Dontinga, Randy. “Southern Storm.” Christian Science Monitor 4 Sept. 2008. 1 Dec. 2008. http://features.csmonitor.com/books/2008/09/04/southern-storm/
Southern Storm provides a historical overview of the Union Army’s destructive and infamous “March to the Sea” under General William Sherman that left much of Georgia in ruins during the American Civil War. In an interview with Civil War historian Noah Andy Trudeau, author Randy Dontinga provides a distinction between with is true and what is myth surrounding General Sherman’s notorious march. According to Trudeau, popular belief tends to paint General Sherman’s quest through Georgia as a lawless and moral-less tromp that left the Old South crippled and ruined. While Trudeau concedes that the Union Army did torch homes, confiscate crops, and destroy railroads, American mythology on the whole paints a “much grimmer” picture of General Sherman’s March than history suggests. Perhaps one of the most striking misunderstandings surrounding the Union invasion of Georgia surrounds the Northern Army’s treatment of the local population. Dontinga’s article suggests that as opposed to being destructive monsters, Union soldiers were “often respectful and even polite to Southerners, and spent most of the time admiring local women.” Although Sherman’s actions resulted in the fracture of the Southern economy and spirit, Dontinga and Trudeau illustrate that Sherman may not deserve his villainous, destructive reputation.
A historical account of General Sherman’s March to the Sea is valuable in assessing the historical accuracy of Gone With the Wind, as many of the novel’s most memorable scenes depict the destruction of Scarlett’s “world” at the hands of the Union Army during Sherman’s march through Georgia. The film’s infamous fire scene, along with the depiction of the total destruction of Twelve Oaks and Scarlett’s deadly encounter with a rogue Union soldier all provide the viewer with a villainous perception of the Union forces under Sherman’s command. According to Dontinga’s article, the Union forces’ torching of homes and confiscation of crops illustrated in Gone With the Wind are historically accurate. However, the wicked depiction of the Northern forces is not necessarily historically accurate, but is rather reflective with popular Southern mythology in the wake of their loss in the Civil War.
Richardson, Riché. “Southern Horrors, Global Terrors.” Black Renaissance, 7.3 (Fall 2007). 30 Nov. 2008.
Southern Horrors, Global Terrors by Riche Richardson analyzes the manner in which producers D.W. Griffith and David Selznick approached translating the racially-charged novels “The Clansman” and “Gone With the Wind” into film. Both novels, set during the American Civil War and rooted in Southern ideology, utilize virulent racist language to illustrate the pervasive bigotry typical of the South during the War period. Griffith’s 1915 film Birth of a Nation, based on the novel “The Clansman,” retains and advances the novel’s racist elements. In contrast, Selznick’s 1939 film adaptation of Gone With the Wind offers an ostensibly less racially-charged account of the War and Reconstruction than both the film’s literary counterpart and Birth of a Nation. Richardson describes the film version of Gone With the Wind as more “sanitized,” ignoring numerous instances in the novel where popular characters like Rhett Butler and Melanie Wilkes dehumanize and devalue African Americans. Further, Richardson contends that Selznick’s omission of many of Margaret Mitchell’s racist elements is reflective of Hollywood’s contemporary rejection of overt racism as distasteful and morally reprehensible.
In assessing the consistency of Gone With the Wind with the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction, Richardson’s article provides a valuable insight into the nature of racism in the 19th Century South. Both novels advance the Southern ideology of the period that aimed to perpetuate black inferiority to the white supremacist class. As the article illustrates, Griffith chose to accommodate such bigotry in his film, while Selznick chose to “tone down” Mitchell’s racist elements. Selznick’s choice to abandon much of the bigotry that pervades the literary narrative may make the film more appealing to contemporary Hollywood and American culture, but makes the film less reflective of the Southern ideology of the period.
Toplin, Robert Brent. “Hollywood’s History: The Historians’ Response.” Reviews in American History, 24.2 (1996)
Robert Brent Toplin’s review of Hollywood’s adaptation of literature to film throughout history analyzes the historical accuracy of David Selznick’s celebrated blockbuster hit Gone With the Wind. In his analysis, Toplin acknowledges the common tendency of Hollywood producers and writers to remove minor stories or characters to simplify the story into a streamlined melodrama. Further, moviemakers will often overstate truths in addition to simplifying them to elicit a response from the audience. Such “creative uses of evidence” are apparent in Hollywood’s Gone With the Wind.
Toplin cites historian Catherine Clinton’s discussion of Gone With the Wind in which the scholar addresses the film’s classic flaws. Clinton argues that Selznick’s constant appeal to “Old South” romanticism detracts from the broader historical and cultural message of the film. However, the most troubling issue for Clinton concerns the depiction of slaves as “happy-go-lucky darkies who are ever loving and loyal to their… benevolent masters.” Clinton finds Selznick’s illustration of slavery and the slaves themselves as offensive and distastefully romanticized. Clinton concedes, however, that the film provides an adequate and realistic view of an “up-country” Georgia. Gerald O’Hara’s humble foreign origins, coupled with Scarlett O’Hara’s rise from “southern belle” to matriarch during the Reconstruction, serves as a reliable reflection of the social fabric of Northern Georgia in the post-war South. Futher, Rhett’s initial resistance and skepticism toward the war movement in the beginning of the film was a sentiment shared by many Confederates in the antebellum period.