The biggest class divide in the Confederate South was race. White people had power, property, and money; black people for the most part weren't even able to own themselves. This sharp, absolute division helped to make some people (those who stole blacks' labor) very wealthy, contributing to a rigid class structure, in which poor whites (without slaves) were seen as almost subhuman, and even new, wealthy men (like Gerald) were viewed as less worthy than old money.
Gone With the Wind presents the old South as a wonderful place… but it manages to do so by ignoring not only black people, but anyone not at the tippy top of the social world. And yes, being rich in the old South was probably enjoyable… but being rich is always fun. Ask the Slatterys if the Confederate South was so great, and we're pretty sure you'd get some choice opinions that didn't make it into Mitchell's book.
Questions About Society and Class
- How would Gone With the Wind be different if it were told from the Slatterys' perspective?
- The novel often criticizes the Yankees for trying to make money. Why don't planters like the Tarletons and Wilkes need to scramble for money? Who scrambles for them?
- What does the novel think about equality?
Chew on This
Scarlett's problem is that she's Gerald's daughter, and so doesn't really understand how to be a true Southerner.
Rhett Butler and Scarlett both suggest that Gone With the Wind is fascinated and repulsed at the possibility of economic mobility and making money.