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ESSAY ;'The Prong ofLove" by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall rew Faust's central and important insight is that readers of Gone with the Windmust attend to how representations ofrace and gender work together. I could not agree with her more. But I also think that she oversimplifies that dynamic by failing to place it firmly in historical context and underestimates the roots of the book's appeal in what Anne Jones, following Zora Neale Hurston , calls, so wonderfully, the "prong of love"—the racialized myths of heterosexual romance. Faust notes quite righdy that Gone with the Wind, for all ofMargaret Mitchell's professed fascination with the Civil War, is very much a book of the 1920s. I would push this point even further. The longing for blackness, the "fluidity between black and white positions," which (likeJoel Williamson in his essay "How Black Was Rhett Butier") Patricia Yaeger so perceptively sees lurking in the novel's images, "hidden in plain sight," peaked in the 1920s—the Jazz Age, the era of the Harlem Renaissance, of Flaming Youth. That period was marked by Red scares and race riots, by intense nativism and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. But it was also a time in which black artists, ranging from the writers of the Harlem Renaissance to the black musicians who helped transform the traditional music of the South into one of America's great popular sounds, brought America 's rich heritage of black folk culture into white consciousness more forcefully than ever before. Perhaps even Gone with the Wind, despite its willful refusal to recognize the humanity ofits black characters, bears, at some level, traces of the hybrid cultural consciousness that energized both black and white American artists at that time.1 In Mothers ofInvention, Drew Faust brings to life an array of white southern women, and not one of them resembles Scarlett O'Hara. Both Mitchell and her protagonist are products of the sea change in manners and morals that began in opposite: A scenefrom Gone with the Wind, the David 0. Sel^nickfilm released in 1939. From the Museum ofModernArtFilm StillsArchive. 44 the 1910s and altered the moral geography ofthe post—World War I urban South. Gone with the Wind's references to buying and selling could be read as metaphors for slavery, but to me they sound more like the relendess commodifications that characterized the modern South. Faust points out that Gone with the Wind offered a view of the Civil War that challenged the Cavalier myth. She also asserts that no book has been more influential in shaping popular perceptions of the southern past. But if Gone with the Wind was so influential, then why did its skepticism, its revision of popular narratives, have so little effect? Perhaps its revisionism failed in part because readers—especially women readers—were responding more to the novel's resonance with the racial and sexual politics of the interwar period than to its historical setting. This was a period in which a militant heterosexuality displaced the feminism and female separatism that Mitchell's mother, Maybelle, an ardent suffragist, exemplified. Generations of writers had already tattooed the plantation myth on the consciousness of the nation. Mitchell harnessed that myth to the romance novel and made race and regional conflict the backdrop for a story that appealed especially to young white women who wanted to "have it all"—sex and work, wild nights and respectability, companionate marriage and careers— but who still felt torn between Melanie's ladylike self-sacrifice and Scarlett's selfabsorption . Certainly, given Gone with the Wind's staying power, it seems critical to think about reader response. Anne Jones has reminded us that we cannot assume that Margaret Mitchell identified with or fully shared the views of her protagonist or even those ofher narrator. By the same token, we cannot assume that the millions of people who read Gone with the Wind and flocked to the movie saw in it either what Mitchell intended or what we now see as we look back from the far side of the Civil Rights movement and second wave feminism. My mother-in-law, for example, was growing up in Charleston when Gone...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 44-48
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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