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.

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

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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.


Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction

Film Study Worksheet for ELA Classes

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects and

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


Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.


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.


Selected Awards:

1939 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress (Leigh),Best Supporting Actress (McDaniel), Best Director (Fleming), Best Color Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Interior Decoration, Best Screenplay; 1939 Film Critics Awards: Best Actress (Leigh); 1939 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Actor (Gable), Best Supporting Actress (de Havilland), Best Sound, Best Special Effects, Best Original Score. Note that Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actress was the first time an African American won that award. The next black actor to win an Academy Award was Sydney Poitier for his role in “Lillies of the Field” in 1964. This film is ranked #4 on the American Film Institute’s List of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2006). This film is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” film.

Featured Actors:

Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Evelyn Keyes, Harry Davenport, Jane Darwell, Ona Munson.


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.

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.


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.


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


Slavery, as practiced in the American South, was, with some exceptions, a brutal heartless system of unrelenting oppression and exploitation. Slaves were whipped, mutilated, and murdered. Slave women were sexually appropriated by their masters and overseers. If they resisted they were raped and beaten. Slave families were often divided. It was forbidden to teach slaves to read or write. Scarlett’s threat to sell one of her slaves “south” meant transportation to plantations of ceaseless toil and unremitting brutality.

Most white Southerners did not own slaves. They lived in conditions similar to those of the average black Southerners of the time, with the exception that their homes, food, clothing, and jobs were not guaranteed. They participated in the Civil War, not because of economic self-interest, but due to feelings of allegiance to their state and section of the country and their belief in states’ rights. See discussion at Learning Guide to Gettysburg.

There were several types of slaves. In Gone With the Wind, we are shown house servants and field hands. The house servants had much more status than field hands and were not expected to do the type of chores assigned to field hands.

Running a large plantation was a difficult and time-consuming job. The obligations of the mistress of a plantation could include, as in the case of Scarlett’s mother, managing the farm operations, caring for the ill, ministering to neighbors and enforcing moral standards. Some women abandoned this rigorous job altogether, reverting to fainting and smelling salts. After the war, many former plantation belles faced lives without their former wealth and without their men. Many women, after the war, were forced into different occupations and marriages they would have once scorned. Scarlett’s dilemmas, if not her success in becoming rich, are very true to life.

During the Civil War, the U.S. Navy blockaded Southern ports. Fortunes were made by the blockade runners who would risk their lives to bring supplies from England and other parts of the world to the South. The character of Rhett Butler made his fortune as a blockade runner.

General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820 – 1891) was a Union General in the Civil War. The army he commanded invaded Georgia in 1864 and marched on Savannah, destroying everything in its path. His purpose was to destroy Confederate supplies and communications and to break civilian morale. He was a hero in the North. The South called him “The Great Invader” and considered him a war criminal.

Scarlett’s first husband joined the Confederate Army but died of disease before he could participate in a campaign. Many soldiers on both sides in the Civil War died of diseases such as yellow fever. Many Southern moderates, like Rhett Butler, realized early on that the South would lose the war. As Butler put it, “the Yankees are better equipped than we. They’ve got factories, shipyards, coal mines, and a fleet to bottle up our harbors and starve us to death.” However, once the decision to go to war was made most supported their region and their states in a misguided effort to save a way of life based on a criminal economic institution.

After the War, during the Reconstruction period, state governments in the South were dominated by Northerners. Blacks were encouraged to vote and some black candidates were elected to public offices, even to the U.S. Senate. Northerners came to the South to provide administration during Reconstruction, to help the former slaves, or to make money. These “carpetbaggers,” as they were called, were given preference by Reconstruction governments and resented by white native-born Southerners. In an effort to oppress the former slaves, organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan were formed by former Confederates to murder and terrorize black people.


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 overwhelming force of a course 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 was 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 troops 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.

Additional Discussion Questions.



1. There were slave labor camps in Nazi Germany during WWII 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 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.


2. Who did Scarlett really love, Ashley Wilkes or Rhett Butler? Why did Scarlett want to love Wilkes rather than Butler?

Suggested Response:

Rhett Butler represented the true Scarlett (self-seeking, conniving and disreputable), not what Scarlett wanted to appear to the world (upstanding, moral etc.). Then ask the following follow-up question: “What does the course of this story tell us about the ability of people to deceive themselves?”


3. Is it fair to expect Southerners who grew up with slavery in a society in which it was tolerated to realize how wrong it was and to do something about it?

Suggested Response:

Arguments for an affirmative answer include: They knew that there was another alternative. Individuals cannot hide behind their society’s acceptance of an inherently evil institution. Arguments for a negative answer include: Look at Thomas Jefferson. If he couldn’t free himself from slavery, how could we expect common people to do it?


4. Was General Sherman justified in his scorched earth policy?


5. What advantages did the Union have going into the Civil War? What were the advantages of the South going into the Civil War?


6. Compare this movie to Judgment at Nuremberg. Assume that the administrator of a Nazi slave labor farm was tried under the Nuremberg principles. The evidence shows that the farm comprised thousands of acres cultivated by hundreds of Polish, Russian and Jewish slaves who were frequently whipped and who were separated from their families. Some slaves died from the conditions at the farm. If they tried to escape, they were killed or maimed. Did the administrator commit a crime against humanity? How are these conditions different from those prevailing on plantations in the pre-Civil War South? What should have happened to the Southern plantation owners after the Civil War? If you decide that they should have been punished, why wasn’t losing their slaves an adequate penalty for their conduct? Is it fair to compare the owner of a Southern U.S. plantation before the Civil War to the German administrator of a slave labor farm a hundred years later? Tell us the facts and reasons justifying your answer to each of these questions.

Suggested Response:

The verdict under the Nuremberg principles would be that the German slave labor farm administrator had committed a crime against humanity. The conditions described in the question are no different than a typical plantation in the South before the Civil War. In fact, after the Civil War former slave owners were punished in a sense because their slaves (formerly worth a lot of money) were taken from them without any compensation. However, they were not tried and put in jail as criminals. As to the question of what should have happened to the plantation owners and whether it is fair to judge them by the same standards that were used to judge the Germans at Nuremberg, there is no one correct answer. Good answers would point to some or all of the following facts: the fact that there was less than a hundred years difference in the events; that as a practical matter there were many former plantation owners and that there were few slave labor camp administrators; that the plantation owners were fellow citizens of the persons who would judge them; that the plantation owners had been following an economic system developed over hundreds of years and that it was very difficult to extricate themselves from that system; there is never any excuse to treat a man like a beast.



1. Some consider Mammy and Melanie to be female role models. Do you agree?


2. Why isn’t Scarlett considered a female role model?

Suggested Response:

Hint – see question #1 above for a beginning.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


1. Can you think of any of The Six Pillars of Character that Scarlett complied with? Defend your position.


2. Can you think of any of The Six Pillars of Character that Rhett Butler complied with? Defend your position.


3. What is Scarlett’s fundamental personality flaw?



(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)



(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)



(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)



(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)



(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)



(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)


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.


Gone with the Wind is a fabulous novel. It won the Pulitzer Prize and has been one of the best-selling novels of all time. See also Tara Revisited: Women, War, and the Plantation Legend by Catherine Clinton, 1995, an investigation of the lives of Southern women during the Civil War; Tomorrow Is Another Day: the Woman Writer in the South, 1859- 1936 by Anne Goodwyn Jones, 1982, examines imaginative expression of seven white, upper-middle-class Southern women authors; Down By the Riverside by Charles Joyner, 1984, a recreation of life in the slave community of All Saints Parish, South Carolina, and attempts to recreate the emotional texture of slave life; and Southern Daughter: the Life of Margaret Mitchell, by Darden Asbury Pryor, 1991.


The websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine.

Our thanks to Jean Power from Georgetown High School, Georgetown, S.C. for her suggestions for the Bridges to Reading section and other help with this Learning Guide.

This Learning Guide was last updated on January 16, 2017.

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