Bachelor's Thesis in English, 90 credits
Gender Roles Represented by the Four
Main Characters in Gone with the Wind by
English, 15 credits
Table of contents
1 Introduction ……… 2
1.1 Background on the Author and the Novel ……….………. 3
1.2 Previous Research ……….. 4
1.3 Theory ……….……….……….………. 6
2 Analysis ……….………...……..….. 10
2.1 The South and the Southerners ……….…...……….… 10
2.2 Masculinity ……….…...…….……..…… 11 2.3 Femininity ……….…..……….… 13 2.4 Marriage ……….……..……… 14 2.5 Scarlett O’Hara ……….……….………….……….… 16 2.6 Rhett Butler ……….……….……,…..…. 17 2.7 Ashley Wilkes ……….……….……….…….…….. 18 2.8 Melanie Hamilton ……….………..…….………. 20 3 Conclusion ……….………..……….……..…….………. 21 Works cited ……….……….……..…..………… 24
Margaret Mitchell’s one and only novel, Gone with the Wind, was an instant hit when it was published in 1936. The novel is a romantic tragedy that takes place in a very traditional society in the state of Georgia in the United States before, during, and after the Civil War. Keeping the old traditions is one of the priorities for the Southerners, particularly the ones that have to do with gender roles. However, the war brings changes of which most prominent families highly disapprove. A few seize the opportunities during Reconstruction, while most of them remain in poverty in order to keep the old traditions. My essay will focus on the four main characters in the novel, Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Ashley Wilkes, and Melanie Hamilton. Rhett represents the New South and is attracted to Scarlett who is a mixture of the old and the new. She is madly in love with Ashley, who represents the Old South. Ashley is attracted to Scarlett but choses to marry Melanie, who is more like him.
The purpose of this essay is to look at gender roles and social norms in the novel, not just in relation to individuals but also how society as a whole treats those who refuse to follow the unwritten rules. How does this affect the lives and relationships of the four main characters? What social norms define the society these characters live in, and what are their individual attitudes to these norms? Southern society is secure as long as the established social norms are not challenged, and these include traditional gender roles. The characters in Gone with the Wind are heavily influenced by gender roles and social norms, and some to such an extent that their conduct and reputations can matter more than the actual person. It is possible to rebel against the system only if one has the self-sufficiency and financial means to do so, as is the case with Scarlett and Rhett. They break away from the traditional gender norms, but their freedom has serious consequences. Ashley Wilkes, on the other hand, has the financial means to succeed but he is so affected by his role as a perfect Southern gentleman that he dares not apply new ideas in his life in order to survive financially, and this makes him feel unfulfilled. His wife Melanie Hamilton fulfills her role as a great lady, which means she is socially and financially dependent on her husband. In analyzing the constraints and consequences of gender roles, I will make use of feminist theory, with particular focus on Simone de Beauvoir’s concept of the Other and her definition of narcissism, and Hilary M. Lips’ explanation of social-cultural theories and prescriptive gender stereotypes. In Gone with the
Wind, traditional gender roles, like the old South, are imaginative, unattainable and ultimately
destructive. The most conventional characters cannot fully attain or embody the gender roles, while the most non-conformist characters nevertheless long for them, and everyone suffers for it.
1.1 Background on the Author and the Novel
Margaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1900. Her parents’ interest in American history, their pride in their ancestors and identity as both Southerners and Atlantans all played important roles in Mitchell’s life and provided personal and political motivation for the writing of Gone with
the Wind. Her father worked as a lawyer and she remembered him as a classic Victorian gentleman;
formal, dutiful and aloof. Her mother was a great example of how a Southern belle should behave, in Darden Asbury Pyron's biography of Mitchell, Southern Daughter: the Life of Margaret Mitchell (1991), Mitchell’s mother is described as “compassionate, cheerful and righteous” (36-38).
Mitchell’s first encounter with gender roles took place when she was only two and a half years old, when she played too near the fireplace and her skirt caught fire. Her mother decided after that incident that her daughter would not wear dresses except for special occasions. Dressed as a boy, the little girl obtained a male identity and the nickname Jimmy (29). It was fine for her to dress in boy’s clothes and behave like a tomboy until she started school. There, Mitchell was raised to behave properly and fit into the social role of a Southern belle, which meant she was forced to “attend the hated classes in deportment with the Misses Hudson and the dancing lessons of the equally loathsome Professor Seaglo’s” (47). It was important that a girl knew the rules and fulfilled her part as Southern belle. However, her mother, an active feminist, wanted Margaret also to be able to question male dominance and female subordination, and insisted that her daughter “do what the boys do” (47). Shooting and horseback riding were two of the more masculine skills she insisted Margaret learn.
When Mitchell was in her first year of college, her mother died, and her decision to return home to become the housekeeper of her father’s house went completely against her mother’s will. She wanted her daughter to live her own life. Taking her mother’s place in the household provided a means of taking back for herself some of her mother’s dominance. However, household duties for an entire establishment turned out to be a big challenge for the young woman.
Mitchell told a friend, “I want to write a book about women […] every one has always told the men’s stories; I want to tell the women’s and what it was like for them during the War” (Pyron 262), and it was during this period that she wrote Gone with the Wind. Mitchell’s intention for her book was that it would be read by adults and she was therefore shocked when she found out that children were reading it, because, as she admitted to one of her critics, not even her mother
would have allowed her to read her own novel until she was eighteen (255). The book became an immediate best-seller when it was published in 1936. It sold a million copies in the first six months and over 25 million more have been sold since then. There are at least 155 editions and it has been translated into 27 languages and published in 37 countries (Taylor 2). Mitchell won the National Book Award for most distinguished novel of 1936, and the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She never wrote another book after Gone with the Wind but devoted the rest of her life to the publicity and fame that came with its outstanding success. She died in a road accident in 1949.
1.2 Previous Research
A general search for Gone with the Wind in the MLA database yields 216 entries, the earliest of which is from February 1949 and the most recent from fall 2015. The main subjects in the articles and essays are gender roles, the movie, and race and racism.
The main purpose of Lauren Cardon’s article ‘Good breeding’: Margaret Mitchell’s
multi-ethnic South, is to show how good or bad breeding results in either survival or death in the
novel. Gerald O’Hara, Scarlett’s father, is not fully accepted by the Southern aristocracy because of his Irish background, as it “characterizes him as loud, wild, and prone to vulgarity” (67). Ellen Robillard accepts Gerald’s proposal, and despite the fact that she does not love him she remains faithful to him and her breeding has prepared her to be a perfect wife, mother and plantation mistress (68). Ellen is an ideal Southern lady but she, as an individual, fades away in the novel “under the projections of her family and the feminine training of her youth” (69). Melanie Hamilton is content with her place in society and her loyalty to feminine virtue makes it possible for her husband, Ashley Wilkes, to continue living in his dream world (74). Ashley fails to engage in masculine behaviors as we can see when he is caught with Scarlett in his arms but never defends his honor; instead, he hides behind Melanie’s protection (75). Cardon compares Scarlett to Melanie, and how the former stands for survival and the latter extinction. Melanie descends from inbred, polished Southern planters, and while she possesses all the ideal qualities of white aristocratic femininity, she is too physically weak and bear children. Scarlett is just the opposite and she survives because of her mixed identity of Irish peasant and French aristocratic blood, which contains both tradition and valued Southern whiteness as well as strengths, she is able to survive three childbirths. Even if her Irish temper gets her into trouble it still “invigorates her spirit and helps her to rise above tragedy” (70). Rhett Butler, Scarlett’s third husband, never judges her courageous and practical manner but finds these traits rather attractive. Rhett, just like Scarlett,
obtains the vulgarity so crucial to surviving the defeat of the Old South. Cardon’s article shows how imperative it is to put aside the idea of gender roles to adjust to social changes and to attain personal happiness.
Eliza Russi Lowen McGraw’s article A “Southern belle with her Irish up”: Scarlett
O’Hara and ethnic identity analyzes gender, class and ethnic issues in Gone with the Wind. In order
for Scarlett to survive as a woman in the New South she has to learn how to manipulate “sexuality, male power domination, and her traditional gender role […] from behind a screen as objects of pure signifiers” (123). According to Lowen McGraw, one reason why Scarlett defies gender norms can be found in her mixed identity of Irish and French heritage. The Irishness in her hinders her from fulfilling the role of a Southern belle (126). For example, when Scarlett confesses to Ashley that she loves him, “suddenly all the years of Ellen’s teachings fell away, and the forthright Irish blood of Gerald spoke from his daughter’s lips” (Mitchell 117). Afterwards, she worries that she acted “common enough […] like white trash” (Mitchell 126). Her Irishness stands for her rebelliousness and her ability to work within and against Southern society’s gender norms. It also gives her strength to survive in a postbellum South where everything has changed, while the gentry starve around her (130). In Lowan McGraw’s article, we can see how Scarlett’s Irishness encourages her to break free from the problematic fantasy world the Old South holds on to so dearly.
The intention with Emmeline Gros’ article Sharing secrets in Gone with the Wind
eavesdropping, transgression and normative gender ideology, is to investigate how “the idea of
secrecy figures and re-figures the assumptions about social, psychological and narrative spaces as well as normative gender identities” (84) in the novel. Gros focuses much of her analysis on what happened in the library, when Scarlett has just revealed her secret to Ashley of how much she loves him. Scarlett’s reaction, when he tells her that he does not love her, is very unfeminine, as she is overcome with rage and slaps his face. Ashley leaves the library and Scarlett charges Rhett with being an eavesdropper, which he willingly admits but he turns the accusation by saying, “no one can remain a lady after saying and doing what I have just overheard” (Mitchell 115). What is taking place in the library, Gros argues, opens up a new way of studying Southern identities: Rhett’s reply, “you’re not a lady” (Mitchell 115) to Scarlett's remark “you are no gentleman,” (Mitchell 115) shows how difficult it is to think “within and against the white patriarchs’ imperial system of absolute knowledge” (90). By not acting like a proper lady Scarlett is not part of the Old South’s superficial world of manners, instead she challenges the social and ideological boundaries of what is public and private, and what is masculine and feminine (92).
In another article Hiding in plain sight: the vanishing male figure in Gone with the
Wind, Gros emphasizes that Gone with the Wind is useful for analyzing normative gender identities.
She talks about the hegemonic ideal of manhood and uses Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler as examples. Ashley has a “soft” masculinity and sexuality and although he is considered “a little queer” according to Southern society, he still maintains “the image of the Confederate soldier” (178) who is loyal to the old order. Since he cares so much about his reputation as an honorable gentleman, he is “frozen in an image of “perfect” manhood” (181) and he refuses to change this, but it means that he is put in a vulnerable position as his ideal manhood has to be protected. It is
guarded by Melanie and Scarlett, who love him dearly and want to protect his “masculine pride” (183). It is very important for the women to conceal their protectiveness from Ashley, so his
masculine pride will not be hurt (183). Ashley, a true gentleman, is therefore a product and result of women who view him and describe him as such. Rhett, on the other hand, symbolizes “the
Carpetbagger […] the rascal […] the new order […] bestial sexuality […] hard masculinity” (178). He intentionally gives himself the identity of a scoundrel, but also plays the role of the loving father and husband. He mourns and weeps with no attempt to conceal it when his daughter falls off a pony and dies. His emotion is not regarded as masculine but is “gender-coded as the ‘feminine’ within himself” (188).
The common denominator is that all the articles show how the loyal characters to the Old South – Ellen, Melanie and Ashley – are avoiding reality and how they, in the long run,
punishes themselves more than the characters who are willing to change with the circumstances. What is considered “good” for the Old South's superficial world of manners could only survive if everything remains the same. What is considered “bad” thrives when social changes take place, as can be seen in the characters of Scarlett, her father and Rhett. They try to live up to the social norms to a certain degree but defy gender norms and are never deluded by the pipe dream the rest of Southern society lives in.
Patriarchal society was made by men for men, and everyone else was subordinate to them. In
Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (1985), Toril Moi argues that by belonging to a
man – daughter to father, wife to husband – a woman does not have “the right to her own subjectivity and responsibility for her own actions” (92). History shows us how this belief has
maintained an iron grip in all aspects of life, whether they are social, economic, political, or cultural. Lois Tyson states, that “whenever patriarchy wants to undermine a behavior, it portrays it as feminine” (88). Patriarchy does not see anything wrong in using women as objects because women simply exist for men’s pleasure, and they are to be used without consideration of their own perspectives or feelings (85). It is unfeminine for a woman to be very clever and have strong
(political) opinions, or to succeed in business and make a lot of money (88). Women suffer from the patriarchal gender roles, but they can also be devastating for men. For example, to not have enough money for one’s family is regarded as the most shameful thing that can happen to a man because it means that he has failed his role as provider (87).
In Gender: the Basics (2014), Hilary M. Lips claims that just because a woman is born female does not mean she is automatically “womanly,” and the same goes for a man born male; he does not automatically become “manly” (2). Some men are seen as not very masculine and some women are regarded as unfeminine. This shows that people cannot be placed in fixed
biological categories but rather in two groups: biological and socio-cultural. Those who analyze the differences and similarities between women and men sometimes separate the words sex and gender. Sex refers to biological female and male, while gender refers to socio-cultural expectations of feminine or masculine roles. Gender is about socially constructed identity, which means an
individual thinks of herself/himself as male or female. This also involves gender roles, which means people behave “in ways considered appropriate for women or men in the surrounding culture” (3).
Through the process of socialization, the culture children live in teaches them to identify themselves as male or female, and how their behavior should either be masculine or feminine. They learn from their parents, teachers, peers, or simply by observing (4). Instructions, rewards and punishments let them know how to act as girls or boys. Children are willing to adapt to the expectations because they want “to ‘fit in’ and to be socially competent” (12). Lips also examines how distribution of power between men and women in a given culture shapes their behavior. The result is that, when some cultures assign higher status and power in the public sphere of business, politics, and education to men, the behavior linked with masculinity tends to be authoritative, whereas feminine behavior tends to be weak. In other words, it has nothing to do with anatomy, biology or learning, but rather on “the impact of the social-cultural environment on women’s and men’s behavior” (5). The behaviors, personal qualities, and appearance that are looked upon as positive for men are strength, dominance, and leadership; for women it is delicacy, flexibility, agreeableness (14). Lips says that a man often shows his masculinity by behaving authoritatively, and a woman shows her femininity by being submissive. Therefore, it is easy to see how the gender hierarchy is threatened when people decide to go against the gender norms.
Lips further explains, on pages 25-26, how gender stereotypes are both descriptive and prescriptive. The first describes the beliefs about what men and women are like, and the second specifies what women and men should be like. These rules are not written in stone, yet they dictate what women and men should do to in order to live up to society’s expectations about femininity and masculinity. The prescriptive aspects of gender stereotypes can be divided into four categories. The first category is intensified prescriptions; positive qualities that are attractive for either women or men. For instance, it is more important for North American women to be tender, amiable, and child-friendly than it is for men, but if men have these character traits it is only regarded as something good. The second category is relaxed prescriptions; positive qualities that are sought-after for both women and men, but for which either sex are more easily forgiven if they do not have it. For example, intelligence is good, but women get off lightly compared to men if they do not possess this quality. The third category is intensified proscriptions; mainly unwanted qualities, but particularly unwelcome in one gender or the other. A female example is that they are rebellious, claiming or asserting power, or acting dominant or stubborn. An example for men is attributes or behaviors that subvert masculine power, approval-seeking, showing affection, or yielding to arguments, demands, or pressure. The fourth category is relaxed proscriptions; socially unwanted traits in spite of that receive more approval when manifested by one gender than the other. An example for women is to be shy, and an example for men is that people say that he is “not man enough.”
The French feminist Simone de Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex (1949) was published 13 years after Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind. Beauvoir talks about how a juvenile wants a woman by his side, but he will not necessarily prioritize her. She will probably just be another element among many other things in his life. The situation looks quite the opposite to the girl, who has been told from young age, by her mother and society, that she will not feel complete and entirely happy until she is married. Only her husband can satisfy her, and her whole life revolves around him. In their marriage he is the one in charge and she must submit to him. She learned when she was little that men control the world and “it is women’s lot is to be submissive their husbands” (359). To be able to get the attention of a masculine man with power, wealth and social status, the young woman needs to be feminine, meaning she must be fragile, courteous, submissive. Being passionate and having her own opinion are unacceptable. She must always be lovely and constantly think about her behavior toward her husband and society. Boys, on the other hand, have it “relatively easy by the fact that there is no contradiction between his vocation as
human being and as male” (359). They are encouraged to be independent, authoritative and ambitious so it will give him social value and prestige as a male (359).
Beauvoir also deals with narcissism and how narcissism is a “well-defined process of identification, in which the ego is regarded as an absolute end and the subject takes refuge from himself in it” (641). For love to work it needs a subject and an object, and by allowing herself to be an object the narcissistic woman envisions herself as a goddess on a throne, and she delights in all attention she gets from the opposite sex. On page 641, Beauvoir concludes two reasons why a woman becomes narcissistic: (1) as subject she feels unfulfilled and frustrated; when very young she lacks that alter ego which his penis is for the boy, and later on, her aggressive sexuality stays unsatisfied. (2) as a woman she is not allowed to do masculine activities; she is busy, but she does not really do anything. She is not given credit for being a dedicated wife and mother along with managing a household.
Simone de Beauvoir continues by discussing how a married woman is the Other, meaning that she is her husband’s Other. She represents him and must therefore always “make a good show” (543) when she is with people. Clothes can manifest feminine narcissism at the same time it can show her social status such as living standards, wealth, and the social circles to which she belongs (543). She is not really doing anything since her husband is the provider, but with her clothes she can show his status. Aside from her domestic commitments, the narcissistic woman’s appearance becomes her job: she dresses up and makes sure she is beautiful when she is among people. “Her ego seems chosen and recreated by her appearance,” (543) but this is not the case for the man as his outfits should demonstrate his superiority and therefore no need for neither latest fashion nor fine looks. Beauvoir holds that the man does not usually think about his looks as an expression of his ego (543). Women’s situation, on the other hand, has stayed the same through superficial changes, and it is this condition that governs the “character” of a woman. She has been called many things, such as “contrary, prudent and petty, has no sense of fact or accuracy, lacks morality, contemptibly utilitarian, false, theatrical, and self-seeking” (608). Beauvoir admits that this is partly true, but hormones or the structure of the female brain are not the sources of the problem, instead it is the situation which a woman has been put in that forms her character (609). By agreeing to masculine power “she gives up criticizing, investigating, judging for herself, and leaves all this to the superior caste,” (611) and she sees herself as part of the masculine universe, which is ruled by men and in which women are of lower rank.
2.1 The South and the Southerners
In Gone with the Wind Mitchell describes how the social norms that define the society in Georgia also determine the roles of men and women. In Religion in the Old South (1977), Donald Mathews writes how Christian ideas influenced “physic responses, personal interaction, socialization, and normative patterns,” (97) and affected Southerners’ conception of family and the ideal roles of men and women. The South will be a fairly delightful place for women to live if they do not disagree with their men or hurt their pride. Southern women’s goal in life was to make sure their men were pleased with themselves, and when it happened, men recognized their worth and gave them “everything in the world except credit for having intelligence” (Mitchell 148). The South was characterized by its “piety, concern for persons, and profound sense of social responsibility,” (Mathews 82) and Southern women were well-known for their benevolence and warmth, but they could also be unforgiving and infuriated with any anyone who failed to follow all their unwritten rules. The main rules were “show great respect for the Confederacy, honor the veterans and hate the Yankees, be faithful to old traditions and help friends in need” (Mitchell 800), and it was more irrevocable to keep old manners, even if it meant to stay poor and cavalier, than making money in new ways. Scarlett and Rhett manage to break every tenet of this code.
One reason why Mitchell chooses to give Scarlett and Rhett such strong characters is to show that the society in which they live in sees Scarlett and Rhett as “problems” when they refuse to conform. Mitchell wants to demonstrate to her readers, through Scarlett and Rhett, that a solution is needed in order for Southerners to be set free from the oppressive traditional gender norms. This is what Rhett tells Scarlett, when he says, “until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is” (Mitchell 183). Although Scarlett and Rhett come from old families, the Old South will not accept them unless they conform to the traditional gender roles, meaning that Scarlett must turn into a submissive wife and that Rhett has to follow the rules of a gentleman. Rhett values his freedom more and encourages Scarlett to do the same. The condition for a person to be free from society’s opinions one is to give up his or her reputation.
Southern men would do almost anything to keep their women from harm and this is exactly what Rhett does, according to Ben Railton, when he “does not hesitate to kill a black man” (52) because the black man was uppity to a white woman. Men’s behavior towards women is to be “courteous, tender and protective. They never, under any conceivable circumstances, struck a
woman, or let her hear, see, or read anything which could be considered impure” (Girouard 198). Scarlett thinks this is foolishness, for the war has caused most women to “nurse the wounded, close dying eyes, suffer war and devastation, know terror and starvation” (Mitchell 576-577). However, the war and poverty have not changed the attitude of Southern women; they bear themselves like true ladies and Scarlett knows they are ladies, although they keep themselves busy with simple everyday tasks. All the things she has to do in order to keep the plantation at Tara have changed her, however (Cardon 65). The old Scarlett would never have done the things she has done during the war, but there is “a difference in their hardness and hers […] there was nothing she would not do, and there were so many things these people would rather die than do” (Mitchell 577).
Among the Southern aristocracy, it was considered bad manner to raise the subject of money or lucrative business, but there are a few exceptions; Mrs. Merriwether baking and René driving the pie wagon; Hugh Elsing cutting and peddling firewood and Tommy contracting; Fanny painting china and sewing; Mrs. Meade teaching school and Mrs. Bonnell giving music lessons; Frank opening a store (Mitchell 579); Rhett’s blockading business and Scarlett’s sawmill. The present author agrees with Ben Railton’s argument that Rhett’s intention of making a profit out of the defeated “antebellum Southern civilization” (Mitchell 47) is for only selfish reasons. What is more is that Rhett does not care with whom he is doing business, saying “blockading is a business with me and I’m making money out of it. When I stop making money out of it, I’ll quit” (Mitchell 179). Scarlett is aware of how people talk unsympathetically about her business with the Yankees, and that she gives the impression of enjoying it. What hardly anybody knows is that she has
detested the Yankees ever since the day they tried to put Tara on fire. The difference is that she can cover up her hate while the majority of Southerners, in similar situations, visibly show their
aversion. Scarlett knows that if she is going to earn her living, she has to stand in good stead with the Northerners. For this reason, she assumes the role of “a refined sweet Southern lady in distress. With an air of dignified reserve she was able to keep her victims at their proper distance” (Mitchell 636).
Although, being Irish and somewhat boorish, Scarlett’s father, Gerald O’Hara, is still a good representative of a masculine male: he is a boisterous, obstinate self-made-man. Gerald is good in dealing with numbers and has a ferocious skill in bargaining. Politics, business, taxes and war are a few topics Southern men like to discuss. According to Mitchell, Southern men like to spend their
time on “horse racing, had a steady head for whiskey, poker and amber liquor” (53). Furthermore, they “damned all Yankees, had a contempt for white trash and exaggerated courtesy to women” (Mitchell 53). Men are “free agents,” meaning that they can marry whomever they want. A married man should be the provider for his family and not live on charity unless he wants to be called “a very unpleasant name for men who permit women to support them” (Mitchell 222).
It is one thing to be a masculine man but another to be considered a true Southern gentleman. Ashley Wilkes is the perfect gentleman, with his noble conduct and dignified looks. He is well-bred, comes from an old family, and his wife is “a lady of blood” (Mitchell 50). The
quintessential qualities of a gentleman are “belief and trust in God, generosity, high honor, independence, truthfulness, loyalty to friends and leaders, hardihood and contempt of luxury, courtesy, modesty, humanity, and respect for women” (Girouard 61-62). A gallant man knows how to cajole a woman and would never insult her by asking awkward questions. On top of that, he always gives the impression of believing “a lady even when he knew she was lying” (Mitchell 174). An honorable man would, at any cost, abide by “the rules and said the correct things and made life easier for a lady” (Mitchell 174). Rhett Butler is an exception. Although he was raised as a
gentleman, he does not follow the principle of gentlemanly behavior but rather enjoys talking of things no one ever talks about. Moreover, he refuses to conform to the social norms because they have always been followed unquestioningly, and so many of the norms annoy him with what he sees their pointlessness. One example of a foolish social norm, according to Rhett, is the rule of marrying a person you have spent some time with alone, even if nothing happened. This must be followed in order to avoid gossip, and this is exactly what happened to Rhett. He shares his opinion with Scarlett, saying:
Why should I marry a boring fool, simply because an accident prevented me from getting her home before dark? And why permit her wild-eyed brother to shoot and kill me, when I could shoot straighter? If I had been a gentleman, of course, I would have let him kill me and that would have wiped the blot from the Butler escutcheon. But I like to live. And so I’ve lived and I’ve had a good time. (Mitchell 227)
Rhett takes pleasure in affronting people and discussing distressing matters, such as how
unprepared the Southerners are for the war. This is the big difference between Rhett and Ashley, according to Scarlett, “they both see the same unpleasant truth, but Rhett likes to look it in the face and enrage people by talking about it, and Ashley can hardly bear to face it” (Mitchell 222). Rhett
does not ignore the fact that the South is antiquated and needs modernization. Ashley, on the other hand, chooses to live in a dream world where no change exists.
The first obligation of a young woman is to get married and therefore she learns the qualities that will make her truly desirable as a wife. Mothers and governesses instruct young girls on “the necessity of being helpless, clinging, doe-eyed creatures” (Mitchell 77). The young girl does not necessarily have to be clever, since her role is to be only “sweet and gentle and beautiful, without having an education to hamper her charms” (Mitchell 108). Southern women are judged less
harshly if they do not possess intelligence, as it is a more relaxed prescription, signifying that it is of less importance for a woman than for a man to be intelligent. The set rules to follow for a young woman in Gone with the Wind are described on pages 166-167; with old ladies it is important to be “sweet and guileless and appeared as simple minded as possible”; with old gentlemen, a young woman is “pert and saucy and almost, but not quite, flirtatious, so that the old fools’ vanities would be tickled”; with young girls and with young married women she ought to “admired their frocks or their babies indiscriminately and teased about beaux and complimented husbands and giggled modestly.” In like manner, a woman should not interrupt men when they are speaking, even if she has more knowledge about the subject. Another essential thing for young girls to know is that men want to feel superior at all times and that “gentlemen do not like forward girls” (Mitchell 57), and that is why young girls learn from an early age to never question men, or comment on things that will make them look stupid. As a married woman, she becomes entirely her husband’s Other. She, as an individual, fades away, and her main ambition is to represent him (Beauvoir 543).
Scarlett is only interested in the external signs of a feminine woman and she sees no point in learning the inner grace of a feminine woman; for her good looks are enough to win her the admiration she desires. There are so many tricks to play with young single men and she knows them all, “the nuance of the sidelong glance, the half-smile behind the fan, the swaying of the hips so that skirts swung like a bell, the tears, the laughter, the flattery, the sweet sympathy” (167). Scarlett’s actions show clearly how obsessed she is with herself. Simone de Beauvoir explains female
narcissism as “she is transformed into an idol proudly recognizing herself as such […] she is proud of catching male interest, of arousing admiration, but what revolts her is to be caught in return” (373). Scarlett envisions herself as the goddess on her throne surrounded by men, when “she had attracted other beaus by the dozens […] to join the circle about her” (Mitchell 97). Scarlett knows
how to get men’s attention, but she also learns how to hide her bright mind and how to manipulate “sexuality, male power domination and her traditional gender role” (Lowen McGraw 123) behind her lovely and innocent face. As a seventeen-year-old, the narcissistic Scarlett wishes she could stay single forever and never have to think about marriage but instead always look like a “marvelous fetish, charged with magical emanations” (Beauvoir 373) and be courted by handsome young men. However, she knows that is not possible because if one goes on too long, one will end up an old maid, therefore it is better to marry and keep one’s self-respect.
Before marriage, a young girl’s role in the white planter society is to be lovely, kind and pretty, but after marriage, she is expected to run households that could include a hundred people or more, both white and black. As stated in the novel, she is also trained to become an excellent hostess when guests and kinsfolk come to visit (Mitchell 145). She oversees the cooking, nursing, sewing, knitting, laundering, and other activities that keep her busy from early morning till the middle of the night (Tyson 98). Scarlett’s mother, Ellen Robillard O’Hara, has been “given this preparation for marriage, which any well-brought-up young lady received” (Mitchell 55).
According to Talley, a good Southern woman unselfishly agrees to her role and duties and never questions the gendered unfairness and the patriarchal injustice of the antebellum society (217-218). Instead, she is a caring lady, an affectionate mother, a devoted wife, and a kind neighbor. Scarlett’s mother never reprimands a servant or puts her foot down, yet her instructions are carried out immediately at the cotton plantation at Tara. Under any circumstances, she remains composed and always has her act together. She keeps herself constantly busy, even when she sits down, she is busy with work such as sewing or working at the bookkeeping of the plantation. Everyone at Tara sees Ellen as “a pillar of strength, a fount of wisdom, the one person who knew the answers to everything” (Mitchell 40). Scarlett has never seen her mother upset nor her appearance in disarray (Lowen McGraw 129). No one can fail to agree with Lauren Cardon when she observes in her article that Ellen is the perfect model of a Southern lady, wife, mother, and mistress of a large cotton plantation (68), and Scarlett wants to be just like her mother.
Before Scarlett’s first wedding at the age of seventeen her mother tells her that “marriage was something women must bear with dignity and fortitude” (Mitchell 203). According to Cardon, the plantation did not offer a smooth or satisfying life for Ellen, but she has not anticipated it, because she has accepted it as a woman’s lot (68). Ellen’s upbringing embraced the same tradition of grand
ladies, and she intends to make fine ladies out of her three daughters. She teaches them that a married woman is the man’s Other and she must always “make a good show” (Beauvoir 543) when she is with people. Mitchell writes in her novel that it is a man’s world, and woman has to accept it as such, that:
The man owned the property, and the woman managed it. The man took the credit for the management, and the woman praised his cleverness. The man roared like a bull when a splinter was in his finger, and the woman muffled the moans of
childbirth, lest she disturb him. Men were rough of speech and often drunk. Women ignored the lapses of speech and put the drunkards to bed without bitter words. Men were rude and outspoken; women were always kind, gracious and forgiving
Scarlett’s second marriage contains many rules and regulations created by society, but she ignores many of them. Although she tries to please her husband, Frank Kennedy, she is frustrated by the gender roles that restrain her from expanding her business. One of the reasons Molly Haskell wrote her book, Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited, is to evince that Mitchell is fully aware of how women have always been “pointed toward marriage like well-trained hunting dogs” (17) but how some women want another lifestyle. I agree with Haskell that some women, like Scarlett, want another way of living because “the dull and marginalized state of wifehood” (17) means
submissiveness and being the man’s possession. Yet, I disagree with Haskell in that I think Mitchell shows in her novel that not all marriages need to be unhappy, as manifested when Rhett Butler asks Scarlett, now a widow for the second time, if she does not want to marry just for the fun of it. She replies, “‘it’s fun for men, though God knows why. I never could understand it. But all a woman gets out of it is something to eat and a lot of work and having to put up with a man’s foolishness, and a baby every year’” (Mitchell 793). The idea of marriage being enjoyable for both sexes is so foreign to Scarlett that she scoffs at Rhett’s suggestion.
The social norm is that all women should want to marry so that they can have children, because women will not feel completely happy until they have children. The Southern society believes this and expects it of all women. This is a prescriptive aspect of gender stereotype, called intensified prescription, which is a “positive quality that are desirable for either women or men” (Lips 26) and in this case, it is that women are interested in children. Melanie belongs to this group while Scarlett belongs to the group of women who dislike children. Scarlett cries with despair when she finds out that she is pregnant, and she feels little affection for her three children. She
thinks of children as “useless, crying nuisances […] always demanding care, always in the way,” but she is careful to keep her thoughts to herself (Mitchell 380). No honorable woman would at any time leave their houses from the minute they first suspect they are with child, but Scarlett ignores this as she is more concerned about her sawmill. Rhett sees nothing wrong in what Scarlett is doing and tells her so, “I know I’m not a gentleman, in view of the fact that pregnant women do not embarrass me as they should. It’s a normal state and women should be proud of it, instead of hiding behind closed doors as if the’d committed a crime” (Mitchell 650).
2.5 Scarlett O’Hara
Margaret Mitchell wanted to create a central female character who did “practically everything that a lady of the old school should not do” (Taylor 75). One has to agree with Lauren Cardon and Eliza Russi Lowen McGraw when they argue that Scarlett’s mixed identity of Irish peasant and French aristocratic blood makes Scarlett an outsider. Scarlett’s lack of traditional femininity can be blamed on her Irishness as it is associated with her father’s masculinity (Lowen McGraw 126). As stated in Lowen McGraw’s article, more often than not, did Scarlett’s Irish temper get her in trouble, but it also gives her courage and pragmatism to make it in the New South (124). Scarlett refuses to be guided by her first two husbands’ supposedly superior knowledge but rather follows her own ideas. Her plans of expanding her business do not make her second husband, Frank Kennedy, proud of her. As a true patriarch he thinks it is “not feminine to succeed in business […] to earn big bucks” (Tyson 88), and his opinion on women and business is a good example of how someone has been highly influenced by patriarchal ideals. In addition, he does not like the intensified prescription he sees in Scarlett when he becomes aware of the fact that she behaves like a man when she talks with an authoritative voice, and makes up “her mind instantly and with no girlish shilly-shallying” (Mitchell 607). Frank does not mind authoritative women as long as they use feminine devices in order to get their way and have the courtesy to look as if they are guided by men’s advice. Scarlett, on the other hand, does not let anyone tell her how to handle her business and this gives the
townspeople another reason to gossip about her (Mitchell 607-608).
Scarlett’s third marriage is different. Rhett Butler acknowledges that he is “ill-bred enough to be proud of having a smart wife” (Cardon 76). He tells her, “‘I want you to keep on running the store and the mills’” (Mitchell 817). The announcement of their marriage shocks the whole town for two reasons. Firstly, Scarlett is getting married in less than a year after Frank’s death, when she should, according to the norms, mourn for several years before even considering
remarrying. Secondly, if she wants to remarry it should be with a fine, honorable man, and absolutely not with a man who owns a brothel and who is doing business with the Yankees and Carpetbaggers. The townspeople’s reaction does not come as a surprise for Rhett and he tells Scarlett, “‘you can’t expect to escape gossip in this large matter. You knew there’d be talk if you married a villain like me. If I were a low-bred, poverty-stricken villain, people wouldn’t be so mad. But a rich, flourishing villain, of course, that’s unforgivable’” (Mitchell 806). Helen Taylor’s main point in her book, Scarlett’s Women: Gone with the Wind and its Female Fans, is that Scarlett knows how to look after herself, and this is what she does when she chooses to marry Rhett. She is not marrying for love but for his money and the security it will give her, and for this reason the gentry will not forgive her.
In the latter part of the novel, Scarlett is well off and free from danger. Nevertheless, when she is honest with herself, she thinks money and security have not made her happy (Mitchell 876). She is lonely and she can not remember being so lonely before. On pages 953-954, we can read how Scarlett’s old friends and neighbors have left her, and she knows it is her own fault. This has never bothered her until now, after she has lost Rhett and her third child. I disagree with Vicki Eaklor when she claims in her article Striking chords and touching nerves: myth and gender in
Gone with the Wind that Scarlett loses Rhett when she refuses to be his submissive wife. My
opinion is that Rhett does not want Scarlett to be submissive in any way but quite the contrary. He encourages her to be bold and speak her mind, and it is Scarlett’s frankness and practical way of looking at things that made him attracted to her. Instead, she loses him when she refuses to show any love for him, as Rhett tells her, “you’re so brutal to those who love you, Scarlett. You take their love and hold it over their heads like a whip” (Mitchell 977). This section on Scarlet defines her largely in relation to men, and my impression is that Rhett waited for many years that Scarlett would turn the love she felt for Ashley to Rhett.
2.6 Rhett Butler
Rhett Butler, the confident and carefree aristocrat, is obviously masculine in both appearance and character but he is also strange and has feminine attributes. According to Girouard, Rhett’s luxurious lifestyle, interest in carnal pleasure, and the time he spends in saloons with the Yankees and the Carpetbaggers, go completely against the norms for a Southern gentleman, who is expected to live a modest and honorable life with a contempt for the Yankees and of a lavish way lifestyle (61-62). To make matter worse, Rhett is a professional gambler. As stated in the novel, it was
acceptable for a gentleman to gamble away his fortune and still be treated with respect, whereas a professional gambler was not worthy of that respect (Mitchell 212). An honorable gentleman knows instinctively the right thing to do through “the wisdom of the heart” (Girouard 61) and goes after it without any self-interest. In line with Gros’ statement, Rhett only thinks of himself and sees how the war creates opportunities to make money (2013a 186-187) and he takes all chances there are, saying “for a young man cut off without a shilling in early youth, I’ve done very well. And I’m sure I’ll clean up a million on the blockade” (Mitchell 184). He tells Scarlett that people’s opinions of him do not affect him at all, saying, “‘providing you have enough courage-or money-you can do without a reputation’” (Mitchell 183). Being an exceedingly wealthy and successful man, together with his good looks and good background, one can understand why Rhett is willing to risk his reputation so he can live a fun and exciting life instead of a dull but honorable life like the majority of the aristocracy.
Not only does Mr. Butler’s height and muscular body make him stand out in a crowd but he is also different because “he has a dark and swarthy face just like a pirate” (Mitchell 92), and therefore does not fit the physical ideal of “the true model of Southern masculinity” (Gros 2013b 93). Rhett is not only an extremely masculine man, but he possesses feminine traits as well, which emerge several times in the novel. The first example is his ability to notice details in women’s clothing and how he pays attention to the latest styles for both men and women (Mitchell 214). The second example is his non-normative/non-traditional father role. Rhett surprises everyone from the moment his daughter is born by showing so shamelessly and so openly his pride in being a father (Gros 2013a 187). The intensified prescription he has for his child is only a positive quality that makes other women secretly envy Scarlett, but Scarlett, on the other hand, is embarrassed by his fatherhood and thinks it unmanly to display such love, “he should be off-hand and careless, as other men were” (Mitchell 845-846). This is interesting; while Scarlett manages to sniff at norms and requirements for ladies, she still holds fairly conventional views of masculinity. The third example is that Rhett does not want Scarlett to represent him, instead he encourages her to “speak her mind, to be flippant and daring” (Mitchell 812). This goes against the patriarchal society Beauvoir
criticizes, when she discusses how a married woman is her husband’s Other and how she must give up “criticizing, investigating, judging for herself” (Beauvoir 611).
2.7 Ashley Wilkes
pure-bred Anglo-Saxon looks he is the image of a Southern nobleman (Lowen McGraw 124), and just like other gentlemen, Ashley is good at hunting, riding, gambling, and dancing as well as discussing politics. Nevertheless, he distinguishes himself from the other young men in that he does not care much for these activities. He is more interested in books, music and writing poetry. This shows that the intensified proscription relates to Ashley as he is “too easy-going and do[es] not enact masculine prerogatives for power” (Lips 31); in other words, he fails to conform to gender norms. Ashley devotes his spare time to daydreaming instead of doing, and this makes him odd in many people’s eyes (Gros 2013a 179). On the surface he remains a respectable aristocrat, but with his true personality and interests he is not able to live up to the ideal gender stereotypes.
Ashley marries Melanie Hamilton because they are alike, “loving the same quiet things” (Mitchell 201), and Scarlett knows that he would never leave his wife for the reason that honor is more important to him than his love for Scarlett (Cardon 75). Since Ashley is a true gentleman he is “frozen in an image of ‘perfect’ manhood that he cannot and will not compromise” (Gros 2013a 181). Rhett knows that Ashley would never be unfaithful, because, just like Ashley, Rhett was brought up to be a gentleman. Rhett knows the rules of a true and honorable gentleman, and that Ashley’s kind is more concerned about their reputation than going after what they truly want (Mitchell 112). Thus, Rhett has never felt threatened by Ashley but confesses that he is jealous of him because Scarlett has given Ashley her mind and heart. He says, “he doesn’t want your mind, the fool, and I don’t want your body. I can buy women cheap. But I do want your mind and your heart, and I’ll never have them, any more than you’ll never have Ashley’s mind” (Mitchell 892). Rhett is right that Ashley does not want Scarlett’s mind because Ashley told her once, “I couldn’t give all of me to anyone. And I would not want all of your mind and your soul” (Mitchell 112). Ashley deviates from the patriarchal way of thinking in which women are objects for men’s pleasure. He would not demand anything more of Scarlett than he would of himself. So, in this sense Rhett is more patriarchal and traditional than Ashley.
After the Civil War, Ashley knows he has to do something to improve the situation for his family. It is not befitting for a gentleman to live on a woman’s generosity, and he tells Scarlett, “don’t you think I realize the bitterness of our situation, living here on your charity” (Mitchell 499). Still, he does nothing. The relaxed proscription of Ashley as being “not man enough” is a socially unwanted feature that “receive[s] more approval when displayed by one gender than the other” (Lips 26). It is not until after the death of Melanie, when Scarlett’s image of Ashley as “Prince Charming” is torn to pieces, that she realizes, “I’ve got him round my neck for the rest of my life. As long as I live I’ll have to look after him and see that he doesn’t starve and
that people don’t hurt his feelings. He’ll just be another child, clinging to my skirts” (Mitchell 966). Ashley has never been a traditionally masculine male who would take the bull by the horns and do something to improve the situation for his family. He did not do it after the war and would not do it after Melanie’s death (Gros 2013a 182). He is so constrained by his code of honor as a Southern gentleman that he paradoxically fails in the realm of traditional masculinity as well.
2.8 Melanie Hamilton
Melanie Hamilton possesses all the good qualities of a well-bred lady; she is gentle, shy, sympathetic, and faithful to all the old Southern traditions, albeit not the ideal. Her shyness is a relaxed proscription given that traditional gender roles do not encourage women to speak boldly what is on their mind. Her soft, feminine character makes her popular and her circle of friends consists of men and women of all ages from what is left of Atlanta’s pre-war gentry, and she has more friends than anyone in the city. Embarrassed, but not against it, she becomes “the leader of a new society” (Mitchell 699) when people gather at her house for “their little sewing circles, cotillion clubs and musical societies” (Mitchell 699). Melanie becomes more popular than her husband, I dare say.
Scarlett’s father, Gerald, is fond of Melanie because she lives up to the traditional gender roles in a patriarchal society, he thinks of her as, “‘a sweet quiet thing, with never a word to say for herself, like a woman should be’” (Mitchell 31). But not everyone likes Melanie’s soft personality, the headstrong and energetic lady, Mrs. Tarleton, the opposite of her, “‘not a notion of her own. ‘No, Ma’am!’ ‘Yes Ma’am!’ That’s all she has to say’” (Mitchell 86). She gets annoyed at Melanie because she “passively imitate[s] previously spoken ideas” (Tyson 101) and her thoughts are not original but her husband’s. The strong-willed Grandma Fontaine says, “‘she might not say Boo to a goose but she’d say Boo to the world or the Yankee government or anything else that threatened her precious Ashley or her boy or her notions of gentility’” (Mitchell 684). A very small part of
Melanie’s character is masculine, and it comes out when Ashley is fighting in the war and Melanie is at Tara with her son and Scarlett, and they are threatened by a Yankee soldier. Instead of running to the law enforcement to report her, Melanie is proud of Scarlett when she shoots the soldier, and together they look for money in his pockets, and afterwards she helps to clean up the blood on the floor. Melanie becomes an accomplice and lies to her son to keep him away from the murder scene (Mitchell 417-419).
a fool but not the kind of fool you think. It was obvious that someone had told her, but she didn’t believe it. Even if she saw, she wouldn’t believe. There’s too much honor in her to conceive of dishonor in anyone she loves’” (Mitchell 890). Melanie thinks people’s jealousy is based on Scarlett’s success (Mitchell 901), and one gets the impression that Melanie has either been
brainwashed by the patriarchal way of seeing men as superior (Beauvoir 611) and therefore believes that her husband could make no mistakes, or she is afraid of what would happen to her if her
husband has been unfaithful to her, as “divorced people were under the ban not only of the Church but of society” (Mitchell 265). Yet it is interesting that she remains loyal to Scarlett by defending her and her non-traditional pursuits (Cardon 74). Melanie undoubtedly became her husband’s Other when she married him, and by not questioning him, one’s perception is that Melanie has fully embraced the idea that woman is “shut up in her flesh, her home, she sees herself as passive before these gods with human faces who set goals and establish values” (Beauvoir 609). Ashley is a coward for not telling the truth about what happened between him and Scarlett to his wife and Melanie is too honorable to ask. It is not until Melanie dies that Scarlett realizes what a significant role she has played in Scarlett’s life. Melanie becomes an ideal, “the gentle, self-effacing but steel-spined women on whom the South had built its house in war and to whose proud and loving arms it had returned in defeat” (Mitchell 972, 973). Although Scarlett had despised Melanie’s soft,
feminine qualities until now she realizes that those qualities had given Melanie everything Scarlett had ever wanted: love, happiness, security and popularity (Mitchel 961). Melanie had followed the social norms and known her position as a woman, and she has been contented, at least on the surface, which is the problem. She was often too passive to voice any discontent with her
circumstances. Although she had followed the rules of a submissive and loyal wife, her husband, however honorable he may be, ends up being caught with another woman.
Mitchell wrote, “it is a man’s world and woman has to accept it as such” (56) and that can pretty much sum up the social norms that define the Southern society these four characters live in. This essay has shown that a Southern masculine gentleman is honorable, loyal, independent, and
exaggerate courtesy to women. Furthermore, he is the provider for his family. According to Tyson, the ideal qualities of a Southern feminine woman are sweetness, gentleness, submissiveness and self-sacrifice (90), but not necessarily intelligence. Intelligence is a more relaxed prescription, signifying that is of less importance for a woman than for a man to be smart.
The combination of a strong character and the knowledge of how to get men’s attention, makes it easier to understand why Scarlett becomes narcissistic. It is understandable why the praise and admiration from the opposite sex only feed her ego and makes her crave more. It is interesting to see how clever Scarlett is when she to uses “sexuality, male power domination, and her traditional gender role” (Lowen McGrow 123) to her advantage, but does not use “feminine devices in order to get her way” (Mitchell 607) with her second husband. The Irishness in Scarlett accounts for her rebelliousness and her ability to work within and against Southern society’s norms, but it also ruins the prospect of being a true Southern belle (Gros, 2013b, 92). By not acting like a proper lady Scarlett finds herself outside of the Old South’s superficial world of manners; instead, she “defies the social and ideological boundaries and binaries of public/private,
masculine/feminine” (Gros, 2013b, 92). Such forward behavior will not be tolerated by the South and although Scarlett has all the money and security she can get to make her feel safe, she feels lonely and unhappy. She gained all the material things she wanted, but it was at the cost of losing all her dear ones. This is a central conundrum in Gone with the Wind, which, unfortunately, the novel does not solve.
Melanie is taught the same feminine virtues as Scarlett, but she never questions gender roles. Melanie is content to be her husband’s Other and as a submissive wife she never questions him but remains faithful to him until her death. Melanie is the perfect image of a Southern lady who is convinced of male superiority. Melanie is completely free from feminine narcissism as she never feels the need to “make a good show” (Beauvoir 543) when she is with people nor does she feel the need to prove her social status by dressing up. Perhaps it is because she has internalized these ideals. However, it is deplorable that Melanie fades away “under the projections of her family and the feminine training of her youth” (Cordon 69) when she is actually a brave woman when Ashley is not around and when she is defending Scarlett. Her love for children is an intensified prescription, which is a “positive quality that are considered especially desirable for either women or men” (Lips 26). Apart from dying young, Melanie’s feminine qualities gave her everything Scarlett ever wanted: love, happiness, security and popularity (Mitchell 961). It seems like Gone
with the Wind might be saying that traditional gender roles can have such an effect on people’s lives
that it puts them into two categories; those who follow the gender roles will have a satisfied inner life, while those who rebel against gender roles will be in constant search for emotional fulfillment.
Rhett contradicts himself several times in the novel. Emmeline Gros (21013a) writes that Rhett symbolizes ”hard masculinity” and “bestial sexuality” (178) but also demonstrates fewer masculine traits, such as being “a protecting and loving father” (Gros 2013a 187). He breaks away
from traditional gender roles when he refuses to be affected by “the social-cultural environment on women’s and men’s behavior” (Lips 4). He does not want Scarlett to be his Other but wants her “to be flippant and daring” (Mitchell 812). Still, he appreciates Melanie’s kind temper. Although he was raised a gentleman he refuses to conform to the social norms. However, his opinion of traditional gender roles and social norms changes the older he gets, and one would think Mitchell uses the character of Rhett to convey to her readers that in spite of the fact that a person rebels against gender roles when he or she is young, the same person will appreciate it and follow the norms when he or she gets older. This is exactly what Rhett tells Scarlett at the end of the novel, “I’ve had a hell of a good time – such a hell of a good time that it’s begun to pall and now I want something different […] other people’s respectability [...] the calm dignity life can have when it’s lived by gentle folks […] I’m going to hunt in old towns and old countries where some of the old times must still linger” (Mitchell 981-982).
Ashley grows into the perfect image of a Southern gentleman through the process of socialization, but also a “fabricate[d] character of masculinity” (Gros 2013a 183) when Scarlett and Melanie choose to see and describe him as such. This shows how narcissistic he is, as he sees himself as an honorable nobleman, but it also shows how unhappy and frustrated he is since he is not allowed to enjoy feminine activities such as music, books and writing poetry. Rather than taking responsibility as a masculine male in a patriarchal society by providing for his family (Tyson 87), he chooses to live up to the relaxed proscription - too easy-going and do not enact masculine
prerogatives for power – and one can therefore understand why Rhett never feels threatened by him. By including Ashley in the novel, we can perceive that gender roles require more than (a masculine) appearance. Personality plays an important role (Cardon 76). If the personality, such as Ashley’s, is too passive the person will diminish in the New South. However, my opinion is that this would not have happened if he had married Scarlett. He would not demand anything of her than he would of himself, which means he would not require her to succeed in business because he wants to continue living in his dream world. Scarlett, on the other hand, wants to prosper, and with her masculine character and his feminine personality they would have completed each other.
In Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell conveys to her readers how arbitrary and problematic traditional gender roles are and how no one really fits perfectly. Everyone seems to suffer for either deviation or too strict adherence, and it seems that the most defiant characters still seem to want some aspect of very conformist behavior - this suggests to me that the author is showing really how artificial these categories are, and that the “Old South” is a deeply problematic fantasy world – but one that still exerts a lot of power.
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