Enduring Reflections of Literature on Society


If history is the bony skeleton of our past, literature is the soft tissue that surrounds that framework and gives it life.  Literature gives us a sense of who we were and what we were going through, and describes what made the framework move in the ways that it did.  By writing in their current time, authors are reflective of then current political and societal views, of customs that are historical by era.  Literature is reflective of society's overall tone and mood, and conveys a wide range of emotion.  Sometimes an author’s work may transcend time as well as cultural and generational divides and provide us with a fluid glimpse into turbulent times in society, both past and present.

World War II had a dramatic effect upon those who lived through it, from any homefront to any battleground.  The second World War, lasting six years, involved the majority of existing nations, with all the great powers of the time involved.  During the war, many authors attempted to distract the reader from the current situation, others pled their case for or against a struggle or a particular cause.  In this essay, we will look at three different writers whose works went even farther.  These are examples of works that inspired or motivated society in ways never intended.  First, we go to Margaret Mitchell and the long lived and loved book "Gone with the Wind"

"Gone With the Wind'' by Margaret Mitchell was released in 1936.  Although early into the War, it's release in German, in 1937, was very successful.  In “
Emily Oliver says that “Gone With the Wind” was one of the most popular books in Germany.  One of the reasons cited is that the tale of humiliation and occupation in the South during the Civil War captured Germany’s imagination, providing a link with the emotions of a war-torn Germany.  Mitchell’s  tale of America's Civil War and the humiliation of the South rang true with Germans who felt that World War I had been theirs to win, that the punishment of the Versailles Treaty was a humiliating stain upon Germany and who felt justified in the latest quest to gain more "soil" for a bigger and better Germany. According to Oliver, “Gone with the Wind” helped foster the discourse of victimization during and immediately following the War.    Her book was wildly popular in Germany throughout the war, as German women identified with the gender transformation during war time, as well, seeing themselves in the main character, Scarlett O’Hara.

As women endured wartime hardships in occupied Germany, Gone With the Wind focused on one woman, Scarlett, enduring the female hardships of the Civil War in the United States.  To the women in Germany during the war it brought justifications for newly developed behaviors as women found themselves in new roles and it gave a voice to the struggles faced by women while their men were at war.  As Emily Oliver points out, it is estimated that over 1 million Germans read “Gone with the Wind” between 1937 and 1945.  Cooper draws parallels between the struggles, economic, social and political, of women during both the Civil War and World War II.

Like German women during the War, Scarlett, the heroine of Mitchell's book, was forced to do something women had not been able to do before.  They briefly entered a man's world, fighting for survival, making decisions and viewing the world with a lens of their own.  At home, women faced the war, fought for their land and their former lifestyles.  Scarlett and the hardships she endured rang true in a country struck down by war and financial impossibilities.  Like Scarlett, they believed in their ideals and fought to maintain it as well as defending their homeland.
Occupied Germany, which consisted of around seven million more women than of men, with over three million men killed in the war and over a little more than double as many men in POW camps, likely shared experiences with Scarlett and her beloved home, Tara.  Homes were raided and looted, women were forced to evacuate and faced homelessness, and were subject to rape.  Following these experiences, women (and children) were left to deal with hunger, despair, disease and poverty.  
In “Gone with the Wind”, Scarlett declares “As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again”.  Scarlett resolves to do whatever is necessary to survive with enough food and resources, no matter the lengths she must go to in order to ensure the outcome.  When all her luxuries are destroyed and she is forced to survive on her own, Scarlett doesn’t give up, she becomes more resourceful by growing her own crops, marrying her sister’s boyfriend to obtain cash, and even commits murder.  After being raped, going hungry, and losing her parents and her daughter, Scarlett comes out on top and never gives up.
Cooper says that rations in Germany fell to half, or, in some areas, less than half of an adult’s daily required caloric intake, leaving Germany’s women to farm, barter for food and steal if necessary.  German women were forced into bribery and the black market as well, when between 1946 and 1947, extreme cold left over 60,000 dead from hypothermia and starvation.  Others traded their bodies for shelter, food and warmth, Cooper adds.  With the overall tone of women’s suffering and their ensuing survival, Cooper says that “Gone With the Wind” connected with German women in particular for its underlying story of a defeated South, another losing side in recent history.  
was when Kings became rulers.  Paine refers several times to “bad kings”, “ruffians”, “sin” and calls William the Conqueror a “French bastard” who was actually a “paltry rascally original”.
    During World War I, many different poems were written, each reflecting different emotions as well as different sides on overall views of war.  One, 
was written by John McRae and published in 1915.  Written in response to lives lost in Flanders, Belgium, from battles during World War I, the poem seeks to unite the living with the lost lives of the fallen.  As the fallen lie “in Flander’s Fields”, the writer reminds the reader that they too must pick up the torch and fight on in their stead.  In this poem, poppies have popped up throughout the field, decorating “rows and rows'' of dead soldiers’ graves.  While larks ``bravely” sing above the field, red poppies mark the field in remembrance.  The final stanza speaks to the need for those still alive to take up the torch and carry on, or else the fallen will “never sleep”.  Stationed in Flanders, Belgium at the beginning of the war, one of McRae’s friends was killed in the war and the following day, McRae saw a battlefield marked with lines of graves and rows of poppies.  This was the inspiration for his poem.
    Another poem written during World War I painted a much different view of war than the glorious, hauntingly beautiful images portrayed in “In Flanders Fields”.  


Works Cited
McCrae, Lieut.Col.John D, author. 
. Adam Matthew Digital, 2011.

Debra Nash-Chambers (2015) 
Memorializing Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae Civic Commemoration and the 100th Anniversary of “In Flanders Fields”," Canadian Military History: Vol. 24: Iss. 1, Article 12.
Oliver, Emily. “‘Heaven Help the Yankees if They Capture You’”: Women Reading Gone with the Wind in Occupied Germany.” 
, vol. 71, no. 2, Apr. 2018, pp. 193–214.
 RAWLINSON, KERRY. “In Flanders’ Shadow (with In Flanders Fields by Lt. Col. John Mcrae).” 
, vol. 26, Jan. 2014, pp. 1–2. 
Stephen Benz. “The Poet as Rhetor: A Reading of Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est.’” 
, vol. 41, no. 3, Apr. 2018, pp. 1–17. 
, doi:10.2979/jmodelite.41.3.01.

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