Friday, February 21, 2014

Gone With The Wind--Racist Or Just Telling It The Way It Was?

My most popular review on Goodreads  by far with 42 likes is for Gone With The Wind by Margaret MItchell, a book published 78 years ago. And yet it endures.

I gave it two stars. 

Here's the text of my review:

"Having a hard time slogging through the blatant racism in this book. Times sure have changed. And thank God for that.

"Okay, nearly forty years since I first read it, the epic love story against the brutality of the Civil War still manages to sweep me up.

"But the racism still rankles, especially the glorification of the Ku Klux Klan--southern gentlemen had no other choice. They weren't bullies terrorizing people because of the color of their skin, they were protecting their women from the rapacious appetites of the newly freed slaves.

"Mitchell says more than once that the blacks were like children and couldn't manage without whites taking care of them. There's a part in the book where she describes how Scarlett's mother Ellen would evaluate the Negro children, selecting the best and the brightest to be house servants. The others would be taught a trade and if they failed at that, they become field hands. As the best and the brightest of the race, the house servants were the ones who stayed with their masters, apparently aware of their own limitations.

"And yet, this is a book about a strong woman who actively defies the strictures for women of her time. Scarlett runs Tara, she becomes successful at business, she bosses grown men around, even though she was taught that a lady must hide her intelligence and always appear subservient and helpless around men. Since they had little if any rights, that was the only recourse for women at the time.

"I find it ironic that Ms. Mitchell never realized that just as the women were playing the role of fragile creatures subservient to the fathers and husbands, their black slaves were doing the same thing--hiding their abilities and intelligence because they had no other choice.

"Something else, my daughter is reading GWTW and commented 'Everybody dies.' I explained that during the Civil War, 800,000 men died and just like the Tarletons, families lost all their sons. A good  reason not to go to war."

The review was followed by 39 comments, many insisting that I missed the point of the book, that Mitchell was relating the way things were at the time, and I shouldn't get all bent out of shape by what I perceived as offensive stereotypes. Of course, some of those comments I made myself in response to posts I found particularly outrageous.

To me, the book is blatantly racist. There's no defending it or explaining it away. Even so, it's obvious that it has its diehard fans, for whom it's all sweeping romance and drama. And no one realizes the idyllic lives of Scarlett's fellow plantation owners were made possible by the enslavement of another race.

But it sure is one hell of a love story.

Judy Nichols is the author of several books available on Amazon

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