As many know, August is GWTW month for the Litwits. We’re watching the movie and reading the book. GWTW is a novel that has staunch supporters and avid haters. Most of this division occurs over the obvious and rampant racism depicted by the Southern aristocracy of the Civil War South. But I’m not here today to argue one way or the other. I’m here to offer some suggestions of further reading to help all readers of GWTW gain a fuller perspective. Below are some novels I’ve read during my life from the perspective of slaves or former slaves before, during, and after the Civil War.
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs: This autobiographical account by a former slave is one of the few extant narratives written by a woman. Written and published in 1861, it delivers a powerful portrayal of the brutality of slave life. Jacobs speaks frankly of her master’s abuse and her eventual escape, in a tale of dauntless spirit and faith (from Goodreads).
I read this beautifully written novel in college (in fact, I read all of these novels in college) and couldn’t give it a higher recommendation. The Norton Critical edition is superb and this is a book that can only enhance your life, both in and out of books.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe: The narrative drive of Stowe’s classic novel is often overlooked in the heat of the controversies surrounding its anti-slavery sentiments. In fact, it is a compelling adventure story with richly drawn characters and has earned a place in both literary and American history (from Goodreads).
Not at all what I expected! A real plot-drive, page-turning novel that entertains and educations simultaneously. Has definitely earned its classic status in American literature.
The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall: In this daring and provocative literary parody which has captured the interest and imagination of a nation, Alice Randall explores the world created in GONE WITH THE WIND, a work that more than any other has defined our image of the antebellum South. Taking sharp aim at the romanticized, whitewashed mythology perpetrated by this southern classic, Randall has ingeniously conceived a multilayered, emotionally complex tale of her own – that of Cynara, the mulatto half-sister, who, beautiful and brown and born into slavery, manages to break away from the damaging world of the Old South to emerge into full life as a daughter, a lover, a mother, a victor. THE WIND DONE GONE is a passionate love story, a wrenching portrait of a tangled mother-daughter relationship, and a book that “celebrates a people’s emancipation not only from bondage but also from history and myth, custom and stereotype” (San Antonio Express-News).
A fairly controversial novel and a parody in the traditional sense of the word as it’s far from humorous. Randall has received a lot of criticism for her depiction of GWTW‘s characters and many believe her novel poorly written. But my class in college thoroughly enjoyed this very different perspective of the South depicted by GWTW. It’s told in diary form and I’d sort of compare it to a more radical version of something like Lost in Austen without the humor.
While obviously not an exhaustive list, these books offer a good place to start and an alternative to the purely white perspective of Gone With the Wind. I love the idea of books working with each other, not against!
Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!