Gone With the Wind

Summary of Gone With the Wind

Set in the spring of 1861, Margaret Mitchell’s timeless classic Gone With the Wind follows the life and love of the beautiful Southern belle, Scarlett O’Hara. Scarlett lives on a large Georgian plantation and is admired by many. Despite her lengthy list of potential suitors, Scarlett wishes to be wed to a gentleman by the name of Ashely Wilkes. As it turns out, however, Ashley is betrothed to Melanie Hamilton, a plain and lanky girl from Atlanta.

One day, while attending a barbeque at the plantation owned by Ashley’s family, Scarlett confesses her feelings. Ashley reveals to Scarlett that he also has strong feelings for her, however, he intends to marry Melanie (his cousin) because she has much more in common with him. Dismayed by his revelation, Scarlett slaps Ashley and he leaves the room. Not much time passes before Scarlett realizes that she is not alone. Rhett Butler, the sly but charming traveler, has been looking on the entire time. He applauds Scarlett for her unladylike behaviour.

At the dawn of the Civil War, Charles Hamilton, the boorish brother of Melanie, proposes to Scarlett. Who, despite having her own reservations, agrees to marry him in hopes of hurting Ashley.  The pair are wed two months later. Charles enlists in the army, but soon dies from a measles outbreak, not long after, Scarlett learns that she has fallen pregnant. After the birth of her son, Wade, she becomes uninterested and bored with life.

Feeling alone, she travels to Atlanta to stay with her sister-in-law, Melanie and Melanie’s aunt, Pittypat. The hustle and bustle of the city matches Scarlett’s adventurous personality perfectly, and she begins to cross paths with Rhett. Scarlett is put off by Rhett’s blunt attitude, however, she is also driven by his continual encouragement to rise above her persona as a grieving Southern widow. As the war dredges on, clothing and food become scare in Atlanta.

Scarlett, along with Melanie, begin to fear for the safety of Ashley, who had been captured at the battle of Gettysburg and imprisoned. Soon after, the Yankee army began to invade Atlanta. Scarlett wants nothing more than to return to the little plantation, Tara; however, she had given her word to Ashley that she would not leave Melanie, who was pregnant and about to give birth.

Melanie gave birth to her son, Beau, on the night that the Yankees took over Atlanta and set it ablaze. With the help of Rhett, Scarlett and Melanie are able to escape the burning city. Rhett leads them through the city streets, however, abandons them just outside of the city so that he can join forces with the Confederates. With Scarlett at the helm of a cart, they travel through the night and into the next day and do not stop until they reach Tara. Upon their arrival, Scarlett is horrified to find her mother, Ellen, dead and her father, Gerald, suffering from insanity. The Yankees have destroyed the plantation, and stolen all food and cotton. Having been reduced to scavenging, a famished Scarlett vows that she will never go hungry again.

Scarlett is determined to rebuild her beloved Tara. She kills a Yankee thief, and calms a fire set by a soldier. Finally the war has ended, and the pair receive word that Ashley has been freed. Soldiers begin to come through Tara, one of whom is a one-legged, homeless Confederate soldier by the name of Will Benteen. Will stays at Tara and helps Scarlett. Soon Will delivers news that Jonas Wilkerson, a former employee of Tara, and now acting government official, has increased taxes with the intent of driving Scarlett and her family off of the land so that he may buy it for himself.

Torn apart by the news, Scarlett rushes to Atlanta, hoping to seduce Rhett and persuade him to give her enough money to pay the taxes. As it turns out, Rhett has come out of the war with immense wealth. Unfortunately, Rhett is in a Yankee prison, and as such, is unable to help Scarlett. While on her travels, Scarlett encounters Frank Kennedy, her sister’s suitor. Frank is now the owner of a general store. With the sole intent of saving Tara, Scarlett betrays her sister and marries Frank, who then pays the tax bill. Scarlett devotes her life to increasing the profitability of Frank’s business.

Once Rhett is able to bribe his way out of jail, he loans Scarlett enough money to purchase a sawmill. Scarlett is well on her way to becoming a business woman. News travels of the death of Gerald, causing Scarlett to return to Tara to attend his funeral. While there, she convinces Ashley and Melanie to move back to Atlanta and take stock in her lumber business. Not long after, she gives birth to Frank’s daughter, Ella.

On her way home from the sawmill one afternoon Scarlett is attacked by a free black man and his white friend. That evening, members of the KKK avenge the attack, and Frank ends up dying. Rhett asks for Scarlett’s hand in marriage, she accepts without hesitation. After an enjoyable honeymoon in New Orleans, the pair return to Atlanta, where Scarlett sets out building a grandeur mansion and enjoying the company of rich Yankees. Scarlett falls pregnant and gives birth to a third child, Bonnie Blue. Rhett spoils the girl and attempts to get back in the good grace of the citizens of Atlanta in hopes of preventing Bonnie from being outcast like her mother had been.

Despite having started on happy terms, the marriage between Rhett and Scarlett begins to sour. Rhett becomes increasingly indifferent towards Scarlett. Scarlett, who is no longer in love with Ashley, seeing him as a close friend, is the subject of an evil rumor. Ashley’s sister, India, witnesses the pair embraced in a platonic hug and beings to tell people that the two are involved in an affair. Much to Scarlett’s surprise, Melanie refuses to believe that the rumors are true.

Years later, Bonnie dies after falling from a horse. The death of his beloved daughter drives Rhett to the brink of madness. His marriage to Scarlett suffers even further. After Bonnie’s funeral, Melanie falls ill and suffers a miscarriage. Seeing death in her future, Melanie pleads with Scarlett to look after Ashley and their child. This brings Scarlett to the sobering realization the she loves Melanie, and the Ashley will never be more than a fantasy. Scarlett is in love with Rhett. After the death of Melanie, Scarlett hurries to tell Rhett how she feels, however, Rhett does not feel the same. He abandons Scarlett, leaving her to grieve alone. Scarlett is determined to return to Tara to see her childhood nurse, and slave, Mammy, and to conceive a way to bring Rhett back.

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Character Analysis

Scarleet O’Hara: Scarlett, a beautiful and refined Southern belle, was raised at Tara before the start of the Civil War. Scarlett is described as selfish, vain and shrewd. Similar to her father, Gerald, she is strong-willed. However, she is desperate to please her mother, Ellen. Scarlett has many potential suitors, however, she pines for the attention of Southern gentleman Ashley, and the charming, new-aged Rhett Butler. This paralleled desire speaks volumes of the struggle of the South to maintain tradition, while surviving a new era.

Rhett Butler: Rhett is the third husband of Scarlett O’Hara. He is charming, dangerous, adventurous and conniving. Rhett was outcast from his home and disowned by his well to do family. He is an opportunist and emerges as one of the wealthiest men in the South after the end of the war. Despite his negative qualities, Rhett turns out to be a loving and caring father, and could even be considered a loving husband. Despite his love for Scarlett, his pride stands in the way of his ability to truly express his love, and is his biggest downfall. Humorous, and often contemptuous, Rhett decries social codes whenever possible. He is representative of a post war society and the proof that the strong survive.

Ashley Wilkes: Ashley is Scarlett’s original desire. He is handsome, charming, and honorable. Raised on Twelve Oaks, a plantation near Tara, Ashley sluffs off Scarlett’s advances through most of the story. At the end of the war, Ashley grows increasingly isolated and depressed, and he expresses regret for not having married Scarlett. Driven by honor and the traditions of the South, Ashley is unable to adjust to the new era. He is representative of strong values and traditions.

Melanie Hamilton: Melanie is the kind and weak wife of Ashley. She is a constant source of jealousy for Scarlett. However, after the two ladies suffer tremendous loss and pain during the Civil War, they bond and become inseparable. Knowing that Melanie’s life is coming to an end, Scarlett comes to the realization that she is her true soul mate, it is her support and friendship that has given her the strength she has needed to overcome everything that she has been through. Similar to her husband, Melanie is the embodiment of values and tradition. However, different from him, she faces the world with tremendous and unwavering inner strength.

Gerald O’Hara: Gerald is Scarlett’s strong-willed father. He is a passionate and loyal Confederate who came to America from Ireland, as a young boy. Gerald has a history of drinking, and shares Scarlett’s selfish ego. He is also the reason that Scarlett has such a deep love for the South and the plantation.

Ellen O’Hara: Scarlett’s mother, and over aristocratic descent. Ellen married Scarlett’s father after her own father forbid her from marrying her cousin. She is refined and compassionate. Scarlett spends most of her life trying to live up to her mother’s ideals. Even after Ellen’s death, Scarlett finds it impossible to meet her expectations.

Mammy: Mammy is a slave. She is Scarlett’s favored childhood nurse, and was also a nurse to Ellen. Mammy is loyal and genuinely cares for Scarlett. She is not afraid to keep her in line, when needed. After the death of Ellen, Mammy becomes Scarlett’s only living reminder of the way of the South.

Frank Kennedy: The weak-willed, but genuine, Frank is the second husband of Scarlett. He was also the beloved suitor of her sister. Frank owned a general store and Scarlett had betrayed her sister in order to woo Frank so that she would be able to pay off the tax debt and save Tara. She uses his wealth to begin to build her empire.

Charles Hamilton: Charles is the brother of Melanie, and the first husband of Scarlett. He is described as boorish and timid, and Scarlett never truly loves him. When he is falling ill and dying at the start of the war, Scarlett is left a widow. Scarlett soon finds that keeping with the role of a widow – wearing all black, and refraining from expressing joy – is not the life she can live.

Aunt Pittypat Hamilton: Pittypat is the aunt of Charles and Melanie. She is described as a flighty old bitty who faints often. Scarlet and Melanie live in the home of Pittypat during most of their time in Atlanta.

Bonnie Blue: Bonnie is the third and final child born to Scarlett. She is the daughter of Rhett, who spoils her with every chance he gets. Rhett is completely devoted to Bonnie, and destroyed by her untimely death.

Suellen O’Hara: The younger sister of Scarlett. She marries Will Benteen after Scarlett betrays her loyalty and marries Frank.

India Wilkes: India is the callous and evil sister of Ashley. In a bid to seek revenge on Scarlett, who stole her boyfriend when they were children, India starts a viscous rumor that Ashley and Scarlett are having an affair.

Pork: The first slave of Scarlett’s father. Pork is loyal to the O’Haras.

Will Benteen: Will is a one-legged soldier of the Confederate who, after the war ends, becomes a permanent resident of Tara and eventually manages the plantation, allowing Scarlett to move back to Atlanta.

Wade Hamilton: Wade is Scarlett’s first born son. His father is Charles Hamilton.

Ella Kennedy: Ella is Scarlett’s second child. Her father is Frank Kennedy.

Themes

The transition from Tradition to New Age in Southern Culture

Gone with the Wind, while considered to be a romance novel, also speaks volumes of the changes that swept the South during the 1860s. It begins in 1861, just prior to the commencement of the Civil War, and ends in 1871 – after the Democrats take back control of Georgia. The characteristics of the South change drastically during that time, Gone with the Wind provides a clear look into the plight of Southern inhabitants and the struggles they encountered throughout the Civil War.

The book starts in pre-war Georgia, a state where tradition and pride are prevalent. Soon the scene shifts to Atlanta, where the people are beginning to realize changes in gender roles and power structures. After losing the war, people that were previously enslaved are freed – forever changing the Southern way of life. Racial conflicts begin to escalate, whites fear blacks, the South despises the North, and the poor aristocrats are resentful to the rich.

Rising up to Adversity

Scarlett O’Hara successfully overcomes the challenges of adversity solely through her own strength and willpower. She is a feminist who relies on no one but herself and manages to survive the war. By her own determination, she rebuilds her beloved Tara and secures her place in in the political regime. Scarlett cares for ailing family members, and proves that overcoming adversity sometimes requires  being ruthless. Scarlett transforms herself into a shrewd businesswoman and stubborn wife. She will do anything to succeed.

The Value of Land

In Chapter 2, Scarlett’s father says “[I]and is the only thing the world that amounts to anything.” At important times throughout the novel, Scarlet recounts that land, especially Tara, is all that means anything to her. After having escaped to Tara during the war, she lies ill in the gardens at Twelve Oaks and says that the earth feels ‘soft like a pillow’ against her face. It is the comfort of the land that gives her the will to continue onward. Scarlett values land over love, in fact, when Ashley refuses Scarlett’s advances, he hands her a chunk of dirt and tells her that she loves the land more than he will ever love her.

Symbols

Rhett Butler: Rhett is symbolic of the uneasy relationship between Old and New South and the North. He is sentimental of tradition (Old), but an opportunist and loose in his morals (New). He also supports the Yankees and sees the benefit of an allegiance with the North.  Since he does not fit into one camp entirely, he is free to make judgment on all three, even those he supports.

Atlanta: Atlanta was burned, nearly to the ground, by the Yankees. It’s rebuild is symbolic of the South’s resilience. Atlanta is distant from Old South, it was engineered to be a hub for the railroad, and became vital to the South during the war. After being rebuilt, it became ‘New South’, inhabited by Northerners and Southerners who supported the reconstruction-era government. It is divided by wealth and poverty.

Important Quotes

“A startling thought this, that a woman could handle business matters as well as or better than a man, a revolutionary thought to Scarlett who had been reared in the tradition that men were omniscient and women none too bright.”

This quote seamlessly describes Scarlett O’Hara’s shock while glancing through the business ledgers that Frank kept in Chapter XXXVI. She believes that she could manage the mill much better than Frank ever did. Even though Scarlett’s character is strong, this quote is the only passage that expresses the concept of gender equality.

“My dear, I don’t give a damn.”

One of the most used quotes from the novel, this phrase is uttered by Rhett in the final chapter, after Scarlett asks what she is supposed to do when he leaves her. This passage perfectly defines the love-hate relationship that they have had throughout the entire novel, and highlights the charming, but spiteful, character that Rhett had grown to become known as.

“The people who have brains and courage come through and the ones who haven’t are winnowed out.”

These are the words that Ashley says to Scarlett in Chapter XXXI. He recognizes the separation between the Old and New South. He aligns himself much more closely with the traditional values of Old South and feels seemingly out of place in the new era.

Key Facts

Title: Gone with the Wind
Written By: Margaret Mitchell
Type of Writing: Novel
Genre: Romance, historical fiction
Language of publication: English
Time written: 1926 to 1936, Atlanta
First published: 1936, Houghton Mifflin

Narration: The book has an anonymous narrator, and reads in third person. The narrator is omniscient and knows the thoughts, feelings and history of all of the characters. The narrator reflects on upper-class Southern beliefs and the Civil War and slavery.

Takes place in: 1861 to 1870s, Atlanta and Tara

Main Character: Scarlett O’Hara

Primary Conflict: Scarlett continually seeks out love, she attempts to win over Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler, all while trying to adjust to changing life in the South.

The Movie

Gone with the Wind, filmed in 1939, is regarded as one of the greatest romance films of all time. Adapted from the book, the film stars Vivien Leigh, Clarke Gable, Olivia de Havilland and Leslie Howard.

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