Tag Archives: Week 1: GWTW

The portrayal of Mammy in the movie Gone with the Wind describes a caricature of a slave woman from the South. This caricature is a model for how Americans during the late 1930’s envisioned Civil War era South. The mammy of the movie represented a house slave that was devoted to the plantation mistress. The portrayal of the mammy represented fictional characters in movies and in literature such as in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Gone with the Wind.  As expressed in the movie, Mammy is a person that acts as a mother figure for Scarlett O’Hara, but is conspicuously absent at other times. When Scarlett visits Rhett Butler in jail, accompaniment by her mammy legitimizes her visit. As Scarlett walks through Atlanta, Mammy serves as her protector, knocking away other Negros in order to make sure her charge is untouched and unharmed. However, as Scarlett goes in to Frank Kennedy’s general store, Mammy stays outside.  She and the other house slaves portrayed ignorant people who live to do their masters bidding, and do not know how to behave until they are told how to behave.

Hattie McDaniel, after playing Mammy in Gone with the Wind, was typecast as a housemaid for many other roles. She was quoted as saying, “Why should I complain about making seven thousand dollars a week playing a maid? If I didn’t I’d be making 7 dollars a week being a maid.”[1]

Americans during the late 1930’s also looked to black characters in negative roles. The musical Porgy and Bess portrayed African Americans living in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina.  The photo of the drunken black man appeared in The New Yorker in 1935. Still held in the grips of the Jim Crow era, African Americans were still being perceived as the fictional Mammie in Gone with the Wind.

[1]Donald Bogle. Toms, coons, mulattoes, mammies, and bucks: An interpretive history of Blacks in American films (New York, NY: Continuum) 1994, accessed from on 6/14/12.  hhttp

           While watching Gone With the Wind, I was not overwhelmed with the memory of the Lost Cause.  Instead, I was more apt to see the American Dream play out in a different era.  The O’Hara’s, as an established family, begin the film as wealthy, successful plantation owners complete with the cultural standards of having that wealth.  Viewers see the slaves, the social roles of men and the different expectations dependent on age, the social roles of women and the different expectations dependent on age, and the requirements in order to live the leisurely life of the wealthy Southern elite.  The O’Hara family are already living the American Dream.   

            As the Civil War begins, the life the O’Hara’s were accustomed to begins to change.  This change is an evolution of change.  It does not happen outright, but it takes a journey from a life at the top echelon and gradually moves step by step down into the destruction of life as the O’Hara’s have ever known.  Scarlett is not personally impacted by the War’s destruction until Sherman’s army is on the outskirts of Atlanta.  While she was away from Tara, Scarlett is still enjoying the rewards of her status while living in a nice home with servants, never really going without. 

            Scarlett is also exposed to a new social role as she ages and is responsible for nursing wounded Confederate soldiers back to health.  As the film progresses, Scarlett is forced to take on more and more responsibilities.  When Melanie is bed-ridden during her pregnancy, Scarlett is forced again to increase her level of responsibility.  We watch as Scarlett struggles with her new responsibilities, both mentally and physically.  But, Scarlett doesn’t back down.  She resolves to move forward towards her goals, regardless of others.  By sheer determination, Scarlett returns to Tara with those that she is now responsible for in tow. 

            Back at Tara, life is not secure.  Scarlett is surrounded by destruction and faced only with unending hard work.  Scarlett uses her talents and skills to rebuild a version of her former life at Tara.  Scarlett’s means of finding success are not always ethical, or moral.  But, Scarlett shows that she is willing to do anything to return her family to the top echelon in the social order of Southern society.  Finally, when Scarlett is finished, she has pulled herself up by her boot straps, or hoop skirt as the case may be, and has created a different version of success for herself.  At the close of the film, Scarlett is wealthy and again living a life of leisure, mixed with her independent business ventures that help keep her satisfied. 

            If we view the film from the perspective of the Lost Cause, Scarlett’s life is not an adequate example.  She does not fight for her home, hearth, and country.  She fights for herself.  Scarlett’s motives are very self-centered, even selfish.  If we view the film from the perspective of the American Dream, where anyone through hard work will have social mobility and can be successful in society, Scarlett shows she has adapted in order to achieve her hard earned successes.  So, I pose the question, is Scarlett’s life a reflection of the Lost Cause or is she a vivid example of the American Dream?