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April 2011 BOTM: Gone with the Wind

A monthly discussion on varying themes guided by our members. (Book of the Month discussions through December 2011 can be found in this section too.)
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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Tue April 12th, 2011, 11:32 pm

I would be interested in finding a book about those who fixed the infrastructure destroyed in the war, such as the railroads and telegraph lines.
Me, too. I learned most of what I know about this in a 1941 book by S.G. Reed, A History of the Texas Railroads, but it is pretty dry for non-research reading, and only a small fraction of it relates to the Civil War-era destruction. It's eye-opening, though, how damaged the Texas railroads were after 4 years of war, and in a state that didn't see much fighting. In Texas, most of the problem was not marauding Yankees (like Sherman's men who the tracks into "Sherman's neckties" elsewhere) but a combination of overuse by Confederate troops without proper maintenance, and the Confederates themselves tearing up tracks to prevent Union invaders from using them. The upshot was that most of the railroads built in Texas before the war were unusable at its end. The shenanigans that went on after the war relating to rebuilding the roads are pretty interesting, too, at least in Texas. The state badly wanted to rebuild the railroads, and the amount of money necessary to do so meant a lot of shady characters came out of the woodwork, as well as people who were probably well-intentioned but didn't actually know much about railroads.
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Michy
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Post by Michy » Thu April 14th, 2011, 8:28 pm

A question for those of you who've both read the book and seen the movie.... I've never seen the movie, but I'm wondering if Scarlett and Rhett come across as milder than they do in the book. In the book, Rhett is repeatedl described as being physically large and muscular, and his face and actions are both rather sardonic. But in the movie stills I've seen of Clark Gable, he looks far less physically imposing than Rhett sounds in the book, and also his face looks more genial.

As for Scarlett, her worse traits are revealed through her thoughts much more than through her actions or words. I'm just wondering if they were truly able to capture that in the film? Or did she come across as somewhat nicer than she is in the book?

Back to the slavery issue from earlier in the thread..... the thing that has me most scratching my head about slavery in GWTW is the way those as at the highest caste of slavery -- the house slaves -- are depicted. Namely Mammy, Peter and Pork. They don't just promote the idea that whites, particularly white ladies, are much more fragile and in need of gentler handling, but they seem to believe it themselves. It seems incongruous to me that slaves, even those who worked in the house in the closest and most personal capacity to their white owners, could have truly believed that white women were so much more fragile than black women. I understand they had to behave that way, but could they have truly believed it? Or did Mitchell just invent that attitude in some slaves for the sake of her story? And the concept that any slave could have felt he "owned" his white owners "heart and soul" (which is the way she described both Mammy and Peter) seems particularly incongruous to me.

I understand it helps to build the various relationships between the characters and makes for a more interesting story, but it doesn't strike me as being very true to life.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Thu April 14th, 2011, 9:08 pm

Michy, I've read quite a few slave biographies, and Mitchell's depiction of the caste system within the slave culture is absolutely true to life. Why wouldn't these negroes buy into the system? It put them on top.

You may not be aware of it, but even as recently as the sixties there was a strong bias in the black community favoring those who were lighter-skinned. It may still be the case, I haven't asked lately.

There was also a strong resentment between those who were close to their white owners on the big plantations and the 'field hands'. The 'house darkies' would not have abandoned their white owners easily, because that would have put them in the company of negroes who would vent their anger on the 'high caste' members of the old order.

And in the case of Uncle Peter, why would he leave Miss Pitty? Can anyone say 'codependent' here? Which was pretty much the case with most of the blacks who benefited from the system. You have to remember that slavery was the norm all over the South, and the horror that the idea raises in modern minds was pretty much lacking. Especially in those who were better off with their 'white folks' than most poor whites were alone.

We imagine that any person who could be 'free' would want to do so unless forcibly restrained. People in the situation were more likely sizing up where they would sleep, how they would eat, and what they would do if they left the only life they had ever known. And after forty, people don't adapt very well. So even if the young ones had the gumption, they would have to leave their older associates behind, which many would not do.

The slave system very quickly morphed into the sharecropping system, and although slavery was gone, very often the real result for those living under it was worse.

Not that I'm defending slavery here, but this is one area that backwards, illiterate, autocratic Russia actually did much better than our supposedly enlightened Republic. The Russian serfs were declared free at about the same time, but the government had a plan to give each serf a small portion of the land he had been working, and a contract over time where his family/village would repay the landowner for both their freedom and their farms. It wasn't perfect either, but it sure beat the US just saying "You're free," to two-thirds of the southern population without a plan in the world as to what was going to happen next.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Thu April 14th, 2011, 9:12 pm

As to the movie, why not just watch it? I thought the casting for Rhett and Scarlett was brilliant, but Melanie and Ashley not so much. Especially Ashley (Leslie Howard). He didn't look young and dashing at all. And Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) was not at all frail or girlish-looking -- although she was sweet enough.

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Thu April 14th, 2011, 9:37 pm

It's not the caste system that baffles me -- I understand that -- but the notion that blacks, even those at the top, would have truly believed that upper-class whites were so much more fragile and delicate than themselves. There are many examples in GWTW -- for instance, Scarlett as a child being so healthy and vigorous it was considered almost disgraceful. I guess it's just a concept that is difficult for me to wrap my modern mind around, knowing as I do that people are people, we're pretty much the same physiologically, and being of a certain race or socioeconomic class doesn't make you more delicate or fragile than anyone else. I know the blacks had to play along with it for their survival's sake, but that they would have truly believed it deep down is difficult for me to grasp. Surely they knew better?

Maybe that's just what Mitchell was depicting -- their outward conformance to the system, not necessarily what they were really thinking on the inside.

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Post by Divia » Thu April 14th, 2011, 10:20 pm

Well, if society tells you something you believe it. There were women who believed they were too dumb to vote and could never wrap their minds around politics and looked at those who wished to vote as radicals and unwomanly.

Why wouldn't a slave believe that a white woman is frailer than a black woman? They, white women, were put on pedestals and were treated like untouchable things. They were the angels of the households.

Now, that is NOT to say white plantation mistresses did not work. They did. They often worked alongside their slaves. They would can the food too. Its a huge misconception to think that every plantation house was like Tara. That wasn't the case. Many were smaller and hard working plantations where everyone, including the white women did the work.

So it all depends on the situation and what the plantation lifestyle was like.
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Thu April 14th, 2011, 10:38 pm

The frailty isn't unique to the south or the slave system. Every culture has an upper class, and in the days when most of the lower class performed physical labor, it was an item of pride that those who were of the upper classes were too frail (in an exalted sense, not a demeaning one) to perform menial labor. Mammy knew very well that Scarlett was healthy as a horse -- but the status of her white lady reflected on her with the other negroes, and so it was preferable if she were able to go on and on about how she "et lak' a bird" and needed all of Mammy's efforts just to get by.

Uncle Peter, who had the shaping of his three white owners (remember Melly said he practically raised herself, her brother, and Aunt Pitty) did his level best to make them completely dependent on him. I wonder how much he had to do with forcing Pitty's brother off the scene.

In China, royal family members never cut their nails, so that their hands became useless and they had to be fed like babies. And the women folded their feet under and wrapped them so that they could hardly walk. Same idea.

In our family, after having one guest declare that she would only cook with boneless, skinless chicken because cutting it up made her feel so bad for the bird (as if that somehow made her a better person!) we dubbed it 'the Princess and the Pea Syndrome'.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Thu April 14th, 2011, 10:45 pm

[quote=""Divia""]
Why wouldn't a slave believe that a white woman is frailer than a black woman? They, white women, were put on pedestals and were treated like untouchable things. They were the angels of the households.

So it all depends on the situation and what the plantation lifestyle was like.[/quote]

Very true! Though I doubt many of the slaves thought Emmy Slattery was more frail than they.
But on the other hand, anybody who sits around all day like the upper class depicted in GWTW did, people with many slaves to do all the work, and wears a corset that ruins her body on top of that, is going to be frailer than somebody who works hard all day. The reason that women of any race who work in the fields can have their babies and go right back to work is that their skeletal, muscular, and circulatory systems are all running at peak efficiency. As opposed to the flabby muscles and poor cardiovascular function of the indolent.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Fri April 15th, 2011, 12:40 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Michy
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Post by Michy » Thu April 14th, 2011, 11:03 pm

[quote=""Divia""]Well, if society tells you something you believe it. There were women who believed they were too dumb to vote and could never wrap their minds around politics and looked at those who wished to vote as radicals and unwomanly. [/quote] Good point. I suppose my egalitarian mindset is as much a product of the society I've lived in as their mindset was of their society.

[quote=""MLE""] Mammy knew very well that Scarlett was healthy as a horse -- but the status of her white lady reflected on her with the other negroes, and so it was preferable if she were able to go on and on about how she "et lak' a bird" and needed all of Mammy's efforts just to get by.

[/quote] That is an excellent point. I hadn't thought of that angle, but it makes sense -- Mammy wanted Scarlett to be delicate and fragile.
Now, that is NOT to say white plantation mistresses did not work. They did. They often worked alongside their slaves. They would can the food too. Its a huge misconception to think that every plantation house was like Tara. That wasn't the case. Many were smaller and hard working plantations where everyone, including the white women did the work.
Actually at Tara, at least how it's depicted in the book, anyway, Ellen O'Hara did work quite hard. She obviously didn't do hard manual labor, but she was going constantly from dawn till midnight, managing the plantation, tending to the slaves, her own family, and many of the neighborhood. It's implied that that is why she succumbed to the tyhpoid fever (as opposed to her daughters who recovered) is because she was worn down.
Last edited by Michy on Thu April 14th, 2011, 11:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Ash » Fri April 15th, 2011, 12:41 am

And the women folded their feet under and wrapped them so that they could hardly walk. Same idea.
Well, this was done to them as very young girls. Amazing that women who were hobbled by this deformity themselves would be willing to do the same to their daughters. But then, fashion is fashion I suppose. People in the future might wonder about our high heels.

The slaves might have believed that their masters were weak, in order to justify their fate in life - their masters needed them.

Re the idea that the masters would be weaker - off topic, but if you read Time Machine, remember that the Eloi were supposed to be the decendants of the upper class, and they were indeed weak, frail, and good for nothing but being eaten by the Morlocks, the ones who actually did all the work.

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