Is Gone with the Wind Really as Racist as Everyone Says?



Oh sorry, I was supposed to lead up to that. Proper argumentative essay and all that jazz. But yeah this is horrible. . . and yet it is undeniably great literature.

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind is one of the best-written novels in American Literature, I do recommend reading it. . . Unfortunately, Mitchell used her amazing talent to write something incredibly racist.

Allow me to clarify my view of looking at works from the past through modern eyes. I don’t think it’s fair to judge a work written in the past with concepts of the current era. For example: If Huck Finn had been written today, it would be racist, but I think it’s only fair to take into account the culture in which Mark Twain lived and his intention with the character of Jim. In that culture, at that time, it served to humanize the plight of runaway slaves. With that taken into consideration, I don’t think Huck Finn is racist.

Of course, this is just my opinion. You can disagree, I just wanted to clarify the yardstick that I use to measure books that deal with sensitive issues. So under this criteria, is Gone With the Wind racist?

Gone With The Wind is a story about a rich, slave owning, Scarlet O’Hara, and the effect the Civil War has on her and everyone around her. Much like Fiddler on the Roof if you don’t know the story, shame on you, go see the movie! . . . and maybe grab some laundry to fold or something, because it is LONG!

In the novel, Mammy, Big Sam, and Uncle Peter all talk about how proud they are to be slaves of a great family, even going so far to say that they don’t want freedom.




For her part, Scarlet laments over and over again how the northerners don’t know how to treat the slaves they freed and how better off slavery was for blacks. While it’s certainly true that freed-slaves faced many hardships and discrimination, we’re talking about freedom vs. slavery! Even in the 1930’s when this novel was written, slavery was wildly considered bad!

To be completely fair to Mitchell, I concede the following statements she makes about the postbellum South:

  • Many doctors in the south would have refused to see a freed slave as a patient where they would have previously treated a slave.
  • Many freed slaves went back to the same work they did before the war, as hired hands.
  •  Not every slave in the entire south was whipped or sexually abused.


In conceding these three points in no way am I defending the institution of slavery. In the novel, Scarlet goes on, and on about how her father wouldn’t stand for beatings on Tara, like that somehow makes slavery okay.

Slaves were literally thought of as farm animals and treated as beasts of burden. There is an old saying that goes “It’s a poor farmer that beats his horse.” The issue is not that slaves were beaten, it’s that they were treated no differently than animals. The comparison is what is so revolting, regardless of how they are treated.

GWTW9The reason that slavery is disgusting is not the living conditions, the work, or the abuse,  if it were, the abolitionist movement would have been satisfied with laws about the treatment of slaves. What makes slavery wrong is the fundamental idea that you have a right to rob another human being of their God-given autonomy because of how they were born.

This is never addressed in Mitchell’s novel.

I am about to make a controversial point, so consider this a trigger warning:

In South Africa today, there are many problems. While the apartheid is officially over, South Africa faces many new challenges: continued political corruption, crumbling infrastructure, water and food shortages, high unemployment, and violent crime at an all-time high. Journalists from the area have reported a growing nostalgia even among black South Africans for the apartheid area because while the laws were unfair, at least they were enforced.

I think it is reasonable to assume that during the dark days of the reconstruction era there were much the same feelings among some freed slaves in the American south. If this “things are so bad, I miss being a slave” was what Mitchell was going for, she didn’t highlight how bad things must have been for the freed slaves that it made them actually nostalgic for slavery.

Most of the black characters we see in the novel never even seem to think about themselves at all. They are very flat characters that only show up to serve the white people. So I hesitate to give Mitchell the benefit of the doubt. The novel’s focus on white, former slaveholders, means that any nostalgia is for the “good old days” is relegated to missing the days when “people knew their place” yeah, I don’t feel sorry for you jerks.

GWTW18When Scarlet meets Big Sam after the war he tells her about his travels up north. He talks about feeling uncomfortable with northerners treating him like an equal and how northerners “don’t know how to treat black folks.” and Scarlet sighs about how they need to be “treated like small children.” Considering that Mitchell lived in the Jim Crow era Georgia, her real meaning becomes horribly clear.

The KKK are portrayed as protecting women from the “drunk on freedom” black men, (yes, Mitchell used those exact words) and trying to fight for their property rights, since plantations were being carved up and given to freed slaves. Oh, you poor former slaveholders they’re carving up your land and giving it to your victims!

40 Acres and a Mule was never a government program. Sadly, freed slaves were promised nothing.

There is also a LOT of Dixiecrat rhetoric talking about how horrible the Republicans are for giving freed slaves the right to vote.

From what I understand, Mitchell had family that was “involved in politics” in the 1920-30’s. At that time, in Georgia, that likely means that she had family who were Klan members.

I can’t prove anything of course! It’s just wild speculation on my part, but I’m comfortable with that guess.

Shocking I know

There was one moment in the novel I think does deserve some credit. When the war is over, Scarlet has a conversation with a Yankee officer’s wife. The woman is looking for a nanny for her children. Scarlet tells her how to find a ‘Mammy,’ but the woman is aghast at the thought of a black person in her home. She wants an Irish girl. Drawing a loose parallel from the South’s racism against the freed blacks to the north’s racism against the Irish.

At this moment Mitchell addresses that the Yankees did not necessarily want equality with blacks, and had no intention of employing the very people they freed. By doing so, she demonstrates clearly that the northerners were not above racism themselves.

That’s one point for you Mitchell, even a broken clock is right twice a day!


  1. What you say reminds me of the story in the Bible when Moses leads the Jews out of slavery and after a while they start complaining and wishing for slavery again. we do it in personal relationships sometimes too–at least I do–nostalgia for a jerky old boyfriend etc. LOL.


  2. I agree with most of your comments. I read the book a long time ago as a teen. I think the wrong ideaology shows there more than in the film, and clarified by your points above. The fact that the book was post slavery yet failed to condem it makes it in the wrong. I still love it though because of its true account of history. Tainted as it is, sadly. Rhett takes another view by saying : All we got is cotton, slaves and arrogance. This shows the opposing views that Mitchell was able to bring forth, a clear condemnation of a decadent, dysfunctional south. It makes her writing interesting, and perhaps not as single sided as one might perceive it to be at first. I am still wondering, if the writer is narrating true accounts and how much fiction is there. Scarlet is confused and confusing which is probably a by product of growing up in civil war. The same could perhaps be said of the writer and her views. She is protecting, ideals and values that are lost, redundant and obsolete because of her own loss, nostalgia and confusion. War does this, post war is worse. Does that make her racist? It’s hard to judge her out of context. Context of time, upbringing and culture of her time. Perhaps she wasn’t as progressive as other writers of her previous generation, Harriet Beecher Stowe springs to mind. I think she just wasn’t that sort of writer. She wasn’t a rightful social justice type. More of frivolous Scarlett is her than meets the eye.


  3. Thank you for saying straight off the bat that GWTW is racist. However, I’m kind of astounded at the take “some newly freed Black people must have felt nostalgic about slavery”. Where… did you get this notion? I know you cited some South African journalism, but without verifiable sources quoting Black South Africans, it’s really hard to swallow the idea that people miss apartheid. And your slavery claim is, of course, completely unfounded conjecture. Mitchell was pretty clear about her wholehearted support of sugarcoated Dunning-school Confederate history throughout her life, so… there’s no deep sympathetic mystery as to why she wrote the story she did.

    Also, regarding your point about Huck Finn—who sets the standard of that era? Frederick Douglass was writing passionate treatises against slavery thirty years before Huck Finn got published. Why isn’t his writing the standard of the era? What about Harriet Beecher Stowe? Why isn’t she the standard? When compared to Douglass and Beecher Stowe, Twain’s writing (a former Confederate soldier) is glaringly racist.

    I know this is a very late comment. I was looking up something Fiddler-related, and really enjoyed your post about Shprintze and Bielka, but this one left me disappointed.


    1. I thought I made it clear that it was conjecture. I do not make any assertion that freed blacks DID feel nostalgic for slavery, I was merely trying to make the point that intense persecution and lawlessness CAN cause feelings of nostalgia for an orderly unjust system.


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