Books that Changed America (for better or worse): Gone With the Wind

GWTW was a runaway best seller. From it came arguably the greatest movie of all time. Controversy surrounding the story has grown through the years.

On the plus side, it’s a dynamic tale about one of the great fiction characters of all time, Scarlet O’Hara. She is vain, selfish and deceitful. Unyielding, courageous, and wicked smart. She was the great anti-hero before that type character was defined.

Author Margaret Mitchell told the stories of the Old South as they were relayed to her by the people who lived through it. The voices she heard described a romantic, heroic, and beautiful culture. This book was her fantasy, where slaves were simple minded and silly, plantation owners were generous and kind. The Yankees were thieves and the army of Dixy was filled with noble knights.

Mitchell wrote a compelling story filled with great characters. But what was the effect? The image of the old south was revitalized. The Confederates might have lost the war but through GWTW they won the public relations battle.

I doubt Mitchell meant to do harm with her book. But it shows that the companion to historical fiction should be a raised eyebrow and a suspicious mind. Enjoy the book. But retain your judgement and don’t fall for propaganda.

There are plenty of slave narratives that tell the other side of the story: Fredrick Douglass’ Autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave, The Diary of a Slave Girl, (the slave narrative of Linda Brett.) All are enlightening and thrilling reads.

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