Ripping into nostalgia for the Old South
BOOKS: Alice Randall, The Wind Done Gone. Houghton Mifflin, 2001, 210 pages, $22.
Review by HELEN SCOTT | August 3, 2001 | Page 11
MARGARET MITCHELL'S 1936 novel Gone With the Wind, like the 1939 film starring Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh, is nauseating. It relies on racist and sexist caricatures and absurdly bad history to tell a disgusting tale of nostalgia for the Southern slaveocracy.
When African American writer Alice Randall wrote a novel in response, called The Wind Done Gone, Mitchell's estate promptly sued. The estate initially won its ludicrous case against Randall on the grounds of "plagiarism." But an appeals court overturned the judgement, and the book is now available.
The Wind Done Gone has been criticized in the media. One reviewer called it "heavy-handed" and said it came up short compared to the original.
This misses the point entirely. The Wind Done Gone isn't Gone With the Wind told from the perspective of the slaves. Rather, it's a fictional exploration of the contradictions of a society based on slavery.
The story rips up Gone With the Wind's portrait of a "land of grace and plenty"--and with startling language replaces it with a truer one: "The mud, the dirt, was so red, when you looked at the cotton blooming in a field, it brought to mind a sleeping gown after childbirth--all soft-white cotton and blood."
There are some sharp moments of parody, particularly in the renaming of characters and places. For example, Melanie Wilkes becomes "Mealy Mouth," and Scarlett O'Hara is renamed "Other."
Cynara, the "illegitimate, mulatto" daughter of Mammy and "Planter," is the narrator. We learn why the plantation owner impregnated the slave. "Oh, peculiar economy!" Cynara says. "It was a way of making sure there was milk for the baby. Somebody plants a seed in the going-to-be-wet-nurse, and then you starve that child if you have to" in order to feed the "legitimate" white child.
Cynara is passed over by her own mother, who has to nurse Other. She is sent away to work as a house slave--then sold at the auction block to the owner of the local brothel, where she is soon taken as the "mistress" of a wealthy white man.
The novel is strongest when it undermines the stereotypes of the original book and film. Mammy's slowness, for example, is explained: "Only in the lazy drag of her feet, the slow trifling ramble on any one of so many errands, did she save herself just a little from work-hard-work-long exertion, a slave's exertion."
The Wind Done Gone also refutes the lie at the heart of Gone with the Wind--that Blacks were left worse off after the Civil War. When Cynara visits the plantation "Tata" after emancipation, she sits with the former slaves as they cook their own food in the main kitchen. "Freedom had a flavor," she reflects, "and we were tasting it."