Saturday, March 20, 2021


On this early morning, I'm reading a post on social media that Kate DiCamillo replaced references to Gone with the Wind in Because of Winn-Dixie. 

Looking around a bit, I found an Opinion by Celia Storey on November 30, 2020 in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette newspaper. Titled Read to Me: Scarlett O'Hara evicted for the 20th anniversary edition of 'Winn-Dixie' It quotes DiCamillo's afterword, where she says "I found it painful to see Opal and Gloria Dump sitting together, side by side, reading from a book that I cannot in good conscience recommend to my readers." 

The book came out in 2000, was named as a Newberry Honor Book, and was made into a movie in 2005. Cicely Tyson played the part of Gloria. I don't know if the movie includes Gone with the Wind, and while I'm glad DiCamillo asked for these changes I am pretty sure that Black families were horrified when their children brought that book home. 

On June 17, 2016, I created a list of Books that Reference Racist Classics. There is a section on Gone with the Wind. It has DiCamillo's book on it. I'll add a note about the change, and add her book to another list I maintain, of book that have been revised

Opal is white. Gloria Dump is Black. Earlier in the book she is described as having "dark brown" skin. Kids call her a witch but Opal comes to know and care for her. Gloria's eyes are bad. The two spend a lot of time together. In the back yard, Gloria has a tree from which she's hung empty whiskey and beer bottles. She calls them ghosts of things she's done in the past. She used to drink. In chapter 15, Opal is at the library. She wonders if the wind makes the bottles knock against each other, and she wonders if they remind Gloria of things she's done wrong. She thinks she wants to comfort her, by reading a book to her. She asks Franny, the librarian to recommend one:
"Miss Franny, I've got a grown-up friend whose eyes are going on her, and I would like to read her a book out loud. Do you have any suggestions?" 
"Suggestions? Miss Franny said. "Yes ma'am, I have suggestions. Of course, I have suggestions. How about Gone with the Wind
"What's that about?" I asked her. 
"Why," said Miss Franny, "it's a wonderful story about the Civil War." 
"The Civil War?" I said. 
"Do not tell me you have never heard of the Civil War?" Miss Fanny Block looked like she was going to faint. She waved her hands in front of her face. 
"I know about the Civil War," I told her. "That was the war between the South and the North over slavery." 
"Slavery, yes," said Miss Franny. "It was also about states' rights and money. It was a terrible war. My great-grandfather fought in that war. He was just a boy." 
"Your great-grandfather?" 
"Yes ma'am, Littmus W. Block. Now there's a story."
Chapter 16 and 17 are about Littmus going to, being in, and returning from the war. The social media post about the new edition includes a photograph of the page where Miss Franny is recommending David Copperfield instead of Gone with the Wind:
"Who's he?" I asked her. 
"David Copperfield is the title of of the book, Opal." 
"Oh, well. what's it about?" 
"It's about a boy growing up. It's been a tradition in my family to read the book aloud. My great-grandfather, Littmus, read the book aloud to my grandfather every year. And when my father was an old man, I read it aloud to him." 
"It sure must be a good book," I said. 
"Why, that book mattered so much to Littmus that he even took a copy of it with him when he went off to fight in the Civil War. He was just a boy, you know. 
"Littmus was your great grand-father?" 
"Yes ma'am, Littmus W. Block. Now there's a story."
In chapter 18, Opal visits Gloria and starts reading aloud from Gone with the Wind. She read it "loud enough to keep her ghosts away." In chapter 20, Opal visits again and asks Gloria if she wants to hear some more Gone with the Wind. Gloria replies "Yes indeed" and that she has "been looking forward to it all day. Let's see what Miss Scarlett is up to now." 

So, Opal starts reading but her mind is elsewhere. She's thinking about Otis (another character), who told her that he had been put in jail when police had asked him to stop playing his guitar on the street (some people gave him money for doing it). When he wouldn't stop, the police tried to handcuff him, and he hit one of them. Now, he never plays his music on the street again. Opal stops reading and tells Gloria that they should have a party, like the big barbecue in Gone with the Wind, for Otis. The two plan the party. It will be at Gloria's and everyone is invited. Opal asks Otis to bring his guitar, to play at the party. 

In the anniversary edition, DiCamillo has a note that says a bit more than the Arkansas paper (above) included:
When I wrote this story more than twenty years ago, I gave Opal and Gloria Dump a classic novel of the South to share: Gone with the Wind. But when I reread Because of Winn-Dixie in preparation for this anniversary edition, I found it painful to see Opal and Gloria Dump sitting together, side by side, reading from a book that I cannot in good conscience recommend to my readers. I am grateful for this chance to give Opal and Gloria Dump a different book to share--a book that, while it is not perfect, does not diminish either one's humanity."
Ann Patchett wrote the introduction for the anniversary edition. She said:
This is a book about taking a chance on something that winds up saving your life, and it's also a book about growth and change. That's one of the things that makes this anniversary edition so special. The story you are now holding has changed since its original publication. When the book was first written twenty years ago, Opal went to the library looking for something to read aloud to her friend Gloria Dump, and Miss Franny Block gave her a copy of Gone with the Wind. Years later, Kate DiCamillo started to think more critically about Gone with the Wind  -- about its biases and prejudice -- and she regretted that she had not given Opal and Gloria Dump a different book to share. She thought, "It's time for things to change."
Towards the end, Patchett writes
"Because of Winn-Dixie has been read by millions and millions of people. They've cried and laughed and felt understood because of it. Some of them have felt rescued, while others have been reminded to reach out a hand to someone who could use it."

It is interesting to read and think about DiCamillo and Patchett's words about Gone with the Wind. Neither one says it is racist. That last paragraph from Patchett about millions who have read Because of Winn-Dixie exudes warmth but it also excludes children who were yanked right out of the story when they got to chapter 9 and learn about Gloria. That is where we learn about her, that her last name is Dump, and that the neighborhood kids call her a witch. People will argue that by the end of the book, readers love Gloria. They probably do, but the weight of coming to that point is on the shoulders of Black children. 

And what to do with Gone with the Wind? That (or the line about states rights) never got any pushback in the story. We simply have a white child reading it to an elderly Black woman who doesn't push back on it, either. 

Neither Patchett or DiCamillo refer to any of the pushback to Gone with the Wind. On June 14, 2020 The New York Times ran a story about Gone with the Wind being removed from HBO Max. It includes this photograph from 1940:

CrediAfro American Newspapers/Gado, via Getty 

I include the photo and the article in the New York Times because it demonstrates the fact that--for decades, African Americans have been saying no to the book. Surely DiCamillo's changes are due, in part, to learning about their objections. 

Over on that social media post that I read early this morning, some teachers are glad of the change. But, some are objecting to the change. Taking it out, they said, is DiCamillo "caving" to cancel culture. Some object in ways that suggest it is their only chance to teach about the Civil War. Surely they're speaking out of anger rather than as educators. I spent some time looking for lesson plans where teachers raise concerns about Gone with the Wind in the book, but I'm not finding any. If you find some, do let me know! 

Whether or not David Copperfield is a good replacement is for a different time. I welcome your thoughts on the change itself! 


J Groen said...

Jessica Groen, teacher/parent

My feeling is that the original published text of children's books should stay as is, with future editions including annotations or afterwords by scholars who could have educated the publisher and author (at time of original publication) about the infused bias or limited investment of self-critique or dominant cultural critique that the white author had during her own cultural formation or years of highest popularity.

Our children's school system read an updated and "cleansed" version of Cricket in Times Square 2 years ago and I knew something was off, since I had read the original version so many times in the 80s during my own childhood. There was no commentary in the new edition, or by the school sponsors, of the changes from original edition and its racist portrayals of several characters.

Since so many casual readers do not pay attention to editions, reasons for new editions, and changes, editors should clearly mark, especially on award-amplified books, what they changed, why, and acknowledge how the author's biases have a damaging impact in such a way as reduce the integrity of the entire work.

Otherwise we are pushing for "classics" to perpetually stay classics, as long as they get lightly "cleaned up" from overt passages of racism here and there. Leaving the offensive parts in old books helps teach readers and teachers that we can't forget that throughout the genre's history, the process of determining classics is influenced by biases in the writing, platforming, publishing, awarding and recommendation processes that take place throughout the children's book market.

wife2abadge said...

I'm glad she changed it. As a white person, it's difficult for me to imagine how I'd feel if my child read the original and I saw GWTW being praised as a great book. Classics are only classics because some people (mostly white men) decided they were special. There is nothing magical about them, and no reason they can't be edited.

erin said...

It is also interesting that DiCamillo chooses David Copperfield, as that is the book that Melanie reads to "the ladies" in GWTW when their husbands (as Klansmen) go to avenge Scarlett's attack.