Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Cotton, Slaves and Arrogance

The South was more than "cotton, slaves and arrogance." It saw the merging of several different cultures, including those of several African nations,  as well as  the Spanish, French, Irish, German, Italian, English, and Scottish cultures. Every state was unique, and had a different historical background. From The Spectator:
Gone with the Wind is about the perils of romanticizing. The movie begins with young men romanticizing the impending Civil War. ‘War! Isn’t it exciting, Scarlett?’ exclaims one of the Tarleton twins. With the women napping upstairs during a barbecue at Twelve Oaks, the men smoke cigars and confidently assert that ‘gentlemen always fight better than rabble’. When the war is announced, the barbecue erupts into cheers and music, as the partygoers rush outside, twirling their skirts and hats. Charles Hamilton runs up to Scarlett: ‘Isn’t it thrilling? Mr. Lincoln has called the soldiers, volunteers, to fight against us!’
Charles Hamilton will be dead two scenes later, catching measles and pneumonia before he ever sees a battlefield. The Tarleton twins will perish at Gettysburg. The throng of exuberant partygoers will be replaced by the throng of injured bodies stretching endlessly through the streets of Atlanta in one of the most iconic shots in cinematic history. Almost no man present at the barbecue will live to see the end of the war.
The two men who do survive the war are the two who refuse to romanticize it: Ashley Wilkes, who observes that ‘most of the miseries of the world were caused by wars. And when the wars were over, no one ever knew what they were about’; and Rhett Butler, who warns that while the Yankees have factories, shipyards, coal mines, and a fleet, ‘all we’ve got is cotton, slaves, and arrogance’.


In other words, Gone with the Wind is guilty of the very thing it criticizes in its characters. It depicts the hazards of romanticizing, while itself being a romanticized depiction. But perhaps this is intentional. Perhaps Scarlett’s declaration that she has loved something that didn’t really exist is meant as a meta-cinematic warning: everything we have watched is also a fantasy, ‘no more than a dream remembered’, as the opening says. Rhett is revealed as the film’s truth-teller in more ways than one. ‘Cotton, slaves and arrogance’ — that’s all the South really was, and we mustn’t forget it. (Read more.)

1 comment:

julygirl said...

Good point, excellent article.