national convention. Peace finally came when the group’s president-general, Mrs. Walter LaMar, assured the ladies that as a world traveler she had met many British women and found them most delightful.”**

Construction of Hollywood Sign

Hollywood and the film industry, it seems, has always tried and most likely will continue to exploit history for the simple fact that there is money to be made. As historians, it is our duty to continue to watch films that are based on historical events and to critique them based on their relevancy to history and to the truth. For it is in this critiquing by historians, that films that are based on history will hold on to true historical integrity and be a truthful memory for future generations.  

* Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 2001), 189.

** Chadwick, 188.

Rhett Butler’s aloofness and braggadocio in David O. Selznick’s Gone With the Wind could not be portrayed better than Clark Gable does it. He is one of the few characters whose reason is not lost to emotion during the drumbeat leading to secession. Butler is the only character who is real with himself and his fellow Georgians about the South’s prospects for victory in war with the North. A cultural exile from Charleston, South Carolina, Butler seems to be a man of mystery to Wilkes’ and their guests. While he is important as the one who lays the foundation of the Lost Cause in the film, detailing the industrial and demographic advantages of the Union, he is the only important character who does not believe wholeheartedly from the outset in the Cause. Instead, Butler claims that he only follows one cause, and that is profit. The man spends the beginning of the war as a blockade runner, making a fortune for himself that he kept in London.

A fellow “blockade runner” comes alive in Chapter Three of Tony Horwitz’s book Confederates in the Attic. Jamie Westendorf is a real-life character, a native Charlestonian, and, according to Horwitz, “even by Charleston standards… a bonafide eccentric.”[1] Reaffirming Butler’s motives from Gone With the Wind, Westendorf claimed that “those captains did it for the Cause, and that cause was money.”[2] Westendorf had a ship as well, named after an ancestor’s blockade runner based in Charleston. He seemed to exhibit the same free spirit and clear-eyed outlook on the Civil War as Rhett Butler. A plumber, chef, and amateur treasure hunter, Westendorf acknowledged that blockade running seldom turned out well, often resulting in “prison[,] downward mobility [and] an early grave.”[3]

After making his fortune smuggling goods in and out of the South, and after narrowly escaping the carnage of fallen Atlanta, Butler inexplicably leaves to join the Confederate Army. Though his initial predictions about the futility of the war seemed to be proving accurate, he goes to fight for the Cause that already seems lost. Jamie Westendorf seems like the type of contrarian who may have denied the power of the Cause, but would support it to spite his enemies.

[1]Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (New York: Pantheon, 1998), 58.

[2]Horwitz, 58.

[3] Horwitz, 59-62.