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Should we read it because we can?



Published: Sun, July 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Alice Randall falls short in trying to provide a more complex view of the South.

By ROB STOUT

SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR

"The Wind Done Gone," by Alice Randall (Houghton Mifflin, $23)

Now that a United States Circuit Court of Appeals has made it possible to read Alice Randall's & quot;parody, & quot; "The Wind Done Gone," the only question that remains is, do you really want to?

To begin with, Randall's story is far from a parody; it isn't even funny.

Second, it is a cipher, relying wholly on her reader's encyclopedic knowledge of Margaret Mitchell's 1,024 page classic to place her thinly veiled character reproductions in their proper places. At times, readers will be wondering if the army of attorneys representing Houghton Mifflin and the Mitchell estate weren't fighting like Grant and Lee over outright plagiarism rather than literary infringement.

Time-honored format: The storytelling format is a time-honored one. Randall uses the recently discovered diaries of a mulatto former slave, Cynara, who happens to be the daughter of Gerald O'Hara and his house servant Mammy, to tell the true story behind the misrepresentations of Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning work. This also makes Cynara, described as "skinny as a stick and brown," the half-sister of Scarlett, whom Randall refers to throughout the story as "Other."

Although of novella length, Randall's work inflicts more damage than Sherman's march to the sea. We find that Rhett Butler (known only as "R") is having an ongoing affair with Cynara, Ashley Wilkes ("Dreamy Gentleman") had a homosexual fling with a slave, Melanie ("Mealy Mouth") was a serial killer and Scarlett has been stripped of her southern belle status, making this "parody" seem more like an opportunity to settle a few racial scores, as well as create some stereotypes of its own.

Although misrepresentations of slavery by Mitchell are, after seventy years, easily realized by both reading and movie-going audiences, the central point of Randall's work from which both plot and character evolve, is to provide "a more complex view of the South."

Spent more time trying: While some may argue that Faulkner, Welty, and O'Connor spent a lifetime trying to explain the Southern consciousness in all its forms, Randall, a former songwriter, believes her answer is contained in these brief 214 pages. That may be possible when one concludes that her sole contention (pardon me, "complex view of the South") lies in the overall failure to recognize miscegenation as common to the experience of slavery.

This is certainly not the first time Mitchell has been accused of ignoring interracial sex. But, in fact, it was an issue she addressed rather bluntly (for the 1930s). Mulattos, black and white unions, and an occasional green-eyed slave made numerous appearances in her text. To some readers, it spoke volumes on the sexual domination of female slaves; to others, these references were simply lost in the myriad descriptions that were Mitchell's hallmark.

Are we laughing? Randall has said throughout the litigation that she wanted "The Wind Done Gone" to be a way for white and black Americans to share a "belly-laugh" together. Something rings disingenuous with this expectation. It is hard to remember the last time the two races shared a mutual belly-laugh over anything, much less a rather transparent spinoff on slave labor in the antebellum South.

Her pointed style suggests some laughter is intended. However, this "parody" is a joke very few will share.




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