Here is a quick video I made with commentary detailing my perception of romanticism in Gone With the Wind. Turn subtitles on!
In an advertising class I am currently taking, Creativity and American Culture, we are learning about social and artistic movements - a lot of "-isms." To elaborate on an "-ism" covered in class, I have decided to leverage my understanding of Romanticism by applying it to one of my favorite films of all time, Gone With the Wind (1939).
Romanticism is a literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating from the 18th century. It is characterized by the exhibition of emotionality, sentimentality, and a desire to invest oneself in the natural world. Individuals who typically exude qualities of Romanticism are overrun by the "harshness" of society or are vulnerable to the overwhelming current of modern civilization.
Thus, nuances of Romanticism can be found in the characters, synopsis, and film production of Gone With the Wind. Prominent forms of Romanticism lie within three main realms: Ashley Wilkes, Scarlett O'Hara, and the film's portrayal of slavery in the South.
Ashley Wilkes is a dreamer. He is Scarlett's unrequited love interest. His character development centers on the fact that he lacks development; he deteriorates in emotional strength over time from the onset of the Civil War. He finds it impossible to escape the dreams of the life he once lived - the golden days of the South, so to speak - and essentially floats in a limbo of nostalgic daydreaming and reminiscing.
When personal tragedy strikes for him towards the conclusion of the storyline, Ashley's lack of grips with reality and the bleakness of modernity causes him to emotionally crumble, rendering him tragic in that he cannot control himself from continually being swept back into the arms of the past. Essentially, he is only a shadow of a personality.
Despite Scarlett O'Hara's apparent bond of solidarity with her equally shameless and hard-nosed counterpart, Rhett Butler, and in spite of Ashley and Melanie Wilkes' marriage, she finds herself obsessing over castles in the air in regards to her delusional passion for Ashley. Although many could arguably confuse her actions on behalf of her 'love' for Ashley as selfishness or as a mere extension of her brazen personality, the idea that she houses a romantic illusion of him is central to why she becomes blind to reality; she continually overlooks the symmetry she shares with Rhett.
Living in an illusion causes her to lose sight of entities that can provide her with fulfillment that Ashley could never supply her with. Rhett sees Scarlett for who she really is: complex, shrewd, selfish, bold and unwavering. However, Scarlett's shortcoming of defiantly meandering towards a vision of a life that is shrouded with idealism prevents her from appreciating the transparency between Rhett and herself.
Moreover, even though the Civil War causes extreme detriment to her life and tests her emotional stamina as a human being, the strength of her character triumphantly prevails through waves of error and hardship. Romanticism bears the most weight in her perspective on Ashley, as denoted by Margaret Mitchell in the novel's text:
(Scarlett on Ashley):
"I loved something I made up...I made a pretty suit of clothes and fell in love with it. And when Ashley came along, so handsome, so different, I put that suit on him and made him wear it whether it fitted him or not. And I wouldn't see what he really was. I kept on loving the pretty clothes - and not him at all."
An overarching point of controversy surrounding Gone With the Wind is located within its Romanticism of slavery in the South. Characters such as Mammy and Prissy, played respectively by Hattie McDaniels and Butterfly McQueen, are both stuck in portrayals of slaves as simple-minded, carefree, complacent, and even compassionate. In spite of the discriminatory and racial climate of the film production and film premiere, Hattie McDaniels achieved a breakthrough for African Americans in the film industry by winning an Oscar for her performance.
The juxtaposition of Gone With the Wind's elements of historical fiction and the sharpness of the racial reality outside of the film create an interesting tension of opposites within its foundation of controversy. Acknowledging Hattie McDaniels for her performance is a beacon for African American empowerment and underlines the breadth and depth of reality and progress that can ironically ensue from mediums that revolve around forms of Romanticism.
Overall, aside from the ability of 18th century artwork to evoke painted visualizations of Romanticism, other artistic forms, such as films like Gone With the Wind, are able to illustrate how characters can embody and internalize artistic movements. Reality and Romanticism are mutual reactions to each other, and stories in which we can explore the catalysts of these reactions certainly deserve to be read.