Gone with the Wind

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Gone with the Wind
Margaret Mitchell

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
For Further Study


Published in 1936, Gone with the Wind became an immediate best-seller, bringing first-time novelist Margaret Mitchell an overwhelming amount of critical and popular attention. Awarded the 1937 Pulitzer Prize, the novel was adapted as a film in 1939—an achievement that won ten Academy Awards. A historical romance set in northern Georgia during the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction years, Gone with the Wind traces the life of Scarlett O'Hara and her relationships with Rhett Butler, and Ashley and Melanie Wilkes. The novel addresses such themes as survival, romantic love, and the societal structuring of gender and class.

Early appraisals of the novel noted its memorable characters and historical accuracy as well as Mitchell's remarkable storytelling ability, though other reviews dismissed the novel as melodramatic and trite. Mitchell drew on her extensive knowledge of Civil War history in order to establish a believable setting for Gone with the Wind, but also spent considerable time fact-checking in the Atlanta Public Library. Biographers and critics have discovered striking similarities between real people in Mitchell's life and characters in the novel, though whether Mitchell intentionally modeled her characters after people she knew is unclear. What remains certain, however, is that her powerful, enduring story of love and survival set in the pre- and postwar South has made Gone with the Wind one of the most popular novels in American history.

Author Biography

Born in 1900, Margaret Mitchell lived her entire life in Atlanta, Georgia, as had her parents and grandparents. Mitchell grew up immersed in family history, listening to the stories of relatives who had survived the Civil War in northern Georgia. Both of her parents were well-versed in Georgian and southern history, and Mitchell's brother edited the Atlantic Historical Bulletin. This strong family interest in history helped Mitchell create a realistic backdrop for her novel Gone with the Wind.

Mitchell began writing as a young girl, often spending hours at a time composing stories and plays. She continued writing through her school years, and received encouragement from English teachers in high school and in college. Her English professor at Smith College considered her quite talented, but Mitchell distrusted her opinion.

In 1919, following the death of her mother, Mitchell dropped out of Smith and moved back to Atlanta to live with her father and brother. Three years later, she married Berrien Kinnard Upshaw, nicknamed "Red," but their stormy marriage ended quickly with an annulment. Mitchell's second marriage was to John Marsh, who had been the best man at her first wedding. At about this time she also started working at the Atlanta Journal as a feature writer. Linda Ludwig, writing in American Women Writers, states that Mitchell soon became known as a "talented and disciplined writer with an imaginative and witty style." After four successful years with the newspaper, Mitchell quit in 1926. She began writing Gone with the Wind that same year after an ankle injury forced her to remain in bed. Mitchell entertained herself during her convalescence by reading library books, but one day, Marsh, who had been bringing her the books, announced that she had exhausted the library's supply of interesting books. If she wanted something to read, he told her, she would simply have to write it herself. So Mitchell, accepting the challenge, sat down at her typewriter and commenced writing what would become the most popular novel in American history.

Mitchell wrote the last chapter of Gone with the Wind first, and thereafter proceeded somewhat chronologically, working steadily for several years. In 1935, a friend arranged for her to meet Harold Latham of Macmillan Publishing Company. Initially reluctant, Mitchell finally gave Latham her manuscript to read, and warned him of its deficiencies. Latham was captivated by the novel and Macmillan published Gone with the Wind in 1936. It was an immediate best-seller, and Mitchell became an overnight celebrity, a role she did not entirely welcome. She was dumbfounded by the book's phenomenal success, maintaining that nothing about it warranted the attention it received. But the public obviously disagreed. Gone with the Wind won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize and was adapted as a film in 1939.

Mitchell never wrote another novel, but spent a considerable amount of time personally answering fan mail. When she died in 1949 after being hit by a car, she was mourned by millions of fans for whom Gone with the Wind had become an American classic.

Plot Summary

Twilight of the Old South

Scarlett O'Hara is the antiheroine of Gone with the Wind, a character who breaks the conventions of a romance novel from the first line of the book—"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it." A spoiled, high-tempered, and strong-willed sixteen-year-old Southern belle, Scarlett is the eldest of three O'Hara daughters who live an idyllic life on a North Georgian plantation called Tara. In the opening scenes, the O'Haras prepare to entertain their neighbors with a barbecue, and Scarlett plots to capture the man she loves—Ashley Wilkes—from her friend, Melanie. However, Ashley rejects her, and Scarlett's nemesis, Rhett Butler, overhears her humiliation. Rhett, a wealthy outcast from high society who "looks like one of the Borgias," is both amused by and interested in Scarlett.

The Civil War

News of the war reaches Tara, and Scarlett's life and the lives of everyone around her are immediately and irrevocably altered. Frustrated by circumstances and rejected by Ashley, she marries Melanie's brother, Charles, stealing him away from India Wilkes. Charles goes to war and dies, like most of the young men who attended the O'Haras' party. Inglorious in Scarlett's eyes, Charles dies from measles, not fighting. The widowed Scarlett grows restless at her plantation home, and relocates to Atlanta, moving in with her sister-in-law Melanie and her Aunt Pitty. Melanie feels great love and respect for Scarlett, but Scarlett is jealous of her and hates her. Scarlett scandalizes Atlanta society with her defiant refusal to mourn her husband appropriately, and in a key scene dances at a charity ball despite the breach of etiquette such an action creates. Rhett is the winning bidder in the "auction" for her next dance, and though still in love with Ashley Wilkes, Scarlett soon comes to enjoy Rhett's company.

Rhett's "shady" activities now include blockade-running, and his outspoken views on both the war and Southern society make him even more of an outsider, albeit a gentlemanly one. Rhett and Scarlett argue incessantly, but he is the only person who really understands her. For the next few years, the condition of the Confederacy grows worse. Union troops begin to draw closer to Atlanta as Melanie is about to deliver a child, so Scarlett refuses to flee the city with the majority of its inhabitants. The city is set on fire and in a highly dramatic sequence, Scarlett is forced to deliver Melanie's baby. After Melanie gives birth, she, Scarlett, and the servants flee with the aid of Rhett.

Scarlett returns to Tara, and learns that the region has been nearly destroyed, along with her family. Her sisters have fallen ill, her father has had a mental collapse, and her mother is dead. The Union army has moved through the area, burning and looting the properties of her neighbors. Tara has been ransacked but left intact. There is no food to be had, and Scarlett searches the grounds of the plantation and the surrounding countryside for something to eat. She does manual labor for the first time, and after her struggle, vows that she will "never go hungry again."


When the war ends, the plantation recovers. Enormous taxes are levied on the property, and Scarlett decides to move to Atlanta to steal her sister's fiancé, Frank Kennedy, whose modest fortune will pay her debts. With the family home and finances secured, Scarlett now becomes an outstanding businesswoman, expanding Frank's sawmill business until it flourishes. On one outing she is harassed by a group of men, which includes some black men. This leads to a Ku Klux Klan response, which Rhett despises. During the attack, Frank is killed, and Scarlett becomes a widow once again.

Next, Scarlett marries Rhett. Their relationship is not a smooth one, but they have a child—Bonnie Blue—whom Rhett adores. Scarlett's ongoing obsession with Ashley begins to frustrate Rhett more and more, climaxing in a dramatic scene in which he forces her to have sex with him. In a deeply ambiguous sequence, this gives Scarlett the only true physical passion that she has ever had, underlining the themes of dependence, enslavement, force, and love that run throughout the novel. Scarlett becomes pregnant again, but loses the baby—another of the bitter disappointments that are growing between Rhett and his wife. Bonnie Blue—beautiful, headstrong, and high-spirited like her mother—is killed when she is thrown from a horse while making a jump that is far too high for her. Rhett is crazed with grief. Stunned, Scarlett retreats into coldness and, having already given birth to a son and a daughter by her two previous marriages, informs Rhett that she wants no more children. She insists that they maintain separate sleeping quarters and their relationship disintegrates.


Melanie dies while giving birth, asking Scarlett to look after her bereft husband. Scarlett finally realizes that Ashley has always loved Melanie, and that she has never loved him—he's just a "child." Rhett is the "man"—the one she's loved all along. The knowledge comes too late. Tired at last of her feelings for Ashley, Rhett leaves her, no longer in love. She begs him to stay, asking him what she will do without him, and he replies with the book's most famous line, "My dear, I don't give a damn." Scarlett watches him go, and gradually gathers her strength. Vowing to go back to Tara and rebuild her life, she swears to get him back. As doubts assail her, she utters the novel's ambiguous closing words—"Tomorrow, I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day."



An ex-convict and former Confederate soldier who is taken in by Melanie.

Will Benteen

A former Confederate soldier, Will Benteen is on his way home from the war when his comrade leaves him at Tara because he's fallen ill with pneumonia. The O'Haras nurse him back to health and to show his gratitude he stays to help rebuild Tara. Although only a small "cracker" farmer, Will soon becomes instrumental in managing Tara. He eventually marries Suellen O'Hara.

Bonnie Butler

The spoiled, but adorable daughter of Scarlett and Rhett Butler. She dies tragically at the age of four when she is thrown from her pony.

Rhett Butler

Rhett Butler meets Scarlett for the first time at the Twelve Oaks plantation party and is immediately attracted to her high-spirited nature, eventually falling in love with her and convincing her to marry him. Tall, dark, and handsome with a hint of scandal about him, he succeeds in angering Scarlett when she discovers he eavesdropped on her impassioned conversation with Ashley at the party. Convinced he is no gentleman, Scarlett rebuffs him when he begins visiting her in Atlanta, but his charming manner and sense of fun usually wins her over. His cynicism and pragmatism concerning the Civil War lead him to become a blockade runner instead of a soldier, an occupation that makes him rich, and supremely attractive to Scarlett. His uncanny ability to read Scarlett completely is a source of constant irritation to her because she can never gain the upper hand with him as she does with other men.

After the death of Scarlett's second husband, she agrees to marry Rhett, though their marriage is not happy. Scarlett's persistent adoration of Ashley gradually wears Rhett down. After she and Ashley are caught embracing at the mill, Rhett, in a jealous, drunken rage, savagely seduces her by sweeping her off her feet and carrying her up to the bedroom—one of the most famous love scenes ever written. By the time Scarlett realizes her true passion is for Rhett and not Ashley, it's too late. Bonnie, the daughter Rhett doted on, is dead, and he has given up on Scarlett. With nothing left to tie him to Atlanta, he announces that he is leaving. Scarlett pleads with Rhett to stay, asking him forlornly what she will ever do without him. His famous, indifferent reply is, "My dear, I don't give a damn."

Cathy Calvert

One of Scarlett's old friends who is forced to marry the Calvert family overseer after her family loses everything.


An O'Hara slave, Dilcey married to Pork and mother of Prissy.

Hugh Elsing

Hugh is Mrs. Elsing's son and the unsuccessful manager of one of Scarlett's mills.

Mrs. Elsing

Friend to Aunt Pittypat, Mrs. Elsing is one of Atlanta society's most upstanding old ladies.

Grandma Fontaine

A shrewd old lady, part of the Fontaine clan, Grandma Fontaine gives Scarlett advice about surviving difficult times.

Johnnie Gallegher

Johnnie is one of Scarlett's mill managers who abuses the workers in order to generate high profits.

Charles Hamilton

Scarlett's first husband and Melanie's brother, Charles dies in the war.

Aunt Pittypat Hamilton

Aunt Pittypat is Charles and Melanie's spinster aunt with whom Scarlett and Melanie stay in Atlanta during the war. She leads a sheltered and pampered life and is incapable of making a decision without the help of her slave, Uncle Peter. Her love of gossip and silly, child-like demeanor make her a constant irritation to Scarlett.

Wade Hamilton

Scarlett and Charles Hamilton's shy son, Wade adores Melanie.

Ella Kennedy

Ella is Scarlett and Frank Kennedy's daughter, a silly girl who takes after Frank.

Frank Kennedy

Frank is initially Suellen's fiance whom Scarlett steals and marries because she needs his money to pay the taxes on Tara. Mild-mannered and old-fashioned, he is shocked by Scarlett's purchase and operation of a lumber mill, which ruins their reputation in Atlanta. He is killed during a Ku Klux Klan raid.


Mammy is one of the O'Hara family house slaves, who initially belonged to Ellen. She helped raise the O'Hara girls, and her protective, mothering nature is sometimes overbearing. Scarlett often rebels against her strict standards for ladylike behavior. She remains loyal to the O'Hara family, staying with them after the war and looking down her nose at what she calls, "trashy free-issue niggers." She comes to Atlanta to live with Scarlett permanently after she marries Frank Kennedy.

Dr. Meade

Dr. Meade is husband to Mrs. Meade. Dr. Meade is unable to help Melanie with the delivery of her baby because he must tend to the soldiers wounded during the siege.

Mrs. Meade

An Atlanta lady who heads a hospital nursing committee for a war hospital, Mrs. Meade recruits Scarlett for her committee.

Mrs. Merriwether

Another upstanding matron of Atlanta and friend to Aunt Pittypat, Mrs. Merriwether goes into business selling homemade pies after the war.

Rene Picard

The colorful, Creole son-in-law of Mrs. Merri-wether, Rene goes into business with her selling pies.

Careen O'Hara

Careen is Scarlett's meek, religious younger sister who is devastated by Brent Tarleton's death in the war. She eventually joins a convent.

Ellen O'Hara

Scarlett's mother, Ellen is a member of the well-known Robillard family of Charleston. Ellen is known throughout the county as a great lady, and Scarlett longs to be like her. She dies from typhoid fever, which she contracts while nursing the Slattery family through it.

Gerald O'Hara

Gerald is Scarlett's Irish-born father. A rough and wild-spirited man with a penchant for liquor, cards, and horseback riding, his brusque manner belies a gentler demeanor. His two greatest loves are his wife, Ellen, and his plantation, Tara. He relies almost completely on Ellen for the management of Tara. After Yankee soldiers destroy Tara almost totally and Ellen dies, he literally loses his mind. Because Gerald is incapable of rational thought, it is Scarlett that must take over the management of Tara after the war. He dies tragically in a riding accident after becoming upset over the Iron Clad Oath.

Scarlett O'Hara

Vain, flirtatious and utterly self-absorbed, Scarlett O'Hara makes an unlikely heroine. Other qualities, such as her courage and perseverance, ameliorate her bad points and make her an entertaining character. Although not particularly perceptive about people, she has a knack for seeing the reality of things, making decisions and following through on them no matter what she has to do. It is Scarlett on whom the whole family relies after the war. Her determination to save Tara becomes almost an obsession with her.

One of the most famous scenes of the novel is when Scarlett goes to Twelve Oaks plantation to look for food. Twelve Oaks has been burned to the ground, and the crops have been destroyed, but there is still food left in the slaves' garden. After digging for radishes, Scarlett makes a promise to herself, "As God is my witness, as God is my witness, the Yankees aren't going to lick me. I'm going to live through this, and when it's over, I'm never going to be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to steal or kill—as God is my witness, I'm never going to be hungry again." This is a turning point for Scarlett, when she gives up all the trappings of the Southern belle and aggressively pursues financial security. Ironically, even though she longs to be a lady like her mother, everything she must do to save Tara makes her anything but a lady in the eyes of Southern society. Furthermore, she falls in love with Ashley because he's a beautiful gentleman and she wants to be his beautiful lady, not because she has anything in common with him. Scarlett goes after the superficial trappings of ladyhood and love, never recognizing the true thing when she sees it, until it's much too late.

Suellen O'Hara

Scarlett's spoiled, older sister, Suellen proves virtually useless in restoring Tara after the war. Her shameless plan to get Gerald to sign the Iron Clad Oath leads to his death.

Uncle Peter

Uncle Peter is Aunt Pittypat's house slave.


Pork is Gerald's slave, whom he won in a poker game. Like Mammy, Pork remains loyal to the O'Hara family after the war, assisting with various tasks, such as hunting, around the plantation.


Prissy is a slave girl who Scarlett takes with her to Atlanta the first time. She and Scarlett deliver Melanie's baby during the siege of Atlanta.

Big Sam

Former field hand at Tara, Big Sam is recruited to fight in the last days of the war. He saves Scarlett from being attacked by a gang of ex-slaves in Atlanta.

Emmie Slattery

A daughter of the poor Slattery family, Emmie marries the O'Hara's overseer, Jonas Wilkerson.

Media Adaptations

  • Gone with the Wind was adapted as a film in 1939, produced by David O. Selznick, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. The film stars Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, and Leslie Howard.

Beatrice Tarleton

Stuart and Brent's mother, Beatrice is known for her hot temper and expert horsemanship.

Brent Tarleton

Twin brothers Brent and Stuart are Scarlett's most ardent suitors. The novel opens with their visit to Scarlett in which they inform her of Ashley's engagement to Melanie. Stuart and Brent are killed in the war.

Stuart Tarleton

Brent's twin brother.

Belle Watling

Belle Watling is the madam of a whorehouse that Rhett Butler frequently visits. He befriends Belle, and subtle references are made to the fact that they had a son together. Together, she and Rhett help protect Ashley and other Ku Klux Klan members from being arrested for a raid on the ex-slaves that attacked Scarlett.

Mrs. Whiting

Another matron of Atlanta, Mrs. Whiting is part of Mrs. Elsing and Mrs. Merriwether's circle of friends.

Jonas Wilkerson

Overseer at Tara, Jonas is dismissed for impregnating Emmie Slattery. He and Emmie later try to buy Tara.

Ashley Wilkes

Ashley is the dreamy, golden-haired gentleman that captures Scarlett's heart. Educated and refined, he is the perfect picture of a Southern gentleman. But unlike Scarlett, he lacks the courage to succeed in the dramatically changed world in which they find themselves after the war. A member of the planter gentility, Ashley has been trained for nothing but the life of a gentleman plantation owner. He can't farm and he proves to be useless as Scarlett's mill manager. He symbolizes a bygone era, and is ruled entirely by his honor. His honor refuses to let him betray the Confederacy to save himself from going to jail during the war. It also prevents him from leaving Melanie for Scarlett, and keeps him from using the unscrupulous business practices that Scarlett employs to make money at her mill.

All of these honorable actions are incomprehensible to Scarlett, who is nothing if not pragmatic, selfish, and bold. Sadly, Ashley feels himself to be a coward. Rhett, who is supremely jealous of Scarlett's affections for him and scornful of his ideology, sums him up this way, "Ashley Wilkes—bah! His breed is of no use of value in an upside-down world like ours. Whenever the world upends, his kind is the first to perish. And why not? They don't deserve to survive because they won't fight—don't know how to fight."

Beau Wilkes

Beau is Melanie and Ashley Wilkes' son.

India Wilkes

Sister to Ashley, India intensely dislikes Scarlett. She catches Scarlett embracing Ashley at the mill along with Archie and Mrs. Elsing.

Melanie Hamilton Wilkes

Melanie becomes Scarlett's sister-in-law after Scarlett marries her brother. Somewhat plain and childlike in appearance, she is generous and kind to everyone, and is regarded as a lady of the first order. Her personality is almost the complete opposite of Scarlett's, although she adores Scarlett. Her inability to believe anything negative about the people she loves causes her to blindly defend Scarlett's scandalous behavior. Scarlett secretly hates her, resenting her marriage to Ashley. Only Scarlett's love for Ashley keeps her on good terms with Melanie, and forces her to stay with Melanie as she delivers her baby, Beau, during the burning of Atlanta.

Melanie's loving nature and humility in the face of her family's financial difficulties after the war make her popular among the upstanding Atlanta ladies who admire her attitude, and they immediately recruit her for their numerous charities and organizations. Her wise and nurturing personality make her the natural choice for people seeking refuge and understanding; she comforts people hurt or rejected by Scarlett, notably Rhett and Wade. Her sharp intelligence about people and her personal strength come into play when she must act quickly to save Ashley from being arrested for his participation in the Ku Klux Klan raid. Taking her cues from Rhett, Melanie ad-libs her way through a brilliant performance designed to elude the police, a performance that Scarlett would never be perceptive enough to carry off. Melanie's death at the end of the novel is a revelation for Scarlett, who realizes that Melanie is the only true friend she's ever had. It is also Melanie, in her final moments before death, who helps Scarlett to see how much Rhett loves her.


Gender and Social Class Structure

The world presented in Gone with the Wind is one defined by rigid gender and social codes of conduct. Clear rules govern the dress, actions, and speech of ladies and gentlemen, and the punishment for transgressions, especially those of a sexual nature, are severe. When Rhett first appears at the Twelve Oaks party, a scandalous rumor circulates about how he is not "received" in his home town of Charleston because he once stayed out all night with a woman and then refused to marry her, damaging both of their reputations permanently. Rhett is not considered a gentleman, a dangerous state, because, as Scarlett explains, "there was no telling what men would do when they weren't gentlemen. There was no standard to judge them by."

Although Scarlett tries to adhere to the social conventions of gender, she feels as constrained by them as Rhett does. When Rhett asks Scarlett to dance at a war fundraiser, she eagerly accepts, shocking Atlanta society by violating the mourning period required for the death of her husband. Later in the novel, after the war is over, Scarlett feels the training she received from her mother in being a lady is virtually useless to her in such changed and difficult circumstances. She succeeds financially in Atlanta by breaking all the rules, shocking society again when she buys and operates a lumber mill without the help of her husband, Frank Kennedy. Numerous references are made to the fact that this behavior "unsexes" her. Soon, like Rhett, she is not "received" by many families, save Melanie and Ashley's. Ironically, even the town whore, Belle Whatling, condemns Scarlett's "unladylike" behavior.

Mitchell illustrates the social class structure with various characters that represent different levels of society. At the very bottom of the white class structure are the Slatterys, the poor neighboring farmers of the O'Hara family, who own no slaves. Even Mammy looks down on them, calling them "white trash." Next up the ladder are the small farmers like Will Benteen, who own a few slaves and are moderately successful, but certainly not rich. At the top of society are the planter gentility with massive plantations and hundreds of slaves like the O'Hara family and their neighbors, the Fontaines, Calverts, Wilkeses, and Tarletons. The Civil War of course, obliterates these distinctions and everyone must make their own way, regardless of family name.

Financial ruin radically alters social class relations. Melanie and Scarlett are devastated when they learn of the engagement of their friend Cathy Calvert to the overseer of the Calvert's plantation, a man who is definitely "beneath" Cathy. Before the war, the O'Hara family never would have associated with Will Benteen, but Scarlett comes to depend on him to help rebuild Tara. Even among the slaves there is a certain hierarchy—house servants are superior to field hands. After the war, when the field slaves have run off and Scarlett asks Pork to go catch a sow that has escaped, he refuses at first saying, "Miss Scarlett, dat a fe'el han's biz-ness. Ah's allus been a house nigger."


Mitchell herself identified survival as the key theme of Gone with the Wind, claiming fascination with the topic of who survives during challenging times and why. In the Reconstruction era following the devastation of the Civil War, Rhett and Scarlett emerge as survivors while Ashley and Melanie flounder. The ability that Rhett and Scarlett both possess to assess circumstances realistically and adjust to the changing times greatly benefits them. One of Scarlett's biggest frustrations with everyone around her is that they persist in living in the past. Rhett is the one exception. A true opportunist, Rhett tells Scarlett early in the novel that there is money to be made both in the construction and destruction of a society. Instead of going off to war, Rhett profits from it by becoming a blockade runner, dealing in gold rather than Confederate currency, and keeping his money in stable European banks until the war is over. And Scarlett, seeing how necessary lumber will be for Atlanta's efforts at rebuilding, profits by buying a lumber mill.

At the opposite extreme are Melanie and Ashley. Ashley attempts to help out at Tara by farming, but proves a dismal failure. As Will Benteen tells Scarlett, "God knows he tries his best but he warn't cut out for farmin' and he knows it as well as I do … It ain't his fault. He just warn't bred for it." Later, as Scarlett's mill manager, his poor business sense and moral objections to using convicts and other unscrupulous business practices make him less financially successful than the manager of Scarlett's other mill. Groomed for life as the gentleman of a large plantation, Ashley is lost in the new South. His wife Melanie also remains faithful to the memory of the old days, loyal to old traditions. She becomes the leader of a group of Atlanta ladies who dedicate themselves to such organiza-tions as the Association for the Beautification of the Graves of Our Glorious Dead and the Sewing Circle for the Widows and Orphans of the Confederacy. These ladies spend most of their time complaining about Reconstruction and nostalgically looking back to antebellum days, activities that the forward-looking Scarlett cannot tolerate.

Romantic Love

The love triangle created between Scarlett, Ashley, and Rhett drives the narrative. For the majority of the novel, Scarlett believes herself to be in love with Ashley, never understanding how fundamentally different they are from each other. Furthermore, she fails to recognize the feelings she has for Rhett. And though Ashley finally admits to loving Scarlett, because of his honor he will not leave Melanie. Scarlett yearns for people to think of her as a great lady; therefore, she never considers the ungentlemanly Rhett Butler as a serious suitor. More importantly, his annoying ability to expertly read her true intentions makes him the one man she can't easily manipulate.

Scarlett's first two husbands fall completely under the spell of her charms, never realizing she doesn't love them. She marries Charles simply to get back at Ashley for marrying Melanie, and steals Frank from her sister Suellen because of his money. When people admit their love for her, Scarlett takes shameful advantage of them. As Rhett says to Scarlett, "You're so brutal to those who love you, Scarlett. You take their love and hold it over their heads like a whip." Rhett falls in love with Scarlett almost immediately, recognizing a kindred spirit in her. But even though the twice-widowed Scarlett finally agrees to marry him, she lets him know that she does not love him. Over time, she becomes aware of the intoxicating effect he has on her, but by the time she realizes that she loves Rhett, he is worn out by her steadfast love for Ashley. At the end of the novel, Scarlett perceives that "had she ever understood Ashley, she would never have loved him; had she ever understood Rhett, she would never have lost him."



Set in the tumultuous years between 1861 and 1873, Gone with the Wind shifts between two main locales: the O'Hara family plantation called Tara, located in the rolling foothills of northern Georgia; and the bustling, young city of Atlanta. The lush, fertile beauty of Tara and its importance to the O'Hara family is explained early in the novel by Scarlett's Irish-born father, Gerald, "Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything … for 'tis the only thing in this world that lasts, and don't you be forgetting it! 'Tis the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for—worth dying for." His words prove true as Southern sons march off to fight in the war a few chapters later to defend the land they love. Tara becomes a symbol of the old South and the lifestyle of the planter gentility, which is destroyed permanently as a result of the Civil War. Ransacked by Yankees at the war's end, Tara is left in ruins and Scarlett struggles to restore it to its former glory.

Topics for Further Study

  • Research the New Deal programs implemented during the Depression era and compare them to programs initiated in the South during the Reconstruction period.
  • Investigate the effect that Northern Carpetbaggers and Southern Scalawags had on Georgian politics and culture.
  • Compare Mitchell's portrayal of slave life with slave narratives and other historical accounts of slavery. Which aspects of Mitchell's depiction of slave life on a plantation are realistic? Which are not?
  • Trace the development and activities of the Ku Klux Klan from their formation to the present day.
  • Imagine you could host a talk show with some of the characters from Gone with the Wind. One topic could be: Can Scarlett get Rhett back and can they salvage their relationship? Who would side with Scarlett? Rhett? Why? Think of two more topics and write three different episodes of the talk show.

In sharp contrast to Tara stands the city of Atlanta, Georgia, a symbol of the new South. Mitchell describes Atlanta as a young, prosperous railroad town, more vital and exciting than the older Southern cities of Charleston and Savannah, which she likens to "aged grandmothers fanning themselves placidly in the sun." Although Sherman's troops set fire to the city in the final days of the war, the citizens of Atlanta waste no time rebuilding. Opportunities abound for new businesses as an interesting mix of Northern Carpetbaggers and Southern Scalawags begin to change the face of the town, and Scarlett aggressively pursues a lumber business of her own. Scarlett and Rhett flourish in the Reconstruction South, while characters such as Melanie and Ashley remain firmly tied to the life and customs of the old days.

Point of View

Although narrated in the third person, it is Scarlett whose thoughts and opinions are explored and revealed to the reader. The straightforward, linear narrative follows the course of Scarlett's life and is interrupted only to provide background information or delve into the personal histories of various characters such as the extended description of Scarlett's parents, Gerald and Ellen, in the opening chapters. Privy to Scarlett's true feelings, readers are made aware of her duplicity and manipulation of other characters. Mitchell's use of irony in several scenes throughout the novel depends upon the reader's ability to understand Scarlett's true motives. At the same time, a certain measure of sympathy for Scarlett can be more easily achieved by allowing the reader to enter her thoughts.

Use of Dialogue

Mitchell's characters come alive on the page through her skillful use of dialogue. The unique speech patterns Mitchell phonetically recreates, such as the slaves' black dialect, Will Benteen's "cracker" English and the Northern Carpetbaggers' accents add authenticity to their personalities. Set expressions such as Scarlett's "Fiddle-dee-dee!" or Gerald's "God's nightgown!" as well as Mammy's scoldings and Ashley and Rhett's propensity to quote are memorable aspects of their individual temperaments. And Rhett's cynical, mocking manner is convincingly developed through his irreverent comments. Most interesting, however, is Mitchell's use of dialogue to set and vary the mood of a scene, such as the final scene between Rhett and Scarlett. Rhett's resignation is conveyed almost entirely through his speech. As he tells Scarlett the reasons for his departure, a range of emotions surface: the tenderness of his past love for her, his grief over Bonnie's death, as well as his jealousy and anger over Scarlett's cruel treatment of him and her stubborn love for Ashley. However, all of these feelings are now tainted with bitter regret.

Use of Irony

Because of Scarlett's blindness to human nature, she lacks true understanding of those around her. This quality, combined with her vanity and selfishness, sets up several ironic situations in Gone with the Wind. The overarching irony of the novel, which propels the narrative, is that Scarlett's infatuation with Ashley prevents her from seeing that Rhett is her true soulmate until it's too late. Closely paralleling this is the fact that Ashley only recognizes the extent of his love for Melanie as she lies dying.

There are many other ironic situations in Gone with the Wind. For instance, the one person for whom Scarlett expends significant effort is Melanie, the same woman she desperately wishes were out of the picture. It's only because of her promise to Ashley that she doesn't abandon Melanie in the hospital to have her baby alone during the siege of Atlanta. And after Scarlett and Ashley are caught in a compromising situation, Melanie refuses to believe the rumors about them and is the one person who doesn't shun Scarlett. In fact, Melanie remains devoted to Scarlett throughout the novel, a fact that is supremely annoying to Scarlett.

The social upheaval created by the aftermath of the Civil War and the Reconstruction period provides another ironic twist in which Tara's former overseer, Jonas Wilkerson and his new wife Emmie Slattery, of the "poor white trash" Slattery family, try to buy Tara. Newly rich from Wilkerson's Scallawag job at the Freedmens' Bureau, they drive up to Tara in a fine carriage and beautiful clothes and offer to buy Tara from the now destitute O'Hara family. The O'Haras can't pay their taxes, but Scarlett throws them off the property, insulted that such low-class types would think they could live at Tara. The irony is heightened by the fact that the O'Haras and other wealthy plantation families tried for years to buy the Slattery property, but the Slatterys were too proud to sell.

Historical Context

The Great Depression and Reconstruction Eras

Although Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind focuses on the Reconstruction years following the Civil War, many of Mitchell's initial read-ers living through the Great Depression could identify with the hardships endured by Scarlett and her family. When all the slaves of Tara run off, and Yankees loot the plantation by burning cotton and stealing valuables, the O'Hara family is left with very little. This experience was one shared by many plantation owners in the South, some of whom also lost their land because they were unable to pay the new taxes. Similarly, many people in the 1930s had lost their jobs, savings, and homes after the stock market crash of 1929.

Economic recovery during the 1930s was slow. Those who were lucky enough to keep their jobs often had to take salary cuts. Like Ashley, Melanie, and their son in Gone with the Wind, many people moved in with relatives, sharing resources to make ends meet. Others were much less fortunate. Many jobless, homeless people traveled across the country in search of work. Some people who had lost their homes were forced to live in shacks, and lines at soup kitchens grew longer every day.

In order to save money, many Depression-era women began sewing their own clothes and preserving homegrown fruits and vegetables rather than buying them. Some enterprising families made extra money by taking in borders, selling home-baked goods, or doing laundry; these home-based businesses were similar to those established by Atlanta families in Gone with the Wind.

The cloud of the Depression began to lift as a result of some of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs. The Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration, and Works Progress Administration created jobs for people and helped stimulate the economy. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration provided the states with money for the needy. Government policies were passed at this time to ensure that such a widespread and devastating depression would not occur again.

Similar relief programs were instituted during the Reconstruction era. The Southern economy, based mostly on agriculture, had trouble recovering. Southerners financially devastated by the war had little money to invest in business or industry, so state officials worked to attract investment money from the North. State governments also offered financial assistance to various industries such as railroads and banks to spur economic growth and employment opportunities.

The Women's Movement

The time period in which Gone with the Wind takes place, 1861 to 1873, was a time in which women had few rights and were not treated as the equals of men. They could not vote and were discouraged from pursuing an advanced education, mainly because they were considered intellectually inferior to men. Women who did attend college were thought by many to be unfeminine and even in danger of damaging their reproductive systems.

Compare & Contrast

  • 1870s: The only proper occupation for women is wife and mother. Only dire financial circum stances force women to work outside the home, and almost none own their own businesses.
    1930s: While it has become more acceptable for women to work, it is definitely not the norm; only 22 percent of women work outside the home and few women own businesses independent of their husbands.
    Today: Nearly 60 percent of women are now employed outside the home and 37 percent of all U.S. businesses are owned by women.
  • 1870s: Although the 14th Amendment guarantees the full citizenship of African Americans, including the right to vote, many Southern whites are appalled by this idea and begin terrorizing or murdering African Americans for exercising their right to vote.
    1930s: In the South, many African Americans are prevented from voting by educational tests they must pass or the poll taxes laws, which require them to pay a tax in order to vote.
    Today: The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s abolished many discriminatory voting practices in the South, and now no legal barriers exist to prevent African Americans from voting.
  • 1870s: Many small farmers and plantation own ers lose their land because they can't pay the new taxes; Reconstruction programs are implemented to stimulate the economy and create jobs by offering financial aid to various industries.
    1930s: Unemployment rates climb to 25 percent by the end of the decade; New Deal programs create employment for people to work on national projects such as highway construction and conservation.
    Today: Unemployment hovers around 5 percent, the United States enjoys a period of tremendous economic growth, and national and state governments push to drastically limit welfare programs.
  • 1870s: A large majority of the population makes its living by farming; in the South the entire economy is based on agriculture, but is beginning to undergo the transformation to a more industrialized economy.
    1930s Only 21 percent of the population works in agriculture; the Depression forces many to seek employment through Federal programs.
    Today: Now in the Information Age, less than 3 percent of the population makes its living by farming.

Particularly in the South, women were viewed as naturally weak and dependent and desperately in need of protection by men. A man's duty was to protect and provide for the women in his life and in exchange, women were expected to be obedient to men. A wife's role was to raise children and manage the home. Women who defied men or otherwise resisted their passive role in society were considered unfeminine and were ostracized. A perfect example of this is depicted in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett is labeled unladylike and is subsequently shunned by Atlanta society for disobeying her husband's wishes and buying and operating her own lumber mill. This contrasts greatly with the respectable and feminine home-based pie-baking business Mrs. Merriwether starts, especially since her father and son-in-law assist with the business. Similarly, Ellen O'Hara's skillful management of Tara is acceptable because it is an extension of home.

By 1936, when Mitchell wrote Gone with the Wind, the Women's Movement had improved some aspects of women's lives, but not all. Many colleges and universities opened their doors to women, though relatively few women enrolled, mainly because society still considered a man's education more important. Some women worked outside the home, but it was not the norm. A major achievement of the Women's Movement had been the Women's Suffrage Amendment. Introduced in 1878, it had finally passed in 1919, and by 1920 it was ratified into law as the 19th Amendment. However, by the 1930s the Women's Movement had fallen into a period of relative inactivity. With the vote granted, many women assumed the need for a Women's Movement had ceased to be important. Many inequalities still existed, but interest in women's rights would not rise again until the 1960s.

Critical Overview

Upon its publication in 1936, Gone with the Wind became an immediate best-seller. Before it even hit the bookstores, it was named as a Book of the Month main selection. In six months it sold a record-breaking one million copies and was well on its way to becoming the best-selling novel in history. To date it has outsold every other book except the Bible. The fervor it created extended to Mitchell herself, who quickly found that she could not leave home without fans begging her for autographs. Newspaper publishers and magazine editors offered her amazing sums for anything she would care to write for them. Hundreds of fan letters arrived at her home each day and her phone rang off the hook. Gone with the Wind was a national phenomenon.

Early reviews of the work spanned a wide range of opinions, but most were favorable. Many critics praised Mitchell for her attention to historical detail, her vivid characterization, and ear for dialogue. She was lauded as a gifted storyteller who held her readers spellbound. Edwin Granberry of the New York Sun compared her talent to that of the great Russian and English panoramic novelists, a comparison that other reviewers would draw as well. Herschell Brickell of the New York Post declared it the best novel written about the Civil War and its aftermath; furthermore, he predicted that Gone with the Wind would find a permanent place in American literature. In contrast, other critics dismissed the book as trite, overly sentimental, and full of cliches. Bernard DeVoto of the Saturday Review of Literature fell into this camp, deriding Gone with the Wind for its cheap sentiments, which he felt falsified true experience. In addition, there were reviewers who found aspects of the novel morally offensive. As Anne Edwards notes in her book, Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell, some reviewers criticized Gone with the Wind for its "condescending portrait of blacks, the glorification of plantation life, and its lack of a political and social point of view."

In 1937, Gone with the Wind was honored twice: first with the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and second with the annual prize for best fiction from the American Bookseller's Association. Following the release of the film in 1939, critical interest in the book virtually ended. Academics have since speculated that because Gone with the Wind was stylistically at odds with the modern literature published at the time and didn't fit easily into any school of literature, it was difficult for critics to assess. In addition, the novel's marketplace success and subsequent status as a pop culture icon has always been problematic, eclipsing everything else about the book for many critics. A resurgence of interest in the book occurred in the 1970s, but little consensus on its literary merit has been reached and criticism on it is still limited.

Mitchell herself admitted to being mystified by the book's mass appeal. Articles discussing the book's popularity appeared with some regularity in newspapers and magazines for a few years. Although several theories were debated, many reviewers attributed the book's success to the fact that Americans living through the Great Depression could readily identify with Scarlett's trials as she overcomes poverty and rebuilds her life in the Reconstruction South. But that seems only part of the book's allure, which continues to sell 250,000 paperback copies in the United States each year. As southern writer Pat Conroy expressed in his preface to the 60th anniversary edition of Gone with the Wind: "[The novel] works because it possesses the inexpressible magic where the art of pure storytelling rises above its ancient use and succeeds in explaining to a whole nation how it came to be this way. There has never been a reader or a writer who could figure out why this happens only to very few books … [Gone with the Wind] allows you to lose yourself in the glorious pleasure of reading itself, when all five senses ignite in the sheer happiness of narrative."


Tabitha McIntosh-Byrd

McIntosh-Byrd is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. In the following essay, she analyzes Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind as an anti-Civil War novel at odds with its wider cultural interpretation.

Gone with the Wind has sold an average of 500,000 copies each year since its publication in 1936. More Americans learn about the Civil War from Mitchell's novel than from any other single author, and even more Americans know the book through the movie that followed three years after its publication. David O. Selznick's 1939 film is still the most viewed movie in the history of cinema. Gone with the Wind holds an indelible place in U.S. culture as the great romanticization of the last days of the antebellum South.

Within this cultural enshrinement, Scarlett's character is collapsed into a broader understanding of Southern culture, becoming both metaphor and metonym of the South itself—the iconographic representation of Southern womanhood for every generation of girls born after 1939. Yet in striking ways, Mitchell's portrait interrogates both historical and contemporary mythologies of the war. Is Scarlett the ideal Southern Belle? Is the antebellum world the textual ideal? Are the Tarleton twins and Ashley the idealized and eulogized Southern Gentlemen whose passage is being mourned? The answers to these three questions are no—a suggestion made consistently and thoroughly throughout Mitchell's novel. In the final analysis, the glorious South of Gone with the Wind is as much and as little "authentic" as Vivien Leigh's Scarlett—a British actress of the 1930s portraying an American woman in the nineteenth century. Its status as a historical novel and its conscious reworking of history for contemporary ends elevates textual theatricality to its most opaque level. Gone with the Wind is acting a part, and in doing so it forces critical reevaluations of the script it is following.

What Do I Read Next?

  • Lay My Burden Down, edited by B. A. Botkin (1945), is a collection of interviews with former slaves, recorded and transcribed by the Federal Writers' Project. Men and women describe their experiences as slaves.
  • A Stillness at Appomatox is Bruce Catton's 1953 history of the Civil War. The final book of his three-volume Army of the Potomac historical series, it won a Pulitzer Prize.
  • The Battle-Ground, by Ellen Glasgow (1902), focuses on two aristocratic families who live on adjoining Virginia plantations during the Civil War era.
  • James McPherson's Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction (1982) traces Civil War events and also examines relevant pre- and postwar issues and activities.
  • Scarlett, Alexandra Ripley's 1991 sequel to Gone with the Wind, continues the story of Scarlett and Rhett.
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), chronicles the mistreatment of a slave named Uncle Tom at the hands of his cruel master, Simon Legree. Stowe wrote the novel, in part, to further the abolitionist cause.

From the first line, it is clear that Gone with the Wind is writing against expectations: its heroine is, "not beautiful, but men seldom realized it." Scarlett O'Hara is not an archetypal romance heroine or Southern belle, and the South that she represents is as paradoxically unattractive yet beguiling as she is. That Scarlett and the South are one and the same entity is an aspect of the novel that has been noted on many occasions. From the time of publication, reviewers and critics have characterized Scarlett as the personification of the acquisitive, mercantile zeitgeist of the New South, and she is clearly identified throughout the novel with Atlanta—that zeitgeist's representative city. At the same time, Scarlett embodies the culmination of the Old—the logical evolution, rather than transformation, of Antebellum into Reconstruction South. Scarlett passes from sanctioned performative gender play—a Judith Butler-esque negotiation of masquerading femininity and gender—to unmasqued businesswoman and schemer. This passage perfectly mirrors the transition of the grandiose antebellum South to the capitalist Reconstruction era: a parallel that reveals the fragile and paradoxical artifice of both Southern womanhood and Southern gentility. Like Selznick's famous torching of the old Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) sets to create the scene in which Atlanta burns, Scarlett's story tracks the conflagration of false fronts, and tromp l'oeil.

From the beginning of the text, Scarlett is both constrained by and in rebellion against the conventions of her society. As a child she can ride and climb as well as her male contemporaries; as a young woman she has become a "proper" young lady, trained to perform by her mother and her Mammy. Her performance is always just that—a self-consciously artificial masque embodying "outward signs" and betokening no "inner grace." Scarlett must "clothe" herself in femininity in the way that she literally clothes herself—a physical and mental distortion of natural form designed to create the illusion of an ideal. In doing so, her character calls into question not just the performative aspect of femininity, but also the performative aspects of a culture that demands such ritualistic self-presentation in order to function.

Scarlett's excellence at pretending to be feminine is the central paradox of the first section of Gone with the Wind. On the one hand, she is an ideal Southern young lady because she behaves exactly as the ideal is required to behave. On the other hand, it is her ability to scheme and "calculate"—both literally and metaphorically—that allows her to act this ideal. In other words, the very aspects of Scarlett's character that enable her to be "ideal" are precisely those attributes that are to be avoided. To "catch" her man she must be duplicitous; to "snare" a good marriage she must be "natural" and "unaffected." This series of irreconcilable paradoxes creates the sixteen-year-old heroine of the opening scenes, a girl who has learned to use the attributes of womanhood to further her "predatory" designs on men. Tellingly, mathematics is the only subject in which Scarlett has ever excelled—"calculating."

Scarlett's reaction to this endlessly self-generating cultural demand for calculated performance is not a positive one. It frustrates her, and over the course of the novel she becomes less and less willing to enact the required facades. Fundamentally, such facades are shown to be not only foolish, but also actively harmful. As her Mammy scolds her into remembering, in order to catch her man Scarlett must become completely "unnatural"—denying her actual hunger in the interests of seeming like a delicate young lady. In the complex exchange culture of Southern gender, Scarlett must deny her physical reality in order to create a consciously false, quasi-Platonic Ideal of reality. The effort is exhausting and, more importantly, tends to the inevitable collapse of the Ideal. "Reality" cannot be denied. As Scarlett says, "I'm tired of everlastingly being unnatural and never doing anything I want to do." In an ironic foreshadowing of later events, this scene looks forward to the devastated Tara in which food is perilously scarce. Scarlett, like her culture, will experience a shift from feigned appetite to actual famine—from performance to reality—in one horribly ironic sequence. Reconstruction will depend on subduing all efforts to the goal of meeting the needs of bodies that had always been denied, ignored, and disguised. When Scarlett vows she'll "never go hungry again," the Southern lady disappears forever.

Scarlett's tendency to break the fourth wall of femininity shifts in meaning as the novel progresses. As the war forces a slow but total collapse of the old culture, so Scarlett's breaches of ritual become more and more essential to the survival of those around her. Melanie, the novel's true "ideal" lady, is able to easily shift her private self-sacrifice to a public self-sacrifice for the sacred Confederacy. While there is no real danger—and while the possibility of defeat is still safely in the North—the cultural goals that she embodies remain intact. Scarlett, who becomes a nurse simply because, "she didn't know how to get out of it," is the subject of outrage, preoccupied with her own aims and indifferent to the demands of Atlanta culture. The disintegration of the Confederacy and the arrival of war in Atlanta overturn the meaning of both the conventions she has ignored and the characteristics she refuses to hide. As Dr. Meade announces, "This is war time. We can't think of the proprieties now."

The currency has changed, and Melanie's "value" is debased entirely. Like the Confederate bonds in which the families have invested, old and privileged behaviors have no exchange value or functional meaning anymore. Significantly, Melanie is struggling in labor while Atlanta burns and Scarlett searches for help. Like her culture, she is unable to "reproduce" naturally—transmuting from a cherished ideal of weakness to a sickly liability during the course of the fire. The product of the cousin-marrying-cousin union of Ashley and Melanie, lady and gentleman par excellence, is unable to come into the world without the New South, Scarlett, who delivers the baby herself. From this point onwards, the traits that Ellen and Mammy have struggled to repress in Scarlett become the basis for her survival, and for the salvation of those who surround her. Melanie's world is too weak to survive into another generation without Scarlett, and reliance on Scarlett means accepting what Scarlett stands for, which in turn means accepting self-destruction. As Ashley says, it's the Gotter-dammurung—the Twilight of the Gods—below the Mason-Dixon line.

The notion that Scarlett represents a critique of both Southern womanhood and manhood is suggested throughout Gone with the Wind. The gradual emergence of performative masculine gender behavior in Scarlett acts as a significant indicator of her character progression, from the little girl who was good at calculations, to the fully grown businesswoman who is better at calculating and dealing then the men who surround her. At the beginning of the novel, Scarlett is still engaged in the enactment of gender performance, and wishes she "was a man." While the Confederate cause was still glorious and while her culture remained ideal, Scarlett's yearning to psychically "cross-dress" is no more than appropriate cultural behavior—an extension of the ritualistic performance of femininity into which she is forced. By the end of the war she has begun to behave like a "real" man: now "her reactions were all masculine," and she "talked and acted like a man." Becoming almost a "garçon manqué," she wins a reputation for bravery among the ladies of Atlanta to the extent that Aunt Pitty and Melanie are willing to stay without a man if Scarlett is there. When Atlanta burns, Scarlett's role shifts between various masculine states, allowing her to become first a general in retreat, and then Tara's patriarch. The "real" patriarch is mad—both literally and metaphorically—and Scarlett becomes the family's provider and protector.

Scarlett's behavior throughout the Reconstruction period acts as a greater and greater critique of Southern gender assumptions than had her previous violations of convention. Having been the gallant savior of both Melanie and her surviving family, Scarlett now becomes a businesswoman. In the representation of this transformation lies a powerful reversal of entrenched masculine honor. First and foremost, Scarlett's "masculinity" shows itself to be based in acquisitiveness. She dedicates herself to amassing wealth at any human cost, orchestrating her marriages and trampling the affections of those around her to that end. Human relationships are reduced to financial transactions and calculations as Scarlett steals her sister's only beau, Frank Kennedy, for his money, offers her body to Rhett in exchange for money, and uses exploited convict labor to increase her profits. Laying bare the economic underpinnings of the old order, Scarlett justifies her actions with the comment: "You can't be a lady without money." Both the genteel femininity and protective masculinity of the antebellum South rested on assumptions of wealth and privilege. By laying these connections bare, Scarlett destroys their sum product. The New South that Scarlett represents is merely the Old South with its masque removed.

The idealized young gentlemen of the South—the Ashleys—have disappeared to battle, "gone with the wind" of "flamboyant patriotism" that made the war possible. By the novel's conclusion their glory has been debased and deflated, until they are, as Scarlett realizes, just "children." The benevolent white patriarchs are equally destroyed, reduced—like Gerald O'Hara—to madness and despair. Again, this is not a true transformation, but a breach of the facade—a revelation of reality. As the narrator says, the Old South was a "happy feminine conspiracy." Privilege rested with men, but power lay in the unspoken "conspiracy" of white Southern women. At Tara in the days before the war, "only one voice was obeyed on the plantation"—Ellen O'Hara's. The reality of gender and power remained hidden from Gerald, since "everyone from Ellen down to the stupidest field hand was in a tacit and kindly conspiracy to keep him believing his word was law." Gerald retains the performative aspects of masculine authority by tacitly accepting the condescension of his family and his slaves. Scarlett's masculinity and her naked ambition, calculation, and power shatter the illusion of the old patriarchy forever. Too "masculine" to be "feminine," and too "feminine" to be "masculine," Scarlett not only pulls down the structure of gender expectations and behavior, but also destroys the culture of which it was a product. The Scarlett who emerges from the war is the avatar of de- and Re-construction.

Source: Tabitha McIntosh-Byrd, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 2000.

Joseph R. Millichap

In the essay below, Millichap provides a critical overview of Mitchell's novel and the circumstances around its writing and publication, taking special note of the elements that make the work especially appealing to young adults.

Although Margaret Mitchell did not consider herself a writer for young adults, her single masterpiece, Gone with the Wind, and its blockbuster film version have been perennial favorites of American teenagers, to the point that both are often included in high school and college curriculums. The increased interest of recent years following the fiftieth anniversaries of both the novel (1986) and the film (1989), as well as the publication of an authorized sequel (1992) will surely extend the popularity of Gone with the Wind into the next century. This popular phenomenon proves most interesting as Mitchell's masterwork seems a nineteenth-century book in subject, theme, and style—a twentieth-century reincarnation of the Victorian "triple-decker" romance. Thus the book's remarkable popularity is a combination of tradition and change much like the narrative it relates. In critical terms, it is possible to read Gone with the Wind as a female development novel. At the novel's opening in 1861, Scarlett O'Hara is a sixteen-year-old coquette; when it concludes in 1873 she is a twenty-eight-year-old woman. In the twelve year span of the novel, she experiences Secession, Civil War, and Reconstruction, as well as romance, love, marriage, and motherhood. Scarlett lives through the adolescent trauma of American culture, which is matched by a traumatic personal history as much or more tumultuous. Energized by her own life, Mitchell created one of the most arresting tales of troubled adolescence in American literature and in so doing created a novel which will continue to captivate teenagers and fascinate their teachers well into the next century.

For younger readers, Scarlett O'Hara's development from teenaged girl to mature woman proves as fascinating now as it did when the book was first published in 1936 or when the movie first appeared in 1939. The particular, indeed peculiar energy of the story proceeds from Mitchell's own girlhood, adolescence, and young adult life. During these years she heard the family legends of the Civil War era into which she projected her own development toward womanhood. The novel combines Mitchell's family and personal romances with historical facts to create powerful and popular fiction.

The popular image of Mitchell was as a Southern matron who turned to writing as her contemporaries might cultivate bridge, golf, or gardening. Although descended from old Georgia families and raised in comfortable circumstances, the future author was no simple Southern belle. Her mother's feminist leanings clashed with her father's conservatism, and a young Mitchell became a somewhat willful, rebellious tomboy, given to flights of imaginative fancy and a series of serious, debilitating accidents and illnesses. After the death of her first beloved on the Western Front and of her mother in the influenza epidemic, Mitchell became "a flapper," both living the wild times of the Jazz Age and writing about them in nonfiction. Her first marriage was a disaster, climaxed by spousal rape and scandalous divorce, while her second marriage mirrored her dependent, and sometimes stressful relationships with her father and brother. The writer's social, psychological, and sexual ambiguities found expression in her greatest creation, Scarlett O'Hara, while other people in her life provided models for other characters in Gone with the Wind.

The critical history of Gone with the Wind is contradictory, as might be expected from the writer's conflicted biography. The reaction of reviewers and of general readers was quite positive in 1936, for no one would deny that the novel was a great "read." Even the initial response of the literary community seemed laudatory. Comparisons were made with the great novelists and novels of the nineteenth century, such as [William Makepeace] Thackeray and Vanity Fair, [Leo] Tolstoy and Anna Karenina, and [Gustave] Flaubert and Madame Bovary. In terms of memorable characters, sweeping action, colorful settings, and grand themes the novel was a success. At the same time, qualifying statements about style, sentiment, racism, and melodrama raised legitimate questions about the book's literary status.

Unfortunately, the novel's existence as a cultural artifact subsumed its identity as a literary text and the immense power and popularity of the film version only complicated the situation. Book and film were conflated into a phenomenon of American and later international popular culture. Thus criticism was arrested at the levels of basic appreciation, often in the opposite poles of love and/or hate, and evaluation, again often in bipolar terms of praise and/or scorn. On the popular level the novel was lauded and in the literary world it was defamed.

This critical neglect continued well into the 1960s when reconsiderations of American culture and society elicited new readings of classic texts. Mitchell and her novel were seen as important symbols of American cultural forces. A serious biography in 1965 sparked reconsideration simply by the assumption of Mitchell's importance as a writer. Other reevaluations followed which asserted the literary quality of the work, notably in feminist terms. The critical neglect of the novel thus was explained in terms of the largely male critical establishment, and Mitchell became the subject of articles and dissertations in the 1970s. Finally, in the 1980s, the half-century anniversaries of both novel and film provided new perspectives for critical focus in a number of important critical works, including a definitive biography.

Source: Joseph R. Millichap, "Margaret Mitchell: Overview," in Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers, 1st ed., edited by Laura Standley Berger, St. James Press, 1994.

Malcolm Cowley

Cowley has made several valuable contributions to contemporary letters with his editions of important American authors (Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald), his writings as a literary critic for The New Republic, and, above all, for his chronicles and criticism of modern American literature. Cowley's literary criticism does not attempt a systematic philosophical view of life and art, nor is it representative of a neatly defined school of critical thought, but rather focuses on works—particularly those of "lost generation" writers—that he feels his personal experience has qualified him to explicate and that he considers worthy of public appreciation. The critical approach Cowley follows is undogmatic and is characterized by a willingness to view a work from whatever perspective—social, historical, aesthetic—that the work itself seems to demand for its illumination.

Gone with the Wind is an encyclopedia of the plantation legend. Other novelists by the hundreds have helped to shape this legend, but each of them has presented only part of it. Miss Mitchell repeats it as a whole, with all its episodes and all its characters and all its stage settings—the big white-columned house sleeping under its trees among the cotton fields; the band of faithful retainers, including two that quaintly resemble Aunt Jemima and Old Black Joe; the white-haired massa bathing in mint juleps; the heroine with her seventeen-inch waist and the high-spirited twins who came courting her in the magnolia-colored moonlight, with the darkies singing under the hill—then the War between the States, sir, and the twins riding off on their fiery chargers, and the lovely ladies staying behind to nurse the wounded, and Sherman's march (now the damyankees are looting the mansion and one of them threatens to violate its high-bred mistress, but she clutches the rusty trigger of an old horse pistol and it goes off bang in his ugly face)—then the black days of Reconstruction, the callousness of the Carpetbaggers, the scalawaggishness of the Scalawags, the knightliness of the Ku Klux Klansmen, who frighten Negroes away from the polls, thus making Georgia safe for democracy and virtuous womanhood and Our Gene Talmadge—it is all here, every last bale of cotton and bushel of moonlight, every last full measure of Southern female devotion working its lilywhite fingers uncomplainingly to the lilywhite bone.

But even though the legend is false in part and silly in part and vicious in its general effect on Southern life today, still it retains its appeal to fundamental emotions. Miss Mitchell lends new strength to the legend by telling it as if it had never been told before, and also by mixing a good share of realism with the romance. She writes with a splendid recklessness, blundering into big scenes that a more experienced novelist would hesitate to handle for fear of being compared unfavorably with Dickens or Dostoevsky. Miss Mitchell is afraid of no comparison and no emotion—she makes us weep at a deathbed (and really weep), exult at a sudden rescue and grit our teeth at the crimes of our relatives the damyankees. I would never, never say that she has written a great novel, but in the midst of triteness and sentimentality her book has a simple-minded courage that suggests the great novelists of the past. No wonder it is going like the wind.

Source: Malcolm Cowley, "Going with the Wind," in The New Republic, Vol. LXXXVIII, No. 1137, September 16, 1936, pp. 161-62.


Pat Conroy, Preface of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, Macmillan, 1996.

Anne Edwards, Road to Tara: The Life of Margaret Mitchell, Ticknor and Fields, 1983.

Linda Ludwig, "Margaret Mitchell," American Women Writers, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1981.

For Further Study

Stephen Vincent Benet, "Georgia Marches Through," Saturday Review, July 4, 1936, p. 5.

An early review praising the novel's realism and readability.

James Boatwright, "Totin' de Weery Load," New Republic, September 1, 1973, pp. 29-32.

A review citing moral and political objections to Gone with the Wind.

Finis Farr, Margaret Mitchell of Atlanta, Morrow, 1965. The first definitive biography written on Margaret Mitchell.

Dawon Gaillard, "Gone with the Wind as 'Bildungsroman': or Why Did Rhett Butler Really Leave Scarlett O'Hara?," Georgia Review, Spring, 1974, pp. 9-28.

Gaillard's essay discusses the relationship between gender and culture and argues that Mitchell is criticizing the Southern code of chivalry in Gone with the Wind.

Anne G. Jones, "Tomorrow Is Another Day": The Woman Writer in the South, 1859–1936, Louisiana State University Press, 1981.

Jones's book places Mitchell in the context of a long line of Southern women writers who rebelled against Southern culture and a woman's place within it.

Richard Harwell, Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" Letters, 1936–1949, Macmillan, 1976.

A collection of the letters Mitchell wrote in response to the fan mail she received.

Darden Ashbury Pyron, Recasting: Gone with the Wind in American Culture, University Presses of Florida, 1983.

A collection of critical essays, this book traces critical analysis of Gone with the Wind from its publication to the present.

――――――, Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell, Oxford University Press, 1991.

An in-depth biography that also includes some critical analysis of Gone with the Wind.

Gone With the Wind

views updated Jun 08 2018

Gone With the Wind



Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind is an epic tale of the American Civil War. It is the story of Scarlett O'Hara, the daughter of wealthy Georgian plantation owners, who must overcome incredible adversity during and after the war. As she transforms from a selfish teenage girl into a confident woman, the United States undergoes a similar transformation, changing from a divided nation at war with itself into a unified country striving to heal from the wounds of a protracted battle. This novel has been translated into dozens of languages; it offers a tale that continues to resonate for contemporary readers, describing lovers and would-be lovers caught between Confederate slave-owners and Union abolitionists.

Gone with the Wind focuses on an array of white male characters. These range from enthusiastic young men like the Tarleton twins, who are eager for battle, and the philosophical Ashley who speaks of honor, to the cynical, profiteering Rhett, who insists on confronting others with his contrary and controversial opinions. Along the way, Mitchell also reveals a diverse array of characters including pompous bureaucrats who stay out of the war to give political speeches, veterans who straggle home with psychological wounds from witnessing the unspeakable horrors of war, and entrepreneurs known as "carpetbaggers" who sweep down upon the South to reap huge profits from the land that has been ripped apart.

Gone with the Wind simultaneously demonstrates the ways that women can be caught in the crossfire of war, just as Scarlett and Melanie are caught between the retreating Confederate Army and the victorious Union soldiers of General Sherman as the two women flee from Atlanta to Scarlett's home, Tara. On the home front, Mitchell's female characters face tremendous sacrifices and challenges in supporting the troops and surviving without male protection: they share food and medicine, donate jewelry and other valuables, nurse the wounded, and perform hard labor on plantations and farms.

Like many wartime epics written before and after, Gone with the Wind follows the literary tradition of the Bildungsroman, a novel in which the main character is initiated into maturity. Scarlett, Rhett, Ashley, and Melanie—along with many minor characters—find ways to cope with these challenges and grow in self-understanding, self-reliance, and compassion as the Civil War progresses and the South begins to rebuild. However, the characters' maturation and growth is not all that drives this story; it also follows the development of a nation. Although Scarlett is famous for putting off uncomfortable thoughts until "tomorrow," her remarkable ability to make the immediate choices required for survival becomes a symbol of the nation's radical transformation after the Civil War.

Margaret Mitchell

Margaret Mitchell was born November 8, 1900, in Atlanta. By age sixteen, she had already written a historical romance set in the South Pacific, Lost Laysen, but the Civil War was a natural topic for her first epic. Living in the South, Mitchell was surrounded by Civil War lore and history. Many Southerners were nostalgic for the days before the war and romanticized the fighting that occurred. Mitchell loved Georgia's land and history, although, like Scarlett O'Hara, she scorned the pretensions of polite society. After her mother died in the 1918 flu epidemic, Mitchell left Smith College to assume the responsibilities of managing the family mansion. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal, Mitchell became the first woman in her family to earn a living outside the home.

Writing Gone with the Wind during the Great Depression and the rise of the Nazis, Mitchell drew upon her personal experience as a prosperous fifth-generation Georgian to create the world of Scarlett and her plantation, Tara. She was very concerned about the historical accuracy of her novel, dedicating four years to its writing and an additional five years to editing the manuscript as she checked historical records in the Atlanta Public Library. In 1937, Gone with the Wind won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for the Most Distinguished Novel of the Year.

Mitchell was hit by a taxi while crossing the street on August 11, 1949. She died on August 16.


Part One: Chapters 1-7

Gone with the Wind begins with flirtatious dialogue between sixteen-year-old Scarlett O'Hara and the nineteen-year-old Tarleton twins. Their exchange illustrates the contrasting experiences of Southern men and women, plantation owners, and slaves at the start of the Civil War. Scarlett is sitting on the porch at Tara, the O'Hara plantation in north Georgia, ignoring the field slaves returning for daily rations doled out by her mother. Tired of listening to the twins talk about the impending war and their desire to join the Confederate Army, she tells them, "If you say 'war' just once more, I'll go in the house and shut the door. I've never gotten so tired of any one word in my life as 'war,' unless it's 'secession.'"

Conversely, Scarlett enjoys their gossip about the Wilkes and Hamilton families. She declares "silly" Charles Hamilton to be "an awful sissy." Her mood changes abruptly when the twins divulge Ashley Wilkes's engagement to his cousin Melanie Hamilton, to be announced the following day at the Wilkes's plantation, Twelve Oaks. Ashley and Melanie are rushing to marry because the impending war and Melanie's frail health. Scarlett struggles to hide her intense disappointment. Although she is the most popular belle in the county, Ashley treats Scarlett like a sister, ignoring her seductive manner.

After the twins depart, Scarlett avoids ever-watchful Mammy, the family's nanny and servant, and rushes to meet Gerald (her father) as he returns from a visit to Twelve Oaks. As Scarlett watches, Gerald recklessly jumps a fence on his horse. Scarlett—his favorite daughter—promises to keep his jump a secret from Ellen, Scarlett's mother, who worries that her sixty-year-old husband might fall. Gerald is suspicious of Scarlett's questions about Ashley and warns her against pursuing him. A hardworking Irish immigrant, Gerald sees little value in the Ashley's intellectual abilities and his aristocratic family. Gerald tells Scarlett that land is more important than anything, including romance.

Ellen returns from attending their neighbor, Emmie Slattery, whose illegitimate baby died at birth. Mammy criticizes the Slattery's behavior and their unwillingness to rise above poverty. Ellen leads the nightly rosary recital, while Scarlett works on a plot to elope with Ashley. She also considers the differences between her parents. Although Scarlett has inherited Gerald's ferocious independence, she admires her mother's aristocratic gentility. Gerald and Ellen share a charitable nature. To please Pork, Gerald's first slave, he has just purchased Pork's wife, Dilcey, and daughter, Prissy, from Mr. Wilkes. Ellen insists upon firing Jonas Wilkerson, Tara's landless overseer, because he denied responsibility for fathering Emmie's baby. Gerald reluctantly accepts Ellen's decision, considering himself fortunate to have found such a superior young wife.

At the party at Twelve Oaks, Scarlett finds Rhett Butler staring at her and is intrigued to learn that he recently killed a man in a duel after refusing to marry the man's sister. Scarlett flirts outrageously, attempting to make Ashley jealous. Charles, Melanie's brother, who is promised to Ashley's sister, India, proposes marriage to Scarlett, but she dismisses him. The women retire for an afternoon nap while the men discuss war. Rhett warns that the South is not prepared to win, an opinion that is unpopular with the Confederate patriots in the room, and then excuses himself.

Catching Ashley alone, Scarlett declares her love, which he gently rejects. Scarlett slaps him and he leaves the room. Rhett, who has been hiding in the room, reveals his presence, laughing at Scarlett's behavior. Doubly humiliated, Scarlett returns to the party, which has been interrupted by news of the President's declaration of war. Panicked about the coming war and Ashley's rejection, Scarlett decides to accept Charles's marriage proposal.

Two months after he and Ashley join their troops, Charles dies of measles, an ignoble death that disappoints the pregnant Scarlett. Following tradition, she names her son Wade, in honor of Charles's commanding officer. Scarlett detests the responsibilities of motherhood and widowhood; she leaves Tara to stay with Melanie and Melanie's Aunt Pittypat in Atlanta, secretly hoping to be closer to Ashley.

Part Two: Chapters 8-16

Scarlett and Wade arrive in Atlanta, attended by Prissy. Scarlett is pleased with the fast pace of life in Atlanta and enjoys having inherited Charles's fortune. She abhors working as a hospital volunteer, tending men with gangrene, but cannot refuse this duty, as she is expected to make sacrifices for the Southern cause. She prefers her pleasant work at a fund-raising bazaar. Widows are not allowed to dance, but Scarlett uses the event to rid herself of her unwanted wedding ring by donating it to the hospital fund. Impressed, Melanie donates her own cherished wedding ring. Though she is still angry at Rhett, Scarlett enjoys his teasing and gratefully accepts when he bids one hundred and fifty dollars in gold to dance with her. Disapproving matrons gossip while the couple dances.

The following morning, Pittypat condemns their scandalous breach of decorum until Prissy enters with Melanie's wedding ring (but not Scarlett's). Rhett redeemed it "at ten times its value." This generous act causes Pittypat to change her opinion of Rhett. Gerald arrives to bring his disgraced daughter home, but is sidetracked by a drunken poker game from which Rhett retrieves him. Gerald agrees to let Scarlett stay in Atlanta in return for her promise to conceal this escapade from Ellen. Scarlett secretly reads Ashley's letters to Melanie, relieved that his messages focus upon disillusionment with war rather than passion for Melanie.

The South suffers from shortages of food and supplies, and Rhett profits from blockade-running (i.e., procuring goods like salt that were unavailable in the wartime South). Scarlett wonders if she loves Rhett, who is now a frequent visitor. Despite her sacrifices for the war, Scarlett is happily surrounded by suitors on their way to battlefields. Society matrons lament the "complete moral collapse" of the South as young people forget their manners and rush into marriage. After Rhett offends the Old Guard (the older, more traditional generation) by claiming that the war has more to do with capitalism than glory, Melanie reveals that Ashley shares these views. Amazed, Scarlett concludes, "They both see the same unpleasant truth, but Rhett likes to look it in the face and enrage people by talking about it—and Ashley can hardly bear to face it."

Rhett continues to visit Scarlett, who accepts his gift of a Parisian hat to replace her mourning veil. Melanie accepts a cash donation for the hospital, wrapped in Rhett's handkerchief, donated by the prostitute Belle Watling. Recognizing Rhett's initials, Scarlett angrily tosses the handkerchief into the fire.

Ashley returns for Christmas after the Battle of Gettysburg, at which the Tarleton twins were killed. Finally alone with her beloved, Scarlett listens as Ashley describes the war's brutal realities, which he hides from Melanie. Promising to care for Melanie if Ashley should die, Scarlett kisses him before he rushes away. A few months later, Scarlett hears shocking news: Melanie is pregnant and Ashley has been captured. Rhett confides that Ashley refused to save himself by taking an oath of allegiance and enlisting for Indian service.

Part Three: Chapters 17-30

Sherman marches upon Atlanta in May of 1864. Overwhelmed by wounded soldiers, Scarlett flees the hospital. Rhett escorts her home while Scarlett expresses her terror and worry about her sisters (Suellen and Carreen) and mother, all three sick with typhoid. Nevertheless, Scarlett keeps her promise to Ashley and stays with the pregnant Melanie, who cannot travel. She promises to take Melanie's baby if Melanie dies. The sisters-in-law remain together during a month-long siege. Rhett asks Scarlett to become his mistress and she angrily refuses.

As the Confederate soldiers retreat, Scarlett deliversMelanie's son, Beau. She sends her slave Prissy to obtain Rhett's help in their escape from Atlanta. Rhett steals a horse and wagon and delivers the terrified women and children from the burning city, warning Scarlett that Yankee troops make it too dangerous for her to reach Tara. Proclaiming his love, Rhett kisses Scarlett and then abandons the wagon to join the Confederate army.

Fleeing to Tara with a newborn baby and Melanie weak and close to death, Scarlett "had never felt more acutely tired and sore in all her life," but her relief at reaching home quickly changes to shock. Her mother is dead, her sisters are sick, and her father is senile. Union soldiers have pillaged the plantation, taking everything. Dilcey breastfeeds Beau along with her own baby while Scarlett digs for vegetables in the abandoned slave garden on the ruined Twelve Oaks plantation. Scarlett bullies everyone at Tara into working, frightening Wade, who turns to Melanie for comfort. Scarlett thus manages to control the chaos. She is determined to succeed because

There was no going back and she was going forward. Throughout the South for fifty years there would be bitter-eyed women who looked backward, to dead times, to dead men, evoking memories that hurt and were futile, bearing poverty with bitter pride because they had those memories. But Scarlett was never to look back.

Despite her weakness, Melanie helps hide the murder of a Yankee intruder whom Scarlett kills in self-defense. Melanie's cool self-control as she takes the dead soldier's money earns Scarlett's grudging respect. After she buries the Yankee, Scarlett uses his horse to visit the three generations of Fontaine widows living together without male protection. Grandma Fontaine suggests that Scarlett pick the cotton in Tara's fields for money, to which Scarlett answers, "Me? Pick cotton?… Like a field hand? Like white trash? Like the Slattery women?" Returning home, Scarlett picks cotton throughout the summer; Dilcey is her only helper because the other women are too ill, and, as house slaves, Mammy and Pork refuse to work in the fields. Still, "There was hope now. The war couldn't last forever. She had her little cotton, she had food, she had a horse, she had her small but treasured hoard of money. Yes, the worst was over!"

Melanie earns Scarlett's admiration again by saving Scarlett from a fire lit by Yankees, while the rest of the household hides in the swamp with the animals and food. Although the Yankees pillage Tara, Scarlett convinces them to leave Wade's birthright—his grandfather's sword.

A ravenous troop of Confederate soldiers appears at Christmas. Scarlett provides dinner for them, but conceals her limited supply of food and livestock, acquired during Pork's nightly foraging. Frank Kennedy shares war news, but like Ashley, he hides hideous truths, focusing instead on rebuilding Atlanta and asking Scarlett's permission to marry her sister Suellen. More soldiers straggle home as the war ends and Southerners try to rebuild their lives. Despite her worries about supplies for her own family, Scarlett offers veterans room and board while Mammy provides de-lousing and remedies for their dysentery. Will Benteen, an uneducated farmer whose leg has been amputated, stays behind to rebuild Tara. He falls in love with pious Carreen, who obsessively mourns Brent Tarleton. Will soon becomes a source of consolation to everyone on the plantation, including Scarlett. Pitying Scarlett's love for Ashley, he prevents her from rushing past Melanie to greet Ashley when he arrives at their gate. With Twelve Oaks destroyed, Ashley and Melanie now live at Tara.

Part Four: Chapters 31-47

Unable to pay the exorbitant property taxes on Tara, Scarlett turns to Ashley, who confesses his helplessness, despair, and cowardice. Scarlett begs Ashley to run away with her. Again, Ashley stands on his honor, replying that he can never leave Melanie, "the gentlest of dreams and a part of my dreaming," but will move his family elsewhere. Handing Scarlett a handful of red clay, he reminds her that she still has Tara. Scarlett responds, "You need not go…. I won't have you all starve, simply because I've thrown myself at your head. It will never happen again."

Jonas Wilkerson arrives in a new carriage with Emmie Slattery, the "dirty tow-headed slut whose illegitimate baby Ellen had baptized, Emmie who had given typhoid to Ellen and killed her." Now married and enjoying the rewards of Wilkerson's work for the Freedmen's Bureau, they are eager to buy Tara. Furious at the realization that Wilkerson has schemed to raise her taxes, Scarlett sends them away. Desperate to save Tara, Scarlett plots to seduce Rhett. Lacking suitable dresses, Scarlett and Mammy sew one from her mother's velvet curtains, hoping Rhett will not notice how work has hardened Scarlett's face. Tormented by his awareness of Scarlett's intentions and sacrifices, Ashley says nothing.

Scarlett and Mammy hardly recognize Atlanta when they step from the train. Burnt buildings, freed slaves, and crowds of Yankees overwhelm them as they walk towards Pittypat's house. Scarlett learns that Rhett is in jail "and they may hang him!" However, he has a hidden cache of Confederate dollars. "She had very little feeling about Rhett being hanged. Her need of money was too pressing, too desperate, for her to bother about his ultimate fate."

Scarlett uses her most seductive charms while visiting Rhett, but her calloused hands betray her. Realizing Scarlett's ulterior motives, Rhett refuses her and suggests strategies to get what she wants from another man. Leaving Rhett, Scarlett runs into Frank Kennedy, and listens eagerly as he describes his prosperous new store and potential sawmill. Deciding to steal Frank from Suellen, who would not try to save Tara herself, Scarlett tells him that Suellen has broken their engagement. Frank marries Scarlett within two weeks and pays the taxes. Frank falls ill and Scarlett uses his illness as an opportunity to manage his business and collect debts owed to him. She soon proves to be a shrewd, merciless businesswoman. Embarrassed and confused by her business abilities, Frank wishes that Scarlett would have his child, like a proper wife. She does become pregnant, but persists in running Frank's store and planning to buy a sawmill.

Visiting Scarlett upon his release from jail, Rhett agrees to loan her money to buy the sawmill in her own name, provided that she does not share it with Ashley. Once again, Scarlett scandalizes Atlanta, this time by being the only woman in business, appearing in public while pregnant, and negotiating with the hated Yankees. Ignoring the dangers of racial violence, Scarlett insists on driving alone to the sawmill each day.

Scarlett returns to Tara for her father's funeral. Her sorrow turns to embarrassment when she sees Ashley: "Even in her heartbreak, she shrank from the thought of facing him when she was carrying another man's child." The cause of Gerald's death horrifies her: Suellen had tricked him into signing a Union loyalty oath in exchange for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The senile old man came to his senses before signing, rode away in a fury, and died when his horse threw him as he tried to jump a fence. Will asks Scarlett to forgive Suellen and allow them to be married. Once married, Will and Suellen can live at Tara without disgrace after Carreen enters a convent and Ashley makes plans to move to New York. Scarlett manipulates Ashley and Melanie into moving to Atlanta instead, begging for Ashley's help with the sawmill during her pregnancy. Before returning to Atlanta, Scarlett gives Pork her father's gold watch to thank him for his devotion.

The Old Guard flocks to Ashley and Melanie's humble parlor in their dilapidated Atlanta home. Ashley is a generous but incompetent businessman, and Scarlett must take months away from work because of her pregnancy. Constantly worried about financial security, she uses convict labor, hiring a foreman who lacks Ashley's scruples regarding the mill worker's conditions. Scarlett gives birth to her daughter, Ella Lorena, then returns to work as soon as possible.

Rhett visits Scarlett, complaining that she broke her agreement not to share his business loan with Ashley and hinting that Frank should spend more evenings at home. Unaware of Frank's involvement in the Ku Klux Klan, Scarlett misinterprets Rhett's comments. After Scarlett is attacked while riding through Shantytown, Frank and Ashley join a retaliatory Klan raid in which Frank is killed. With Belle's help, Rhett saves Ashley from being imprisonmened by the Yankees. Melanie thanks Belle, disregarding social rules against speaking with a prostitute. Scarlett stays in her bedroom, blaming herself for Frank's death. Rhett interrupts her drunken remorse and proposes marriage. Disregarding society lady Mrs. Merriwether's rude warnings, Melanie's diplomatic suggestions, and Mammy's loud criticism, Scarlett marries Rhett.

Part Five: Chapters 48-63

On their New Orleans honeymoon, "Rhett kept her too busy to think of Ashley often." Yet, Rhett painfully acknowledges Scarlett's longing for Ashley. Despite Rhett's frustration at Scarlett's "cheating little soul," he comforts her after her nightmares about losing Tara. Rhett promises to build a grand house and give her anything she desires, except support for Ashley.

Former friends snub the couple upon their return to Atlanta, especially after Scarlett invites Republicans to their new mansion. Melanie gently reminds Scarlett of outrages committed by the Yankees. Although Rhett pays the bills for Scarlett's extravagant house and parties, he "jeer[s] at her pretenses" and insults her new friends.

Pregnant again, Scarlett wants an abortion. Rhett threatens to "handcuff [her] to [his] wrist for the next nine months" to prevent it because he does not want to risk Scarlett's life. Suddenly, she realizes the depth of his love. Scarlett gives birth to a girl, Bonnie Blue, adored by both parents. However, Scarlett is so distressed by losing her thin waist that she decides against further pregnancies. At the mill, Scarlett discusses business with Ashley, who admits that he is jealous of Rhett. Returning home, Scarlett tells Rhett that she no longer wants to sleep with him, but immediately regrets her decision after Rhett angrily agrees to stay away from her.

For Bonnie's sake, Rhett embarks on a campaign to win the favor of "every female dragon of the Old Guard." Although Rhett's name had always been linked with "Yankee officers, Scallawags and Republicans," he now contributes to and "ostentatiously vote[s] the Democratic ticket." Still scornful of Scarlett, the Old Guard gradually accepts Rhett, equally impressed by his politics and fatherly devotion to Bonnie and his stepchildren. When Bonnie becomes afraid of the dark, Rhett lets her sleep in his room; when she complains of his whiskey-scented breath, Rhett gives up alcohol.

Melanie asks Scarlett to delay Ashley at work while she prepares his birthday party. Reminiscing about pre-war days, Scarlett cries and Ashley embraces her. As they hug, she realizes, "Ah, it was good to be in his arms, without passion, without tenseness, to be there as a loved friend."

Just then, India and others witness and misinterpret their embrace. Knowing that spiteful India cannot wait to tell Melanie and their friends, Scarlett dreads facing anyone. Archie informs Rhett, who insists that Scarlett attend the party. At first frightened, Scarlett realizes that she does not care about the self-righteous "howling, clawing cats who were jealous of her." She cares only about protecting Melanie. As soon as Scarlett enters, Melanie embraces her warmly, asking Scarlett to help her greet their other guests as a co-hostess.

At home, Scarlett is ashamed that she and Ashley "had both been saved by the indignant squaring of Melanie's thin shoulders and [her] love and outspoken trust." Rhett, drunk and angry, declares his love to Scarlett and carries her to bed. The next morning, she wakes filled with longing for Rhett, who has disappeared. Days later, Rhett tells Scarlett that he has been sleeping at Belle's and plans to take Bonnie on an extended trip.

When Rhett returns three months later, Scarlett eagerly announces her pregnancy. Still jealous, Rhett mocks her, they argue, and she falls down their staircase, losing the baby. Rhett confesses his jealousy and remorse to Melanie. Wanting Rhett's comfort, but afraid to ask, Scarlett goes to Tara with Wade and Ella to recuperate. Rhett convinces Melanie to accept his secret gift of money so that Ashley can buy the mill, and then turns his attention to politics, helping restore the Democrats to power and ending Reconstruction. He indulges Bonnie's every whim, including her love of ponies. Bonnie falls and dies when she misses a jump, dying in the same way that Scarlett remembers her father dying. Rhett locks himself in his room with Bonnie's corpse until Melanie convinces him to allow Bonnie's funeral. Scarlett is lonely, but unable to tell Rhett that she does not blame him for her favorite child's death. She longs for his comfort, but he has turned into a "swarthy sodden stranger disintegrating under her eyes."

Melanie is on her deathbed after a miscarriage, and she asks Scarlett to look after Ashley, but never to let him know that she is doing so. Melanie asks her to be kind to Rhett, who loves her. Speaking with Ashley, Scarlett realizes his innate weakness and inability to love her. Scarlett runs home to Rhett, reliving her old nightmares. Telling Rhett of her true love for him, Scarlett is devastated when he replies that he no longer cares and is leaving her. Heartbroken, Scarlett decides to return to Tara, where she will think about a solution "tomorrow."


Romance of War

Many cultures have a tradition of romanticizing war. Battlefields have long been considered arenas for men (and sometimes women) to showcase their bravery, valor, and strength. In the early days of the Civil War, many men in Gone with the Wind thought of battle with the North as an exciting adventure. The war is rarely mentioned without the words "honor" and "insult" accompanying it. The South saw the North's aggression as an insult to the legitimacy of the Confederacy, and Southerners were willing to fight for their honor and reputation. At the picnic at Twelve Oaks, Ashley says he hopes that there will be no war, even though "we've been insulted and lied to." Elderly Mr. McRae, a veteran of previous wars, tries to convince the men that war is not a romantic adventure but a horrible experience: "You all don't know what war is. You think it's riding a pretty horse and having the girls throw flowers at you and coming home a hero. Well, it ain't." No one wants to listen. They try to quiet him and then usher him out of the room because he is ruining their visions of glory on the battlefield.

The notion that the war would be won and over by Christmas is replaced by the harsh realities of a long, bloody conflict. The romance of fighting is replaced with soldiers and civilians in a grim struggle for survival. As General Sherman marches ever closer to Atlanta, the citizens hold on to their belief in the "invincibility of the troops," but they lose faith in the Confederate general and despair over the increasing number of dead soldiers. Wounded soldiers were not heroes, but "tense, white faces of mangled men waiting for the doctor to get to them." After Ashley returns from the war, he says, "It's a curse—this not wanting to look on naked realities."While he is speaking of himself, he could very well be speaking of the entire South. His willingness to fight for the honor of their cause was not as glorious as he—and millions of Southerners—had imagined it would be: "Fighting is like champagne. It goes to the heads of cowards as quickly as of heroes. Any fool can be brave on a battle field when it's be brave or else be killed."

Most of the characters in Gone with the Wind romanticize the war in some way or another, and each is forced to face his or her romanticized ideal. Ashley and Rhett do so on the battlefields, though Rhett's vision of war is substantially different from Ashley's. Melanie is steadfast in her support of the South, but this is mostly because it is tied to Ashley's well-being as a soldier. When he returns safely, the cause becomes less important than her husband. Scarlett longs for the time before the war, but accepts the reality of postwar Atlanta more quickly than anyone else when she realizes she cannot go back. As the characters let go of their romantic view of war and battle, they are able to move forward in their postwar lives.

War's Effect on Individuals

The Civil War brought many shocking realities to the people who lived through it. Regardless of their antebellum—or pre-Civil War—social status, the war demanded relentless sacrifices from every Southerner. Gone with the Wind illustrates war's power radically transform society and individual lives to such a degree that the previously unimaginable suddenly becomes commonplace.

As the former realities of life in the South shatter violently in the face of war, the characters in Gone with the Wind must adapt to survive. Their experiences change their personalities, beliefs, and resolve. Some unexpectedly become strong, courageous, or determined. Others become cowardly, violent, or weak.

Mitchell presents the once-pampered Scarlett scraping the ground to dig radishes, picking cotton like one of her former field slaves, and swallowing her Confederate pride to negotiate with Yankees. Ashley consistently speaks of honor, but he is not above leaving behind his helpless troops, who are marching barefoot through the snow, to visit his wife for Christmas. Despite his devotion to truth, Ashley admits to Scarlett that he has presented an overly optimistic view of war to prevent Melanie from worrying.

Rhett risks his life to serve as a spy for the same Southerners who had ostracized him. Another character ostracized by Southern society, Belle Watling, does her part for the Confederates by donating the money she has earned as a prostitute. Ashley and Melanie are considered socially acceptable, yet they gratefully accept Rhett and Belle's help to save Ashley's life after his involvement in a Ku Klux Klan raid. Before long, many of the Old Guard also begin to accept Rhett's charity.

Several minor characters undergo similar transformations. For example, Suellen betrays her senile father and his Confederate loyalties by trying to persuade him to sign an oath of Union allegiance in exchange for money. Unable to find a rich husband after the war, Suellen marries Will Benteen, a lowly, disabled farmer she never would have considered years earlier.

Women and War

The women in Gone with the Wind are profoundly affected by the war. Scarlett and Melanie find themselves virtually on the battlefield as they attempt to flee Atlanta ahead of Sherman's army and later as they must contend with Yankees at Tara. However, far from being helpless or weak, the women in this novel are active participants in the cause of Southern independence. They leave behind antebellum expectations of women and forge new definitions of what is feminine in order to survive.

In the beginning of the novel, Scarlett enchants the Tarleton twins with her complaint, "If you say 'war' just once more, I'll go into the house and shut the door." This ploy impresses them because, "War was men's business, not ladies', and they took her attitude as evidence of her femininity." However, after the war and after Scarlett has had to fight to save herself and Tara, she recognizes that the old definition of "lady" has no place in the New South.

During Scarlett's engagement to Frank, she asks "many foolish questions" about his new store, "'just like a woman,' he told himself approvingly." However, these are not just idle questions. Neither the twins nor Frank recognize Scarlett's deliberate strategies to get whatever she wants, whether it be a suitor's rapt attention at a party, a marriage proposal, or an equal share in her husband's business ventures. Later Frank notes that Scarlett "talked and acted like a man. Her voice was brisk and decisive and she made up her mind instantly and with no girlish shilly-shallying."

Before the war, worried mothers like Ellen indulged their daughters' flirtations and shared lessons about feminine wiles: "You must be more gentle, dear, more sedate…. You must not interrupt gentlemen when they are speaking, even if you do think you know more about matters than they do." They did not condone stepping outside the bounds of propriety. After marriage, "No respectable white woman and few negroes ever went outside their homes from the moment they first suspected that they were with child." Once war comes, the social rules that governed women no longer apply and even seem impractical: "This is war time. We can't think of the proprieties now."

In the postwar South, women necessarily assumed new roles: regardless of their prior experience, women were suddenly required to work on farms and plantations, raise funds to support troops, nurse wounded soldiers, and serve as midwives in the absence of male physicians. Wives and daughters could no longer rely on male protection from marauders. Women like the Hamiltons and the O'Hara sisters had to band together whether they liked it or not. After the war, the women were filled with a strength and resolution that was new to them. At Gerald's funeral, an attendee observes that "all that pretty, sweet softness had gone from [Scarlett's] face and that flattering way of looking up at a man, like he knew more than God Almighty, has utterly vanished."

Through her many transformations, Scarlett represents the collapse of tradition and the emergence of the New South. The changes in her life presage the changes in women's roles during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


The Civil War: 1861–65

The Civil War resulted from years of festering animosity between the states, largely for economic reasons. The North depended on wage labor to run its economy, while the South employed slave labor. The northern states were opposed to slavery and sought to outlaw it, a change that the South believed would cripple its economy. In the 1860 election, the anti-slavery Republican party won a majority of seats in the Senate and abolitionist Abraham Lincoln was named president. Afterward, seven southern states seceded, or broke away, from the Union: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. By mid-1861, four more states had left the Union: Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. The states that had seceded formed the Confederate States of America and established a capital in Montgomery, Alabama (later in Richmond, Virginia) under the leadership of Jefferson Davis.

The Civil War began at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Lincoln had left troops at federally owned sites, which included forts. The Confederacy refused to tolerate the presence of Federal troops in their territory and subsequently fired on them in Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Though both sides fired shots, there were no casualties in this battle. It was, however, the instigating event for an all-out war that would last four years.

Attitudes expressed at the Twelve Oaks picnic in Gone with the Wind reflects the South's confidence in its combat skills and resources, and its conviction that the war would be brief. Many linked the war to matters of honor just as Scarlett's father did. At the beginning of the war Gerald says that, "The South should show by arms that she cannot be insulted and that she is not leaving the Union by the Union's kindness but by her own strength!" Many of the men in the novel—including Ashley—share this view, and many men at Twelve Oaks that day agree with Gerald, crying, "'We could lick them in a month'…'Why, one Southerner can lick twenty Yankee's …'They want war; we'll make them sick of war."' Only Rhett seems able to see the reality behind this talk of honor and pride. He points out that the North has all of "the factories, the foundries, the shipyards, the iron and coal mines—all the things we haven't got. Why, all we have is cotton and slaves and arrogance. They'd lick us in a month." Rhett was branded a traitor for daring to speak out against the war.

Four bloody years of fightinng followed Fort Sumter, as Lincoln ordered Federal troops to recapture all the forts in the Confederacy. The war escalated, and battles were fought across the country, including the two Battles of Bull Run (Manassas, Virginia); Antietam (Maryland); Chancellorsville (Virginia); Gettysburg (Pennsylvania); Vicksburg (Mississippi); and Shiloh (Tennessee). Though each side won some battles, the Union ultimately began to gain the upper hand as a result of its access to more resources and supplies. General Sherman's decisive yet brutal march on Atlanta, which captured the city for the Union in September 1864, is depicted in Gone with the Wind.

The war resulted in more than a half million casualties, including many deaths from infectious diseases such as typhoid, tuberculosis, measles, and dysentery. Twenty-three thousand soldiers died in one day at the Battle of Antietam, forty thousand died in the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, and another thirty-four thousand at the two-day Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865. Less than one week later, President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves, became law when it was ratified as the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution on December 6, 1865.

The Reconstruction

After the Civil War, much of the South was decimated. Cities, towns, and farms were left in ruins, morale was low, and the economy had all but collapsed from bearing the costs of the long war and the loss of slave labor. The period of time after the war when the Confederacy was reintegrated into the United States is known as the Reconstruction.

The Reconstruction Act of March 2, 1867, divided the former Confederacy into five military districts, which were governed by U.S. military personnel. Many Northerners went south to participate in governing and rebuilding the South. Southerners, who were not pleased to be under Republican rule, resented these "carpetbaggers," as they were called. People who aligned themselves with the Republicans—or who became Republicans themselves—were known as "scallawags." There is considerable tension and controversy in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett openly makes deals and associates with Republicans. In addition to the Republicans, many Southerners were also resentful of freed slaves who became active in government and commerce. This animosity gave rise to racial tension and the beginnings of the Ku Klux Klan.

As a condition of rejoining the Union, Southern states were required to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Fourteenth Amendment granted civil rights to blacks. The Fifteenth Amendment gave the right to vote to all men, regardless of race. By 1870, all of the states had accepted these amendments and rejoined the Union.

Reconstruction officially ended in 1877, when the South agreed to acknowledge the contested presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in exchange for the North withdrawing troops from the South. The end of Reconstruction is often seen as the end of social and political strides for the freed slaves and African Americans, who were granted many of the same rights as whites during Reconstruction. After the Northern withdrawal, segregation was legally institutionalized, and civil rights were repealed. Blacks were treated as second-class citizens in many places in the South until well into the twentieth century.


David O. Selznick's film adaptation of Gone with the Wind (1939), produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, stars Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Nominated for fourteen Academy Awards, it won nine, including Best Picture and Best Actress. It is available on a restored DVD version through Warner Home Video.

An unabridged audio cassette edition of "Gone with the Wind" was released in October 2001 by Recorded Books.

The Margaret Mitchell House and Museum maintains a website at www.gwtw.org with links to a biography of Margaret Mitchell and the Center for Southern Literature.


Within six months of being published on June 30, 1936, Gone with the Wind sold over one million copies, a staggering feat for a first novel by an unknown writer. New York Times reviewer J. Donald Adams, writing a week after its publication, said that the novel "is beyond a doubt one of the most remarkable first novels produced by an American writer. It is also one of the best." Fellow New York Times reviewer Ralph Thompson agreed in "Books of the Times" that the book was a significant achievement, but argued that the characters speak anachronistically and that it could have benefited from substantial editing. However, he believed that despite the "somewhat absurd plot," the "historical background is the chief virtue of the book … it is the story of the times … that gives Miss Mitchell's work whatever importance may be attached to it."

Some critics complain of Mitchell's tendency to romanticize her antebellum literary portraits and to stereotype African Americans, writing only from the limited perspective of her ancestors who were plantation owners. African American writer Alice Randall wrote a parody of Gone with the Wind called The Wind Done Gone (2001), which retells the same story from the perspective of a slave. Mitchell's estate sued Randall for copyright infringement; in "Wind on Trial" on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Randall's attorney Joe Beck spoke on Randall's behalf, saying "Margaret Mitchell, in her version of the story, pictured the slaves, the African Americans, as essentially cartoons. They're one-dimensional." In Drew Gilpin Faust's essay, "Clutching the Chains that Bind," he writes that Mitchell's inability to look at the South critically renders her "blind to the most fundamental reality of all: that southern civilization rested on the oppression of four million African Americans." Therefore, he writes, the "realities of slavery remain largely and curiously hidden" in Gone with the Wind.

However, modern reviews of the book continue to classify it as a great achievement in literature. Hubert H. McAlexander, in the Gone with the Wind entry in the New Georgia Encyclopedia, calls it "one of the great novels of survival," chronicling the "moral and emotional price … often paid for survival against great odds." In "Everywoman Her Own Historian," the introduction to Blood and Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War, 1861–1937, Sarah E. Gardner writes that Gone with the Wind had "started out as an attempt to tell a distinctly southern story of the war," but it became, through the character of Scarlett, "a remarkably successful effort to tell the national story of war."


Dawson Gaillard

In the following excerpt, Gaillard discusses the influence of war upon Scarlett O'Hara and women in general. As Gaillard explains, the characters of Scarlett O'Hara and Melanie Wilkes represent the conflict between female roles in the Old and New South

The end of the war brings Scarlett to a moment of reflection: "Somewhere, on the long road that wound through those four years, the girl with her sachet and dancing slippers had slipped away and there was left a woman with sharp green eyes, who counted pennies and turned her hands to many menial tasks, a woman to whom nothing was left from the wreckage except the indestructible red earth on which she stood."… Besides the red earth, something else was left: her girlhood image of Ashley Wilkes. The memory of him and his fineness offers to Scarlett a view of herself that mitigates the harsh self-portrait of her post-war nature. It is in Ashley that she can imagine herself the lady her mother was and whom Scarlett wants to emulate—when she has world enough and time. By holding onto her girlhood image of Ashley, she holds onto a world of innocence and childhood long past. However, by the end of the novel, Scarlett has faced herself in her completeness—her harsher characteristics and her idealism. She also learns the difference between childish romantic love and finds that she has loved Rhett all along, as an adult loves, not as a girl loves.

Like many epic heroes, Scarlett is tested. She survives trial by fire and hunger. Unlike these same heroes, she loses. Her stature is not ennobled, but is diminished, by the means that she chooses to accomplish her successes. The author seemed to feel that Scarlett must be punished for something—her punishment is losing her man, the patriarchal grail, in spite of her successful rite de passage. To an audience of the book and the movie, Scarlett's losing Rhett is equivalent to watching Oedipus gouge out his eyes. What has her flaw been and what attitude toward it does the author have? The answer to the second question is buried more carefully than is the answer to the first.

I suggest that there are two temporal perspectives in the novel because of the time in which the novel is set and the time in which the novel was written. On the surface story line, set in the 1800's, is Scarlett's maturation within the context of the time and place in which she lived. At this level, Mitchell could seemingly endorse traditional values which Scarlett violates. But woven into the novel is the time perspective of the 1930's. By ferreting out "a small degree of allegory," we can see what the dual time perspective suggests about the author's attitude. We also have explicit comments in the novel which are possibly forgotten in its huge bulk. Margaret Mitchell could endorse traditional values while simultaneously undermining them in the novel …

Margaret Mitchell's choice to dramatize regional conflicts gave her a broad screen on which to include other conflicts: a social conflict between old and new social forms within the Southern region, then within a particular state, and—psychologically—a conflict of old and new social forms within one individual. What she leaves her audience feeling is nostalgia (what a shame social changes occur to disrupt people's lovely lives) and pride (look how strong people can be in the face of these changes); nostalgia and pride—ingredients of popular, romantic fiction. And there is one other feeling left after we complete the novel—virtuousness, signalled by a noise: "tsk, tsk, Scarlett." The audience feels morally purged; we're clean; we know not to imitate Scarlett in all her ways. And Rhett's leaving feels somehow right to us. Scarlett's ways have shaken the surface foundations of traditional society, but they remain firm.

Margaret Mitchell's novel dramatizes the clash between the old form, the Southern Lady, and its antagonist, the New Woman. On both the surface and the allegorical levels the Southern Lady dies; Scarlett slays the dragon within her; Mitchell slays Melanie. My speculation is that Mitchell wanted to criticize the mythic social mode of behavior that had governed her area of the country and national popular literature, but to criticize without offending her audience (and also without completely admitting to herself what she was doing). As most authors are, Mitchell is divided into all of her characters. But I suggest that she identified strongly with both Melanie and Scarlett. It is Melanie who dies, however. The dynamics are set for the survival of Scarlett from the second paragraph of the novel in which the turbulence and lustiness of life are imaged in her green eyes. On the subsurface of the novel, the author can criticize the old forms with impunity by having her heroine, in the surface drama, receive some punishment for working against the old, accepted forms of social behavior.

Melanie Wilkes is the old order. Like Ashley, she is an anachronism as a result of the disruption of the war. In the main story line the Southern Gentleman as an afficacious norm of behavior is more explicitly rendered as passing away than is the Southern Lady. The audience feels (watching Melanie's becoming the magnetic center of the old world remnants) that the Southern Lady at its mythic best will remain to give soulpower to the society, refinement to counteract a seedy invasion from outside the region. Peering through the curtain of the surface drama, do we find nostalgia or necessity manifested by Melanie's death?

On the surface, the author may seem to feel—and may wring from us—nostalgia. However, just as the dynamics for Scarlett's survival are built into the novel, so are the dynamics for Melanie's decease. Within the context of popular sentimental fictional patterns, Mitchell's choice to do Melanie in is a necessity of audience expectation. The frail woman must die; her death is in the ground rules of the genre. There is something else in the novel, however, not superimposed upon it from outside, something that lessens the tinge of nostalgia that can accompany necessity. In Chapter XL, Grandma Fontaine tells Scarlett, "It's the way your mother would have acted if she'd lived. Melly puts me in mind of your mother when she was young." Melanie is typologically Scarlett's mother; allegorically the parent dies so that the child may grow. At this level, Melanie's death, the death of the old order, is a necessity without grief …

To me it seems that Margaret Mitchell wanted to write a success story, a bildungsroman about a woman who was successful in breaking away from the life of self-effacement her mother had lived, in working counter to the existing patriarchal system as she matures from a young, frivolous girl to a twenty-eight-year-old serious-minded woman. The key is in what one defines as "successful." In the literary tradition of the United States, establishing social and psychological independence was usually achieved by acquiring financial independence. But for a woman financial independence carries with it the danger of negative consequences. Scarlett's aunt voices the accepted mores when she writes to complain that Rhett has informed her of Scarlett's daily visits to her store: "Scarlett, this must stop … Think how your little children will feel when they grow older and realize that you were in trade!"…

[Even] on the surface level of the novel's drama Mitchell suggests that to continue the tradition of the Southern Lady is to encourage hypocrisy and to cripple the society, especially the women. The narrator tells us in the first chapter that Scarlett learned "how to conceal from men a sharp intelligence beneath a face as sweet and bland as a baby's." We are also told that Scarlett's "manners had been imposed upon her by her mother's gentle admonitions and the sterner discipline of her mammy; her eyes were her own."… In the man's world that her mother—and Melanie—knew, dissembling was crucial for survival, socially, psychologically, and financially. Scarlett breaks the rules …

In the final chapter of the novel, Rhett tells Scarlett why his feelings for her have changed: "I wanted you to play, like a child—for you were a child, a brave, frightened, bull-headed child. I think you are still a child. No one but a child could be so headstrong and so insensitive … I like to think that Bonnie was you, a little girl again."… Rhett tells Scarlett this after she admits that her image of Ashley has been a little girl's illusion … In discarding the illusion, the image from the past, Scarlett discards completely her girlhood; she becomes an adult, the point toward which the novel has been moving. And by becoming an adult, Scarlett loses Rhett … Rhett wanted, in other words, to be the master …, the father of the child-woman, allowing her the benevolence of his paternity. The picture of Rhett smiling at coy Scarlett visually freezes the relationship that Rhett wanted to freeze socially.

In the final scene between two adults ("This was the first time he had ever talked to her in this manner, as one human being to another, talked as other people talked, without flippancy, mockery or riddles"), in this final scene, Scarlett matures. The Southern Lady as myth is dead; dead too is she as a viable social pattern of behavior. Times have brought changes that call for new modes of behavior. The female parent, the old order has passed away. Scarlett, the woman, is free to exert her own vital self; she is emancipated. And only completely so after Rhett leaves. What Margaret Mitchell implies—and I am not certain that she was fully conscious of doing so—is that when the woman-wife-child created by the Southern Lady myth awakens to her complete selfhood and matures, the parent-man walks out.

Viewing the novel as containing, and even moving towards, this suggestion should cause us to reconsider our feelings that the surface drama and our traditional expectations force from us: that Rhett's leaving is sad. We should, instead, be pleased. He's got to go as long as he feels that Scarlett should have remained a child. His leaving is not a mark of strength, but of weakness and of blindness, the blindness that tradition has produced.

Recently in The American Scholar … an essay entitled "How a Girl Can Be Smart and Still Be Popular" by Clara Clark concluded by saying that "literature which is still overwhelmingly produced by males, has not been very helpful in providing the young girl with the Bildungsroman that would show her how to combine the compassionate virtues with the expansion of ego-strength that is her due as a human being."… The punishment Scarlett must endure because of her violations of social mores exemplifies the failure to which Clara Clark refers. Margaret Mitchell wanted her heroine to break away from traditional behavior patterns, but could not have her do so unconditionally and compassionately. Be different and be damned!

Source: Dawson Gaillard, "Gone With the Wind as Bildingsroman; or Why Did Rhett Butler Really Leave Scarlett O'Hara?" in Georgia Review, Vol. 28, No. 1, Spring 1974, pp. 9-18.


Adams, J. Donald, Review of Gone with the Wind, New York Times, www.nytimes.com (September 2, 2005), originally published in the New York Times, July 5, 1936, p. BR1.

Faust, Drew Gilpin, "Clutching the Chains that Bind," in Southern Cultures, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1999, pp. 6-13.

Gardner, Sarah E., "Everywoman Her Own Historian," in Blood and Irony: Southern White Women's Narratives of the Civil War, 1861–1937, University of North Carolina Press, uncpress.unc.edu (June 2, 2005), originally published by University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

McAlexander, Hubert H., "Gone with the Wind (Novel)," in the New Georgia Encyclopedia, www.georgiaencyclopedia.org (January 20, 2004).

Mitchell, Margaret, Gone with the Wind, The Macmillan Company, 1936; reprint, Warner Books, 1999.

Thompson, Ralph, "Books of the Times," American Studies Department, University of Virginia, xroads.virginia.edu (June 2, 2005); originally published in the New York Times, June 30, 1936.

"Wind on Trial," Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, www.pbs.org/newshour (May 25, 2001), originally aired on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, PBS, May 25, 2001.

Gone with the Wind

views updated May 23 2018

Gone with the Wind






Margaret Mitchell, a descendant of the southern aristocracy of Atlanta, Georgia, and a former writer for the Atlanta Journal, was author of the 1, 037-page Pulitzer Prizewinning novel Gone with the Wind. The novel represented a culmination of her familys southern history, Atlantas local history, and the Souths reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War.


Depicted through the gaze of the novels protagonist, Gone with the Wind features Scarlett OHara, one of the most popular southern belles in Clayton County, Georgia. Scarlett is a woman with a determined spirit and uncompromising sensibility, willing to do whatever is necessary to survive and to maintain her home, the Tara plantation. In the turbulence of the Civil War, Scarletts love life is entangled when Melanie Hamilton marries the object of Scarletts desire, Ashley Wilkes. Disillusioned, Scarlett marries Melanies brother, Charles, but their marriage is short-lived due to his untimely death as a Confederate soldier. As the war continues, Melanie and Scarlett find themselves caring for wounded soldiers. Attacked by Yankee forces, both women are compelled to flee, Melanie with her newborn baby and Scarlett with her surrogate familyher black servant, Prissyan escape assisted by Rhett Butler, a blockade runner and outcast.

At Tara, Scarlett discovers that her mother died, and the plantation, with only a few faithful slaves, was nearly destroyed. In dire straits for money, Scarlett returns to Atlanta to secure funds from Rhett. Again, in an effort to save the plantation, she marries, this time her sisters fiancé. Exhibiting independence and entrepreneurship, Scarlett purchases and operates a lumber mill; this results in her becoming the victim of an attack and in her husbands death.

Although still maintaining her affection for Ashley, Scarlett reunites with Rhett and is provided with an enormous estate and luxuries. She has Rhetts child, a daughter (her third child, as she had two children in prior marriages), but the daughter is accidentally killed, devastating both Rhett and Scarlett. As the novel ends, Melanie, facing death, entrusts Scarlett with the care of Ashley, but now Scarlett recognizes that her real love is for Rhett. By this time, however, Rhett has lost his affection and respect for Scarlett, demonstrated by his dramatic exit at the novels end.

In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize and becoming a Book of the Month selection, Gone with the Wind sold over one million copies in its first year of publication. Its popularity as a literary work has been debated by a number of critics who attribute Mitchells success to her ability to infuse characters with captivating attributes; or to her ability to reconstruct southern history in an emotional and meaningful way from the perspective of a victim who is also a survivor; or to her ability to convey hope and optimism in the face of despair and defeat; or to its interdisciplinary appeal as a literary work to those interested in the military, in geography, anthropology, psychology, sociology, and in other fields.

Mitchells novel provided a response to the mythical view of the Lost Cause fueled by the defeat of the South in the aftermath of the Civil War and represented by the loss of wealth and power, as Atlanta was reduced to ruins. Despite the wealth formerly achieved from the Souths plantation economy and idealized by its glamorized past, Mitchells work responded to the Lost Cause myth through the assertiveness and aggressiveness of her protagonist, Scarletta character who symbolized that the South could emerge from its past degradation and despair.

In 1936, producer David O. Selznick purchased the screen rights to the novel for some $50, 000at that time one of the largest sums ever paid for a screenplay. The films production was complicated by changes in the director and scriptwriters, searches for appropriate actors, and other problems. Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, was reluctant to accept the role, although he was the publics popular choice. Scarlett OHara, played by British actress Vivien Leigh, won the role despite consideration of a number of widely known American actresses such as Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis. The film cost some $4.25 million and ran well over 3 hours and 40 minutes. Appearing in the novel but not in the film were Scarletts first two children, Rhetts blockade activities and his relationship with Belle Watling, and the Ku Klux Klan.


Gone with the Wind was widely compared with the film Birth of a Nation (1915), based on Thomas Dixons novel The Clansman and produced by D. W. Griffith. Both films were Civil War epics, both were massive productions, both attempted to capitalize on historical facts, and both were regarded as controversial because of their racialized representations. These two films were also similar in sharing a common respect for the dramatization of American history by foregrounding the importance of romance and family. Birth of a Nation was nearly an attempt to embrace and resuscitate the past, while Gone with the Wind acknowledged the past from which it was fleeing and utilized this past as a means to reconstruct a new future and a new identity.

Both films endured censorship difficulties, with Birth of a Nation facing numerous censor boards prior to its exhibition because of its racial politics. Gone with the Wind challenged the Production Codes profanity restrictions with Butlers famous line, Frankly, my dear, I dont give a damn. Birth of a Nation spawned riots in some northern cities and invited protests. Gone with the Wind, in comparison, elicited protests even prior to its completion and raised the ire of black newspapers.


Carlton Moss, an African American dramatist, submitted a letter to Selznick in 1940 that appeared in the Daily Worker. The letter outlined the racial insults committed by Gone with the Wind and suggested that it fabricated the myths that blacks were not concerned with freedom and that they lacked the innate ability to govern themselves. These views were echoed by members of the black press. The New York Amsterdam News described Gone with the Wind as the pus oozing from beneath the scab of a badly healed wound. The Chicago Defender charged that the film glorified slavery and depicted the black male as a grotesque and ravishing beast. The Crisis expressed its objections to the films racial epithets. These offenses were further compounded when black actress Hattie McDaniel was not invited to attend Gone with the Wind s Atlanta premiere in December 1939. In spite of such derision, McDaniel received an Academy Award as best supporting actress for her role as Mammy, becoming the first African American to receive this award.

The mainstream press was much more enamored with the film. The New York Times claimed that while the picture may not have been the greatest motion picture ever made, it was the greatest motion mural seen and the most ambitious film-making venture in Hollywoods history. Other critics noted that the film was extremely well cast and acted with costuming above reproach; the interior sets are first rate; [and] much of the Technicolor photography is beautiful. The films overwhelming reception, coupled with its movie attendance records, was further testament to its appeal and popularity. When Gone with the Wind premiered, some 55 million people reported that they intended to see it. Over one million people traveled to Atlanta for the films premier, which was accompanied by parades and celebrations. Added to these accolades, the film won ten Academy Awards, including an award for best picture.


Gone with the Wind was a powerful force in garnering sympathy for the South in the postbellum period. One critic suggested that even northerners stood to be influenced by this southern mythology to the extent that though the North and South were once divided, northerners were now willing to join southern forces and whistle Dixie. The films impact continues to evolve with subsequent releases. The impact of both the novel and the film is further apparent when the Mitchell estate commissioned Alexandra Ripley to write a sequel to Gone with the Wind, titled Scarlett and published in 1991. This novel was also transformed into a 1994 television miniseries, but it met with much less success. Variety stated that viewers best hope, however, is to try to forget that classic book and film, and approach Scarlett for what it is: an eight-hour bodice-ripper.

Interest in the novel was reignited when Alice Randall published The Wind Done Gone in 2000, described as a parody of Gone with the Wind. Randalls work challenges the views propagated by Gone with the Wind by creating characters antithetical to those in the previous work. The Wind Done Gone provoked controversy, with many critics claiming that Randall infringed on the copyright of the 1936 novel. In a legal dispute to prevent the publication of Randalls work, the court found it to be distinctly different from Gone with the Wind in that it explored the intersection of race and sex and defied the myth of black savagery and primitivism.

Both the novel and the film continue to surface in contemporary discussions and debates, with the film becoming a part of Hollywood legend and the novel becoming an integral part of the American literary canon. Gone with the Wind has solidified its place in American history and cinemacapturing and marking historical moments that deserve to be returned to again and again.

SEE ALSO Birth of a Nation; Confederate States of America; Ku Klux Klan; Plantation; Politics, Southern; Racism; Reconstruction Era (U.S.); Slavery; South, The (USA); U.S. Civil War



Farr, Finis. 1965. Margaret Mitchell of Atlanta. New York: Morrow.

Hanson, Elizabeth I. 1990. Margaret Mitchell. Boston: Twayne.

Harwell, Richard, ed. 1983. Gone with the Wind as Book and Film. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.

Mitchell, Margaret. 1936. Gone with the Wind. New York: Macmillan.

Pyron, Darden Asbury. 1983. Recasting: Gone with the Wind in American Culture. Miami: University Presses of Florida.

Ripley, Alexandra. 1991. Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchells Gone with the Wind. New York: Warner Books.

Young, Elizabeth. 1999. Disarming the Nation: Womens Writing and the American Civil War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Dunagan, Clyde Kelly. 1990. Gone with the Wind. In International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers-1 Films, 2nd ed., ed. Nicholas Thomas and James Vinson, 350352. Chicago and London: St. James Press.


Burks, Ruth Elizabeth. 2004. Gone with the Wind : Black and White in Technicolor. Quarterly Review of Film and Video 21: 5373.

Leff, Leonard J. 1984. David Selznicks Gone with the Wind : The Negro Problem. Georgia Review 38 (1): 146164.

Pyron, Darden Asbury. 1986. Gone with the Wind and the Southern Cultural Awakening. Virginia Quarterly Review 62 (4): 565587.

Reddick, L. D. 1937. Review of Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Journal of Negro History 22 (3): 363366.

Stevens, John D. 1973. The Black Reaction to Gone with the Wind. Journal of Popular Film 2 (4): 366371.

Charlene Regester

Gone with the Wind

views updated Jun 11 2018

Gone with the Wind

by Margaret Mitchell


A novel set in northern Georgia, from 1861 to 1874; published in 1936.


A young Southern woman’s way of life changes drastically because of the Civil War.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place

The Novel in Focus

Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written

For More Information

Born in 1900, Margaret Mitchell grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. More than thirty years before her birth, Atlanta had been burned to the ground by the Union army during the Civil War. It was rebuilt rather quickly, but memories of that era remained deeply etched in the minds of the Mitchells and other Southern families. As a child, the author heard many stories from older relatives who had lived through the Civil War in northern Georgia. Their stories helped her establish a life-like setting for her best-known work, Gone with the Wind.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Takes Place

The antebellum South

Agriculture formed the backbone of the Southern economy before the Civil War. The vast majority of Southern whites were modest farmers who worked small tracts of land with their own labor. Only one percent of Southerners owned large plantations with more than fifty slaves. Even so, this “aristocracy” used their wealth and property to exert a power and influence in Southern society far beyond their numbers.

A large plantation, like Tara in Gone with the Wind, was nearly self-sufficient. It might employ as many as a hundred slaves to carry out a wide variety of duties. The majority of the slaves—males, females, and children—worked in the fields cultivating tobacco, cotton, and other marketable crops. Others were responsible for growing and preparing food for the plantation’s residents to eat, or involved in making clothes for them to wear. Such skilled craftsmen as coopers (barrel-makers), blacksmiths, bricklayers, and carpenters lived on the premises. Inside the Great House, the palatial home of the plantation’s owners, a staff of slaves cooked and kept the rooms clean and waited upon the owners, while also nursing and frequently raising the owners’ children. Slavery, in short, formed the foundation supporting the Southern plantation owners’ way of life before the Civil War.

The culture of the Southern propertied elite

The propertied elite of the antebellum South had a distinct culture, and many of its members believed their way of life to be superior to any other. They prided themselves on what they considered to be their refined and gracious society. Northern “Yankees” were held in disdain. To the Southern elite, it seemed that even the upper classes in the North were always grasping for money, more concerned with rapid economic growth than with a high quality of life. Southerners were happy to be free, or so they told themselves, of such base, materialistic impulses.

The culture of the Southern elite was founded on a value system that revolved around an elaborate code of chivalry. Personal honor, particularly for men, was of the utmost importance, while dishonor, including improper behavior for women, was the ultimate disgrace. No man could passively tolerate an insult without sacrificing his reputation. A man who made disparaging remarks in public about another man, his family, or his property could expect to be challenged to a physical fight, often in the form of a pistol duel. Once challenged, a man could not avoid fighting without appearing to be a coward.


The lives of upper-class Southern women were focused on home and family. When young, their main concern was to find an honorable man from another upper-class family to marry. Young women, like Scarlett in Gone with the Wind, knew that to marry well, it was essential to make themselves as attractive as possible to the opposite sex. As a result, Scarlett tightens her corset to give herself a tiny eighteen-inch waist before parties. In addition, she generally allows the men around her to believe they’re much smarter than she.

Women filled a special role in upper-class Southern society. The code of honor dictated that men take responsibility for protecting their wives, mothers, and daughters from both physical dangers and the harsh realities of life. In the minds of many Southern patriarchs, females were naturally weak, delicate, and dependent beings in need of such protection. This mindset led to certain unwritten rules. For example, society considered it wrong for women to travel alone without male companionship. This is why, in Gone with the Wind, Scarlett is shocked when Rhett Butler leaves her, Melanie, Prissy, and two children to return to Tara from Atlanta by themselves. An “honorable” man would never desert women in the midst of a war. Society also considered it necessary to shelter women from vulgarity. It was ungentlemanly to curse in front of women, or to speak of anything distasteful or disturbing in their presence. A related rule prohibited men from discussing politics with women, since the subject was considered intellectually beyond the understanding of females.

It was understood among the Southern elite that, in exchange for protection, women owed men absolute obedience. Females had an obligation to obey their fathers, husbands, and brothers. Important decisions affecting them, such as the choice of a marriage partner, were ultimately subject to their father’s approval. Once married, women became hostesses to visitors in their home. They were also expected to bear their husbands many children, preferably boys. A woman who was not submissive was generally scorned in Southern society. This is demonstrated in Gone with the Wind, when Scarlett attempts to oversee the running of a sawmill by herself. She does so in an aggressively masculine manner, ignoring the strong disapproval of her husband, Frank Kennedy. Her actions are seen as disgraceful by Kennedy as well as the people of Atlanta. They are scandalized at her disregard for her husband’s wishes and find her involvement in the construction business to be unfeminine.

Despite Southern society’s preference for weak and passive women, there were real-life examples of females who took active roles in the business activities of the time. Many, like Ellen O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, assumed important managerial positions on the plantation. They took responsibility for accounts, the distribution of food and supplies, the health and housing of slaves, and the activities of cooks, seamstresses, and craftsmen.

Blockade runners

In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln ordered that a 3,500-mile blockade be set up along the Southern coast from Virginia to Texas. Any vessel attempting to enter or leave a blockaded port (Wilmington, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; or Galveston, Texas), would, after one warning, be captured and its goods confiscated. Because of this blockade, a dangerous but profitable business sprung up—blockade running. Blockade running was the practice of conducting trade between Confederate and foreign ports, which required the trade ships to elude the Union vessels patrolling off-shore. The practice flourished, especially from 1861 through 1863. Of all the blockaded ports, Wilmington proved the best suited for blockade running because it had two widely separated entryways. A runner could estimate which one was least heavily guarded before dashing toward the port. At New Inlet, the favorite of the two entrances, a vessel could make itself almost invisible by traveling close to the shore.

Some vessels were built especially for blockade running. These vessels had a shallow draft (the amount of vessel below the water line) and could move quickly (at least ten knots). Painted light gray to make their boats as invisible as possible, they used minimal rigging and nonsmoking coal. At first they ran directly from Europe to the American South, but as the blockade tightened, they began to take a safer, less direct route by way of Latin America, especially the Caribbean islands. Using this method, a steamer, usually loaded with luxury goods, such as French wines and silks, but sometimes with rifles and cannons, departed Europe for a foreign port in the Americas, such as Bermuda, Nassau, or Havana. There the cargo was transferred from the steamer to one of the special blockade runners that smuggled the goods to Wilmington or some other Southern port. At the port, the vessel exchanged its goods for cotton, then brought this new cargo back to Nassau, Bermuda, or Havana.

Waiting to make the journey on dark, almost moonless nights, most blockade runners reached their destinations intact. “On the average four out of every six vessels that start to run the blockade succeed, and goods of all kinds are worth ridiculous prices” (Jones, p. 83). Salt worth only $6.50 at Nassau brought $1,700 at Richmond, Virginia. Likewise on the return trip, cotton purchased at $.06 or $.08 a pound at a Southern port brought as much as $1.00 at Nassau or Bermuda. Of course, it was costly to operate a blockade runner. Aside from the expense of the vessel, daring, resourceful captains and pilots had to be paid. The total cost mounted as high as $80,000 a month in 1863. Undaunted, Southern adventurers like Gone With the Wind’s Rhett Butler willingly risked the expense since they stood to more than double their investment in a single round trip.

Civil War and Reconstruction in Georgia

During the Civil War, the state of Georgia was surrounded by a buffer zone of other Confederate states that the Union army attacked first. Insulated from the front lines, Georgia was the site of few battles during the first two years of the war.

In 1863, however, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman entered the state of Georgia after subduing rebel forces in Tennessee. He aimed to capture Atlanta, which was an important center of the South’s railroad network, as well as Georgia’s largest producer of ammunition and army supplies. Sherman’s troops gradually moved closer and closer to Atlanta despite the defensive efforts of the Confederate forces. By July 1864 the two sides were engaged in battle just six miles north of Atlanta, and artillery shells began hitting targets in the city itself. Finally, the Confederates were forced to abandon Atlanta, and its remaining inhabitants fled. On November 15, 1864, Sherman set fire to the city. From there he and his 62,000 men began their famous three-hundred-mile “march to the sea.” They stripped the countryside from Atlanta to Savannah, taking food and anything else of value they could find, burning homes, and destroying railroad lines. On December 22, Savannah was captured. A few months later, in April 1865, Southern forces surrendered, and the war ended.

Most of the South, including Georgia, was left impoverished and desolate. Sherman’s army had destroyed 317 miles of railroad track and $100 million worth of public and private property during its march through the South. Even in areas untouched by the Northern army, years of supporting the war effort through heavy state taxes and numerous contributions of supplies had taken a tremendous toll. Across Georgia, livestock had disappeared, food was in short supply, and buildings sat limply in disrepair. Plantations lost their traditional work force as newly freed slaves left for nearby cities. Thousands of Georgian soldiers had died, or lay wounded or sick, reducing the work force even further. Over five thousand families in Georgia were utterly destitute after the war; they did not even have bread to eat.

The former slaves suddenly had their freedom, but most started out with very little money or property. Faced with obstacles such as racial discrimination, a large number found employment difficult to obtain. Many of the former slaves took up residence in large camps where they lived in terrible conditions, depending on surplus rations provided by the federal government. One such camp outside of Atlanta was home to more than a thousand free blacks.

Most Southern whites were not only poor; they were also bitter about the results of the Civil War. The federal government instituted military rule in Georgia and much of the South. To some extent, this step was taken to ensure that blacks were able to exercise their new right to vote. Meanwhile, white Southerners who refused to take an oath of loyalty to the Union were deprived of their voting rights, an act that prompted further resentment against the federal government

and blacks. Resentment mounted as Northerners known as carpetbaggers (for the bags, made of carpeting, with which they traveled) came south and began to influence Georgia’s state government. A number of white Southerners, called Scalawags (a term otherwise used to describe very small or diseased cattle), willingly collaborated with the Northerners in the government. This Northern-Southern alliance was largely made up of members of the Republican Party, while the traditional white Southerner was a Democrat. Southern Democrats resented these Republican intrusions into their way of life.

With much of the state impoverished and bitter, reconstruction proved to be a difficult process. As one writer noted in 1866, “There seems to be a complete dearth of money all over the South: never were the people of this country in a more destitute condition.... Another such year as the one we have just passed through and this people will be completely ruined” (Conway, p. 103). Government authorities found it necessary to provide relief for distressed Georgians into the 1870s, foreshadowing a role played by the government some sixty years later in the Great Depression of 1929. In fact, a general depression plagued the nation from 1873 to 1879, introducing widespread unemployment to the country for the first time in its history.

The Novel in Focus

The plot

Young Scarlett O’Hara belongs to a wealthy family that owns Tara, a large plantation in pre-Civil War Georgia. Her life, and that of everyone around her, is forever changed one day when war breaks out against the Northern states. At the time, Scarlett is more preoccupied with the fact that the one man she truly loves, Ashley Wilkes, has just announced his engagement to Melanie Hamilton. To provoke Ashley’s jealousy, Scarlett marries Melanie’s shy brother, Charles. Charles soon leaves for war and dies, not heroically in the fighting, but in his tent, from a case of measles.

Scarlett, now a widow, grows bored at Tara and moves to Atlanta to live with her new sister-in-law Melanie and Aunt Pitty. Though the intensely jealous Scarlett hates Melanie, Melanie has only love and admiration for Scarlett and acts extremely kindly to her. Rhett Butler, a man that Scarlett had met while living at Tara, frequently visits the young widow. He is a wealthy, outspoken outcast from fashionable Southern society, as well as a blockade runner. Though they frequently have heated arguments, Scarlett grows to enjoy Rhett’s attentions. Her love for Ashley Wilkes never diminishes, however.

Over a few years, the fortunes of the Confederacy worsen. Northern troops begin to approach Atlanta. Most of its inhabitants flee the city, but Scarlett feels compelled to stay with Melanie, who is expecting a baby. Soon after Melanie gives birth, she, Scarlett, and their servants must hurriedly leave because the city has been set on fire and Union troops are approaching. They make a harrowing escape one night with the aid of Rhett Butler.


The majority of white Southerners refused to accept blacks as equals and were opposed to Northern programs to increase civil rights for blacks. Their opposition gave rise to the Ku Klux Klan, founded in Tennessee in 1866 as a social fraternity. Spreading across the South, the Klan became a vigilante group for whites interested in enforcing their own idea of justice. Members of the organization, which was dominated by some elite Southern whites, used intimidation and violence to prevent blacks from exercising new rights, such as voting. Night raiders would roam the countryside in disguise. Dragging people from homes, they whipped, shot, or otherwise assaulted them, and destroyed their property. Eventually, the federal government intervened in these activities, passing congressional legislation against the Klan, making military arrests, and conducting trials in federal courts. In some states, militia units were organized to break up the Klan. The Ku Klux Klan disintegrated under the force of these attacks in the 1870s, but it came back to life in the next century.

Scarlett encounters more misfortune. She returns to Tara, only to discover that her mother has died, her father has suffered a mental breakdown, and her sisters have fallen ill. In addition, the region has been decimated; the Union army swept through the entire countryside, burning and pillaging the property of her neighbors. They left Tara standing, although they stole just about everything of any value, including food. Scarlett and her family face starvation. The former belle takes on the responsibility for managing the entire household. She scours the plantation and desolated countryside for food and works with her hands for the first time in her life. She vows never to go hungry again, whatever the cost.

The war ends and Tara slowly begins to recover. Before long, however, Scarlett is faced with staggering taxes on the property. She decides to move to Atlanta and plots to steal her sister’s modestly secure fiancé Frank Kennedy, whom she marries in order to gain the money to pay the taxes. She surprises him and the rest of Atlanta with her aggressiveness in business, including the purchase of a sawmill. Scarlett becomes a widow once again when Frank, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, dies in a Yankee raid on a Klan meeting.

Scarlett then marries the wealthy Rhett Butler. They have a tempestuous relationship that leads to the birth of a child who dies tragically in a riding accident, a death that sends Rhett into despair. Scarlett, who already has a son and a daughter, respectively, from her two previous marriages, wants no more children, however. This factor, combined with her continued love for Ashley Wilkes, leads her to insist on separate bedrooms. Her marriage with Rhett deteriorates.

In the final part of the book, Melanie dies in childbirth. Scarlett realizes that although she had thought she hated Melanie, the woman had been one of her few true friends over the past years. She also realizes that she now loves Rhett rather than Ashley. It is too late, however, to regain his love. After years of knowing she preferred Ashley to him, Rhett has finally fallen out of love with her. He leaves her, and the novel ends with Scarlett vowing to win him back.

Images of African Americans

Gone with the Wind focuses on the changing world of Georgia’s white planter elite before, during, and after the Civil War. The changes hinge largely on the roles played by blacks. In Gone with the Wind, the majority of black characters are servants of white masters and mistresses. The most frequently cited characteristic of these black slaves is loyalty to their masters. The slave Mammy, for instance, is described as “devoted to her last drop of blood to the O’Haras” (Mitchell, Gone with the Wind, p. 25). When the slave Pork gets injured attempting to steal a chicken for the impoverished inhabitants of Tara, Scarlett acknowledges his commitment to the plantation: “Negroes were provoking sometimes and stupid and lazy, but there was a loyalty in them that money couldn’t buy” (Gone with the Wind, p. 465). These descriptions illustrate a widespread perception of blacks held by Southern whites during the Civil War era.

White Southerners relied on their black servants to meet the most basic of needs. At the same time, white masters considered the black slaves to be biologically and intellectually inferior beings. It was commonly believed that blacks needed the guidance of white masters to survive. They were, according to general misconception, unfit to care for themselves independently. Referring to slaves, Scarlett’s mother Ellen told her that “you must realize that they are like children and must be guarded from themselves like children” (Gone with the Wind, p. 465).

Blacks were often seen as content with a simpler, more animal-like existence than whites. Some of the descriptions of blacks in Gone with the Wind coincide with this stereotypical view. For example, Scarlett meets one of her former slaves in Atlanta as he is on his way home to Tara. He had gotten a taste of life in the North but found it unappealing. His excited greeting is described in terms that might be used to describe a large dog, overcome with simple happiness at seeing his former master: “Sam galloped over to the buggy, his eyes rolling with joy and his white teeth flashing.... His watermelon-pink tongue lapped out, his whole body wiggled and his joyful contortions were as ludicrous as the gamboling of a mastiff” (Gone with the Wind, p. 771).

Since blacks were considered intellectually inferior, their desire to exercise their rights as free citizens—in particular, to vote—disturbed Southern whites during the Reconstruction era (1866-1877). This racist attitude is depicted by Mitchell. At one point, for example, Aunt Pitty says to Scarlett, “My dear, they want to let the darkies vote! Did you ever hear of anything more silly?” (Gone with the Wind, p. 552). Many Southern whites could hardly imagine blacks being able to handle the responsibilities of freedom, let alone voting. All in all, many white Southerners found it difficult to reconcile themselves to the idea of treating former slaves as equals to themselves. When Scarlett is threatened with the possibility of losing Tara to Jonas Wilkerson, a Scalawag whom she hates intensely, she is upset by the following thought:

Perhaps they’d even bring negroes here to dine
and sleep.… Jonas made a great to-do about
being equal with negroes, ate with them, visited
in their houses.... When she thought of the
possibility of this final insult to Tara, her heart
pounded so hard she could scarcely breathe.

(Gone with the Wind, p. 529-30)


Gone with the Wind is a fictional story set in the midst of actual events that took place in northern Georgia around the time of the Civil War. Apparently, none of the characters come directly from real life, although a number of similarities exist between the fictional characters and members of the author’s family. Mitchell’s ancestors, like the O’Hara family in the novel, were part of Georgia’s wealthy planter elite. Some had immigrated from Ireland, as Scarlett’s father, Gerald O’Hara, had in the novel.

Mitchell herself was like Scarlett in that she did not always behave in accordance with the norms of the society in which she lived. As a child, she was a tomboy, and later in life she took what was considered an unfeminine job as a journalist. Mitchell also left the Catholic Church, got divorced, and remarried, all at a time when such actions were highly unusual. Even more like Scarlett than the author, however, was the author’s grandmother, Annie Stephens. Annie, like Scarlett, lived through the Civil War in northern Georgia. She too was well known for her stubbornness, ruthlessness, and explosive temper. Annie also became involved in business during the Reconstruction era, when such activities were not regarded as fashionable pursuits for a lady; these actions are also undertaken by Scarlett.

To accurately portray life in northern Georgia and Atlanta around the time of the Civil War, Mitchell did a great deal of research. She combed through firsthand accounts available in newspapers and memoirs, interviewed people who experienced the war years, and visited battle sites. Mitchell was personally familiar with Atlanta, the site of much of Gone with the Wind’s action, having lived there her entire life. In fact, she spent a number of years in a home on Peachtree Street, just as Scarlett does in the book.

Events in History at the Time the Novel Was Written

The Great Depression

The Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War concerned the Southern states, but the Great Depression of the 1930s swept across not just the South but the entire nation. Both periods were times of widespread poverty in which people faced the threat of unemployment or significant wage reductions.

Georgia was not spared from the damage caused by the Depression, which began in 1929. In America’s rural areas—and rural areas covered much of Georgia—farm income declined 60 percent by 1932. Thousands of farmers either lost or abandoned their land. About 500,000 Georgians moved north to search for employment over the course of the decade. Others became migrant workers, traveling from farm to farm, picking crops for extremely low wages. Meanwhile, the situation in cities like Atlanta was not much better. Factory owners cut back on production and laid off workers or reduced their salaries. Many mills closed down. The city government also laid off public employees and reduced social services.

During these years, living patterns emerged that resembled those of the Reconstruction. For example, women once again began to sew clothes for themselves, as they had in the past. Increasing


The Ku Klux Klan reemerged soon after World War I. The strong racial tensions that existed during Reconstruction had never disappeared. On top of that, the early 1920s was a time of great change. Large numbers of immigrants streamed into the United States, and more and more black people moved to northern cities. Minorities in the white population—Jews and Catholics—moved up the economic and social ladder at the same time that labor unions began to gain power. These changes bred fears that led to a new generation of the Ku Klux Klan. The new Klan drew most of its members from the lower and middle classes of white society. Seeing themselves as patriots and defenders of traditional values, the members persecuted anyone they deemed guilty of irreligion, sexual promiscuity, or excessive drunkenness. They terrorized minorities, particularly blacks, through whipping, tarring and feathering, arson, and lynching. Unlike the first Ku Klux Klan, the second one spread beyond the South to become a national organization. At its height in the 1920s, its membership climbed to over 3 million. But it dwindled to about 100,000 during the Depression of the 1930s as fewer people were able or willing to spend money on membership. Since then the strength and size of the Klan has risen and fallen, but it continues to be a force in American society.

numbers of women turned to preserving their own food rather than buying it in a store. Like some of the Atlanta families in Gone with the Wind, Depression-era families often established home businesses wherein they laundered, sold baked goods, or accepted boarders to make ends meet. Conditions improved as the decade progressed. However, many of Gone with the Wind’s first readers must have identified with the hard times faced by Scarlett O’Hara and other Southerners during Reconstruction.


Gone with the Wind gained almost immediate popularity upon its publication in 1936. Sales topped one million copies by January 1937, more than double what Mitchell had expected. In the spring of 1937, the American Booksellers Association awarded Gone with the Wind its annual prize for best fiction of the preceding year. The author won a Pulitzer Prize for the novel in May 1937. Two years later, it was made into a popular film. Since its publication, Gone with the Wind has sold over 28 million copies in more than 37 countries.

A number of reviewers have called the book overly sentimental and artistically imperfect, but many have praised it for its vitality and clarity. Stephen Vincent Benét wrote in one review that “the tale of [Scarlett’s] adventures and her struggles makes as readable, full-bodied, and consistent a historical novel as we have had in some time—a novel which, in certain passages, as in the flight from burning Atlanta, rises to genuine heights. Miss Mitchell knows her period, her people, and the red hill country of North Georgia” (Benét, p. 5).

For More Information

Benét, Stephen Vincent. Saturday Review of Literature (July 4, 1936): 5.

Chalmers, David M. Hooded Americanism: The First Century of the Ku Klux Klan, 1865-1965. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1965.

Conway, Alan. The Reconstruction of Georgia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1966.

Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Jones, Virgil Carrington. The Civil War at Sea. Vol. 3. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1960.

Mitchell, Margaret. Gone With the Wind. New York: Macmillan, 1964.

Pyron, Darden Asbury. Southern Daughter: The Life of Margaret Mitchell. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Smith, Douglas L. The New Deal in the Urban South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988.

Gone with the Wind

views updated May 21 2018


USA, 1939

Director: Victor Fleming

Production: Selznick International Pictures; Technicolor, 35mm; running time: 220 minutes; length: 20,300 feet. Released 15 December 1939 in Atlanta by MGM, some sources list the premiere date as 18 November 1939. Re-released 1947, 1954, 1967, 1969. Filmed 10 December 1938-August 1939 in RKO backlots and studios (rented to Selznick International for the film), and on location at Old Laskey Mesa, California. Cost: $4,250,000.

Producer: David O. Selznick; screenplay: Sidney Howard, with structural innovations by Jo Swerling and some dialogue by Ben Hecht and John van Druten, from the novel by Margaret Mitchell; uncredited directors: George Cukor and Sam Wood; photography: Ernest Haller; cameramen: Lee Garmes, Joseph Ruttenberg, Ray Rennahan, and Wilfred Cline; editors: Hal C. Kern and James E. Newcom; sound recordist: Frank Maher; production designer: William Cameron Menzies; art director: Lyle Wheeler; musical score: Max Steiner; special effects: Jack Cosgrove and Lee Zavitz; costume designer: Walter Plunkett, Scarlett's hats by John Frederics; consulting historian: Wilbur G. Kurtz; dance direction: Frank Floyd and Eddie Prinz.

Cast: Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O'Hara); Clark Gable (Rhett Butler); Leslie Howard (Ashley Wilkes); Olivia De Havilland (Melanie Hamilton); Hattie McDaniel (Mammy); Thomas Mitchell (Gerald O'Hara); Barbara O'Neil (Ellen O'Hara); Caroll Nye (Frank Kennedy); Laura Hope Crews (Aunt Pittypat); Harry Davenport (Dr. Meade); Rand Brooks (Charles Hamilton); Ona Munson (Belle Watling); Ann Rutherford (Careen O'Hara); George Reeves (Stuart Tarleton), wrongly credited on screen as Brent Tarleton; Fred Crane (Brent Tarleton); Oscar Polk (Pork); Butterfly McQueen (Prissy); Evelyn Keyes (Suellen O'Hara); Jane Darwell (Mrs. Merriweather); Leona Roberts (Mrs. Meade); Everett Brown (Big Sam); Eddie Anderson (Uncle Peter); Ward Bond (Tom, a Yankee Captain); Cammie King (Bonnie Blue Butler); J. M. Kerrigan (Johnny Gallagher); Isabel Jewell (Emmy Slattery); Alicia Rhett (India Wilkes); Victor Jory (Jonas Wilkerson); Howard Hickman (John Wilkes); Mary Anderson (Maybelle Merriweather); Paul Hurst (Yankee Looter); Marcella Martin (Cathleen Calvert); Mickey Kuhn (Beau Wilkes); Zack Williams (Elijah).

Awards: Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Leigh), Best Supporting Actress (McDaniel), Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography-Color, Best Editing, Interior Decoration, 1939; Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Special Awards to William Cameron Menzies for Color Achievement and to Don Musgrave and Selznick International Pictures for pioneering use of coordinated equipment, 1939; New York Film Critics' Award, Best Actress (Leigh), 1939.



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French, Tony, "Has Gone With the Wind Gone With the Wind? or, Can we be Intelligent About the Past?" in CineAction (Toronto), no. 40, May 1996.

Kaufman, D., "LaserPacific Restores Luster to Gone With theWind," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 78, September 1997.

Tonkens, S., in Film Score Monthly (Los Angeles), vol. 2, no. 3, 1997.

Lovell, Glenn, "Frankly, My Dear, This Is No Improvement," in Variety (New York), vol. 371, no. 7, 22 June 1998.

* * *

Gone with the Wind, based on Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel about the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction, made producer David O. Selznick's name a box-office draw, made the relatively unknown Vivien Leigh an international star, and became the most popular motion picture of all time.

Soon after Selznick bought the movie rights to Mitchell's novel in July 1936, thousands of fan letters began to arrive at Selznick International Pictures, most of them demanding that Clark Gable play the role of Rhett Butler. In order to get Gable, Selznick had to make a deal with MGM and Louis B. Mayer, who held Gable's contract. In exchange for Gable's services and $1,125,000 of the film's budget, MGM would receive the distribution rights and half the profits of GWTW.

Since Selznick had a contract with United Artists to distribute all his films until the end of 1938, principal shooting on GWTW could not start before 1939. In order to maintain public interest in the film before shooting could begin, Selznick launched a nationwide talent search to find an unknown actress to play Scarlett O'Hara. In the course of the two-year search, 1400 candidates were interviewed and 90 were tested, at a total cost of $92,000. Among those considered for the part were Katharine Hepburn and Paulette Goddard. The role eventually went to Vivien Leigh, a British actress who was largely unknown to American audiences.

The production phase of GWTW began auspiciously in December 1938, with the Atlanta fire scene—the largest fire ever staged in a film up to that time. Principal shooting, which started six weeks later, was plagued by numerous problems and required seven months to complete. The main problem was the script, which despite the efforts of more than a dozen writers, remained a confusing mass of revisions, and revisions of revisions, until after shooting was completed. The disorganized condition of the script made shooting difficult and created tension among the production personnel. After only three weeks of principal shooting, Selznick replaced director George Cukor with Victor Fleming. Two months later, Fleming, upset by Selznick's handling of the script, went home and refused to work. Selznick quickly hired Sam Wood to direct and when Fleming decided to return to the film two weeks later, Selznick let the two men split the directorial chores.

When GWTW was finally completed, it turned out to be a monumental film in almost every respect. Its technical achievements included the Atlanta fire sequence, the use of matte paintings to provide distant backgrounds and to complete partially constructed sets (GWTW marked the second use in Technicolor film of the matte process in which painted backgrounds are blended with filmed scenes of live actors), and the railroad depot crane shot, in which the camera pulls back and up to reveal Scarlett O'Hara walking among thousands of wounded Confederate soldiers—about 2000 live extras and dummies. Its total cost was $4.25 million—equivalent to $50 million today. It had the longest running time (3 hours 40 minutes) of its day and the largest titles in cinema history—each word of the film's title fills the screen itself. It was also the first major film to successfully challenge the Production Code's prohibition of profanity—with Rhett Butler's final line, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

When GWTW premiered in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, over one million people poured into the city of 300,000, hoping to see Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, and the other stars who attended the premiere. After three days of parades, celebrations, and Confederate flag-waving, a select audience of 2500 people saw the film, and they loved it. GWTW quickly became a worldwide critical and box-office success and won ten Academy Awards, a record that stood until 1959, when Ben Hur won eleven.

As of 1983, GWTW has earned $76.7 million in domestic rentals. In 1976 NBC paid $5 million for the film's television premiere. The program, aired over two nights in November, 1976, received a 47.6 Neilsen rating—the highest rating ever received by a movie on television. CBS subsequently paid $35 million for 20 airings of GWTW over a 20-year period. When appropriate adjustments for inflation are made, GWTW is the biggest box-office success in cinema history. The current critical consensus is that GWTW is the quintessential Hollywood studio system product.

—Clyde Kelly Dunagan

Gone with the Wind

views updated May 14 2018

Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind, the epic Civil War-era novel and film, described as "the romance of a baggage and a bounder," has no peer in literary history when its longevity and profitability are considered. Beloved by readers and filmgoers throughout the world for over sixty years, Gone with the Wind continues to captivate audiences and generate profits, and for many Margaret Mitchell's novel supersedes history in depicting "the War Between the States." Called racist and inaccurate by historians who find its sugarcoating of the Old South and the Ku Klux Klan appalling, nonetheless it has created an industry of literary and commercial output that shows no sign of slowing down as Gone with the Wind approaches its 70th anniversary. Its appeal is worldwide, and the epic is particularly popular in Japan, Germany, and Russia, perhaps indicating that Gone with the Wind has a special resonance for nations who have experienced defeat and occupation. The ur-text of "The Lost Cause," Gone with the Wind's most powerful moment comes when a famished and exhausted Scarlett, defiant, vows: "As God is my witness, I won't let them lick me! If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill—I'll never be hungry again!"

The author, Margaret Mitchell, reluctantly allowed her manuscript to be published in 1936, and then was stunned and overwhelmed by its success. The book has sold more copies than any book besides the Bible, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1936, a sensation in Depression-era America. The film adaptation premiered in 1939 to immediate acclaim, culminating in 10 Academy Awards. Gone with the Wind reigned supreme as the box office champion until the 1970s and remains the most popular film of all time (when dollars are adjusted for inflation). As with the novel, the love story of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler has fared less well at the hands of some critics, notably author Lillian Smith, who described the novel as "slick, successful but essentially mediocre fiction… "; [ Gone withthe Wind ] "wobbles badly like an enormous house on shaky underpinnings." Despite its flaws, what is obvious is its staying power, proof of Gone with the Wind's timeless appeal for its fans.

Gone with the Wind is a rich, sentimental, and starkly partisan story of a Southern belle, charming and selfish, who recklessly pursues the wrong man (the genteel Ashley Wilkes) throughout the narrative which spans the Civil War and Reconstruction, marrying three times, enduring war, famine, and personal tragedy. At the story's end, after the death of the saintly Melanie Wilkes, who resolutely loved Scarlett despite her pursuit of her husband, she finally recognizes that her now-departing husband Rhett Butler is indeed her true love. Rhett, weary of her contrivances, answers her heartfelt "Oh, where shall I go, what shall I do?" with one of the best-known exit lines in literary history: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." Not be outdone, Scarlett sniffs a bit, then declares brightly: "I'll get him back … I'll think about that tomorrow. After all, tomorrow is another day!"

Much has been made of the connections between Scarlett, the flirtatious and determined heroine, and her creator. Margaret Mitchell (who had first named her character Pansy) was a young reporter who stubbornly went her own way throughout life: routinely flying in the face of Atlanta society, marrying (and divorcing) the unsuitable and abusive Red Upshaw, then marrying his best friend, John Marsh. Marsh is best known for his literary midwifery: he brought a typewriter to his restless wife, then mending from an accident, and suggested she write her novel. From these modest beginnings came the phenomenon of Gone with the Wind : "I would go to the apartment and frequently she was at that little table where she worked," recalled Harvey Smith, a friend of Mitchell's. "We all joked about it: 'Well, you know she's writing the world's greatest novel.' … And, by God, she was."

Peggy Mitchell furtively wrote her epic novel in a tiny, cramped apartment in a down-at-the-heels house in midtown Atlanta; she affectionately called the place "The Dump." While Mitchell drew on her own life to create her characters, her primary inspiration was her family lore: her mother Maybelle and particularly her grandmother Fitzgerald were her models for Scarlett. Mitchell's Irish Catholic background allowed her to further enhance her tale; a successful immigrant plantation owner, Gerald O'Hara rebukes his frivolous daughter and evokes her spiritual connection to Tara, the family plantation. "Why, land's the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it's the only thing that lasts" is the unifying theme of Gone with the Wind.

Ignoring the standard wisdom that Civil War films were "box office poison," producer David O. Selznick fought to bring the novel to the screen, and in wheeling and dealing in pursuit of his goal lost the majority of the financial rights to the film to MGM in return for the coveted services of the "King of Hollywood," Clark Gable. The film's pre-production has generated legends of its own, from the discovery of the manuscript by Selznick assistant Kay Brown (sold for a record $50,000) to the "Search for Scarlett"—a publicity stunt dreamed up by publicist Russell Birdwell, a nationwide search for the right woman to portray Mitchell's heroine. The episode was portrayed amusingly by Garson Kanin in his novel and television film Moviola: The Scarlett O'Hara War (1979 and 1980, respectively). The screen tests of actresses famous and on the rise are an indication of how fiercely this battle raged in Hollywood: Paulette Goddard, Bette Davis, and Alabama-born Tallulah Bankhead claimed they alone could portray Scarlett, and even arch-Yankee Katherine Hepburn was discussed. Although there is considerable dispute about the way Selznick found Vivien Leigh, the exquisite British actress who would win an Oscar for her portrayal, the legend is that Selznick's brother Myron, a leading agent, brought Leigh to the set of the "Burning of Atlanta" scene, arguably the most famous sequence of the film. "I want you to meet Scarlett O'Hara," said Myron, as the flames consumed old sets and illuminated Leigh's lovely face. In fact, she had been brought to his attention earlier, but the contrived "introduction" may indeed have persuaded Selznick, as he confided to his wife Irene in a letter, calling her "the Scarlett dark horse—she looks damn good."

Casting the other leads proved to be problematic as well, especially in the case of Leslie Howard, who, like Gable, resisted being cast. Gable, the overwhelming choice of the public, feared he wasn't able to handle the part of the blockade-running romantic lead. Said Gable: "It wasn't that I didn't appreciate the compliment the public was paying me," he said. "It was simply that Rhett was too big an order. I didn't want any part of him…. Rhett was too much for any actor to tackle in his right mind." Howard believed himself too old and miscast as the hopelessly idealistic and weak-willed Ashley. Olivia de Havilland, under contract by Warner Brothers, effectively wore down the resistance of the studio heads with her persistence; she knew Melanie was the role to establish her as a serious performer. One of the film's finest performances is Hattie McDaniel's Mammy; her sensitive and slyly subversive portrayal won the best supporting actress Academy Award, the first Oscar for a black actor. Butterfly McQueen, so memorable and very controversial as Scarlett's skittish and indolent servant Prissy, similarly transformed what might well have been a one-note characterization by a lesser talent.

Further complicating matters were the three directors of Gone with the Wind : George Cukor was fired early in the production, although de Havilland and Leigh secretly sought his advice during filming, then Victor Fleming, Gable's close friend and a "man's director," (also director of The Wizard of Oz) walked off the picture, and Sam Wood was brought in; he and Fleming split up the work, which was staggering by any measure. Vivien Leigh, featured in nearly every scene, worked constantly, and permanently damaged her fragile health. Sidney Howard's script trimmed some characters and plot, yet remained remarkably faithful to the book. Finally, after 11 months of shooting and over four million dollars spent, Gone with the Wind at last premiered in a much-ballyhooed spectacle staged by the city of Atlanta in 1939, attended by the stars, Selznick, and Mitchell herself.

The cultural impact of the film is hard to overestimate—in southern theaters as late as the 1960s, the technically astonishing and highly effective crane shot of the ragged Confederate flag fluttering over the vast assembly of Atlanta's dead and wounded provoked sobs, applause, and spontaneous emotion, including the occasional "rebel yell." The film's length of 222 minutes (punctuated by an intermission) deterred few, swept up as they were by the storyline. Max Steiner's stirring "Tara's Theme" is ubiquitous among movie scores, a perennial favorite. Film historian Leonard Maltin called Gone with the Wind "if not the greatest film ever made, certainly one of the greatest examples of storytelling on film…." Even in numerous re-releases, and after being shown on television many times, Gone with the Wind continues to do well; in 1998, a restoration of the film's original negative led to lucrative video and DVD releases, as well as a theatrical re-release. A spectacularly visual film, Gone with the Wind used Technicolor to its greatest effect; William Cameron Menzies' brilliant cinematography remains a landmark achievement.

Gone with the Wind has unlimited kitsch potential: from Madame Alexander dolls to Scarlett Christmas ornaments, souvenir books (including the Gone with the Wind Cookbook, which has plenty of recipes from Mammy and Melanie, but none from Scarlett), fan clubs, online websites crammed with Gone with the Wind trivia and news, and in—an echo of the "Search for Scarlett"—"lookalike" contests and professional Scarlett, Melanie, and Rhett lookalikes, the story continues to fascinate. Bed and Breakfasts (notably the "Inn Scarlett" in Georgia) offer the fan a Gone with the Wind immersion experience, and exact replicas of the famed "Green Curtain" dress or "the Barbecue dress" are widely available. Gone with the Wind has been the subject of many parodies—memorably by comedian Carol Burnett, who lampooned Scarlett while wearing the "curtain dress" with the rod intact. "The Dump," now handsomely restored by German company Daimler-Benz and a favorite tourist destination, survived two arson attempts and opened in 1997.

The literary reputation of Mitchell's book has been favorably reassessed by numerous critics, and with the rise of Southern history and literature as a subject of scholarship, Gone with the Wind has become a touchstone, spawning numerous symposiums and studies, with Scarlett herself lionized as "modern" and a feminist heroine. In 1988, the Mitchell estate finally allowed an authorized sequel; Scarlett (by romance writer Alexandra Ripley) appeared in 1991. Panned by critics but financially successful, the CBS 1996 miniseries similarly proved popular.

—Mary Hess

Further Reading:

Behlmer, Rudy, editor. Memo from David Selznick. New York, Viking Press, 1972.

Dooley, Roger. From Scarface to Scarlett: American Films in the 1930s. New York, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1979.

Dowling, Claudia Glenn. "The Further Adventures of Scarlett O'Hara." Life. November, 1988.

Flamini, Roland. Scarlett, Rhett, and a Cast of Thousands: The Filming of "Gone with the Wind." New York, Macmillan, 1975.

Hanson, Elizabeth I. Margaret Mitchell. Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1991.

Haver, Ronald. David O. Selznick's "Gone with the Wind." New York, Bonanza Books, 1986.

King, Richard H. A Southern Renaissance: The Cultural Awakening of the American South, 1930-1955. New York, Oxford University Press, 1980.

Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the Wind. New York, Macmillan, 1936.

Myrick, Susan, and Richard Harwell, editors. White Columns in Hollywood: Reports from the "Gone with the Wind" Sets. Macon, Georgia, Mercer University Press, 1982.

O'Dowd, Niall. "Frankly, Scarlett … We Do Give a Damn." Irish America. November, 1981.

Pratt, William. Scarlett Fever: The Ultimate Pictorial Treasury of "Gone with the Wind," Featuring the Collection of Herb Bridges. New York, Macmillan, 1977.

Pyron, Darden Asbury, editor. Recasting "Gone with the Wind" in American Culture. Miami, University Presses of Florida, 1983.

Taylor, Helen. Scarlett's Women: "Gone with the Wind" and Its Female Fans. New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1989.

Gone with the Wind

views updated May 18 2018


GONE WITH THE WIND. Both the novel (1936) and the motion picture (1939) are significant icons of the 1930s, revealing a great deal about the decade of the Great Depression. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1936. Gone With the Wind depicts important intellectual and cultural developments. First, the "Lost Cause" conceptthe romantic tragedy of the Confederacy's defeat in the Civil Warwas popular with the public and academic community in the South. The notion that Yankee capitalism had defeated the South's genteel plantation life naturally led to the second equally popular ideathe "Needless War" doctrine. According to this theory, abolitionists, with their fixation on slavery, had caused the conflict between the states. These sentiments, alone and in combination, contributed to the myth that the South was a gracious but doomed alternative to heartless modern

America. Slavery and the role of African Americans in the Civil War were ignored in the popular culture and by many historians. Despite protests from the African American press, black entertainers were assigned their traditional roles as either villains or clowns, though actress Hattie McDaniel did win an Academy Award for her role in the film. The hardships of the Great Depression and the coming of World War II, which prompted a bitter struggle between isolationists and internationalists, added to the distant charm of the Old South as portrayed in Gone With the Wind.

The novel by Margaret Mitchell was an instant success. Published by Macmillan in 1936, the 1,057-page tome was a hymn to the Lost Cause, despite the author's intent to combine an F. Scott Fitzgerald approach with historical recreation. The book sold more than fifty thousand copies in a single day, was a bestseller for two years, and, by 1965, had sold more than 12 million authorized copies.

Mitchell was born in Atlanta in 1900 to an established Georgia family. She grew up with tales of the Lost Cause and a romantic ideal of the Civil War. Well-educated and witty, she wrote for newspapers and magazines. She married twice but had no children. A delightful storyteller, she was a gracious presence on the Atlanta social scene. With the novel's great success, Mitchell was thereafter known as the author of Gone With the Wind. She never wrote another novel and directed that upon her death most of her literary manuscripts be destroyed. Mitchell died in 1949 after she was struck by a speeding automobile.

Selznick International Pictures bought the screen rights to Gone With the Wind for $50,000. The classic motion picture features a moving musical score and talented cast, including Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia De Havilland, and Leslie Howard. The movie had a spectacular debut in Atlanta in 1939 and continued to be a leading money producer long after its release. Filled with assumptions of the Lost Cause and the Needless War doctrine, the movie does not ignore the sexual tension between the heroine and the hero. The movie has a minor but clear feminist subtext.

Historical interpretations come and go but, undoubtedly, Gone With the Wind endures as a monument to the Lost Cause. It is also a product of the 1930s, when many Americans sought an escape from the twin horrors of economic depression and the impending European war. Though not great literature, the story endures as a vital example of how some Americans prefer to think about the Civil War.


Harwell, Richard. Gone With the Wind, as Book and Film. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1983. Good collection of contemporary reviews and essays.

Pressly, Thomas. Americans Interpret Their Civil War. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1954. A brilliant analysis of how historical interpretations interact with other aspects of the culture.

Pyron, Darden Asbury, ed. Recasting "Gone With the Wind" American Culture. Miami: University Presses of Florida, 1983. A far-ranging analysis of how the novel and movie fit into American culture.

Pyron, Darden Asbury. Southern Daughter, The Life of Margaret Mitchell. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. A solid biographical study.

Donald K. Pickens

See also Film ; Literature: Popular Literature .

Gone with the Wind

views updated May 14 2018


Margaret Mitchell's bestselling novel of the Civil War and Reconstruction revolves around the tempestuous love triangle of fiery southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, the noble but weak Ashley Wilkes, and the dashing scoundrel Rhett Butler. At the story's opening in the halcyon days of a romanticized Old South, the willful and spoiled Scarlett schemes to win Ashley's love, despite his impending marriage to his cousin Melanie. Over the course of this thousand-page novel, Scarlett survives the burning of Atlanta and the devastation of Tara, the O'Hara family plantation, by the Union army; picks cotton side-by-side with her former slaves to keep her family from starving; marries her sister's beau in order to pay the taxes on Tara; makes a fortune selling lumber during Atlanta's postwar boom; provokes a Ku Klux Klan raid on the local shantytown; and marries Rhett for his money only to find, after he no longer gives "a damn," that it is Rhett, not Ashley, whom she truly loves.

Outraged black and liberal critics condemned Gone with the Wind as an apologia for American racism, arguing that Mitchell's unabashedly pro-Confederate depiction glossed over the realities of slavery and condoned the atrocities of the Klan. Nonetheless, Scarlett's indomitable will to survive war, poverty, and heartbreak resonated powerfully for many readers in the midst of the trials of the Great Depression and with the prospect of a second world war on the horizon. Published by Macmillan in the summer of 1936, Gone with the Wind sold over a million copies in the first six months.

Independent producer David O. Selznick purchased the film rights for $50,000, a hefty sum at the time for the first work of an unknown novelist. The making of Gone with the Wind, which took three years and cost over $4 million, became an obsession for Selznick. His unwillingness to compromise his grand vision for the film ultimately cost him control of his studio, Selznick International Pictures. Selznick spent $100,000 on the now-legendary "search for Scarlett," a brilliant publicity campaign that involved screen tests for dozens of major Hollywood actresses, including Bette Davis, Paulette Goddard, and Katherine Hepburn, as well as beauty queens from around the country. Ultimately the part went to Vivien Leigh, a relatively unknown British actress. Fan mail convinced Selznick that only Clark Gable could play Rhett, and he paid MGM an exorbitant sum for Gable's services. Olivia de Havilland was cast as Melanie, Leslie Howard as Ashley, and Hattie McDaniel as Mammy.

Capturing the historical sweep and political themes of Mitchell's epic novel without offending the sensibilities of either African-American or white Southern audiences required eleven screenwriters, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ben Hecht, though playwright Sidney Howard received a sole writing credit. Similarly, four directors worked on the film, though only Victor Fleming received screen credit. Filmed in Technicolor, Gone with the Wind is a visually opulent extravaganza, thanks to set designer Lyle Wheeler and production designer William Cameron MacKenzie, who also directed key scenes, including the burning of Atlanta.

Gone with the Wind was a blockbuster hit with mainstream audiences and critics. At the film's premier in Atlanta on December 15, 1939, over one million spectators crowded the streets to catch a glimpse of the motorcade of Hollywood stars. The film grossed over $1 million on opening weekend and eventually won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress for Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win an Oscar. Though picketers protested in several major cities, for the most part black leaders and critics chose to overlook the film's questionable racial politics and stereo-typical "darky" performances (particularly Butterfly McQueen as Prissy), emphasizing instead the more rounded character of Mammy and the breakthrough of McDaniel's Oscar. Ranked as the topgrossing film for nearly thirty years, Gone with the Wind is still considered one of the best films ever made.



Cripps, Thomas. Making Movies Black: The Hollywood Message Movie from World War II to the Civil Rights Era. 1993.

Dirks, Tim. One Hundred Greatest Films. "Gone with the Wind (1939)." Available at: www.filmsite.org

Harmetz, Aljean. On the Road to Tara: The Making of Gone with the Wind. 1996.

Taylor, Helen. Scarlett's Women: Gone with the Wind and Its Female Fans. 1989.

Jennifer Langdon-Teclaw

Gone with the Wind

views updated May 17 2018

Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind (1939) is not the most critically acclaimed American film in motion-picture history. That honor goes to Citizen Kane (1941; see entry under 1940s—Film and Theater in volume 3), or perhaps Casablanca (1943; see entry under 1940s—Film and Theater in volume 3). However, Gone with the Wind is arguably the most popular and beloved of all movie epics of its era. Its grand Technicolor sweep, larger-than-life characters, and vivid portrait of a specific place and time in American history combine to make it a legendary Hollywood epic.

Gone with the Wind was based on the best-selling novel by Margaret Mitchell (1900–1949). Her novel, which was published in 1936, won the Pulitzer Prize. The book has since reportedly sold more copies than any other book in publishing history, with one exception: the Bible. Gone with the Wind is set before, during, and after the Civil War (1861–65). The plot of the story is melodramatic and sentimental. It spotlights the fiery relationship between Scarlett O'Hara, a flirtatious, self-centered Southern belle who has come of age at Tara, her family's Georgia plantation, and Rhett Butler, a charming, devilishly handsome rogue. Throughout the story, Scarlett sets her romantic sights on genteel Ashley Wilkes, even though he has chosen to marry his cousin, Melanie Hamilton. Yet clearly, there is only one man who is Scarlett's romantic match: Rhett Butler.

The screen version of Mitchell's story was the brainchild of David O. Selznick (1902–1965), a renowned Hollywood producer who purchased the screen rights to the book against the prevailing wisdom that Civil War stories were box-office poison. The manner in which the film was cast is part of Hollywood lore. Before Gone with the Wind went into production, all agreed that only one actor could play Rhett Butler: Clark Gable (1901–1960), the popular MGM (see entry under 1920s—Film and Theater in volume 2) star who had been crowned the "King of Hollywood" in a newspaper popularity poll. But who would be cast as Scarlett O'Hara? Dozens of actresses were considered, including the most famous actresses of the day. Additionally, Selznick instigated a highly publicized nationwide search for the perfect woman to play Scarlett. Filming had already begun when the role was awarded to an actress—Vivien Leigh (1913–1967)—who was not even American-born. Leigh, who was born in Darjeeling, India, and educated in England, supposedly was brought to Selznick's attention by his agent brother Myron Selznick (1898–1944) during the shooting of the "Burning of Atlanta," one of the film's most celebrated sequences.

Gone with the Wind took eleven months to shoot and cost over $4 million—a staggering sum for its time. The 222-minute-long film eventually premiered in Atlanta, Georgia. It went on to win ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress. The Best Supporting Actress award was won by Hattie McDaniel (1895–1952), who played Scarlett's slave, Mammy. McDaniel's Oscar was the first ever won by an African American performer. This, in spite of what some believed was the film's too-genteel depiction of blacks and, specifically, slaves.

—Rob Edelman

For More Information

The Filming of "Gone with the Wind." New York: Macmillan, 1975. Gone with the Wind.http://www.franklymydear.com (accessed February 4, 2002).

"Gone with the Wind Online Exhibit." Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center.http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/exhibitions/DOS/GWTW/GWTW.html (accessed February 4, 2002).

Hanson, Elizabeth I. Margaret Mitchell. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1991.

Haver, Ronald. David O. Selznick's 'Gone with the Wind.' New York: Bonanza Books, 1986.

Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the Wind. New York, Macmillan, 1936. Multiple reprints.

Selznick, David O., producer, and Victor Fleming, director. Gone with the Wind (film). Selznick International/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1939.

Gone with the Wind

views updated May 21 2018

Gone with the Wind ★★★★ 1939

Epic Civil War drama focuses on the life of petulant southern belle Scarlett O'Hara. Starting with her idyllic lifestyle on a sprawling plantation, the film traces her survival through the tragic history of the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction, and her tangled love affairs with Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler. Classic Hollywood doesn't get any better than this; one great scene after another, equally effective in intimate drama and sweeping spectacle. The train depot scene, one of the more technically adroit shots in movie history, involved hundreds of extras and dummies, and much of the MGM lot was razed to simulate the burning of Atlanta. Based on Margaret Mitchell's novel, screenwriter Howard was assisted by producer Selznick and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. For its 50th anniversary, a 231minute restored version was released that included the trailer for “The Making of a Legend: GWTW.” 231m/C VHS, DVD . Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Evelyn Keyes, Harry Davenport, Jane Darwell, Ona Munson, Barbara O'Neil, William “Billy” Bakewell, Rand Brooks, Ward Bond, Laura Hope Crews, Yakima Canutt, George Reeves, Marjorie Reynolds, Ann Rutherford, Victor Jory, Carroll Nye, Paul Hurst, Isabel Jewell, Cliff Edwards, Eddie Anderson, Oscar Polk, Eric Linden, Violet KembleCooper, Fred Crane, Howard Hickman, Leona Roberts, Cammie King, Mary Anderson, Frank Faylen; D: Victor Fleming; W: Sidney Howard; C: Ray Rennahan; M: Max Steiner. Oscars ‘39: Actress (Leigh), Color Cinematog., Director (Fleming), Film Editing, Picture, Screenplay, Support. Actress (McDaniel); AFI ‘98: Top 100, Natl. Film Reg. ‘89;; N.Y. Film Critics ‘39: Actress (Leigh).