Reviewing Margaret Mitchell "Gone with the Wind" Letters, 1936-1949, Blair Rouse observes that critics have faulted Gone with the Wind "for lack of depth, or lack of symbolical or philosophical intricacy. . . ."1 This observation is apt. In fact, although the novel's narrative power is generally conceded, critics have indeed failed to see beyond the surface narrative. The novel does possess, however, a consistent mythic undergirding: that of the Great Mother, the archetypal feminine or Gea--the Earth Mother of classical antiquity.
In Gone with the Wind, Earth is treated consistently as this Great Goddess. She is the source of strength and endurance but also the jealous one who punishes those who scorn her rites and values. All the characters relate to this imagery, but Scarlett O'Hara's life is structured around it. She is the child of Earth. As Rhett Butler says, "Sometimes I think she's like the giant Antaeus who became stronger each time he touched Mother Earth."2 And so she is. Like the battling Antaeus, child of Gea, Scarlett draws her strength from Earth. But she also strays after false gods--the Apollonian Ashley Wilkes and the urban cult of acquisition in commercial, industrial Atlanta. These themes and conflicts form an underlying mythic substructure for the entire novel.
Earth-worship is an ancient and powerful religious impulse dating back for millenia through Western Asia, Asia Minor, and the Aegean. From India to ancient Greece and Rome, worshipers were well aware of the two-sided nature of the goddess: giver of fruitfulness yet queen of death. Across the centuries, literature speaks of the compelling power of Earth and implies, as well, her power as avenger. Worship of Earth appears in biblical accounts. It supports the myth of Cain, for, according to Genesis (4: 9-12), shedding a brother's blood insults the Earth:
Then the lord said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" He said, "I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" And the Lord said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth."