Gone With the Wind and the Lost Cause

Today, many folks cast the novel, Gone with the Wind, on the ash heap of Lost Cause literature. But, listen to Rhett Butler, attacking a militia officer at an Atlanta fund-raiser:

All wars are sacred,” he said. To those who have to fight them. . . .  But, no matter what rallying cries the orators give to the idiots who fight, no matter what noble purposes they assign to wars, there is never but one reason for war. And that is money. All wars are in reality money squabbles.  . . .  Sometimes the rallying cry is ‘Save the Tomb of Christ from the Heathen!’ Sometimes it’s ‘Down with Popery!’ and sometimes ‘Liberty!’ and sometimes ‘Cotton, Slavery and States Rights!’”

GWTW, p. 230. Rhett is saying the Cause was not protection of liberty, but protection of slavery. Some may say well, those are not the true beliefs of the author, Margaret Mitchell. Rhett Butler was the bad guy, after all, sort of.

But, Melanie Hamilton Wilkes was certainly a protagonist. All the white characters were flawed in some way. But, not Melanie.

As Melanie, Scarlett O’Hara and others drive away from the bazaar, Mrs. Merriwether, a pompous battleax, expresses her fury. Butler had insulted all of them and the Confederacy! she exclaimed. Mrs. Merriwether blamed the Hamilton family for encouraging Rhett Butler to socialize with them.

Melanie listened for a time, but then the normally timid Melanie could listen no more. “I will speak to him again,” she said in a low voice. “I will not be rude to him. I will not forbid him the house.” She meant she would continue to allow his visits at the Hamilton home.

She won’t be rude to him, as her hands shook, because he said the same things her husband, then an officer in the Confederate army, was saying. Oh, Melanie allowed, Rhett said those things rudely. He said them at a musicale. But, they were still the same things the man they all respected, Ashley Wilkes, said. To forbid him for what he said, while her husband said the same things, would be unjust.

Melanie was the timid character. Ashley was the dreamy, sometimes unrealistic semi-hero. Margaret Mitchell was making a point. Her point was not the Lost Cause.

Source:

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (New York: Scribner 2011), p. 230-231.

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