Gone with the Wind | Study Guide

Margaret Mitchell

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Gone with the Wind | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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Gone with the Wind—the only novel by Southern writer Margaret Mitchell—has been called feminist, anti-feminist, racist, overly romantic, and historically inaccurate. The 1936 novel tells the story of Scarlett O'Hara, a quintessential Southern belle, and her experiences throughout the Civil War and the days of Reconstruction. Its depictions of white Southern life, slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and the events of Reconstruction found many critics, but its vivid descriptions, romance, and portrayal of the Southern home front in wartime appealed to millions.

The book clocked in at more than 1,000 pages, but that didn't keep readers away. It has been enormously successful, with more than 30 million copies sold in over 30 languages. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize and made into an award-winning film that runs for nearly four hours. Gone with the Wind continues to sell tens of thousands of copies each year. Readers still love the story, though they are more aware now than in 1936 of its vexed racial politics.

1. Gone with the Wind was banned by the Nazis.

Gone with the Wind was published in October 1937 in Germany and sold some 300,000 copies by 1941. At first the Germans were pleased by the depiction of Americans as greedy and naive, as well as the portrayal of race relations. Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels praised the film adaptation of the novel, which Adolf Hitler reportedly admired. However, it soon became apparent readers in occupied territories were inspired by the tale of Southerners rising up against the North. Late in the war, the Nazis banned the book, and in 1944 the New York Journal American reported:

The massive adventures of Scarlett and Rhett are now bootlegging for $60 a copy in France, and for almost that figure in Holland, Norway and Belgium. Persons have been shot for possessing it. Orders have gone out from Germany to seize all copies.

The book was later banned in the Soviet Union as well and wasn't published there officially until 1982.

2. Mitchell started writing Gone with the Wind while recovering from an injury.

In 1925 Margaret Mitchell was a 25-year-old reporter working at The Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine when she had to take a leave from her job because of an ankle injury. She had worked on the magazine's column "The Oldest Inhabitants" before her leave and was intrigued by interviews with survivors of the 1864 Battle of Atlanta. Some of her subjects recalled the time with great detail, and Mitchell was fascinated by details about the siege and the era in general, including "did boys kiss girls before they married them, and did nice ladies nurse in hospitals." With little to do, she began researching a novel, not telling even family members she was writing it.

3. Mitchell originally preferred Gone with the Wind have a different title.

Before deciding on the title for her vast novel, Mitchell and her publishers had several other possibilities in mind. Editor Harold Latham wanted it to be called Another Day. Mitchell preferred Bugles Sang True, None So Blind, or Not In Our Stars. Then she came across a poem by Ernest Dowson called "Non sum Qualis Eram Bonae sub Regno Cynarae," which included these lines:

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind

Taken with the phrase, she settled on Gone with the Wind.

4. Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in the film adaptation of Gone with the Wind, was the first African American to win an Oscar.

When the film adaptation of Gone with the Wind was released at the end of 1939, Hattie McDaniel received rave reviews for her portrayal of the slave Mammy. When McDaniel brought a stack of these reviews to producer David O. Selznick at his office, he submitted her name for Academy Award consideration for Best Supporting Actress.

The award ceremony was held at a nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel in Hollywood. The hotel did not allow African Americans inside, but Selznick convinced the owner to permit McDaniel to enter. However, she had to sit at a small table by the wall with her agent and her escort, while the rest of the Gone with the Wind entourage sat at a central table. When McDaniel, the daughter of two former slaves, won the Oscar, she said:

I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope that I shall always be a credit to my race and the motion picture industry.

5. The Daughters of the Confederacy tried to prevent the producers from casting Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind.

Producer David O. Selznick held a widely publicized search for the actress who would play Scarlett O'Hara in the 1939 film version of Gone with the Wind. He considered a number of well-known American actresses as well as unknowns. When he decided on British actress Vivien Leigh, little-known in the United States, the Daughters of the Confederacy protested, insisting a native Southerner should play the role and stating that "we resolve to withhold our patronage if otherwise cast."

6. Mitchell's mother paid her to read when she was a child.

Mitchell's mother, May Belle, was determined her daughter would be well educated. She had wanted to be a scientist or doctor herself but gave up that dream to raise her daughter. Mitchell recalled her mother would pay her to read: "a nickel for each of Shakespeare's plays ... a dime for each Dickens, fifteen cents for Nietzsche or Kant or Darwin." Mitchell admitted, though, she was uninterested in reading Thackeray, Tolstoy, or Hardy until she was an adult.

7. Some psychologists have concluded Scarlett O'Hara is a psychopath.

Psychologist Hervey M. Cleckley posited Scarlett was a "partial psychopath," noting while she demonstrated traits of a psychopath—namely being unable to understand the feelings of those around her—she also demonstrated a conscious ability to work toward her own well-being. Other therapists claim she has histrionic personality disorder, which is characterized by moodiness and high drama, a need to be the center of attention, and difficulty with intimacy.

8. The Ku Klux Klan vocally supported the making of the film adaptation of Gone with the Wind.

When producer David O. Selznick began preparations for filming Gone with the Wind, the Ku Klux Klan offered to work with him in an advisory role. Selznick refused the offer but persisted in making the film despite protests from African American activists, who claimed the book glorified "Southern lynch society." Selznick did, however, remove all mention of the Klan as well as the racial slurs that appeared in the book.

9. For many years, Gone with the Wind was second in popularity to the Bible.

A 2008 Harris poll found among American readers, Gone with the Wind was second in popularity only to the Bible. A 2014 poll had the same results. However, when broken down by gender, the poll revealed a majority of women chose Gone with the Wind as their second favorite, while men preferred The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

10. Parts of Rhett Butler's character in Gone with the Wind were based on Mitchell's first husband.

Mitchell married Berrien Upshaw (known as Red) in 1922. They only remained married for three months; Upshaw was apparently a violent man whose treatment of his wife was reflected in the character of Rhett Butler. Butler's violence is disguised in the novel as romance, but the scene in which he forcibly carries Scarlett O'Hara upstairs was supposedly based on a real-life incident of marital rape between Upshaw and Mitchell.

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