Recasting: Gone with the Wind in American Culture

By Darden Asbury Pyron | Go to book overview

Gone with the Wind as History Three

In 1962 Edmund Wilson published his brilliant survey of Civil War literature, Patriotic Gore. As much American intellectual history as it is literary criticism, his study uses Harriet Beecher Stowe Uncle Tom's Cabin as the central organizing device for the book and as a microcosm of the values of the Civil War era. He treats Stowe's work itself with high seriousness, so that this Yankee melodrama becomes a means of understanding an important slice of American history. While he limits his study to the generation that experienced the war, he does at one point suggest that Gone with the Wind is the perfect twentieth-century counterpart to Stowe's work. Patriotic Gore is a model for integrating high and popular culture, literature, and history, and Wilson's suggestive insight into the relationship between Uncle Tom's Cabin and Gone with the Wind is the starting point of this section.

The first two essays are concerned primarily with Gone with the Wind, both film and novel, as an artifact of national history and national culture. The last three essays of the section deal exclusively with the novel as a document in Southern history and culture.

If Edmund Wilson's study of the Civil War traces the triumph of Puritan and New England values in nineteenth-century America, what comparable meaning does Gone with the Wind have for the United States in the twentieth century? Gerald Wood's essay focuses on this question. Like Wilson, Wood approaches Gone with the Wind as a document in American intellectual history; also like Wilson, he compares the literary and the cinematic versions of the work. He establishes still another framework for considering the Mitchell-Selznick phenomenon: Thomas Dixon 1905 Southern melodrama, The Clansman, and its cinematic avatar, D. W. Griffith notorious Birth of a Nation. The comparison is logical: two commercially successful tales by Southern writers about the war and Reconstruction, which were translated into landmark popular movies. The similarities are obvious, and most critics have tended to link them in all respects, focusing especially on melodrama, sentimentality, nostalgia--and most of all on racism.

Wood finds still more compelling common themes. After examining the basic fabric of all four works (with particular regard to the technical innovations of the two films), he argues that the "primal appeal" of all four lies in their reliance upon what he calls the "do-

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