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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.

While reading The Reel Civil War by Bruce Chadwick and then watching the movie Gone with the Wind I found myself intrigued by Scarlett O’Hara and her fierce stubbornness to break the modern mold of traditional women while simultaneously sabotaging her own happiness. A woman with such strength and attitude did not fit the predominant southern belle image. The Scarlett O’Hara of Gone with the Wind looks and dresses like a southern belle and her animosity towards the North is in accordance with that of a southern belle, but all resemblance stops there. Her personality which has won over millions of audiences’ hearts depicts the strong spirited and newly liberated woman of the 1920s and 1930s.

Unfortunately there is little coverage regarding American women during the years shortly before and after the Civil War but according to A History of American Women by Carol Hymowitz and Michaele Weissman (this happens to conveniently be a fully accessible and free ebook on Google) women were independent during the war as is typically the case. Hyomowitz and Michaele state, “While the men were away fighting, women became managers, decision makers, heads of families, and income earners—roles that had usually been assumed by men.”* When the war began women readily “took up arms” at home and fought for the cause by providing many essential items such as clothing and food or becoming a nurse. Once the war ended many women were proud of their work. Hymowitz and Weissman state, “Many white Southern women saw themselves as the stronger sex. But though they acknowledged their independence, physical strength, and fortitude they never questioned the traditional image of woman as wife and mother.”** It appears the independent woman of the Civil War quickly relinquished the role given to her during the war, so why then did Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind create a southern belle character whose acquiescence does not conform to the typical southern belle of the 1860s and 1870s?

It appears that many southern white female writers began to include plot lines with a strong willed southern belle. According to the review of the The Belle Gone Bad—and Just Gone written by Carol S. Manning and reviewed by Emily Toth, “Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett, the quintessential bad belle, is smart, self centered, and mean when she has to be, and this is what saves her. It is also what makes the bad belle endlessly intriguing.”*** This new “bad belle” is indicative of women’s thoughts and feelings at the time the author’s wrote the stories.

Margaret Mitchell began writing Gone with the Wind the infamous love story in 1926 a time where women made many gains especially in the work arena and as a result they explored greater freedom in America than ever before. In the 1920s two types of women existed: the Gibson girl and flapper. Scarlett’s character combines the “bad belle” and flapper in to a synonymous character that intrigues and infuriates. According to the article Prosperity’s Child: Some Thoughts on the Flapper,” by Kenneth Yellis, in American Quarterly, during the 1920s their existed two types of women the Gibson girl (Melanie) and the flapper (Scarlett).****  Yellis expertly describes the dichotomy of these two vastly different types of women stating:

The Gibson girl was maternal and wifely, while the flapper was boyish and single. The Gibson girl was the embodiment of stability. The flapper girl’s aesthetic was motion, her characteristics were intensity, energy, volatility. While the Gibson girl seems incapable of an immodest thought or deed, the flapper strikes us as brazen and at least capable of sin if not actually guilty of it. She refused to recognize the traditional moral code of American civilization, while the Gibson girl had been its guardian.*****

It appears that whereas the bad belle Scarlett has no physical resemblance to the flapper her attitude fits perfectly.

Scarlett’s character takes a stand against the traditional roles of women, she even refuses to have any more children and seems withdrawn from the only child she had. In addition, she owns her own business, drinks, and will stop at no ends to ensure her own prosperity. Whereas most women were not at the point of giving up motherhood many were in essence sick and tired of the traditional and often boring role of women both historically and figuratively in literature. Women felt liberated during the Civil War and World War I having had the opportunity to break out of the traditional and mundane housewife role to realize their potential to provide and maintain for their families. In the Reel Civil War, by Bruce Chadwick, he admits, “Although about 25 percent of the women in America worked during the late 1930s and women had voted since 1920, they were still constrained, shackled by their role in the family and society.***** The 1920s saw greater advancements for women as compared to any other time in American history but ultimately women still felt frustrated as Chadwick admits and Scarlett O’Hara’s character proves. The proof lies with the stubborn and strong-spirited Scarlett who captured the hearts of women, their admiration depicts a desire to break the traditional mold. As a disclaimer I feel I should also say that whereas women admired her fierceness, her lack of caring for her child and any desire for future children along with her inability to find happiness were probably not sought after characteristics. It is her character as a whole that attracts audiences and the latter that makes a fantastic soap opera.

*Hymowitz, Carol, and Weissman, Michaele. A History of Women in America. New York: Bantam, 1984. chapter 9. (there were no page numbers online, sooo. . . sorry)

**Hymowitz and Michaele, chapter 9.

***Emily Toth. Rev. of The Belle Gone Bad: White Southern Women Writers and the Dark Seductress, by Betina Entzminger. South Central Review. Volume 22. Issue 1. (Spring 2005): pp. 120-122. JSTOR. Web. 13 June 2012.

****Kenneth A. Yellis. “Some Thoughts on the Flapper.” American Quarterly. Volume 21. Issue 1. (Spring 1969): pp. 44. JSTOR. Web. 13 June 2012.

***** Yellis, 44.

****** Bruce Chadwick, The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishing, 2001), 223.

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.

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?

*Posted on behalf of Jamie Adams.  Please address your comments to her.*

When viewing Gone With the Wind several questions came to my mind, but one that really stood out the most is the term escapist.  I have recently come across this term in a previous class and developed an understanding of the word and how it pertained to different groups of people at various times in the past. I have read about Jewish women working in factories in the early 1900’s, Cubans playing baseball in a foreign America during the early nineteenth century, and Elvis Presley and his ‘extracurricular’ medicines; all of these dealt with the term escapism on their own terms in diverse ways. Now, the term presents itself again, but to a different era than the one I connected it to.  Escapist can have multiple meanings across various cultures and times, even to this day.

In the book by Chadwick, The Reel Civil War, he discusses escapism not only for the masses watching Gone With the Wind but also in the movie itself.  Chadwick states that the motion picture industry certainly addressed the Depression in some films, such as the Grapes of Wrath, Dead End, and a string of gangster movies, but it also produced a large number of escapist entertainment stories.*[1]   People flocked to new modes of entertainment to escape the unsympathetic reality of life resulting from the Great Depression. Many people from the South, men and women, were still recovering from the psychological and physical trauma of defeat from the Civil War where they were always skeptical of the government.  Then, the Great Depression engulfed the nation and society’s skepticism grew even more for many in the South.

The movie became an outlet of inspiration and many Southerners, especially females, could relate to Scarlett O’Hara’s ‘escapist’ moment in the movie.  Gone With the Wind was escapist, a finely woven, wonderful soap opera and a rich love story, but it was most importantly a film about the survival of a tough woman trying to keep home and family together in the middle of turmoil.*[2]  Hidden messages of escapism were all through the movie and how different people used them to cope with harsh times but the main escapist message was the even though times were tough in the Great Depression, they still had their families.[3]  Escapism can therefore be on an individual, group, or national level and have multiple meanings depending on what the person(s) is escaping.

I find this very relevant to today since the American economy is in a recession.  Times again are tough on families and we are still in a war, not at home, but still having effects of the home life of many people.  It makes me wonder what people today are using as their escapism?  Is there anything in the entertainment world that is inspirational and good for the morale of the country today, or are we clouded with too much information and is it positive in any way?

 

[1] Chadwick, Bruce. The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film (New York: Knopf, 2001), 224.

[2]  Chadwick, Bruce. The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film (New York: Knopf, 2001), 225.

[3] Chadwick, Bruce. The Reel Civil War: Mythmaking in American Film (New York: Knopf, 2001), 226.

What is escapism:  http://ezinearticles.com/?What-is-Escapism?&id=897426