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2 Apr, 2023 14:20

Classic American novel slapped with ‘trigger warning’

‘Gone with the Wind’ now begins with a cautionary note and a lengthy condemnation of “white supremacy”
Classic American novel slapped with ‘trigger warning’

The latest reissue of ‘Gone with the Wind’ has been labeled “problematic” and “harmful” by its own publisher, according to a report by the Telegraph on Sunday. Rather than editing the text itself, the publisher hired an academic to preface the classic romance with an essay on the evils of racism.

Penned by Margaret Mitchell in 1936, ‘Gone with the Wind’ tells the love story of Scarlett O’Hara, a Georgia plantation owner’s daughter, and Captain Rhett Butler, a socialite and reluctant Confederate soldier, against the backdrop of the Yankee conquest of the south.

The book and subsequent Hollywood adaptation have long been accused of romanticizing the cause of the slave-owning south, with HBO Max pulling the film from its library in 2020. However, the latest reprint of the novel has been left untouched by publisher Pan MacMillan, who instead front-loaded the book with a “trigger warning,” the Telegraph reported.

“We want to alert readers that there may be hurtful or indeed harmful phrases and terminology that were prevalent at the time this novel was written and which are true to the context of the historical setting of this novel,” the warning reads, adding that the publisher’s refusal to remove this language does not “constitute an endorsement.”

Such phrasing is typical of publishers looking to reissue classic works without resorting to heavy-handed editing and rewriting, as was the case when Puffin Books scrubbed Roald Dahl’s children’s stories of even mildly offensive terms like “fat” and “ugly.” The publishers of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels took a middle-ground approach ahead of their re-release this month, cutting racial slurs like “n****r,” but leaving offensive descriptions of women and gay people intact.

Pan MacMillan went further than the trigger warning, however. In ‘Gone with the Wind’, the warning is now followed by an essay by English novelist Philippa Gregory, who declares that the story “defends racism” and “glamorizes and preaches white supremacy.” 

“It tells us, unequivocally, that African people are not of the same species as white people,” Gregory adds.

Gregory is white and British. Explaining why she was selected to write the essay, Pan MacMillan stated that “we believed it was important that no author from a minority background should be asked to undertake the emotional labor of being responsible for educating the majority.”

Despite decades of hand-wringing over its themes and language, ‘Gone with the Wind’ remains one of the most popular books of all time, with more than 30 million copies sold worldwide.