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ESSAY "I Was Tellin It" Race, Gender, and the Puzzle ofthe Storyteller Anne Goodwyn Jones a~'d like to diank Drew Faust for taking on what still seems in some quarters to be an unpopular project: applying actual thought to popular literature. Between Faulkner and Mitchell, scholars have chosen Faulkner. Few have taken Gone with the Wind seriously enough to write about it. It's not anthologized, eitiier. Of the southern literature anthologies I've seen, the only one to include a portion of, or even mention of, Gone with the Wind, is the OxfordBook oftheAmerican South, whose senior editor, Ed Ayers, is a historian.1 Certainly one of the reasons for this critical and andiological neglect is the sheer size of the 1037-page book. Another must be the flapping of the last tatters of the old boundary dividing high literature , demanding study, from popular literature, which a true scholar would not even stoop to read. A third reason is the subject of Faust's talk: the knee-jerk racism evident in both what the book makes of black characters and what it omits. This last reason was critical a few years ago in the editorial board's decision to leave Gone with the Wind out of die HeathAnthology ofAmerican Literature. I was at diat meeting and well remember the passion with which African American editors articulated dieir repugnance to and fear ofwhat they saw as a novel that not only represented racism, but could actively construct racism in its readers. One of die earliest literary scholars to write seriously about this putatively unserious novel was Louis D. Rubin Jr., who considered some implications of the same-year publication of Margaret Mitchell's award-winning Gone with the Wind and William Faulkner's relatively obscure Absalom, Absalom!.1 Since then, feminists —myselfincluded—have taken up the questions posed by and in this novel (for example, IS tomorrow another day?) to focus on its repetitive and revisionary renderings of gender constructions. Is Scarlett a New Woman or—in Jason Compson's words—just anodier Bitch? Is Rhett a Closet Southern Gendeman, or just another garden-variety rapist? Is Margaret Mitchell a southern Betty Friedan? Or a southern Phyllis Schlafly? Faust has taken the important step of extending these questions beyond the racial boundaries set by the novel itself and by much of the thinking about it. 29 She has asked, rightfully, how Mitchell's representations ScarlettS imagined ofrace workin the novel, and how diose representations . . ,?impinge upon Mitchell's work with gender. Faust has, return to the arms . G ; „ . . , , , . c , . rightfully, joined at the hip two categories of analysis: race ofMammy IS theand gender. ; ? · r Her conclusion, her thesis, as I understand it, is die folreal conclusion ol , . .,, ,,... ,. . , J lowing: Although she was workingin a tradition or women GWTW.who used the Civil War in their writing to question the boundaries of southern womanhood, Margaret Mitchell had to curtail her experiments with gender when she hit the brick wall of racism. To imagine freedom for a white woman necessarily and logically requires imagining freedom for anyone, even black people, even black men. Freedom does not respect categories of race and gender. Yet, in Faust's view, Mitchell could not allow herself to imagine past her traditional white soudiern stereotypes ofAfrican Americans. As a result, she faltered and failed in her imagination of Scarlett's liberation. She and her protagonist end by clutching die very chains that bind diem to the past, the chains of soudiern racism. There is a lot to be said for Faust's claim. Feminist thinkers since Simone de Beauvoir, and American women's historians at least since Nancy Cott, have written about the paradoxical bonds of womanhood, diough for Cott and de Beauvoir the chains that bind have more to do widi love and marriage than witii racism. In TheirEyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston has Nanny describe loving men as "de very prong all us black women gits hung on. Dis love!"5 Sleeping with die enemy may be the more familiar paradox ofwomen's liberation, but dwelling on the differences among women, such as the racial divide, is in many ways die more...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 29-43
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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