Study Guide

Mammy in Gone With the Wind

By Margaret Mitchell

Mammy

There's not a lot to Mammy. She loves Scarlett and Ellen and the O'Hara clan and… yeah, she loves Scarlett and Ellen and the O'Hara clan. That's what she's about, pretty much. If she has any other motivations or interests or passions, you don't hear about them in this book.

The novel makes some effort to convince you that there's more to her. "Mammy's a smart old soul" (46.259), Rhett says after she's told him off as not good enough to marry Scarlett. Mammy is supposed to be smart and her judgments—which invariably mirror the strict social, gender, and racial hierarchy of the old South—are supposed to be keen and true.

But all of this begs the question, if she's so smart, why does she devote her life, energy, and soul to fussing about the social position of the people who have enslaved her and robbed her of her labor? If her judgments are so keen and true, why is she presented as not just subservient, but happily, even eagerly, subservient to people who are not as smart or as worthy as she is? If she's so worthy of love and affection, why does the book never give her anyone to love and cherish her? Why does her own romance, her own family, her own life, always have to be secondary to Scarlett's?

In the end, the respect the book accords Mammy is a backhanded compliment. She's seen as wise as long as "wisdom" consists in loving slavery; she's seen as valuable so long as her own life is secondary to that of those who enslaved her; she's lovable and funny as long as she's an asexual footnote; she's admirable only to the extent that she's nothing. If she were to express any emotions of her own, the book would not hesitate to murder her and glory in her murder, as surely as it cheers on the KKK.

Indeed, the book has basically murdered her already; she has no life other than servitude, and no self that doesn't belong to Scarlett.

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