David O. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind, is a film based on the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell. This film is set in Georgia the spring of 1861, and follows the life of a wealthy southern belle, Scarlett O’Hara. While the film focuses on the trial and tribulations of Scarlett’s love life, it also depicts life during the civil war, and after the civil war. Although the films depiction of southern life is somewhat reasonable, there are some historical inaccuracies. Because the movie is based in Scarlett O’Hara’s romances, the film romancitizes southern life and omits or twists details about the lives of the less fortunate.
Despite these inaccuracies, Gone with the Wind does a good job of illustrating the transformation of Southern culture during the Civil War. The film’s portrayal of white men and women living in the south is not far off, however, there are some exaggerations. The film makes it seem as though many southerners were wealthy planters that owned large houses on large plantations, but really only a selection of southerners lived as comfortable as the characters in the film. The men in the film are really secondary characters, so viewers do not get an in-depth look into their characters.
What we do see are your stereotypical men: strong, proud, and dominating. One aspect of the film that could be considered as prejudice is the character of Southern men fighting for the Confederate Army, versus the character of the Northern men fighting for the Union Army. The Confederates are portrayed as stereotypical southern gentlemen, while the “Yankees” are portrayed as animals that looted and ravaged the Southern states. Since the men go off to war early in the film, the lives of white, southern women are further detailed. Women are supposed to be dainty, subserviant, and naive (Smith).
Of course, women at this time had really nothing else to look forward to except marriage, so these characteristics would most likely be true. Scarlett, on the other hand, is different. While she is your typical Southern belle when it comes to daintyness and naivety, she also is very stubborn and does not always conform to her gender role. Her character is not what we would typically see in the south during the civil war. Her manipulative and unreserved ways are strictly to keep the film entertaining. Women played a very big role in the South during the Civil War, as is depicted in the film.
As the men went off to war, the women and children were left to take care of business back home. Southern women made many sacrifices during the war such as their time and livliehoods. They were left to be the ultimate provider for their family and had the new responsibility of overseeing farms or plantations. Women were even forced to jobs such as plowing, planting, and harvesting, because the serious shortage of manpower (Boyer & Clark). Women also played a significant role in the war as nurses, working in hospices filled with wounded Confederates.
As depicted in the film, the gender roles switch during this time, as the women had to be the strong ones, caring for the weak, and helpless men. Probably the most obvious historical inaccuracy of Gone with the Wind is its portrait of the Southern slave. The film has a very simplistic view on slavery, most likely to keep the audience comfortable. The black slaves are portrayed as cheerful and childlike, always happy to oblidge. It stays true to the Southern view that the black people were happy to have such an opportunity to work on plantations, and that the white Southerners were doing a favor for the blacks by “civilizing” them (Brown).
The character Mammy is treated like a family member and apparently has the authority to scold the O’Harra children. Although maybe a small number of families and slaves had some sort of bond, it is safe to assume that the majority did not. Also the film’s portrayal of slaves talking back to their masters and doing as they please, without the fear of any consequences is very doubtful. All slaves wanted to be free, but did not want to risk their lives, so that is why many of them abstained from rebelling, instead waiting for their freedom.
Perhaps this gave the Southerners the idea that the blacks were content as being servants and field workers. In one scene, Scarlett sees her some of her slaves along with many other black slaves marching through town, on their way to fight in the war. While some blacks fought in war for the Confederate Army, many white plantation owners were reluctant to send their slaves to war (Pillai). Plantation owners depended on slaves to work their fields while they were gone, and only sent slaves that were already in poor shape to the army. As the civil war went on, the planters became even more relecutant, as slavery was becoming a thing of the past.
In fact, many slaves ran away and joined the Union Army in spite of their masters in the South (Boyer & Clark). Despite a few historical innacuracies, Gone with the Wind does a decent job of portraying life during the civil war to audiences who most likely have little knowledge of this time in history. Audiences have an accrurate idea of how the South was imapacted by the war and how women of the South had to make great sacrfices to support their families. While some criticize David O. Selznick’s work, we have to remember that the job of Hollywood is not to inform and educate, but to entertain.