Study Guide

Gone With the Wind Race

By Margaret Mitchell

Race

It was built by slave labor […] He had done it all, little, hard-headed, blustering Gerald. (3.34-35)

Tara was built by slaves… and yet, the novel says that Gerald created his plantation himself. He is credited with the work and the hard-headedness, even though everything he did was based on forcing others to work for him, without pay, under threat of death.

He was dark of face, swarthy as a pirate, and his eyes were as bold and black as any pirate's appraising a galleon to be scuttled or a maiden to be ravished. (6.16)

Rhett is described throughout the novel as dark. He's also presented as animalistic, sexual, and disreputable—all racist stereotypes used to slur black people. The novel uses racist tropes to make Rhett, a white man, exciting and exotic, even as it pushes the stories of black people off to the side. More on this over in the "Themes" section, so be sure to check it out.

It was never fun to be around Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Elsing and Mrs. Whiting and have them boss you like you were one of the darkies.

Scarlett is complaining here about being forced to do work as if she is a black person. The novel recognizes here that being forced to do work is bad, yet it insists in other places that black people were happy during slavery. Racism prevents the book from even being aware of what it's saying.

"And as for all this talk about the militia staying here to keep the darkies from rising—why it's the silliest thing I ever heard of. Why should our people rise! It's just a good excuse of cowards." (9.109)

Melly doesn't believe that troops are needed at home, because she thinks all the slaves are happy. In fact, though, there were numerous slave rebellions throughout Southern history, the most famous perhaps being Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831, in which seventy enslaved people killed about sixty white people in Southampton County, Virginia.

There were also slave revolts and attacks during the Civil War; for example, in 1864 slaves burnt fourteen houses and the courthouse of Yazoo City, Mississippi. To maintain the terrible status quo, then, there was every reason to believe that troops were needed at home. But the novel can't acknowledge this, because to do so would mean that the slaves were being kept in slavery by force, and this novel prefers to depict black people as happily oppressed.

N****es were provoking sometimes and stupid and lazy, but there was loyalty in them that money couldn't buy, a feeling of oneness with their white folks which made them risk their lives to keep food on the table. (28.7)

Scarlett is praising Pork for helping the family—but she can't do it without also talking about how stupid and lazy he is. Which seems like it's not such a great compliment, really.

"Wilkerson and Hilton furthermore told the n****es they were as good as the whites in every way and soon white and n**** marriages would be permitted, soon the estates of their former owners would be divided and every n**** would be given forty acres and a mule for his own." (31.26)

Wilkerson and Hilton, both Yankees, are presented as being evil because they think black people are as good as white people, and because they think black folks and white folks should marry. In other words, it's villainous to argue for equal rights in this book.

Slaves were neither miserable nor unfortunate. The n****es were far better off under slavery than they were now under freedom, and if she didn't believe it, just look about her! (42.124)

Does the novel actually present any evidence that black people are worse off under freedom? It barely discusses or shows the conditions of black people under slavery. It certainly shows that the white characters aren't doing as well now that they can't force black people to work for them, but the novel doesn't care enough about black people to try to imagine their lives in anything but the most cursory way.

"An' dey ast me ter set down wid dem, lak Ah wuz jes' as good as dey wuz" (44.28)

Big Sam, the former foreman at Tara, is here made to suggest that he is offended that white people might consider him just as good as themselves. He's made to say it, moreover, in speech that is misspelled in order to suggest his inferiority and lack of education, though, you know, it was illegal for black people to get an education in the Confederate South.

When she thought of the black hand at her bosom and what would have happened if Big Sam had not appeared, she bent her head lower and squeezed her eyes tightly shut. (45.14)

The paranoid specter of black men raping white women hangs over the novel. It is an excuse for the KKK's violence, but it's also presented as an enticing possibility—remember Rhett is figured as very dark, and his almost-rape of Scarlett is presented as the most pleasurable sexual experience of the book. The book, then, takes a pleasure in imagining black people as sexual and dangerous. In short, it enjoys its racism.

Except for the n****es of course. They must have the very best. The best of schools and lodgings and clothes and amusements, for they were the power in politics and every n**** vote counted. (49.101)

The novel is arguing that Reconstruction governments were awful because they provided decent schools and lodgings to black people. Providing services for black people is seen as immoral, and as inevitably taking away from white people. Black people are viewed as robbing folks—which is the exact opposite of the actual case, since during slavery white people stole black people's labor compulsively and without compunction.