A Close Reading: Scarlett, Mammy, and Pork
Mammy, the slave devoted to her mistress Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With and their shocking connection to Mammy Ruth; and finally Scarlett. One of the most interesting elements of Mitchell's work is the large role that Mammy plays in the narrative. The opening chapters shows the relationship between. Mammy - Scarlett's childhood nurse. Mammy is an old, heavyset slave who was also nurse to Scarlett's mother, Ellen. Loyal and well-versed in Southern.
Any film that purports to depict that time period and subject matter is bound to tread dangerous territory. I personally think it's a great film, with vivid and exciting characters, but I can understand why the movie might rub some people the wrong way. I am not a proponent of political correctness in the least, but as an American of Chinese descent I acknowledge how there are depictions of Asians in cinema that offend me, like Wayne Wang's "The Joy Luck Club"so I am the last person to ever suggest that African Americans, or anyone else for that matter, shouldn't be offended by the movie.
The interesting thing is, "Gone with the Wind" has an innate appeal that allows it to transcend notions of political correctness so that its fans encompass a wide spectrum of individuals from different nationalities, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. I have found that people you'd least expect to like "Gone with the Wind" happen to worship and enjoy the movie wholeheartedly.
I think one reason why its appeal remains so widespread is because its depictions of slavery, and of the slaves, is more complex and nuanced than is typically acknowledged by politically correct interpreters of the film.
As such, people are able to enjoy "Gone with the Wind," and appreciate the characters and themes of the story, without having to embrace or condone the institution of slavery. One aspect of the movie that remains complex is Scarlett O'Hara's Vivien Leigh personal interaction and relationship with the slaves who work for her. Unlike the other Southern slave owners in the movie, Scarlett is the only one who has any sort of substantial dealings with the slaves. There is a directness and candor with regards to Scarlett's relationship with the slaves that is distinct and separate from her relationship with everyone else in the film.
In contrast, her sisters Suellen Evelyn Keyes and Carreen Ann Rutherford don't have nearly as complex and nuanced a relationship with the slaves as Scarlett does, and they grew up in the same house as she did. Throughout "Gone with the Wind," Scarlett is in a perpetual state of subterfuge and manipulation with the way she interacts with Ashley Wilkes Leslie HowardMelanie Wilkes Olivia De Havillandand even Rhett Butler Clark Gable because she's trying to fool them into believing she's a better person than she is so that she can get what she wants and needs from them.
But Scarlett isn't like that when she's with the slaves. But I think it's deeper than that.
Scarlett is cognizant of the fact that the slaves know what kind of person she really is underneath all of her airs and, as such, she can't easily manipulate them like she does the others. She can relax around them and admit her fears, vulnerabilities and concerns in ways that she can't around the other Southerners in the story. Most people point towards Scarlett's relationship with Mammy to demonstrate the complexity of the movie's depiction of the slaves, and there is much evidence in the movie to support this contention.
Despite Mammy's status in the first half of "Gone with the Wind" as a slave and, thus, possession in the O'Hara household, in many ways she is also one of the most formidable characters in the story. Like Rhett, she's one of the few characters in the story who isn't frightened or intimidated by Scarlett in the least, and remains blunt and honest throughout the story whenever she feels Scarlett is making a mistake.
When Scarlett puts on airs about Ashley Wilkes liking a girl who has a healthy appetite, so that she can avoid having to eat before the Twelve Oaks Barbecue, Mammy slyly reminds her that Ashley hasn't expressed any interest in wanting to marry Scarlett.
As such, Mammy reminds Scarlett of how she's pinning all of her hopes on a man who only gives her crumbs in-return for the unearned adoration she bestows upon him. Mammy is also the one who tells Scarlett that she's making a mistake to go to Atlanta to stay with Melanie, after Scarlett's first husband Charles Hamilton Rand Brooks --Melanie's brother--has died.
As Mammy wisely opines "Savannah would be better for ya.
You'd just get in trouble in Atlanta You know what trouble I's talkin' 'bout. I's talking 'bout Mr. He'll be comin' to Atlanta when he gets his leave, and you sittin' there waitin' for him, just like a spider. He belongs to Miss Melanie.
Mammy doesn't want to see Scarlett hurt everyone around her, including herself. Mammy is also there when Ashley returns from the war and Scarlett impulsively starts to run out to greet him, just as Melanie is running towards Ashley.
Mammy grabs Scarlett and sagely reminds her that he's Melanie's husband now. Throughout "Gone with the Wind," Scarlett tries to hide how deeply her feelings are for Ashley in front of almost everyone, but she is honest about her feelings in Mammy's presence.
Throughout the scene, Scarlett moves about the room but Mammy follows--always standing directly behind her as though her physical proximity is representative of her emotional support. Their only minor dispute occurs when Mammy challenges Scarlett using her mother's curtains as a dress. For a moment, Mammy aligns herself with the legacy of the family she has served instead of the individual member that needs her more. When Scarlett points out that these are her curtains now since her mother has diedMammy recognizes the situation and immediately moves to the question of who is going to accompany Scarlett to Atlanta as she searches for Rhett Butler.
This scene adheres completely to the notion of the "faithful servant" addressed by Griffith. At the same time, the exchange between Scarlett and Pork over the watch and Mammy and Scarlett over the curtains emphasize the transferral of possessions once owned by her deceased parents. As Pork takes the watch, he also assumes the the role of the stable, uncrying, surrogate father.
And when Mammy comforts Scarlett, argues with her about the curtains, and finally decides to both make the dress and accompany Scarlett to Atlanta, like any good surrogate mother would do. This is especially clear when she explains that Mammy's known Scarlett since she put her first pair of diapers on which is almost as long as Scarlett's mother knew her. Although these familiar stereotypes are firmly established, they become far more developed than one might expect.
This is due to the emotional investment all that entails in the screenwriter and director's investments in these mythical black characters that allow them to work as well as they do. Donald Bogle notes the importance of Mammy when he writes: Like earlier film slaves, Hattie McDaniel's character is motivated almost solely out of the concern for the master family, but her Mammy also feels confident enough to express anger toward her masters.
She berates and hounds anyone who goes against her conception of right and wrong, whether it be Mrs. O'Hara or Scarlett and Rhett. But most significantly, Scarlett and Mammy maintain a complex mother-daughter relationship, much like those which actually existed in the old South, the kind of relationship that was either glossed over or treated condescendingly in other films.
Manring offers a refutation of his claim in Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima: The archetypal mammy was always outspoken, particularly when it came to offering advice to white women, but that in no way compromised her place in the slave hierarchy or made her any less subservient, ultimately. And if McDaniel's Mammy was not as superstitious or silly as many popular mammies were.
Mammy was a stock character in films as well as advertising because white people knew exactly what to expect from her--that's what stock characters are for. As we noted in the section on fictional and real mammies, Lillian Smith argued that young white males were confused about their relationship with their mammies as they entered adolescence.
The Thorny Problem of Mammy
Again, here is the quote: In the old days, a white child who had loved his colored nurse, his "mammy" with that passionate devotion which only small children feel, who had grown used to dark velvety skin, warm deep breast, rich soothing voice and the ease of a mind is tender the touch of a spirit almost free of sex anxiety, found it natural to seek in adolescence and adulthood a return of this profoundly pleasing experience Sometimes he found what he sought and formed a tender and passionate and deeply satisfying relation which he was often faithful to, despite cultural barriers.
But always it was a relationship without honor in his own mind and his personality. Yet with it was always the old longing, the old desire for something that he could not find in his white life. In the past, he was a regular at a brothel and even when he is married, he is not truly content with one woman.
One possible explanation might be his infatuation for his old mammy.
The fact that he buys Mammy a red petticoat even though it is his old deceased caretaker who expressed an interest in such things demonstrates both the fact that mammies are essentially interchangeable and that he is still interested in satisfying her. While this might seem far-fetched, one need only look at the next time Rhett and Mammy are seen interacting for more material that seems to help make this case. Before the scene where Rhett and Mammy are waiting for Rhett to go see his baby, a short scene of Pork, Mammy, and Prissy arriving at Rhett's plantation occurs.
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As the camera focuses on the three of them, Prissy says, "Darkies, we sure is rich now. This brief scene reinforces the sense of investment these three servants have in Scarlett.
Her gain upon her marriage to Rhett is their gain too. With this understanding, they certainly are rich--almost as if they were Rhett's in-laws moving in to get what was rightfully theirs by marriage instead of their actual role as servants. The scene switches to Rhett pacing back and forth in the study saying that it is ridiculous that he can't see his baby daughter yet.
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Mammy tells him to control himself because he's going to be seeing her for a long time. Then she apologizes to him for it not being a boy: Who wants a boy? Boys aren't any use to anybody. Don't you think I'm proof of that?