‘Kissing the rod that chastised me’: Scarlett, Rhett and Miscegenation in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (1936)

‘Kissing the rod that chastised me’: Scarlett, Rhett and Miscegenation in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (1936)

Irish Journal of American Studies
Volume 13/14, (2004/2005)
pages 123-137

Sinéad Moynihan, Lecturer in English
University of Exeter

“It’s all so mixed up,” Cindy muses in a 2001 parody of Gone With the Wind, as she imaginatively revisits the turbulent years of her life spanning 1845 to 1873 (Randall 44). Cindy, the narrator of The Wind Done Gone, is the illegitimate daughter of Planter (Gerald O’Hara’s proxy) and Mammy. The world she describes is indeed “mixed up” and Alice Randall’s parody is an attempt to redress what some critics perceive to be glaring omissions from Margaret Mitchell’s original text, namely the racial chaos engendered by generations of miscegenation (as well as other taboos, such as incest and homosexuality). Here, the myth of pure, white Southern blood is exposed in all  its multicoloured g[l]ory: Cindy’s half-sister, Other (Scarlett’s surrogate), is racially mixed by virtue of her mother, the quintessential Southern lady; Dreamy Gentleman (Ashley Wilkes) is romantically involved with a male slave, and so on. Curiously, in so far as the reader is aware, the bloodline of R.[hett Butler], with whom Cindy is having an affair, remains pristinely white. In Gone With the Wind however, Margaret Mitchell presents a compelling basis for arguing that Rhett is mixed race and “passing” for white. If this is indeed the case, then surely it is time to revise charges of Mitchell’s “lack of critical vision” and “blindness” concerning the “realities of slavery” and to acknowledge our own critical myopia in relation to her treatment of miscegenation (Faust 13).

If Mitchell’s romantic hero is passing as white, race is indisputably central to the action of the novel, though, of course, not in an unproblematic way. In arguing that Rhett Buder is a free mulatto passing for white, I wish to add my voice to those recent critics that refute the long-established consensus on the “relegation of race relations to the periphery of the novel’s action” (O’Brien 165). In so doing, this paper builds upon two strands of existing scholarship on Gone With the Wind. The first of these critical strands is the counterpart to the provocative fictional reconsideration of Gone With the Wind in The Wind Done Gone namely the interrogation of Rhett’s racial ambiguity in Gone With the Wind Joel Williamson asks “How Black was Rhett Butler?” (87), to which Diane Roberts adds her own question: “How white is Scarlett?” (171). For Elizabeth Young, Mitchell “symbolically darkens” (237) the “literally white” Rhett (257), thus rendering his marriage to Scarlett a “metaphorically interracial romance” (237). Young’s insistence on the “metaphorical” and “symbolic” character of Rhett’s blackness (261, 263) is matched only by Joel Williamson’s curious reluctance to articulate the term “passing,” especially given his discover)- of an actual interracial relationship in an early work by Margaret Mitchell. In 1926, Mitchell penned a Reconstruction-set 15,000-word…

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