The Parody Done Stopped
The parody done stoppedPublished May 5, 2001
I've just finished a book that you can't read. I'm not
bragging about my literary prowess. The book wasn't Finnegan's Wake
in the original Joyce or The Odyssey in ancient Greek.
problem isn't a language barrier but a legal barrier. A judge in Atlanta
has stopped publication of Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone on
the grounds that it violates the copyright of the book that it mocks:
Gone With the Wind. Her new novel can't be sold in bookstores, it
can't be sold on eBay. Indeed, the publisher has actually been asked to
round up advance reading copies like the one in my hands.
intend to send my copy to Judge Charles Pannell. I can't imagine that
anyone could read this fictional memoir of Scarlett O'Hara's mulatto
half-sister Cynara and believe that it "merely summarizes most of the
earlier work without commentary or fresh ideas that challenge the reader's
understanding of the earlier work." I can't imagine anyone would read it
and believe that the author wrote a sequel rather than a
Ashley is gay and Melanie is a serial killer and Belle is
running a whore-house filled with lesbians and this is not a parody? It
may not be a comedy, but Randall has written a story turning the world of
Tara into Tata, creating and re-creating leading roles for former
Nevertheless, the judge ruled that only Margaret Mitchell's
heirs had the right to what he called her "beloved characters and their
romantic, but tragic, world."
Whose beloved characters? Whose
tragic world? Gone With the Wind rewrote antebellum and
Reconstruction history into an epic myth. Mitchell's South was a place of
happy slaves and white plantation owners struggling nobly to maintain
their way of life.
It was so powerful a story that novelist Pat
Conroy, whose mother modeled her life on Scarlett, says: "GWTW
suffused the world of my childhood like no other book, with the possible
exception of the Bible."
This Confederate flag of a story was so
compelling on stage and screen that even African-Americans could be as
shamefully seduced by it as Jews could be in watching The Merchant of
Venice. Indeed, Randall herself admits, "When I was 12 I read Gone
With the Wind and fell in love with the novel."
But it was, she
adds, "a troubled love from the beginning. I had to overlook racist
stereotyping and Klan white-washing to appreciate the ambitious,
resilient, hard-working, hard-loving character who is Scarlett." And at
some point, Randall, a song- and screenwriter whose father had told her
"to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves," began to imagine a
half-sister and her life.
It's surprising that no revisionist
Gone With the Wind was tried before. But maybe others were warned
off by the Mitchells' litigious nephews.
Conroy himself was once
asked by the Mitchell estate to write a sequel. He says he was told of two
conditions: no miscegenation and no homosexuality. He rejected signing any
pledge and wrote back in high dudgeon with this first line to "his"
sequel: "After Rhett Butler made love to Ashley Wilkes, he lit a cigarette
and said, ĀAshley, did I ever tell you my grandmother was
Now, maybe if Randall's humor had been that broad, the
judge would have gotten it. But her novel is less a farce than a political
correction. Using Cynara -- Mammy's daughter as well as Scarlett's
half-sister -- Randall mines the complex love triangle between a black
caregiver, the girl she gave birth to and the girl she raised. Her South
is not black and white, but gray -- in every sense of the
This book is fictional commentary, at times clever, at times
obvious, at times arresting, at times flat, but always pointed like a
cannon at the original.
Now Mitchell heirs have declared that the
fantasy behind Gone With the Wind is their protectorate and
anything that mocks "the romantic but tragic world" devalues it. So, on
May 25, the case goes to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. If the right
to make a mockery isn't protected there, then neither is any critical
essay or political satire.
In a perverse acknowledgement, Randall
writes, "Margaret Mitchell's novel inspired me to think."
Mitchell's heirs are making us think. I hope they don't take this as a
Write to Ellen Goodman at the Washington Post
Writers Group, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. Her e-mail address
Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel