The Wind Goes On: 'Gone with the Wind' and the Imagined Geographies of the American South
Published in 1936, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind achieved massive literary success before being adapted into a motion picture of the same name in 1939. The novel and film have amassed numerous accolades, inspired frequent reissues, and sustained mass popularity. This dissertation analyzes evidence of audience reception in order to assess the effects of Gone with the Wind's version of Lost Cause collective memory on the construction of the Old South, Civil War, and Lost Cause in the American imagination from 1936 to 2016. By utilizing the concept of prosthetic memory in conjunction with older, still-existing forms of collective cultural memory, Gone with the Wind is framed as a newly theorized mass cultural phenomenon that perpetuates Lost Cause historical narratives by reaching those who not only identify closely with it, but also by informing what nonidentifying consumers seeking historical authenticity think about the Old South and Civil War. In so doing, this dissertation argues that Gone with the Wind is both an artifact of the Lost Cause collective memory that it, more than anything else, legitimized in the twentieth century and a multi-faceted site where memory of the South and Civil War is still created.
My research is grounded in the field of memory studies, in particular the work of Pierre Nora, Eric Hobsbawn, Andreas Huyssen, Michael Kammen, and Alison Landsberg. In chapter one, I track the reception of Gone with the Wind among white American audiences and define the phenomenon as rooted in Benedict Anderson's conception of the nation. I further argue that Gone with the Wind's Lost Causism provided white national subjects with a collective memory of slavery and the Civil War that made sense of continuing racial tensions during Jim Crow and justified white resistance to African American equality. Gone with the Wind, in other words, reconciled the lingering ideological divisions between white northerners and southerners who then were more concerned with protecting white supremacy.
In chapter two and three, I analyze Gone with the Wind's continuing popularity throughout the twentieth century and its significant influence on other sites of national memory. Chapter four uses contemporary user reviews of Gone with the Wind DVD and Blu-ray collector's editions to reveal that the phenomenon remains popular.
Throughout this study I analyze the history of black resistance to the Gone with the Wind phenomenon. For African Americans, Gone with the Wind's Lost Causism has always been understood as justification for racism, imbuing the white national conscious with a mythological history of slavery and black inferiority. As I argue, black protestors to Gone with the Wind were correct, as the phenomenon has always resonated most during moments of increased racial tension such as during the civil rights era and following the Charleston Church Massacre in 2015.