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ESSAY Race and the Cloud ofUnknowing in Gone mth the Wind by Patricia Yaeger IE»~?ßß_^ esponding to Drew Faust's powerful essay on Gone with the Wind ?^^m has been difficult, not only because ofthe usual ardors ofwritr «^^5^ mg but because I made die mistake ofpicking up Gone with the ^^L^l Wind again—and then had trouble putting it down. This is a ^aW..^ long book with print so tiny diat it makes me squint, a book whose racial politics are absolutely abhorrent. And yet, as reader, I find myself completely at odds witii my own position as a liberal academic—empathizing with the Klan after they've brutalized die inhabitants of shantytown, identifying with Scarlett as she abuses convict labor, admiring Melanie Wilkes, who is afraid to go North because her son might have to go to school with "pickaninnies." How can I become so embroiled—so sentimental, so hyperidentified, so whitely forgetful of my own literary critical agenda—as I reread a story whose politics (and, for that matter, whose writing style) drives me over the brink? Granted, it is a brilliant stroke on Mitchell's part to make her heroine a villain, to invent a plot that moves swifdy from crisis to crisis, and to provide a classic denouement —a reversal of fortune that, unlike all the odier reversals of fortune throughout the novel, depends (again classically) upon a discovery that is meant to feel, in the novel's terms, as earth-shattering as Oedipus's. Scarlett takes offher blinders, discovers she doesn't love Ashley but has desired Rhett all along, just at the moment when (as with Oedipus) such a discovery salves nothing. This bizarre structure ofmisrecognition mirrors Drew Faust's argument about what goes wrongwith Mitchell's project. Faust sees Gone with the Windfoundering upon a blindness about race and a misrecognition of the connections between race and gender in a civilization resting on "the oppression of four million African Americans whose labor made southern wealth, gentility, and even ladyhood possible." Thus, Mitchell is blind not only to racial oppression but to the inseparability ofrace and gender within die novel's definitions ofladyhood. While Scarlett makes her way toward one recognition, the discovery of her own "erotic truth," the novel wards offanother set ofpolitical recognitions about race as the very ground diat makes Scarlett's whiteness possible. 21 But ifmisrecognition is not just the heroine's fatal flaw, but the author's problem as well, why is diis power ofnot-seeing so pervasive? Is it accurate to suggest a parallel between the novel's political and erotic structures? If so, why this double plot—this need to read die novel by seeing double acts ofnot-seeing, a monstrous twinning in which erotic misrecognition and political misrecognition go hand in hand? The question of misrecognition, arrested symbol systems, and sequestered centers of thought (or "non-thought")—that is, the motif of thrown-away knowledge, of what is over- or under-looked in southern culture—has become my particular concern in thinking about twentieth-century southern fiction. I'm especially interested in a spectacle of "unknowing" built into die very structures of southern life. In Susan Tucker's TellingMemories among Southern Women: Domestic Workers and Their Employers in the Segregated South, the author-interviewer is struck by a strange repetition. She interviews a series of white employers who eagerly launch into stories about their maids until halfway through, I could tell from their slowed voices that diey were not quite sure they should have begun. . . . The taboo against discussing race and a fear of saying something inappropriate (a fear born of changed attitudes toward race) made . . . two reasons for caution. For these reasons, a number ofwhite women would not sign release forms. They had told stories that they had heard all their lives. . . . Yet they heard these stories anew when they realized they would be written down. . . . Our unedited words are often those diat are most familiar and also those that tell us more than we want to know about the culture we live in.1 Tucker describes a world brimming with arrested systems of knowledge—a culture that depends upon the nonconceptualized...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 21-28
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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