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

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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