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

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing on 2011-06-25 19:58Z by Steven

‘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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Hybridity in Cooper, Mitchell and Randall: Erasures, Rewritings, and American Historical Mythology

Posted in Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery on 2010-12-18 04:05Z by Steven

Hybridity in Cooper, Mitchell and Randall: Erasures, Rewritings, and American Historical Mythology

McGill University, Montreal
Department of English
August, 2004
86 pages

Marie Thormodsgard

Submitted in partial fulfillment for a Masters degree in English

This thesis starts with an overview of the historical record tied to the birth of a new nation studied by Alexis de Tocqueville and Henry Steele Commager. It singles out the works of Henry Nash Smith and Eugene D. Genovese for an understanding, respectively, of the “myth of the frontier” tied to the conquest of the American West and the “plantation myth” that sustained slavery in the American South. Both myths underlie the concept of hybridity or cross-cultural relations in America. This thesis is concerned with the representation or lack of representation of hybridity and the roles played by female characters in connection with the land in two seminal American novels and their film versions—James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind—and Alice Randall’s rewriting of Mitchell’s novel, The Wind Done Gone, as a point of contrast. Hybridity is represented in the mixed-race bodies of these characters. Mitchell’s novel, and its film version in particular, create images which, according to bell hooks, “in the space of popular media culture black people in the U.S. and black people globally often look at [them]selves through images, through eyes that are unable to truly recognize [them], so that [they] are not represented as [them]selves but seen through the lens of the oppressor” (Yearning 155). I analyze how this “lens” has created a selective American cultural memory that leaves out the syncretism that is part of the American historical record and privileges the fostering of notions ofracial “purity.” My overall argument links the recurrent patterns of destruction visited on the hybrid bodies of mixed-race females with the destruction of the environment. This thesis demonstrates how literary and cinematic representations in American popular culture siphon lived history into cultural memory through the use and misuse of the hybrid female body.

The first chapter addresses James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans; concentrating on the characterization of Cora, who in the text is of mixed Caribbean ancestry, and is sacrificed for the “pure” American ideal to develop. The 1992 film version, however, erases Cora’s mixed-ethnicity and sacrifice while she still stands for the figure of the frontier heroine. The second chapter focuses on Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind and the 1939 film version. While Mitchell does not directly confront the issue of racial mixing, the Reconstruction half of the text portrays the Klu Klux Klan as resulting from a fear of white women and former slaves reproducing and therefore is representative of the South’s mythology and identity politics. The film erases Mitchell’s single hybrid character, Dylcie, and all references to hybridization and the KKK. The third chapter concentrates on Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone, which deconstructs the racial markers of polarized pigmentations in the original text. Essentially, Randall’s novel brings out what was left out of both Mitchell’s novel and its film version: the distorted notion of racial “purity” among slaves and slaveowners.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans
  • Chapter Two: Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind
  • Chapter Three: Randall’s The Wind Done Gone
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited

Read the entire thesis here.

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