Mammy: Mainstay of the Family or Fictionalized Caricature

Gone With The Wind Poster

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If you’ve seen the movie, Gone with the Wind, you’ll probably agree that one of the most endearing characters is that of Mammy, Scarlett’s outspoken but loyal house servant/slave.  The movie Mammy seems to rule, not only the other slaves, but also the master, mistress and their children.  Her advice is sought-after and everyone relies upon her to keep the household running smoothly.  In fact, sometimes it seems she is more Mommy than Mammy.

After doing some research, I discovered that the character of Mammy (and mammies in general) is really a figment of the imagination of writers, movie directors and an entire advertising campaign set in motion to serve the political, social, and economic interests of mainstream white America both before and after slavery ended.  However, since this is a post about the parenting skills and traits of the characters in Gone with the Wind, I’ll comment on Mammy as she appears in her role in the movie and leave the issues of slavery and its ramifications to the experts in that field. 

So what type of “parent” is Mammy?

1.     She gives unconditional love…even when she is scolding, we know she REALLY loves her charges…and they know it as well!

2.     She sets rules and expects them to be followed, but is willing to negotiate in order to enforce those she deems most important.  In one of the first scenes in the movie, Mammy is insisting that Scarlet eat her breakfast before attending the barbecue and festivities because it was a social disaster for a young lady to eat too much in front of others.    But Scarlet wants to enjoy the barbecue and doesn’t care about social etiquette.  She also wants to wear a dress that is too low cut for an afternoon party and so Mammy tells her that she can wear the dress with a shawl over it IF she eats her breakfast.  A bribe, perhaps, but isn’t that the same as when we tell our children they can have their dessert IF they finish their dinner?

3.     She is concerned for the safety of her “children”.  When Scarlett decides to go to the city to try to get $300 from Rhett Butler to pay the taxes on the plantation, Mammy insists on accompanying her to make sure no harm comes to her.

4.     She is willing to admit when she is wrong.  Mammy’s opinion of Rhett undergoes a big change when she sees what a loving and caring father he is.  By wearing the red taffeta petticoat Rhett had given her years before, she is declares her approval of him and even tells him that she had misjudged him.

 

Parents have a difficult job, no doubt about it.  What parenting tips did we uncover from this examination of the characters in Gone With The Wind?

  • Give your children unconditional love and be supportive in all situations
  • Set rules and be consistent about the rules and the consequences for breaking them
  • Lead by example and be willing to admit when you are wrong
  • Be respectful of their opinions and attentive to what they have to say
  • Encourage them to have friends and get to know the parents of their friends
  • Help your children learn to set goals and follow through on reaching them
  • Instill a sense of hopefulness in your children
  • Provide a safe environment for your children
  • Spend time with your children, joyfully participating with them in various activities
  • Encourage your children to try new experiences and master tasks and skills

It was fun looking at these characters with a parenting state of mind.  I hope these last few posts provided some entertainment and also some useful parenting tips.

Rhett Butler: From Devil-May-Care Scoundrel To Doting Dad

Cropped screenshot of Clark Gable from the tra...

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We meet Rhett Butler early on in the movie.  Standing in the expansive hallway of Twelve Oaks, his animal magnetism and piercing stare attract the attention of Scarlett O’Hara as she climbs the graceful winding staircase with her friends.  Scarlett’s companions inform her that Rhett Butler is the son of an honorable and distinguished family, but “good” girls should avoid him because he is a rogue and a troublemaker. 

While the other young ladies are taking a nap to rest up for the evening’s festivities, Scarlett sneaks downstairs to confront Ashley who, earlier in the day, had announced his engagement to his cousin, Melanie.  Scarlett tells Ashley that she loves him and he says that he loves her as well, but that he is going ahead with his marriage to Melanie.  As the door closes on Ashley, Scarlet throws a vase at the door, shattering it.  As the pieces fall to the floor, Rhett, who had been lying down on the couch, unobserved by Scarlett or Ashley, stands up.

This begins their tumultuous on again – off again relationship.  Throughout the years, we see many different sides of this enigmatic man…shrewd businessman (he makes a fortune as a privateer during the war), compassionate friend (he buys back Melanie’s wedding ring when she donates it to help the Confederate army and returns it to her because he understands how much it means to her), a man who disregards conventions (he pays a large sum of gold to dance with Scarlett even though she is a new widow and it is a definite no-no for her to dance).

However, when Scarlett has their baby, we see a soft and vulnerable side of Rhett. 

There is a saying that when you become a mother, your heart no longer resides inside your body, but is now exposed to the world.  This holds true for fathers as well, because Rhett changes his ways and becomes steady and gentle and concerned with what others think about him and his family.  He wants only the best for little Bonnie and goes to great lengths to insure that the community accept him and think well of him.

Here are a few of the ways Rhett exhibited good parenting skills:

1.     He spent time with his child, joyfully participating with her.

2.     He encouraged his child to try new experiences and to master tasks and skills.

3.     He was supportive if she failed to reach a goal and he understood and respected her fears.

4.      He set limits and rules…he admonished her not to change the jumping bar.

If you’ve seen Gone With The Wind, you know that Bonnie did not listen to her father in this instance.  She raised the jumping bar and her little pony was unable to jump over it and Bonnie was thrown from the horse and killed.  Bonnie’s death creates a chasm between Scarlett and Rhett because each blamed the other.   Unfortunately, this scenario takes place all too often in real life.

Parenting is the most difficult job in the world and the only one I know of that doesn’t require some kind of training or licensing.  We all want to be good parents…and most of us are.   But sometimes (many times) parenting can be frustrating and draining, both emotionally and physically. 

1.     Don’t be ashamed to ask for help if you need some time for yourself…investigate different options…maybe you can watch your friend’s child one afternoon and she will return the favor so that both of you can have an afternoon to yourselves.

2.     If you need information or advice on parenting, there are many support groups, 1-800 help hot-lines, and local community organizations that stand ready to assist you to be the parent you want to be for your child.

Tune in tomorrow for the last post in the Gone With The Wind series…Mammy: Top Marks in Parenting Skills

Melanie Hamilton: Princess of Patience and Loyal Friend Extraordinaire

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Do you have a BFF?  Is it someone who lived next door to you when you were little?  Or is it a person who came into your life during a time of crisis?

I met my BFF when I was two years old…we lived in the same apartment house and our parents became good friends.  So Jane and I became playmates.  I can remember playing Superman…she was both Superman AND the bad guy and I was Lois Lane.  We walked to school together, had picnics in the park together and spent many hours playing house, coloring with crayons and talking.  When Jane moved to a different state, we corresponded by mail on a weekly basis and now, over 50 years later, we continue this amazing friendship by email.  She is a true and loyal friend who would support and encourage me in any endeavor I choose to undertake…and I would do the same for her.

So what about Melanie Hamilton, the gentle soft-spoken wife of Ashley Wilkes and sister-in-law to Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind?

From the first moment we meet her, at the barbecue at Twelve Oaks plantation, we are aware of her gentle, trusting and patient demeanor.  However, as the movie unfolds, we see that there is a lot more to Melanie Hamilton than meets the eye.  She has an inner core of strength and commitment that carries her through many difficult situations.

If you’ve seen the movie, you will probably remember the iconic scene where Scarlett attends a birthday party for Ashley.  Earlier in the day, some of the town’s ladies saw her embracing Ashley.  This scandalous story quickly spreads throughout the community, and Scarlett’s husband, Rhett, insists that she go to the party by herself, clad in a revealing red dress (remember Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter).  As she enters the house, a roomful of judging eyes turn towards her.  Movie viewers hold their breath, waiting for the inevitable angry confrontation.  Instead, Melanie steps forward, embraces her sister-in-law as if nothing had happened, and gently, but firmly insists that the assembled company welcome Scarlett.  And they do!  If only all of us had someone like that in our corner.

Our children need us to be their Melanie Hamilton.   

1.     Be supportive of your children in all situations. 

2.      Give your children unconditional love. 

3.     Lead by example and be consistent.

4.     Don’t condone inappropriate behavior…but try to address it privately, instead of embarrassing them in front of friends or others.

5.     Encourage them to have friends…and get to know the parents of their friends.

6.     Be respectful of their opinions and attentive to what they have to say…they will learn to be respectful and attentive to others…and this is the basis of a good friendship.

Stop by tomorrow for a look at Rhett Butler: From Dashing Scoundrel to Loving Dad

Scarlett O’Hara: Goal-Setting Goddess

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Have you ever seen the movie, “Gone With The Wind”?  My husband always laughs at me because I’ve probably seen it a dozen times or more.  It’s an epic love story based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Margaret Mitchell that takes place during the American Civil War.  It portrays the relationships between the main characters, Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Melanie Hamilton and Ashley Wilkes, and it explores how each act and react during the turmoil of war.

If you’ve seen the movie, I’m sure you can picture that iconic scene when Scarlett, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, returns to her beloved Tara after fleeing from the burning, war-torn city of Atlanta.  Starving, she searches the ravaged vegetable garden and finds only a few withered turnips (or maybe they were parsnips).  She stuffs them into her mouth, but her empty stomach is no match for dirty withered roots and she falls to the ground, vomiting.  Picking herself up, she raises her fist skyward and declares that no matter what she has to do from now on, “I will never go hungry again”.  And she doesn’t!

Many of you may feel that Scarlett is not a very nice person and you would probably be right.  Early in the movie, she marries Charles Hamilton for spite to get back at Ashley Wilkes, whom she believes she really loves but who has just announced he is marrying his cousin, Melanie Hamilton (Charles’ sister).  Widowed almost immediately (Charles gets sick and dies before he goes to battle), Scarlett goes on to marry her sister’s long-time suitor, a moderately successful store owner, in order to get $300 from him to pay the taxes on her plantation which is in danger of foreclosure.  And, after he dies, she marries Rhett Butler, the dashing Southern gentleman turned scoundrel turned privateer.  She says she married a boy and an old man and now she wants someone handsome and rich so that she can have fun and never have to worry about money again and will have everything she ever wanted (except Ashley who remains happily married to Melanie).  In the end, Rhett does leave her (just when she finally realizes that she doesn’t really want Ashley, but has loved Rhett all along) and Scarlett exhibits the second and third of her strongest and most positive qualities: she is forever hopeful and she never gives up.  As the door closes on Rhett and he exits her life, she has a moment in despair – and then looks up with her face alight again and declares, “I’ll go home to Tara.  Tomorrow is another day!”

Is there a parenting lesson here you might ask?  Yes, I think so.  As parents, we need to:

1.     Help our children learn to set goals.  And follow through with reaching them!

2.     Allow our children to fail, while always encouraging them to succeed.  This builds true self-esteem.  Try, try again is an old adage…but perseverance, especially in the face of adversity and disappointment, is very important to success in life.  Thomas Edison, the famous inventor, said that genius was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

3.     Provide our children with a sense of security…we will be there for them no matter what.  Scarlett’s security was her home…she knew she could always recover if she went back there.  Children will come to you with their concerns if they know they won’t be judged or criticized.

4.     Instill in our children a feeling of hopefulness…problems CAN be solved…there are often other options just waiting to be revealed.  Sometimes just talking about a situation can uncover solutions.

So if you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to watch it and observe how goal-oriented Scarlett O’Hara is…and check out her unbelievable level of hope and perseverance in the face of all kinds of disasters.  And if you’ve seen it before, perhaps I’ve reawakened a wish to see it again.  It’s definitely a classic!  The Academy Awards will be broadcast on February 27th.   I know that many people enjoy seeing movies that have won the Oscar in previous years.  In 1939, Gone With The Wind won 10 Oscars, a record that stood for over 20 years.


 Stop by tomorrow for a post about Melanie Hamilton…princess of patience and loyal friend extraordinaire.