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Written by Margret Mitchell and first released in 1936, Gone with the Wind is a diachronic and sentimental fiction novel. Mitchell mainly focuses on the lifestyle of rich and gender biases of the indigenous people of Atlanta and Georgia immediately before the Civil War in 1961, through the war, to the Reconstruction epoch that ensued.
The author uses the main character Scarlett O’Hara to discuss the negative impacts of war, gender inequality and how to overcome hardships in life. Scarlett gets married when she is sixteen years; unfortunately, two months later her husband dies.
However, her character is scandalous, amorous, and aggressive; will she be able to survive the impact of the war and gender discrimination that the society subjects to women?
The major points in the story
Gender inequality and oppression of women is the norm in Georgia. The character of Scarlett’s mother is submissiveness, timidity and graceful towards her husband. Scarlett’s mother takes care of the farm’s accounts and gives her husband the feedback.
This phenomenon underscores the gender roles of the society whereby, the ownership of property is to men while women act as managers of the farms and other family enterprises.
The women carry the burden of work while their success and achievement go to their husbands. The role of women is to fulfill the heart desires and be attentive to their husbands’ needs.
Similarly, society forbids women from either taking charge of their own lives or owning property.
Also, society forbids girls from mingling or playing with boys, and each of the groups has different games. In return, men despise and look down on women as inferior in society; they are selfish and demand ceaseless favors from them.
Finally, when the war breaks out, all the young men including the newly married ones go to the war. Ashley leaves his newly married wife, Melanie, while Scarlett moves to Atlanta to live with this departed newlywed.
However, Scarlett spends most of her time with old married women and widows. Due to the war, the laws defining gender roles are lax, and no one seems to care about what happens to women.
Widows like Scarlett work in hospitals as volunteers where they attend to wounded men, yet the old rules do not allow that.
Moreover, Scarlet does not put on a black veil to show that she is a widow and mingles with single men, dancing and partying with them. Therefore, the war gives women a chance to explore their heart desires as nobody concentrates on gender rules.
Unfortunately, the effects of the war take a toll on society, food, clothing, and other basic needs become scarce. The economic status of the South tumbles down as people are unable to import or export goods. The basic goods are in the hands of the rich people who control prices hence inflation.
The negative impacts of the war cause the South to lose its socio-economic powers; moreover, the poor face subjugation from the elites in the society.
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What critics say
Besides the novel being entertaining to its readers, several people criticized the story. For instance, Floyd Watkins in his article “Gone with the Wind as Vulgar Literature” criticizes the author’s use of gross language.
He argues that Mitchell describes a culture that is false and has never been in existence. Watkins states that “Southern readers and foolish romantic readers everywhere dream more of an impossible past, expect more of that can be realized, ignore authentic culture…” (4).
He does not concur with the image of the South as a superficial rich society. Other critics are against the author’s depiction and description of the rich people in the south. According to Pyron, Mitchell praises the antisocial cultural events like alcoholism, slavery, and prostitution (57).
One of the critics Jane Tompkins is against the way the author glorifies slavery and discrimination of the black people in society. Mitchell portrays blacks as slaves; she calls them “creatures of small intelligence, monkeys, or small children” (Mitchell 60).
Tompkins views this as a promotion of racism in society. Some scholars are against the plain criticism of the role of women in the south.
Mitchell expresses the criticism with the support and glorification of the rude and rebellious character of Scarlett, which should not be the case.
Additionally, she portrays the behavior of the southern people as not noble. She paints the men’s character as inhumane and oppressive in the society.
Fiedler, one of the critics, says, “The role models of Southern chivalry are not heroes; they do not win, they are not supposed to” (207). However, in the story, rich people including Rhett and Scarlett are successful even after the war.
I think the author draws the dividing line between the poor and the rich in the society. The rich are always successful despite the circumstances at hand. Scarlett has an amorous character, but because she is from a rich family, she conquers all the obstacles that come her way to become a rich woman.
She gets married to four husbands in her life yet the laws state that women should be submissive to their husbands. The law does not penalize her amorous or aggressive character. The rich people earn favors from the community and the governing system as it is the case with Scarlett.
On the contrary, poor people receive treatment of slaves and live in misery. Although they live according to the rules of the land, they suffer the most especially during the violence. Also, the story outlines the effect of ethnic or civil wars on society.
Due to the war, the Southern loses its economic power and inflation soars. This reality is an admonition to people who might be planning to start a war shortly.
As opposed to the critics’ views, the author’s main aim is to bring out the negative impact of ethnic or civil wars as a warning to those who seem oblivious of such atrocious acts. The setting of the story is in the 1860s where slavery and gender bias was normal.
Therefore, critics should not concentrate on gender and slavery rather the negative impacts of the war. If anything, the only thing Mitchell has labored to expose is the realities of the society; affluence, the suffering of the poor and war are not new issues in society.
Mitchell uses the character of Scarlett to highlight the themes of survival, war and gender inequality in the story. Scarlet uses her mischievous, amorous, and aggressive character to survive in the war-torn society.
She goes against the odds and rules of the society, which defines a woman as inferior ending up successful. Although the novel is a success, many critics as Watkins, Tompkins, and Fiedler among others did not fail to criticize this chef-d’oeuvre.
They criticize the author’s glorification of the wealthy people in society and her view on gender roles among other pertinent issues in society.
However, in my opinion, the author focuses on the war and its negative impacts on the community. She also gives means of survival in case of war or when a woman becomes a widow.
Fiedler, Leslie. What Was Literature? Class Culture and Mass Society: New York: Simon and Schuster press, 1982.
Mitchell, Margaret, Gone with the Wind. United States: Macmillan, 1936.
Pyron, Darden. “Gone With the Wind and the Southern Cultural Awakening,” The Virginia Quarterly Review 62.5 (1986): 47-63.
Watkins, Floyd. “Gone with the wind as vulgar literature.” The civil war in popular fiction, 2001. Web.