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Family, Marriage, and Gender in “Gone With the Wind”

The questions related to family, marriage, and gender roles always played a crucial role in society. The norms established in these fields were changing in different historical periods. Sometimes, the mode of behavior considered as a rebellion against the social standards in one period could become a norm in the following era. An example of such violation could be observed in the epic romance film Gone with the wind (1939) adapted from the book by Margaret Mitchell. In this essay, the structure of the families and the issues of marriage represented in the film will be described. The paper will also demonstrate how the protagonist of the film, Scarlett O’Hara, violated the established rules, however, determining the ideal for the following generations.

The film describes the American South during the Civil War and the following years, characterized by the reconstruction of social and economic ideals. Scarlett O’Hara, the main character of the film, represents the new, emerging ideal of a strong, socially active, and psychologically independent woman. The story of her life demonstrates the challenges she faces while trying to fit into the existing social norms of the previous era. Scarlett was born and brought up in a traditional family with a father of Irish origin and a South American-born mother. Traditionalism is manifested in the household structure where the father is responsible for the family’s income, and the mother is the house “manager.” As in all other families represented in the film, the woman is the one to perform house chores; the man is outside of them. Children are brought up in a culture of respect and obedience towards their parents. Scarlett’s two sisters are determined, upon reaching a certain age, to marry the men chosen by her parents rather driven by economic and social concerns than interested in their daughters’ preferences. The families are extended; often, relatives live together, or visit and stay in each other’s houses. The family’s model is distinctly patriarchal, and women have little right of choice in family, as well as in political, social, and economic life.

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The marriage of the youth is mostly planned by their parents; there is little space for personal feelings. In the case of Wilkes’, intermarriage within the family has been practiced for several generations, providing the reason for Melanie Hamilton’s engagement to Ashley Wilkes, her first cousin. However, Scarlett is a character who does not act according to social norms. By her behavior, she “violates the domestic ideals as a belle, wife, mother, and widow … the Victorian rules dealing with women and economic life.” (Setyowati, 2017, p. 163). During the period depicted in the film, she marries three times. She chooses all the partners of her life without the order or even advice of her parents. The first marriage is short as her husband Charles Hamilton dies soon after it. In the second, when married to Frank Kennedy, she is the family leader, working as a man and earning more than her husband. Only in the third case, Rhett Butler could be considered the head of the family; yet, Scarlett is too ambitious and independent to become subordinate.

In the film, there are no examples of cohabitation, heterosexual or homosexual relationships, as well as monogamy, serial monogamy, polygamy, or polyandry. At the time described in the movie, there was no place for such forms of relationships, and even divorce was hardly acceptable by society. A woman could marry the second time, as Scarlett O’Hara did, only in case of the first husband’s demise after an extended period of mourning.

In summary, the families, types of marriages, and gender roles performed in the households described in Gone with the wind are traditional. However, Scarlett O’Hara violates the established norms, setting the ideal of the independent and self-sufficient woman. She can financially support the whole family, as well as take the decisions on her own rather than follow her husband. Such a position, considered unusual in the era described in the film, gradually became the norm in the following historical period.

References

Fleming, V. (Director). (1939). Gone with the wind [Film]. Selznick International Pictures.

Setyowati, L. (2017). Gender ideals violation in domestic and economic life as found in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the wind. Humaniora, 8(2), 163-172.