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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Literary Commerce


Literary Commerce

 

According to words provided on the publication page, The Wind Done Gone “is the author’s critique of and reaction to the world described in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.”  We may suppose this statement and the dates January 1, 1940 (movie premiere of GWTW) and July 1936 (publication of GWTW) satisfy minimum requirements for cultural literacy in America.  Students in AP English courses are encouraged to know the phrase “gone with the wind”  is from Ernest Dowson’s poem “Non sum quails eram bonae sub rego Cynarae” (I am not as I was under the reign of the good Cyrana).  That information puts AP students a step ahead.  Those who get superior AP education will also know Dowson got the title for his poem from the Roman poet Horace.  In the antiquity of the early 20th century, some black students took pride in retaining such information.

Now, it suffices for any American student to remix Alice Randall’s title The Wind Done Gone as Did the Wind Gone?  So much is missed.

Randall inserts her first novel into the American romance tradition by imitating Hawthorne’s Custom House preface for The Scarlet Letter. In “Notes on the Text,” she pretends to have discovered the document (a leather-bound diary) by Prissy Cynara Brown in the 1990s among “the effects of an elderly colored lady who had been in an assisted-living center just outside Atlanta” (v).  Inside the document was “a fragment of green silk.”  Inside his document, Hawthorne discovered a bit of cloth, a scarlet letter, an overtly historical textile.

Recall that neither Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne nor Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara was a lady.  They were useful tools in the making of whiteness.  Unlike the rich oral narration of the enslaved heroine in Sherley Anne Williams’s Dessa Rose (which tells us so much about the world described in Margaret Walker’s Jubilee), the febrile writerly narration of Prissy Cynara Brown tells us more about the pathology of Margaret Mitchell’s “New South” than it does about the slave community.  In that sense, it justifies Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s remark that The Wind Done Gone is “a moving act of political commentary.”  Randall’s novel deconstructs, however, the puffery of Gates’s saying that in The Wind Done Gone “at last the slaves at Tara have found their voice.”  Caveat Emptor.  When the wind leaves, the voice can’t be found.

 

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.                                           

October 17, 2013

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