Gone with the Wind

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Gone with the Wind (GWTW) is a novel portraying life in the southern United States, during the Civil War and Reconstruction, written by Margaret Mitchell, and originally published in 1936. The 1000 page runaway best-seller tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara, a young woman on a Georgia plantation who tries to keep control of her land and find love while facing war, defeat and poverty. It won the Pulitzer prize for fiction and remains a classic in the history of the self identity of The South. The book has sold 28 million copies worldwide. Gone with the Wind is Mitchell's only literary output.

Advertising poster for Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind was made into a Technicolor film in 1939, starring the English actress Vivien Leigh and the American actor Clark Gable; the directing credit went to Victor Fleming, who, coincidentally, was credited with the studio's other 1939 blockbuster, The Wizard of Oz. It was Hollywood's largest and most expensive production to date, with a huge cast, massive sets (the fake city of Atlanta was burned down). David O. Selznick, the legendary, manic M-G-M producer who dominated every aspect of the film, fired the first director George Cukor, and Fleming finished up. It won eight Academy Awards, and is the most-seen and highest grossing film of all time, (based on 1940 dollars).

The book and film do not attack slaveholders, the slaves appear to be too happy and the freedmen too angry, so Neoabolitionist critics have been hostile. In fact Hollywood gave black actors the best parts they had ever received and Hattie McDaniel (1895-1952) with her performance as Mammy, the sassy, independently minded, and opinionated maid who is never slavish, became the first black actor to win an Oscar.

The story is intensely anti-war, showing how hot-heads (repeatedly ridiculed by Rhett Butler) take the highly prosperous South into a needless war and destroying their whole way of life. The film also shows the direct effects of the horrors of war: images of agonized, thirsty, and tired soldiers and civilians pervade the film.

None of the characters is profoundly changed by the war, except for Scarlett. She moves from the frivolous lover of leisure to a Yankee-like shrewd, hard-driving business leader. It takes a very hard-headed Scarlett to whip the under-performing traditionally minded menfolk into shape to deal with the modern postwar economy.[1] Rhett, although Southern-born is a war profiteer who is hated by the men because he resembles a mercenary money-grubbing Yankee. At first Scarlett finds the war merely tiresome as the foolish young men rush out to get killed, spoiling her parties. Scarlett only loves Ashley; she can't have him so she marries a series of men for the money to save Tara, her family home. That motivation marks her transformation. As the the first female capitalist of the New South, she resists Rhett's overtures even after marriage showing her choice of money and power over sex and romantic love. In Shakespearean terms, she is a shrew who will not be tamed.

Clark Gable gave the best, most expressive acting of his career. Olivia de Havilland provided the movie with a moral center, and Leigh gave one of the most electrifying performances in the history of film.

Several authors have tried to write sequels, but none works well.

Director Victor Fleming (seated second from right) with Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable on the set of "Gone with the Wind," in 1939, the year he also directed "The Wizard of Oz."

Further reading

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references

  1. Scarlett's transformation is exactly what they Yankees had planned for the Southern white men during Reconstruction. See C. Vann Woodward, "The Southern Ethic in a Puritan World," William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Jul., 1968), pp. 344-370 in JSTOR
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