Survival in the South

Overall, I very much enjoyed the movie 12 Years a Slave. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as Solomon Northup brought the story to life for me and helped make a very powerful book into a very powerful movie. Because this is a major film meant for general audiences, I thought there would be an effort to sugarcoat certain aspects of the book in order to maintain mass appeal. I could not have been more wrong. The producers did a great job of presenting the rawness of both language and violence in the slavery era. From the sounds of the savage beatings that routinely take place to the graphic hangings that Northup encounters while running an errand for Mrs. Epps, I really felt a gripping sense of fear throughout the movie. For me, the most well-crafted portion of the film was the depiction of survival. The characters were very dynamic and ultimately acted to ensure their own well-being in the difficult cultural and socio-economic environment of the South. William Ford, in both the book and the movie, was initially portrayed as the kind and fair owner. However, later on in the film, Eliza mentions that Northup is nothing more than “prized livestock” in Ford’s eyes. After an altercation with Tibeats, Northup is simply sold off to Edwin Epps because Ford needed to cover his own debts and didn’t want to continuously protect Solomon from Tibeats’s attacks. Also, despite his seemingly benign demeanor, Ford refused to listen to Solomon when he reveals that he is actually a free man from Saratoga. Mistress Harriet Shaw is another great example of this. She was once a slave, but due to her relationship with Mr. Shaw, she has survived and now enjoys luxuries like Sunday tea. She even proudly claims “Where once I served, now I have others serving me….the cost of my current existence was a small but reasonable price to pay.” This sense of survival is seen most of all in Solomon Northup. From the emotional outburst Northup has when Eliza asks him about his children to the tearful burning of the letter he tried to send to New York, Solomon’s perseverance and desire for freedom came across beautifully on-screen. One area where the film somewhat fell short for me was in its sound depiction. Occasionally, the sounds of the swamp came through and the slave song that Tibeats sings in the beginning was very sonically interesting. For the most part, it seemed like the movie’s main soundtrack dominated the background audio. This may be a characteristic of many featured films, but I believe more emphasis on the sounds of the plantation could have created a more authentic experience.

The Good Wives of Tara and Eatonville

Gone With the Wind and Their Eyes Were Watching God, despite their highly different protagonists, share a common theme–wealth and status in the wake of Reconstruction. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, land was seen as the ultimate security; Janey’s grandmother attempts to marry her off to a man for his land. In Gone With the Wind, land is central: Tara is seen as a kind of heaven, and its survival is representative of the survival of the family as a whole. The characters of both works are attempting to conform to a cultural norm to which they do not subscribe in order to preserve their status (Janey as the quiet, dutiful wife, and Scarlett as the mourning widow). Despite the disparate statuses of their peoples, both of them are attempting to raise themselves into higher social status–incidentally, out of black culture–only realizing later what they have missed.

Hattie McDaniel

The speech pattern in Their Eyes Were Watching God was a difficult one to follow and understand at times. The grammar, heavy use of contractions, and phonetic spelling of words made it tricky for the reader to follow along and read the text in a fluid manner. Hattie McDaniel’s character, Mammy, speaks with the same form of verbal expression as outlined in Hurston’s text. For example, Mammy tells Scarlett “if you don’t care what folks says about this family, I does.” It seems as though Mammy is characterized by her speech more so than other characters. Interestingly enough, McDaniel’s portrayal of Mammy, though reflective of arguably one of the most difficult time periods for African-Americans, was awarded the first Oscar for any African-American. It is ironic that in order to achieve success in the film industry and be recognized for her acting abilities on a large scale, she had to play a character that is frequently stereotyped in literature.

Contradictory Depictions of Slavery

In class, we have talked extensively about slavery in the south and learned much about slave plantation life through texts such as 12 Years a Slave and The Clansmen. Astonishingly, however, the depiction of slavery in Gone With the Wind is much different than the depiction in the other texts as well as much different from how we normally view slavery. In the movie, slaves such as Mammy possess a power and command in how they run the house and treat their masters that seems almost contradictory to our usual assumptions of the disempowerment of slavery. It seems that Mammy can talk to Scarlett in any sort of tone, she can order her what to do, and in no instance does she seem discontent with her life as a slave. Although there were definitely slaves who had much easier lives than others as they did not have to labor in the fields, it is vital to remember that this depiction of slavery is biased and romanticized to portray the “dream remembered. A civilization gone with the wind…” This element of the romanticized south has appeared in other texts we have looked at such as The Clansmen, and although inaccurate in certain regards such as slavery, are still important as they portray a first-hand view and description of the south during this period.

Vilifying the North in Gone with the Wind

One of the scenes that stuck out to me in Gone with the Wind was the beginning of the siege of Atlanta. While General Sherman and his troops bombard the city with cannons, the population falls into a panic. Yet amidst the chaos, we see a line of black men marching uniformly, shovels in hand, towards the battlefield. When Scarlett asks why, Big Sam replies that they are going to dig trenches for the Confederate soldiers. Upon leaving, he assures her “Don’t you worry [Scarlett], we’ll keep them Yankees out!”

I was surprised to see that, even in 1939, slavery would still be portrayed in such a glorified manner. The scene reminded me of discussions we had about The Clansman and 12 Years a Slave, in that it called into question the relationship between a slave and his owner. We saw that, in both novels, slave owners were not necessarily portrayed as evil people, and this served as a proverbial olive branch, to pacify the South. It seems to me that the filmmakers used a similar tactic in Gone with the Wind. Obviously, slaves would not have willingly fought against the men trying to free them, but in the movie they do. I was shocked to see such an over-vilification of the North so long after both the Civil War and Reconstruction periods had ended.  Of course the white Southerners would have hated the North, but it seems strange that the film decided to go a step beyond what one could realistically have expected and portray the North as the lone antagonist in the film.

Ultimate Irony

After watching “Gone with the Wind,” one scene that stuck in my mind was the mill scene where convicts are being brought in to work.  Ashley speaks up and complains that many of the men are “sick and underfed” and that he “will not make money out of the enforced labor and misery of others.”  The juxtaposition of this scene with the recent end of slavery could not be more ironic.  It’s a perfect analysis of the institution of slavery and yet it only involves white Southerners. The connotation of this scene that slavery really wasn’t as horrible as one might think is conveyed by placing white Southerners in a parallel situation to slavery. It’s also interesting because the film, in trying to represent Southern sentiment, makes a conscious effort to avoid any presentation of the hardships of slavery.  If anything, there are times where the film implies that slaves held deep, loving loyalty to their owners.  Field workers are happily plowing in one of the beginning scenes and Mami develops a personal relationship with Scarlett and shares many enduring words with her throughout the movie.  I think the scene speaks to Scarlett’s fervent loyalty to the South, in that she was willing to unfairly exploit anyone and everyone.  Perhaps the significance of the above scene was to show the level to which Southerners were forced to stoop in order to endure post-war hardship.  It’s also ironic that this insinuates that the North’s moral incentive for fight the Civil War was in some ways hypocritical given it’s immoral consequences revealed in this scene.

After watching “Gone with the Wind” I find it interesting to compare it’s overall perspective of the post-Civil War South with that of  Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman.  Both attempt to portray the hardships of this time, but each goes about it in a different way.  The Clansman strongly argues that freed slaves were to blame for the hardships faced by white Southerners while “Gone with the Wind” blames the ‘North.’  More specifically, The Clansman portrays the violent nature of freed slaves, while “Gone with the Wind” goes so far as to imply that even former slaves are victims of ‘Yankees.’

A Facade of Power

I found the scene where Scarlett O’Hara attends the barbecue on Twelve Oaks particularly interesting. From the beginning of the party, Scarlett clearly commands the attention of all of the male guests, much to the dismay of her female counterparts. She is able to easily manipulate Charles Hamilton as well as several other men who are already spoken for. The crowd drawn around her is a testament to her physical beauty and the power she holds within the Southern social structure. However, this power is really a thin veil over the gender roles that prevailed in this era. We see a little later that Scarlett actually has little true control over her life. Her role in Southern society and personal happiness is based on the men that she is associated with. After her sham marriage to Charles Hamilton, we see that she has no power to control what she wears and has no ability to participate in dances that she loves. Interestingly enough, Scarlett does gain some measure of personal power in the midst of the post-war chaos, even buying her own sawmill. However, Scarlett is still inevitably influenced by her association with Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler. Her ability (or inability) to win over the affections of these men still drives many of her actions. Towards the end of the movie, we even see her jealous of the attention that her own daughter, Bonnie, receives from Rhett. In many ways the portray of gender roles in Gone With the Wind is a mixture of what we saw in The Clansmen and Their Eyes Were Watching God. There are times when Scarlett displays strength and independence similar to Janie (ie. becoming a successful businesswoman in Atlanta) and many other times she resembles the stereotypical Southern woman (ie. who we saw in the beginning and what toward the end). 

Cinematic Use of the Rebel Cry

The rebel yell is perhaps one of the strangest, most endearing sounds of the American Civil War. At times an intense war cry, at other times a jubilant shout of celebration, the holler can serve as an emotional vehicle for a variety of occasions. Please reference the historical footage of the rebel cry below for comparison with the film’s depiction.

During the Confederate Fundraiser Ball in the first half of Gone With the Wind, the cry plays an important role in punctuating the interplay between Scarlett’s surreptitious flirtations and Rhett’s showy exhibitions. The noise is first heard as the audience’s response to Rhett’s grandiose introduction by the Master of Ceremonies. Described as “that most daring of all blockade runners”, and the man solely responsible for the evening’s comfort and safety, the crowd unleashes the holler in what sounds like a mix of both terror and joy. It is fascinating how the filmmakers capitalized on these two elements of the rebel cry by immediately cutting to Scarlett’s expression of confusion and frustration at Rhett’s appearance. The cry is used to perfectly juxtapose Scarlett’s initial ambivalence with the audience’s admiration.

The cry is heard again later during the charity auction of the lead dance. After a few unimpressive bids by various party-goers, Rhett again demonstrates acute bravado by offering a large sum of money in order to dance with Scarlett. The cry is somewhat different in nature, though, sounding more feminine, as though the product of gossiping lady-folk scandalized by the impropriety of Scarlett dancing while in mourning. Again, the dramatic cut to Scarlet perfectly pairs the scene’s soundscape with her emotional response to Rhett’s outlandish actions.

Land and Time

The motifs of land and time in “Gone with the Wind” provide perspective to why the South wanted to succeed from the union. At the beginning of the movie, Gerald O’Hara says to Scarlett that “land is the only think worth working for, fighting for, and dying for. Land is the only thing that last.” This line is significant to the movies representation of the Civil War as a necessary fight not to preserve the institution of slavery but to preserve the meaning of life – owning property. Therefore, the movie motivates the viewer to believe that since slaves were the only ‘proper’ individuals to work in fields and preserve the land of white men, fighting to preserve slavery would be the only way to ensure protection of property. Later in the movie, I believe it is Ashley Wilkes who declares that confederates should “leave the union in peace. [But] if Georgia goes to war then I will fight with her.” Ashley’s comment supports the idea that the war was fought for respectable reasons like preservation of family property and dynamics. It fascinates me that the civil war was presented in this manner, in many ways the idea somewhat reminds me of Birth of a Nation, in that the civil war and reconstruction era were falsely represented and discussed through the lens of a white person. However, the difference between Birth of a Nation and “Gone with the Wind” is that Birth of a Nation was hoping to propagate the belief that the reconstruction era was not nearly as bad as African Americans had portrayed it. While “Gone with the Wind” is more reflective of the realities of the period (or at least from the perspective of a white person) in that white southerners believed that they had to fight to preserve their livelihood.

The movie focuses on a sign for about 15 seconds that says “Do not squander time. That is the stuff life is made of.” After reading that sign, I began to listen for what the movie said about time. Something that stuck out to me was what Rhett Butler says to Scarlett in regards to her comment about how unfortunate it was for all these men to die in combat. Rhett says “’The Cause!’ The cause of living in the past is dying right in front of us.” Rhett is from the North originally so I interpreted his comment as a critique of the Southern idea of fighting to protect old institutions. There is even a point in the movie where Rhett tells a group of men that the North is more forward thinking as well as innovative than the South, which is why they are better equipped to fight and probably win the war. Rhett suggest that when people live for things that are no longer tangible that they are wasting time that will never be recovered. Hence he calls these such individuals “poor tragic people.”

Animalistic Stereotype in Gone With the Wind

We have discussed the white supremacist, biased portrayals of African Americans as animals in literature and film, specifically in The Clansman and Birth of a Nation. The first time we see Mammy in the film, she is “barking” orders at Scarlett from an upstairs window to come back to the house. As some of my classmates have already discussed, her accent is highly stereotypical of blacks in the other literature we read. However, beyond the accent, the means through which she communicates through this and other scenes in the film label her as an animal, similar to the depiction of blacks in Thomas Dixon’s novel, The Clansman. The “barking” communication out of an open window depicts Mammy as a dog, in my opinion. This plays directly into the stereotypical representation of blacks as “animals” in American literature and film. When we discussed The Clansman we noted instances where Thomas Dixon used particular language to paint the black characters as animalistic, such as “beastly jaw” (p.323). This representation of Mammy intends to place her beneath the white plantation owning family. As a result it establishes white supremacy for the mainly white viewership and, unfortunately, furthers the animalistic stereotype of blacks.

An Accent Gone With the Wind

Reflecting on our class discussion on Monday as well as the conclusion of the movie, I am further intrigued by the idea of accents in this film.  Speech, particularly in terms of the prevalence and importance of dialect and/or accent, has been a central and recurring concept in our class discussions since it is such a defining and recognizable aspect of Southern culture.  We have often discussed how Southern droll is portrayed in the works we have read and/or listened to, reflecting on their role in the works as well as their role in characterizing Southernness.  However, it seems the discussion around speech in Gone With the Wind instead revolves around the lack of accent and dialect.  I am not certain that I would be able to identify the film as set in the South if I were just listening to the voices of the characters.  I wonder why, if accent is so often associated with Southern culture, why it would be practically absent from the film.  I also wonder if this was done intentionally, and if so, for what reason?

“Gwona” with the Wind

The first time I saw Gone with the Wind I was fascinated by the southern belle dresses, hoop skirts, and bonnets, almost completely oblivious to the historical plot context. Following this surface view of the movie, I watched it once more about a year ago.  My opinions of the movie didn’t change, as I still was engrossed in the complicated love story between Rhett and Scarlett. Finally, after finishing Gone with the Wind last night I admit that my perspective has altered severely.  After countless class discussions regarding the sounds heard and sounds iconic to the south, this southern movie failed in the sonic department.  One would expect that a four-hour-long film about the South’s perspective of the Civil war would have mastered the southern accent.  Yet, unfortunately I struggled to hear this in Scarlett O’Hara’s speech.  Scarlett, Rhett, Melanie, Ashley and most of the white characters in general spoke without an accent but instead in a slower more dramatic tone of voice.  However, the only characters that personified the southern accent were the African American ones, namely Mammy, Big Sam, and Prissy. My favorite instances of this were each time Mammy spoke the word “gwona.”  As she slurred together ‘going’ and ‘to,’ audiences could distinguish a clear southern accent. Mammy screamed at Scarlett as she wanted to go to Atlanta, “I’m gwona Atlanta with ya and gwona I is.” Simple dialect throughout the film illuminated the stark contrast in the speech between the white characters and Africa-American ones. And as the director would have it the African-American’s speech ties more strongly to the sounds iconic to the south.

Tara Calls

Without a doubt, the most famous scene in Gone With the Wind is when Rhett Butler/Clark Gable utters “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” But, I think the following scene – the last one in the film – is equally powerful, in which Scarlett remembers the words of her father and realizes the importance of her land and her home – Tara. I think the way Tara beckons Scarlett also closely resembles the enchantment Jean Toomer had with Georgia (a lucky coincidence), when he wrote Cane. According to the afterword of Cane, Toomer felt some ancestral connection to Georgia, which served as his inspiration for writing the novel. Scarlett’s father says that land is “the only thing that matters, it’s the only thing that lasts.” I think that is true both in a physical and metaphorical sense – the history and the ties we have to our land and our homes will always endure and beckon us back. As Bear Bryant once said, “Momma called. And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin’.” The trope of being close to home and family is fairly universal, but I think it seems to be pretty prevalent in the South.

Stream Gone with the Wind

For those of you who would rather watch the movie on your laptop than in Lilly.

http://viooz.co/movies/363-gone-with-the-wind-1939.html

Slavery Never Looked So Good

The slaves in Gone with the Wind are pleasant, humorous characters who provide much needed comic relief. Mammy with her sassiness, Prissy with her squeaky voice, and Big Sam with his gentle giant demeanor offer entertaining personalities alongside more serious characters like Scarlett, Ashley, and Rhett. The slaves are portrayed as being perfectly content with their place beneath whites and not once demonstrate dissatisfaction with their pre-war bondage or post-war subjugation. This idealized perspective downplays the horrors of slavery to depict the antebellum South as a smoothly functioning society in which slaves live happily alongside their white masters. This crude historical inaccuracy perpetuates a shameful lie, which modern audience members will hopefully recognize; unfortunately, many will not.

The Tragedy of Emily

In his speech at Stockholm, Faulkner criticized the younger generation of writers of writing “not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope…”
So it seems almost fitting that in “A Rose for Emily,” Faulkner writes of two stagnant relationships, between Emily and the town as well as Emily and Homer. The town cannot rid itself of the increasingly eccentric Emily, and must tolerate her and essentially keep her as their mascot, their obligatory town crazy. The struggle between the two parties is almost superficial – an old woman clinging to her past glory, and a town seemingly almost too tired to make an effort to make her see the foolishness of her ways. Though Emily eventually “wins,” her victory is meaningless. She has only won her right to remain in the town, in her own state of delusion. Nobody won, nobody lost.
Emily’s relation with her lover mirrors that relationship, especially after the last scene of the novel. She kept Homer’s rotting corpse in her home, and it is insinuated by Faulkner that she slept by the corpse every night. Here is another example of Emily’s delusion (much like when her father died), in which she refuses to accept death, as well as the tragedies that come with the passage of time. In her stubbornness, she refuses to admit loss, but that deprives her of the opportunity to struggle with true sadness and tragedy. She clings to the corpse of Homer, and what sort of emotional high she gets from it is foreign to me, but at the end of the day, whatever fulfillment she must get is empty.

I think Faulkner is warning us to not be like Emily. Don’t be stubborn, and live a life of delusion. Accept the tragedies of life, and don’t be afraid of it – instead, embrace it, relish it, and let the moment move you to a new chapter of your life…or your book.

 

Homework: Gone With the Wind, Wednesday Nov. 20

For Wednesday, write an informal post (about a paragraph) in which you discuss the way a particular scene (or theme/topic) in Gone With the Wind relates to something that we have discussed or read in class. Tag it homework, gone with the wind, (something related to your topic).

GWTW

Toes in the Mud

The Twelve Years a Slave movie was memorable in a way that the text was not. One particularly vivid scene depicted Solomon Northup partially hanging from the thick branch of a live oak after Tibeats attempted to lynch him. While Chapin waits for Master Ford to return, Solomon struggles on his tiptoes in the mud, doing everything possible to lighten the pressure of the noose around his throat. For several minutes viewers watch as Solomon moves inch by inch toward higher ground while sliding slightly in the mud. The soft squishing of toes in mud, the intermittent gagging of Solomon, and the hum of locusts are some of the only sounds present as the other slaves silently continue their chores in the background, unable to save him. The scene is uncomfortably long with little action, forcing the viewer to consider what it might be like to be in Solomon’s position for just a few minutes. Such an effect is not as easily obtained in the book, in which the elapsed time of the scene is difficult to grasp.

Sounds in different cultures/locations

Found this awesome journal article which I am sure will help some of you guys with final projects. It is about sounds changing over different geographical locations/cultures. Comment and link if you find other interesting stuff that you feel could help others out…

http://vcu.sagepub.com.proxy.lib.duke.edu/content/10/2/189

MPS help for final project

Hi Guys,

So as many of you know, I work at Duke’s Multimedia Project Studio, which is where we basically help people out with audio, video, web and graphic design projects! Our final audio essay falls into that category so I thought I’d provide you with some resources and info:

1 – Firstly, we can help you guys with any Audacity related issue you have. So, when you are editing sounds, we can provide support if you need it.

2 – If you want a quiet place to record your essay, we have a sound booth over at MPS west which will eliminate any background noise/hissing you may get just recording in your dorm room for example. We have really high quality mics in there too, or you can just use your zoom. Bottom line – it’s a really quiet place and has the hardware and software you need all in one location.

3 – We are located on both East and West. The sound booth is only on west, but we have all the software in both locations. The labs are open whenever the library is open, but are staffed only at specific times (https://swat.oit.duke.edu/shiftr/index.php/calendar). Like Professor Lingold said, some people are more experienced than others in the lab so feel free to stop by when I am working if you are not having luck with the other consultants. I am on East or West every day of the week so stop by and say hello!

4 – For broader questions, you can email mpslab@duke.edu and someone will either provide you with support online, or will ask you to come into the lab if the problem is more challenging.

Hope this helps,

Tom