Racism and Stereotyping in ‘Gone With The Wind’

Gone_with_the_Wind_cover

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell is an immensely popular love story which has sold over 30 million copies since it’s publication in 1936. However, I found this book to be an infuriating experience on numerous levels. The trials and tribulations of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in and around Atlanta during the American Civil War have captured the heart’s of many readers but not for me.

Being honest, I found this book to be racist and full of lazy stereotyping. I also failed to empathize in anyway with the characters in the book and their ‘heroic’ fight to maintain power and wealth at the expense of the poor masses. In relation to racism, I accept entirely that this book is set in a specific time and context where slaves were used and abused at their masters will but I found some of the descriptions repulsive. Scarlett at one stage in here home of Tara gags at the ‘n****ry’ smell around the slaves living quarters. She at another time compares the physical features of a man to that of a gorilla. I felt there was no need for comments like this, the reader had got an elaborate sense of the deep seeded hatred that existed between races then at this point already in the book. Each page was filled with a degrading slang word for African Americans. I paused at many times to consider could I read further on with the story as I was so annoyed with the over the top portrayals of the slaves of the rich aristocracy in the story.

In terms of stereotyping I felt the author failed to recognize or develop certain characters in the story. All the slaves were simple, obedient pet like creatures to their masters, with the exception being the character ‘Mammy’ in the story who was developed brilliantly by the author. The slaves were completely subservient to their owners, incapable of living independent lives away from white people. They were depicted as craving praise for their work and punished when not completing their tasks I also found on a personal level the Irish stereotyping irritating and tiresome. Gerald O’Hara, Scarlett’s father was the hard drinking, singing, stubborn rebellious Irishman. Negative traits such as defiance or impulsiveness were frequently referred to as the ‘Irish’ in them. Gerald and Scarlett were seen as outsiders in society due to their Irish character. Both liked alcohol too much and were warned about their drinking by other characters. There was frequent references to Geralds rebellious past and that there was a general feeling that all Irishmen hated England and Orangemen. Simply untrue.

I cannot deny that this book brilliantly portrays the horrors of war or the beauty of love, Mitchell’s obvious disdain of war and violence were expertly facilitated through Scarlett and Melanie’s nursing of soldiers. It painted a vivid picture of the reality of war instead of the bullets and heroes accounts we are used to. That said, I found the plight of the protagonists cause infuriating. In my opinion, they were fighting to get free slave labour and to go back to the lifestyle of being useless socialites who profited from their huge estates. On the other hand, I enjoyed seeing the fall of the aristocracy which controlled society and how the courtesy and ridiculous etiquette were quickly quashed once the walls of shelter came tumbling down around the families as the Yankees advanced upon Atlanta.

I did not enjoy this book whatsoever. The racism really disgusted me, despite acknowledging it was in the historical context. The stereotyping of the Irish and slaves stuck out as a laziness in an otherwise fantastic tale full of twists and turns, I found the dialogue of the slaves hard to comprehend, there was too much of it, I had to re-read paragraph’s quite often. I found the book to be too long as well, surely Mitchell might have cut out some of the less descriptions or incidents?

I realize that people hold Gone With The Wind with huge affection and is many people’s favourite book but I have to say I didn’t care for the novel, some of the above issues did not sit well for me. I know I’m in a minority here in expressing this opinion but Gone With The Wind will not be a book I will re-read at some time in my life. I know there is huge qualities in the book I’m not referencing and people far smarter than me can point them out easily. Did anyone feel the same way with the book? Am I the only person? Could I be doing the author a disservice? If you love the book please tell me why, I definitely missed something.

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9 thoughts on “Racism and Stereotyping in ‘Gone With The Wind’

  1. Hmm…this book is on my TBR list as part of my quest to find the Great American Novel. But your review is making me hesitate as to reading it. I found I had a lot of the same problems with Huckleberry Finn – a classic it may be, but even though it’s held up as being pro-equality I found the portrayal of the slaves to be racist, stereotyped and, as you say, to show them as if they were some kind of unintelligent pets rather than people. It all left rather a bad taste…

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      • Hmm…haven’t found one yet! A few great novels but not THE GAN. Gatsby’s closest so far but I already loved it before I began. The real idea though is to get me more familiar with US literature – it arose out of a fellow reviewer – American – asking me which books I would shortlist as GANs and me not being able to come up with more than a couple of suggestions. It’ll be a long-term quest though, and has been very enjoyable so far…

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  2. I’m required to read this for my reading list. I don’t need one because I read so much, however there might be some classics that I don’t particularly find interesting that are required. Thanks for reviewing “Gone With the Wind.” Keep in mind though, the story is also kind of like an example of how horribly these people were treated. It’s supposed to be brutal, as an example.

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  3. Haha oh I definitely agree with your review. It was frustrating at times and definitely not my favorite book or something I would re-read either. I also tried reading it’s sequel by another author…but it was quite awful.Only reason why I ever decided to read the book after watching (…too long (nearly boring)) movie…but those “Tomorrow is another day” & “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” did something to me and made me read the book.

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