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Race, Gender Roles In 'Gone With The Wind'


And we're still falling for her charms. When it comes to pop culture phenomena, in box office terms alone, the movie version surpasses everything from "Titanic" to "E.T." What diamond necklace or space alien could come close to the marvel that is Scarlett O'Hara?


M: (As Scarlett O'Hara) Fiddle-dee-dee. War, war, war. This war talk's spoiling all the fun at every party this spring. I get so bored I could scream. Besides, there isn't going to be any war.

M: (As Brent Tarleton) Not going to be any war?

M: (As Stuart Tarleton) Why, honey, of course there's going to be a war.

M: (As Scarlett) If either of you boys says war just once again, I'll go in the house and slam the door.

LYDEN: Molly Haskell has taken a new look at all the guilty pleasures and raging complexities that inhabit the "Gone with the Wind" franchise, from sex to race to gender roles. Her new book is called "Frankly My Dear." It's part of the Yale University Press series, "Icons of America," and she joins us now from our bureau in New York. Welcome, Molly Haskell.

M: Thank you, Jacki.

LYDEN: Did you talk about this film growing up? I mean, did...

M: In fact, Margaret Mitchell said that her mother would not have let her read it until she was 18 years old if she had known about it, if that book had existed. That's probably one of the aspects that young people don't find. There's nothing - I mean, sex is so much a part of their lives from an early age that this tantalizingly racy novel that was sexy in ways we didn't even understand had a huge impact on us, which I think it probably might not have today.

LYDEN: Well, let's choose one point of entry, and that's Margaret Mitchell herself, writing about her own self, Margaret Mitchell, growing up in Atlanta and Georgia. Does she rewrite the myth of the Old South in her books, in her novels?

M: So - she was already living in sort of two separate worlds, and she kept sort of dismissing it, or it was a secret novel that she was writing, and she was never going to publish, and nobody believed it existed, or a lady didn't put herself out there. She didn't show ambition. And Margaret Mitchell was, in fact, hugely ambitious.

LYDEN: I want to ask about the South. I mean, clearly she felt that the South had been cheated out of a victory. Her own husband says, when he sees the movie, if we had that many soldiers, we would've won the war.

M: And this is one reason some of her - Medora Parkinson(ph), her editor at the Atlanta Journal, thought that the novel would be a failure, or at least would get a bad reaction from the South.

LYDEN: And before we talk about that, I want to get to this scene where Scarlett's being corseted into her tiny waist by Mammy.


M: (As Mammy) Just hold on and suck in.

U: (As character) Mammy, here's Ms. Scarlett's vittles.

M: (As Scarlett) You can take it all back to the kitchen. I won't eat a bite.

M: (As Mammy) Oh, yessum you is. You is going to eat every mouthful of this.

M: (As Scarlett) No, I'm not.

LYDEN: So the 17-inch waist becomes very, very famous.

M: Yes. In a sense, her corset is her armor. This is her battle dress. She's going to war because marriage is a woman's only vocation. At the same time, even that, she wasn't conventional at. She said what a waste it is. You spend all these years learning how to get a man, and you only use it for two years.


M: So she didn't sort of idealize that part, either.

LYDEN: Could we talk about the rape scene? I'd like to talk about how that has changed over time as contexts of rape itself have changed. Margaret Mitchell's first husband was a bounder and may have assaulted or raped her, but what do you think was going on at the time because the next scene you have after Rhett carries her upstairs is the happy wreath of postcoital smiles on her face the next morning?

M: And what you have to take into account is the stronger a woman is, the more she needs control in her life, the more her fantasies are of surrender in the hands of the right person, not some stranger in a dark alley but Clark Gable or Robert Redford or whoever.

LYDEN: And what about Rhett Butler? I mean, so many people wanted to see them get back together. But in your book, you say no one over the age of 15 would believe that they really ever could.

M: So that's a way in which we sort of reinterpret it and remember it in our own ways.

LYDEN: How did her editors push for her to write a more acceptable and sanitized ending about the outcome? Let's just remind people how it ends.


M: (As Scarlett) Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

M: (As Rhett Butler) Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

LYDEN: So then the montage comes about returning to Tara and getting him back, and do you think it's believable?

M: So with the ending, this became particularly important because some people think that they want it to end with Rhett saying he didn't give a damn, and she did add, probably add on that little epilogue. But then, David Selznick made it more of an uplift by having the voices call out to her. These ghostly voices tell her that Tara is her real, true love.


U: (As character) Remember that Tara.

U: (As character) Tara.

U: (As character) Tara.

U: (As character) Tara.

M: So that added a note of promise and uplift, but there wasn't much in the original book.


M: (As Scarlett) After all, tomorrow is another day.


LYDEN: Molly Haskell is a writer and film critic. Her book is called "Frankly My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited." It was a great pleasure to talk to you.

M: To me, too, Jacki. Thanks a lot. I enjoyed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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