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SUBJECTS — U.S./1860 - 1865 & Georgia; Cinema;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Female Role Model (Melanie,
        and Mammy, not Scarlett);

Age:12+; No MPAA Rating; Drama; 1939; 231 minutes; Color.Available from Amazon.com.

Description: This epic drama traces the life of the fictional Scarlett O'Hara, the daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, from before the Civil War to Reconstruction and makes clear the conflicts, values, corruption and character types that dominated the Southern states in their struggle to free themselves from the Union and to maintain slavery, a system essential to the wealth of the Southern aristocracy. It is adapted from the book by Margaret Mitchell.

TWM does not recommend that this movie be shown unless Discussion Questions 1 - 3 are posed to the class. A much better film for the Civil War from the Southern side is Free State of Jones.

Rationale for Using the Movie: The characters in this film, including Scarlett O'Hara, Rhett Butler, Melanie and Ashley Wilkes, became fixed in the American consciousness of many generations. They are frequently referred to in conversation and in writing. In addition, watching and discussing this film can afford students the opportunity to see why Southerners would go to war with the North in order to protect a way of life that was manifestly immoral and untenable.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Through research, presentations and writing assignments at the film's end, students will gain deeper insight into the most devastating and deadly war ever fought by the U.S. They will understand the Lost Cause myth that was popular in the South and among some other Americans in the late 19th and most of the 20th centuries and which was exemplified by movies such as Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind.

Possible Problems: Serious. The story accepts slavery and the way of life of the wealthy plantation owners without criticism; however, this illuminates the thinking of the Confederates and is helpful in understanding the causes of the Civil War and the Lost Cause myth. The black characters are stereotypes who "just love their masters." Alcohol use and abuse are shown.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Introduction to the Movie
      Discussion Questions


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

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.

See also TWM's student handout Slavery: A World-Wide View, Then and Now.


Discussion Questions:

After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

1.  There were slave labor camps in Nazi Germany during WW II 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 the 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. (5) What changed is that in this way, mankind overall became more civilized.

2.  Most plantation owners who grew up with slavery were unable to see it as wrong even though most western countries at the time of the Civil War had outlawed the "peculiar institution." What factors do you think blinded them to the truth? Suggested Response; All reasonably argued responses are acceptable. Strong answers will acknowledge that economic interest, social pressure and false regional pride played key roles in attitudes toward slavery. Some may suggest that ethnocentrism is a more powerful force than morality.

3.  In the late 1800s and most of the 20th century many in the South subscribed to the Lost Cause myth (also known as the Lost Cause of the Confederacy). This was the idea that the Civil War and Reconstruction saw a virtuous, chivalrous South crushed by the overhwelming force of a coarse and industrial North. What is wrong with the Lost Cause myth? Suggested Response; Strong answers will include the following: The Southern position was a retrograde regionalism and an unworkable political theory holding that a state had the right to secede from the Union. It protected a barbaric and utterly evil institution, that of slavery. In fact, the Southern slave-holding class were perpetrating crimes against humanity and the Confederacy was organized primarily to protect slavery. As for the North, it can be said that the war was the effort of the industrialized North to impose its values on an agrarian South, however, the North went to war to preserve the Union. In 1860 most of Europe was in the hands of a resurgent aristocracy. The U.S. was the last major democracy and if it could not hold itself together, i.e., prevent secession, the cause of democracy, not only in America but in the World, would have been set back for generations, if not discredited entirely. That is what Abraham Lincoln was referring to in the Gettysburg Address when he said,
    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. . . .  It is . . . for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us . . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
From the beginning of the Civil War, the abolitionists also fought to end slavery but they were a minority. It was only as the war progressed, with an unbelievably heavy toll and Black toops making a significant contribution to the Northern War effort, that Lincoln and a majority in the North reached out for another reason for the war and saw the need to make the war a cause to end slavery.

4.  What do you think may be the basis in fact for how black characters are portrayed in the film? Suggested Response: What is now seen as stereotypes are portrayals of roles blacks had no choice but to play as slaves. They were specifically trained to behave as, among others, house servants, nannies, estate workers or field hands and their personal status was determined by which role they played. The stereotypes remained long after slavery ended and in many cases the training continued for the various roles blacks played as paid servants rather than slaves.

For additional twelve discussion questions, click here.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.  Research and write an informative essay on one of the following topics:
  • The several different reasons Northerners supported engagement in the Civil War;
  • South Carolina's role in fomenting the Civil War;
  • President Lincoln's difficulties in mustering support for the Civil War;
  • The concept of the Civil War as "a rich man's war;"
  • Civil War death toll from disease: its causes and extent;
  • Plantation life in the South before the Civil War;
  • The effect of Lincoln's assassination in Reconstruction;
  • The biography of John Brown;
  • The cotton industry: its reliance on slavery, profits, corruption and profiteering during wartime;
  • Prisoners of war and prisoner exchange programs during the Civil War;
  • Wartime riots in the South;
  • Wartime riots in the North;
  • Abolitionism;
2.  Create a slavery timeline that begins when the first slave ships came to the colonies and ends with the Civil Rights Movement in the 20th century. Research your facts carefully and present the timeline to the class as a whole.

3.  Research two significant individuals of opposing position in the build up to the Civil War or in the actual battles themselves. Be sure that one choice reflects a northern attitude, such as an abolitionist or unionist, or military leader and the other reflects a southern pro-slavery attitude or that of a secessionist or military leader. If your chosen participants survived the war, be sure to include how he or she carried on after the guns were silenced.

4.  Write an informative essay about methods of warfare utilized in the Civil War, including the Napoleonic charge, the siege, and scorched-earth. Be sure that your essay explains the rationale behind the use of the tactics and the rate of success earned in battle.

5.  Prepare a power point presentation on women who served in the Civil War as spies. Give details about what motivated them to serve their cause as spies and what finally became of them. Include the following:
  • Maria Isabella Boyd;
  • Pauline Cushman;
  • Rose O'Neal Greenhow;
  • Nancy Morgan Hart;
  • Mary Elizabeth Bowser.

See additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


For English Language Arts classes, distribute TWM's Film Study Worksheet. Teachers can modify the worksheet to fit the needs of each class. Ask students to fill out the worksheet as they watch the film or at the film's end.

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.

Parenting Points: Be certain your child is not seeing the film in place of reading the book which is often assigned in English classes as independent reading. You may want to discuss the attitudes toward race, gender and class that are shown without criticism in the film.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: carpetbagger, white trash, gangrene, blockade runner, chivalry.

MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: Judgment at Nuremberg and all films in the United States/Civil War section of the Subject Matter Index. See also, The Help.

Last updated January 16, 2017.

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