Recasting: Gone with the Wind in American Culture

By Darden Asbury Pyron | Go to book overview

Anne Jones


"The Bad Little Girl of the Good Old Days": Gender, Sex, and the Southern Social Order

Gone with the Wind has often been referred to as "a woman's novel." It is, but not in the way most critics have approached the concept. It is more; it is a novel about men and, more generally, the ways in which social gender roles shape peoples' lives in Southern society.

Although Gone with the Wind deals directly and overtly with several themes, one issue that unites them and of which its author appears to be least conscious is precisely the concern for gender. Mitchell herself saw the novel's theme as survival--who makes it through a traumatic, world-destroying event, who doesn't and why. Though her own view of the novel's theme--personal survival-- comes close to the heart of her work by emphasizing individual psychology, it is rather imprecise. Gone with the Wind itself presents a far more interesting and more complex problem: it questions not only the means but the value of sheer survival, and defines survival quite clearly as psychological and ethical as well as physical. The axes on which Mitchell imagined survival to balance are self- reliance and dependence. Carried to its extreme, self-reliance becomes isolation and even solipsism; dependence, at worst, becomes the loss of selfhood and identity. Because the culture she lived in and the culture she imagined both placed these specific values upon one or the other sex, the novel becomes a study in gender roles, in what it means to be a man or a woman in the South. This essay is an examination of gender roles in the novel and their relationship to the Southern social order.

The first chapter of Gone with the Wind, with its famous opening line--"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were" 1--was written last, and in that chapter, then, one may reasonably expect to find Margaret Mitchell's final imaginative vision of her novel, those concerns that still--ten years after having begun the work--informed her pen. And central to that chapter is an obsession with gender roles.

Mitchell develops the theme of the memorable first line more

____________________
This essay is a version of a chapter in Anne Goodwyn Jones, "Tomorrow Is Another Day": The Woman Writer in the South ( Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981).

-105-

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