In D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, howdoes the film portray the "Old South"?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Griffith's depiction of the "old South" is traditional in that it shows the supposed stability, order, and grandeur of the Southern, pre- Civil War social setting.  The Cameron Estate is one in which slavery is merely a tradition.  This tradition helps to embed a sense of control and order in terms of how Whites and Blacks relate to one another.  Slavery is not seen as a force of dehumanization, but rather something almost patriarchal in which White slaveowners provide structure, guidance, and a firm sense of right and wrong to wayward slaves.  The dignified grandeur of the "Old South" is something that Griffith lauds in the film.  The beauty of the South, the scope of the plantation, and the idea that there is a sense of predictability in that which existed represents one of Griffith's primary motivation.  The fear of "the other" is non- existent in this world of control and power of White Americans.  Such disarray is seen with the advent of the Civil War and the need for the Klan to be heroic in a time where order was subverted, requiring heroism from the Klan to maintain it.  The depiction of the "Old South" is almost tragic to the extent that Griffith makes the argument that the Civil War uprooted and cast aside the structure and sense of antiquity that the "Old South" represented.

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