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The American Civil War and Reconstruction era together had a significant impact on the entire history of the USA and a number of major changes that happened in the states of the Old South. There is a film that describes the life of people from these lands in detail, which is called Gone with the Wind. It demonstrates the primary values and the lifestyle of people who lived in the state of Georgia during the Civil War, which lasted for four years (1861–1865). The following paper is intended to discuss and determine how did the Civil War and Reconstruction era change class boundaries in the territories of the former Confederate States of America.
Before analyzing the plot of the film that is called Gone with the Wind, it would be proper to state that there was a great division into social classes between people who inhabited what is widely known as the Old South today. Almost every citizen of the Confederate States of America had one or more slaves (depending on one’s business needs). The picture tells the audience a story of a young belle named Scarlett O’Hara who attracted almost every young man of Atlanta. Her family had a farm and many slaves who worked in their fields and house.1 The main character wanted to marry a man who was going to take another woman as a bride. However, he went to war and left the ladies alone. When the Civil War ended, he returned to his motherland, which did not seem to be anything like what he left several years ago. Meanwhile, Scarlett had some financial problems with her father’s farm. Nevertheless, the brave woman managed to deal with all the difficulties by working hard and leaving all the fears behind.
The next part of the film brightly describes certain class changes among people who became residents of the New South after the Civil War came to an end. Reconstruction era began, and it lasted for twelve years since the moment of the USA’s victory (1865-1877). It is a well-known fact that the main achievement of the United States of America in the discussed historical event implied the abolition of slavery in the country’s southern territories.2 Although the picture describes the life of a wealthy family with many slaves, the director preferred to show that black people were treated almost like family members. The characters of the movie did not humiliate people who were forced to work for them. However, they happened to use somewhat neglecting words towards their slaves. Usually, when slaveholders were not satisfied with the behavior of African-Americans, they associated this society with monkeys or other animals. Indeed, these individuals were not educated, could not speak English fluently, and could not make logical actions or decisions sometimes.
The results of the Civil War
The Civil War between the United States and the Old South (CSA) started due to the ideological principles of the former American President, Abraham Lincoln.3 This politician promoted freedom and was against slavery in the southern part of the country, which was considered to be the key historical theme of this period. It would be proper to mention that this was the only part of the Commonwealth that used the labor of slaves, whereas residents of all other states were free. Moreover, many politicians thought that people who had businesses or worked for themselves were considered to be higher in social status than slaves who did not receive any wages for their hard work.
As it is mentioned above, slavery was prohibited by the national law of the United States of America in all its territories at the end of the war. As a result, black people were allowed to establish their own businesses, be employed, and earn money like other citizens. Nevertheless, the war did not resolve all the issues of the contemporary society that were addressed during the Reconstruction era later. Although the law gave a legal right to the representatives of black populations to live in accordance with the same standards that white people had, there were many racists and communities that did not accept the given rule.4 Former slaves could not socialize for an extended period due to the permanent stereotypes that white people developed about this society. Despite the fact that black people were free, they had no opportunities to increase their incomes and had financial problems during the era of Reconstruction.
The film called Gone with the Wind does not show all the differences regarding slavery between the times before and after the emancipation of the Old South. As it was stressed above, the picture demonstrates a kind treatment of black people. However, they were always offended and abused in reality. Some slaves committed suicides because they did not want to maintain such a miserable life they had. It would be proper to state that the novel is considered to be racist in modern society. However, it misinforms the audience about the real attitudes of wealthy people towards their slaves. Due to the fact that the film is focused on the love story of Scarlett O’Hara (the main character), all other important and revolutionary details are disregarded by the director.
As many historians claim, a tremendous number of people and soldiers died during the Civil War. The film discussed above has an episode that shows a vast train station that is covered with wounded and bleeding men. This scene demonstrates the seriousness of the War as it is claimed to be one of the most murderous and destructive battles in the entire American history. In fact, it is considered to be the harshest warfare that happened during World War II. To confront the Old South powerfully, the United States of America spent approximately three and a half million dollars to equip its army and other military forces that participated in the battle. To assess the number of murdered people, it is necessary to mention that almost three hundred and sixty thousand Americans were laid in the Civil War, whereas the losses of Confederates amounted to two hundred thousand soldiers.
Reconstruction era is known as the period that started immediately after the Civil War ended. This term is related to the renovation of various demolished or damaged constructions in the territories of the New South.5 However, it can also be observed from an abstract and legal perspective that influenced various changes in the local society. Not only slaves obtained a right to be independent of white people, but the latter community was also obliged to overcome particular difficulties. Many people did not have much money to pay taxes on their businesses to the new government. Therefore, rich representatives of New England bought all their properties to organize their own companies there. Due to such conditions, individuals were obliged to work instead of their slaves to survive.
The film discussed above also showed the difficulties that people from the southern states of America were obliged to face because of new laws and Reconstruction. Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie (the main character’s companion) had to work long hours in the field to feed their families. The women were not used to such a lifestyle. Despite the fact that the war was over, all the black people (Mammy and Pork) did not leave the farm but helped their former owners. The main character of the picture decided to marry the man she never loved to open the lumber business that allowed her to make a fortune on people from New England who required many building materials at that time. The main changes in class boundaries that were influenced by both the Civil War and Reconstruction era are given below:
- Black people became equal with other citizens.6
- Wealthy families had to work or sell their businesses to survive due to the lack of money.7
- The majority of the former CSA citizens neglected and supported racial ideology after the Civil War ended.
Gone with the Wind is one of the most popular films that describe the events of the Civil War and Reconstruction era. The battle led to a major change in the society of the former CSA. Black people became free from slavery, whereas other people had to overcome financial difficulties and the superiority of rich people who came from New England. The picture tells the story of a young woman who lived in this period and managed to become happy and successful after all the sufferings and mourning she faced during the Civil War.
“Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.” Civil War Trust. Web.
Breitborde, Mary-Lou. “Two Teachers Negotiate Race, Class, and Gender in the Civil War South.” American Educational History Journal 40, no. 1 (2013): 37–57.
Gone with the Wind. Directed by Victor Fleming. Performed by Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. Atlanta: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939. DVD.
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Noe, Kenneth. “Plain Folks Fight: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia.” Journal of American History 93, no. 2 (2006): 539–540.
Post, Charles. “Social-Property Relations, Class-Conflict and the Origins of the US Civil War: Towards a New Social Interpretation.” Historical Materialism 19, no. 4 (2011): 129–168.
“Thirteenth Amendment.” Civil War Trust. Web.
- Gone with the Wind, dir. Victor Fleming, perf. Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh (Atlanta: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939), DVD.
- Charles Post, “Social-Property Relations, Class-Conflict and the Origins of the US Civil War: Towards a New Social Interpretation,” Historical Materialism 19, no. 4 (2011): 133.
- “Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation,” Civil War Trust, Web.
- Kenneth Noe, “Plain Folks Fight: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia,” Journal of American History 93, no. 2 (2006): 540.
- Mary-Lou Breitborde, “Two Teachers Negotiate Race, Class, and Gender in the Civil War South,” American Educational History Journal 40, no. 1 (2013): 38.
- “Thirteenth Amendment,” Civil War Trust, Web.
- “Fifth Dedication Speech for the Unveiling of the South Carolina Monument on the Chickamauga Battlefield,” Civil War Trust, Web.