Scarlett O’Hara, the beautiful, spoiled daughter of a well-to-do Georgia plantation owner, must use every means at her disposal to claw her way out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea.
Perhaps – I want the old days back again and they’ll never come back, and I am haunted by the memory of them and of the world falling about my ears.
When I first started reading Gone with the Wind, I was expecting a beautiful romance story, like everyone who has ever read this book and the 1939 movie indicated. What I got instead was an 800 page manifesto defending and justifying slavery, with the core premise of ‘Black people (except the text doesn’t say “Black people”) lead more fulfilling lives as enslaved people’.
I wish I were joking. But there are many, many scenes in this book where Scarlett, the main character, or another character, or the text itself, fully states that Black people are happier enslaved, and that together with their white owners, they were all one big happy family. I am genuinely disgusted by this novel and completely shocked that I have seen maybe a handful of other reviewers mention this fact — everyone else focuses on the “beautiful love story”, which, by the way, the novel is also not (but I’ll get to that in a moment).
The novel follows young Scarlett O’Hara, the daughter of an Irish plantation owner (can you say hypocritical much?) whose life is turned upside down by the civil war between the North and the South. Scarlett’s life changes from fancy parties and beautiful dresses and men fawning over her, to a life of motherhood to a child she despises, and war, potential famine, and disaster. Using her wits and courage, Scarlett steps up and saves her family and friends, as she protects her home and livelihood against the invading North.
When I mention that this book justifies slavery and calls for slavery to be reinstated, I’m not reading between the lines and making my own theories. The book completely, 100% states this. Here’s a direct quote from the novel:
“[Black people] were far better off under slavery than they were now under freedom.” (The word the book uses is not ‘Black people’ — I’m sure you can guess what word was actually used.)
Additionally, the book upholds the Ku Klux Klan as heroes, and when a faction of KKK members goes to murder an ENTIRE COMMUNITY OF BLACK PEOPLE after a white woman accuses a Black man of rape (which Scarlett knows the woman is lying about), everyone considers them as protectors and doing the right thing. How can you claim this book is not racist when the actual KKK is viewed as heroes?
A lot of people reading my review might be disagreeing with me, perhaps stating that just because the book features racist characters and upholds racist ideals doesn’t mean that the author herself is racist — after all, she’s writing from the perspective of Southerners during the Civil War, of course they are proponents of slavery. And to that I say, we only need to look at Margaret Mitchell’s life to know that she 1000% is a supporter of slavery and is a bonafide racist and supporter of the mass genocide of Black people.
Margaret Mitchell was born 35 years after the American Civil War had ended. She was 10 years old when she first learnt the South had actually lost the war, and had grown up listening to tales from her parents and grandparents about the glory of the South and how the Southerners were the real victims. Her grandparents lived on slave-owning plantations and fought on the Confederate side of the Civil War, as per Wikipedia. It is incredibly difficult to find out if her parents or grandparents themselves owned enslaved people, as in my research I have noticed that every website is very careful not to mention this fact. But they lived on these plantations before the Civil War ended, although it is difficult to know if they actually owned them.
So to me it is irrefutable that Margaret Mitchell believes what she has alleged in her book. In my opinion, Gone with the Wind is Mitchell’s literary response to Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, as Scarlett mentions the book in the Gone with the Wind and in a negative light. If you don’t know what Uncle Tom’s Cabin is, it’s an American Classic book and is very anti-slavery (but totally from the perspective of white people and definitely has that white-saviour trope). Many critics believe this book played a large part in the beginning of the American Civil War, as Stowe’s novel explores how Christian theology is incompatible with slavery. Uncle Tom’s Cabin highlighted the real treatment of enslaved people in the South: from torture, abuse, murder, and to how they were sold. The book came as a great shock to many people in the North of America. But in comes Margaret Mitchell years later claiming, “No, we weren’t like that! We loved our slaves, they were our family.” I wonder how many people have been taken in by this false narrative, and how many people today still believe it.
There’s a scene in Gone with the Wind that convinces me that it was written in direct correlation to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and that is when Scarlett comes upon three Yankee (Northern) women who are incredibly racist. I’m not claiming that no people from the North were, or are, racist, but this whole scene is framed to make it seem like the North didn’t actually care about emancipation and how Black people were treated better as slaves than they they were as free people. The women call Uncle Peter, a Black man who was enslaved and owned by Scarlett’s father, the n-word, and Uncle Peter says he has never in his life been called the n-word, except by these three Northern women. I’M SORRY, WHAT????? In what fucking universe, aside from the one made up in Margaret Mitchell’s mind, has an enslaved Black man, living in the South during the Civil War, never been called the n-word by Southern white people, let alone the very people who owned him? I straight up do not believe this.
I could write a 10,000 word essay about how disgustingly vile and racist Gone with the Wind and Margaret Mitchell is, but this is supposed to be a mini review, so I’m going to move on for now, but if you want a full breakdown of the entire novel, check out my posts below. I break up the novel in four parts and spoil the entire plot if you still want to know what Gone with the Wind is about but don’t want to read it.
Another criticism I have of this book is that it is highly marketed as a romance between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler but it is, in fact, not a romance. First of all, Scarlett is in love with a married man for 750 pages of this 800 page novel and hates Rhett for 780 pages. Soooooooo. It’s only in the last couple of chapters that she realises she has loved him, but he wants a divorce from her because she treats him so horrifically and accused him of being responsible for the death of their daughter that he loved so much. And the book ends with her claiming she’ll get him back one day. A romance novel needs to end in a HEA (happily ever after) or a HFN (happily for now). This is literally the bare minimum of romance novels — if it doesn’t end with the characters together, it’s not a romance. It’s just not.
Scarlett herself is an interesting character. She is very headstrong and actively works to improve her life, rather than just sitting around like most fictional women in classic books do, however she is also incredibly selfish, so vicious to her friends and family, and so toxic. She treats people, including the people she claims she loves, so brutally and horrifically and then is surprised when they turn around and want nothing to do with her. On one hand, I’m impressed that a character like Scarlett was ever published, especially in the 1930s, as Scarlett discusses sex, she worked, and was actively trying to seduce a married man. She even kills a man and buries him on her property! On the other hand, she is a supporter of slavery, calls Black people the n-word, owns convicts who work for her and keeps them in horrific working conditions. At the end of the day, the bad far outweighs the good.
Gone with the Wind is historical revisionism in literary form. It is Margaret Mitchell’s attempt to downplay the horrors of slavery and convince its readership that Black people were happy under slavery and that they loved the people who owned them. I have never in my life passed judgement on people who love a book that I take issue with, but that has changed since reading this book.