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Benefits of the Movie
Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Other Sections:
      Bridges To Reading
      Links to the Internet
      Selected Awards & Cast

Go to the Learning Guide for this film.

Benefits of the Movie:

This movie shows pre-Civil War plantation life, the home front in the South during the war, and Reconstruction from the point of view of plantation owners. The book was a best-seller and the movie itself a watershed. The characters (Scarlett O'Hara, Rhett Butler, Melanie and Ashley Wilkes) have become fixed in the American consciousness and are frequently referred to in conversation and in writing. Good readers 13 and older should be encouraged to read the book before seeing the movie.

Helpful Background:

Slavery as practiced in the American South was, with some exceptions, a brutal heartless system of unrelenting oppression and exploitation. Slaves were whipped, mutilated, and murdered. Slave women were sexually appropriated by their masters and overseers. If they resisted they were raped and beaten. Slave families were often divided. It was forbidden to teach slaves to read or write. Scarlett's threat to sell one of her slaves "south" meant transportation to plantations of ceaseless toil and unremitting brutality.

Most white Southerners did not own slaves. They lived in conditions similar to those of the average black Southerners of the time, with the exception that their homes, food, clothing, and jobs were not guaranteed. They participated in the Civil War, not because of economic self-interest, but due to feelings of allegiance to their state and section of the country and their belief in states' rights. See discussion at Learning Guide to Gettysburg.

There were several types of slaves. In Gone With the Wind, we are shown house servants and field hands. The house servants had much more status than field hands and were not expected to do the type of chores assigned to field hands.

Running a large plantation was a difficult and time consuming job. The obligations of the mistress of a plantation could include, as in the case of Scarlett's mother, managing the farm operations, caring for the ill, ministering to neighbors and enforcing moral standards. Some women abandoned this rigorous job altogether, reverting to fainting and smelling salts. After the war, many former plantation belles faced lives without their former wealth and without their men. Many women, after the war, were forced into different occupations and marriages they would have once scorned. Scarlett's dilemmas, if not her success in becoming rich, are very true to life.

During the Civil War, the U.S. Navy blockaded Southern ports. Fortunes were made by the blockade runners who would risk their lives to bring supplies from England and other parts of the world to the South. The character of Rhett Butler made his fortune as a blockade runner.

General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820 - 1891) was a Union General in the Civil War. The army he commanded invaded Georgia in 1864 and marched on Savannah, destroying everything in its path. His purpose was to destroy Confederate supplies and communications and to break civilian morale. He was a hero in the North. The South called him "The Great Invader" and considered him a war criminal.

Scarlett's first husband joined the Confederate Army but died of disease before he could participate in a campaign. Many soldiers on both sides in the Civil War died of diseases such as yellow fever. Many Southern moderates, like Rhett Butler, realized early on that the South would lose the war. As Butler put it, "the Yankees are better equipped than we. They've got factories, shipyards, coal mines, and a fleet to bottle up our harbors and starve us to death." However, once the decision to go to war was made most supported their region and their states in a misguided effort to save a way of life based on a criminal economic institution.

After the War, during the Reconstruction period, state governments in the South were dominated by Northerners. Blacks were encouraged to vote and some black candidates were elected to public offices, even to the U.S. Senate. Northerners came to the South to provide administration during Reconstruction, to help the former slaves, or to make money. These "carpetbaggers," as they were called, were given preference by Reconstruction governments and resented by white native born Southerners. In an effort to oppress the former slaves, organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan were formed by former Confederates to murder and terrorize black people.


Additional Discussion Questions:

Continued from the Learning Guide...

1.  There were slave labor camps in Nazi Germany during WWII and some of the people who ran those camps were tried as war criminals. However, in 1860 slavery was allowed by U.S. law and Plantation owners were not considered criminals. Just 80 years elapsed between 1860 and 1940. What changed? Suggested Response: A good discussion will include the following concepts. (1) The German slave labor camps and Southern Plantations had much in common. The slaves were punished if they didn't work hard enough, separated from their families, and killed if they tried to escape. Like the Plantation owners, the Germans considered their slaves (Poles, Russians, Jews etc.) to be from inferior races. (2) Slavery is condoned in the Bible and was an important part of the economies of ancient Greece and Rome; slavery was practiced by Africans and by Europeans. (3) By 1860 every major Western nation had abolished slavery. (4) As President Lincoln said, "If anything is wrong, slavery is wrong." However, the Southern Plantation owners chose to deny this obvious fact.

2.  Who did Scarlett really love, Ashley Wilkes or Rhett Butler? Why did Scarlett want to love Wilkes rather than Butler? Suggested Response: Rhett Butler represented the true Scarlett (self-seeking, conniving and disreputable), not what Scarlett wanted to appear to the world (upstanding, moral etc.). Then ask the following follow-up question: "What does the course of this story tell us about the ability of people to deceive themselves?"

3.  Is it fair to expect Southerners who grew up with slavery in a society in which it was tolerated to realize how wrong it was and to do something about it? Suggested Response: Arguments for an affirmative answer include: They knew that there was another alternative. Individuals cannot hide behind their society's acceptance of an inherently evil institution. Arguments for a negative answer include: Look at Thomas Jefferson. If he couldn't free himself from slavery, how could we expect common people to do it?

4.  Was General Sherman justified in his scorched earth policy?

5.  What advantages did the Union have going into the Civil War? What were the advantages of the South going into the Civil War?

6.  Compare this movie to Judgment at Nuremberg. Assume that the administrator of a Nazi slave labor farm was tried under the Nuremberg principles. The evidence shows that the farm comprised thousands of acres cultivated by hundreds of Polish, Russian and Jewish slaves who were frequently whipped and who were separated from their families. Some slaves died from the conditions at the farm. If they tried to escape, they were killed or maimed. Did the administrator commit a crime against humanity? How are these conditions different from those prevailing on plantations in the pre-Civil War South? What should have happened to the Southern plantation owners after the Civil War? If you decide that they should have been punished, why wasn't losing their slaves an adequate penalty for their conduct? Is it fair to compare the owner of a Southern U.S. plantation before the Civil War to the German administrator of a slave labor farm a hundred years later? Tell us the facts and reasons justifying your answer to each of these questions. Suggested Response: The verdict under the Nuremberg principles would be that the German slave labor farm administrator had committed a crime against humanity. The conditions described in the question are no different than a typical plantation in the South before the Civil War. In fact, after the Civil War former slave owners were punished in a sense because their slaves (formerly worth a lot of money) were taken from them without any compensation. However, they were not tried and put in jail as criminals. As to the question of what should have happened to the plantation owners and whether it is fair to judge them by the same standards that were used to judge the Germans at Nuremberg, there is no one correct answer. Good answers would point to some or all of the following facts: the fact that there was less than a hundred years difference in the events; that as a practical matter there were many former plantation owners and that there were few slave labor camp administrators; that the plantation owners were fellow citizens of the persons who would judge them; that the plantation owners had been following an economic system developed over hundreds of years and that it was very difficult to extricate themselves from that system; there is never any excuse to treat a man like a beast.

Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions


1.  Some consider Mammy and Melanie to be female role models. Do you agree?

2.  Why isn't Scarlett considered a female role model? Suggested Response: Hint - see question #1 above for a beginning.

Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)
(TeachWithMovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner"
and  uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.)

Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.

1.  Can you think of any of the The Six Pillars of Character that Scarlett complied with? Defend your position.

2.  Can you think of any of the The Six Pillars of Character that Rhett Butler complied with? Defend your position.

3.  What is Scarlett's fundamental personality flaw?


(Be honest; Don't deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable -- do what you say you'll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal -- stand by your family, friends and country)


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)


(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don't take advantage of others; Don't blame others carelessly)


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)


(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)

Bridges to Reading:

Gone with the Wind is a fabulous novel. It won the Pulitzer Prize and has been one of the best-selling novels of all time. See also Tara Revisited: Women, War, and the Plantation Legend by Catherine Clinton, 1995, an investigation of the lives of Southern women during the Civil War; Tomorrow Is Another Day: the Woman Writer in the South, 1859- 1936 by Anne Goodwyn Jones, 1982, examines imaginative expression of seven white, upper-middle class Southern women authors; Down By the Riverside by Charles Joyner, 1984, a recreation of life in the slave community of All Saints Parish, South Carolina, and attempts to recreate the emotional texture of slave life; and Southern Daughter: the Life of Margaret Mitchell, by Darden Asbury Pryor, 1991.

Links to the Internet:

Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

Selected Awards:  1939 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress (Leigh),Best Supporting Actress (McDaniel), Best Director (Fleming), Best Color Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Interior Decoration, Best Screenplay; 1939 Film Critics Awards: Best Actress (Leigh); 1939 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Actor (Gable), Best Supporting Actress (de Havilland), Best Sound, Best Special Effects, Best Original Score. Note that Hattie McDaniel's Oscar for Best Supporting Actress was the first time an African American won that award. The next black actor to win an Academy Award was Sydney Poitier for his role in "Lillies of the Field" in 1964. This film is ranked #4 on the American Film Institute's List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006). This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" film.

Featured Actors:  Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Evelyn Keyes, Harry Davenport, Jane Darwell, Ona Munson.


The websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine.

Our thanks to Jean Power from Georgetown High School, Georgetown, S.C. for her suggestions for the Bridges to Reading section and other help with this Learning Guide.

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