Academy award winning Gone With the Wind is a classic that will forever remain among some of the greatest love stories. This story follows Scarlett O’Hara as her life changes drastically before, during, and after the civil war. Scarlett faces death, famine and poverty as she attempts to maintain her home, the O’Hara plantation, and tries to find the love of Ashley Wilkes. As the story begins we learn of Scarlett’s love for Ashley as she attends a barbeque party at the Twelve Oaks plantation. Scarlett is soon faced with the delima that the love of her life is not only getting married to another woman, but he’s also headed to war. The civil war strikes the South and soon every young man Scarlett has known is sent off to war, many of which will never return. The beginning of the war truly marks the beginning of the hardest of times Scarlett faces. Throughout this essay I will compare and contrast how accurately Gone With the Wind represented the South during and after the Civil war.
The American civil war began on April 12, 1861 when the confederates invaded Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina (History.com editors). The North and the South were divided and tensions were high. The Union (The North) wished to free all slaves and maintain the U.S. as one country while the Confederacy (The South) were fighting for their rights to own slaves and wished to separate from the North in order to form their own government. The confederacy felt that it was their God given right to own slaves and even had men that would travel and give sermons on the matter (Vail). Threats of secession had arose in years prior but it wasn’t until the election of Abraham Lincoln, which the south felt was an act of war, that any of the states actually took action (History.com editors). Shortly after his election the first seven slave states seceded and the civil war began (McPherson).
At the beginning of the war, men in the South had a very patriotic outlook on the war which was very well represented in the movie during the barbeque party (Vail). War was the top subject of discussion by many of the men in the movie, they all wished that the war would start and hoped that they could go off and fight for their country. Rhett made a comment about the war being ridiculous and the men began to treat him as if he was a traitor and he was forced to leave.
The war brought famine and poverty across the South and soon food became at such shortage the confederate soldiers were forced to have fasting days (Vail). In the movie we see that all of the crops quickly disappear along with the farm animals and wine as the army confiscated what they could for their men. All able bodied men were taken to be used for the war efforts which left the women at home struggling to keep the farms running and support their children. Men were initially enlisted for one year periods but that soon led to every man between the ages of 18-35 were to serve as needed (History.com editors). Death tolls began rising quickly and the confederates soon didn’t have enough men which left them to resort to using slaves they removed from plantations. In the movie all but three of the slaves that were working the O’Hara plantation were taken and used for digging trenches for the confederate soldiers.
Women during the war were left with many duties to uphold such as maintaining homes, caring for children and acting as nurses in makeshift hospitals much like Scarlett did (History.com editors). Scarlett served with Melanie, her true love’s wife, in a hospital that was set up in a church. The floors were covered with dying and dead soldiers that were in terrible condition which soon became so bad that Scarlett couldn’t stand to work anymore. There was a scene where the camera panned out and there was hundreds if not thousands of bodies laid out in the street which I feel was a bit of a dramatic representation. Doctors were too busy trying to keep up with the new incomes of dying soldiers that they couldn’t help anyone else, Melanie began to give birth to her child but there wasn’t a doctor that could stop to help deliver the baby so Scarlett had to step up and act as a nurse in order to deliver the child. She took Melanie and her new baby back to the O’Hara plantation hoping her mother would be able to help but she soon learned that her mother had died of typhoid like many others.
As the war came close to ending, Scarlett took on the responsibility of repairing her home but the only people available to help here were her sisters and the few slaves that hadn’t been taken. The women all worked together in the fields and around the house to rebuild the farm so they would have enough food, however most wealthy families depended on their slaves to run their farms sense they never had to do it themselves (History.com editors). As the war ended many wounded soldiers ended up at the plantation so they could be taken care of by the women and slaves which was very similar to reality (History.com editors). The men slowly began to return home and the help that was much needed around the plantation was met but along came new challenges. The North raised taxes extremely high which left Scarlett desperate to find money.
In conclusion I feel that Gone With the Wind did a very good job at representing the civil war. While several things may have been dramatized such as the scene in which the town appears to be burning down, the director represented the war pretty well. Many of the important details of the war were covered such as how enthusiastic the men were about the war before it began and how high the number of deaths was. They showed the roles of women in the war efforts and just how rough it got in towns in the South while the war was raging on. There was a good bit of the movie that is devoted to the love story that progresses for Scarlett which does lead to some details being overdramatized but I still believe that this movie represented the South very well.
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