Race and racism are mostly in the background in Gone With the Wind, just as black characters are decidedly secondary. But if you think about what it would mean to be black at the time Mitchell writes about, that background quickly becomes central, and even overwhelming. How can you tell the story of the Civil War without showing the difficulties faced by slaves? For that matter, how can you admire, or even like, people like Frank Kennedy and Ashley Wilkes who ride about with masks over their faces to terrorize black people? Ugh.
Thinking about race tends to turn Gone With the Wind inside-out; the good guys are the bad guys, those Union soldiers look like liberators—and the black characters seem not like marginal players, but like the focal point, even if the novel is too filled with racism to really look at them.
Questions About Race
- Why is it so important to the novel to argue that black people didn't want to be freed from slavery?
- The novel argues that slaves were treated well throughout the South. Even if you were treated well, would you want to be a slave? Why or why not?
- How does the novel attempt to justify the murder of black men? How does it try to justify preventing black people from voting?
Chew on This
Gone With the Wind attempts to justify its racism by putting some of its most racist sentiments in the mouths of black characters.
The real tragedy of the novel is not Scarlett's failed marriage, but the fact that Southern Democrats are able to regain control of the government and prevent black people from voting.