Gone With The Wind

a book not soon forgotten

I just discovered my new favorite book! At the first glance, it appeared extremely intimidating (as any book with 1037 pages would) but I only had to glance at the first page to be re-assured that this artful tale would be woven in a way that would make it seem exciting and far too short. I was correct, because as soon as I finished the last paragraph of the book, I found myself thinking ‘OH, no! This can’t be the end! If only I read it a bit slower!” and like a small child disappointed that their ice cream cone was finished, I was heartbroken at the thought that this story was finished. And with such a grand ending too! This book was called Gone With the Wind and Margaret Mitchell, who was a former newspaper reporter, wrote it. It was originally published in 1936 and by 1938 over 1,788,000 copies had been printed in the US.

Today, this timeless and heart wrenching novel is available in thirty-one different countries, as well as written in Braille for the blind. You must be wondering, what is in this book that attracts so many people, and keeps them coming back for more? Well, I’ll do my best to give you a short (or relatively short, compared to the 1037 pages of the book) summary of this work of art.


            In the exposition one main conflict is revealed, and that is when our main character (Scarlett, a spoiled, beautiful daughter of a rich plantation owner) learns that the man she admires (Ashley, a dreamy philosophical sort of guy who lives on the plantation next to Scarlett’s) is going to marry his cousin Melanie. She is distressed at the thought and feels heartbroken.  Besides that, the only other large conflict was that of the promise of war. As Scarlett sits on her porch talking to the Tarleton Twins (two boys her age, who also live nearby) they assure Scarlett that the war is going to start any day. Although having a war start in the middle of a story is quite an ordeal, I think the promised marriage of Ashley and Melanie is the largest conflict because the story revolves around Scarlett’s pining for Ashley.

The plot thickens when Scarlett talks to Ashley alone before the marriage and ends up slapping him in the face during a fit of rage, and then throws a dish as soon as he leaves the room. As soon as the dish hit the floor, a man who had been lying on the couch made his presence known, which complicated matters considerably. This man was now potentially able to “ruin her reputation” due to the fact that in the prim and proper society of the pre-civil war southerners, throwing dishes (and smacking a man in the face after proclaiming your love to him) was not acceptable.

Scarlett decided that she was going to get married as well, if only just to make Ashley jealous. She set her wedding date a day before Ashley’s and married a man who she didn’t care for at all. After marriage, both her husband and Ashley went to war and Scarlet discovered that she was pregnant. Two months after marriage, Scarlett got a letter informing her that Charles (her late husband) had died. She was then forced by society to wear all black (it was customary to wear it for  five years or more after the death of a loved one as a sign of mourning) and she became utterly depressed, because after all she didn’t care a bit for the man she had married.

Her family, thinking her depression came from missing her husband, sent her to a lively town called Atlanta, where she lived with Melanie (Ashley’s wife) and Aunt Pittypat (the woman who had raised Charles an Melanie- Ironicly, Scarlett had married a brother to the woman who had married Ashley) and of course, her little son who she had named Wade. While in Atlanta and attending a social event to raise money for “the Cause” (the Confederates) she sees the man who was in the room while she threw the dish and slapped Ashley. She is terrified because she had hoped to never see him again. He asks her to dance, and they do, and talk a bit as well.

The name of the man is Rhett Butler and he becomes a very important character. As the war rages on, Scarlett gets a letter from her father that her mother and sisters are very ill. The climax of the story comes when she rides in a small horse drawn buggy with Melanie (who had just had a baby hours ago) from Atlanta to Tara her fathers plantation. She goes through a war zone, and when she makes it home, she discovers that her mother has died, and the family is dirt poor with hardly enough food to sustain them. We know this is the climax because it is the height of the action and every thing else from there seems to slow down, if only a bit. The resolution was when she pulled herself together, worked “harder than a darkie” and promised her self over and over that she would do what ever is necessary to never be hungry again.

The protagonist of this story is Scarlett O’Hara a young and beautiful southern belle. She is witty and smart with a horrible temper, and very selfish to boot. In the beginning of the book, she is 17 years old, although I believe she is 28 near the end. She has fair white skin, and “the smallest waist in three countries” which spans 17 inches when her corset is cinched tight. Scarlett is also well known for her sparkling green eyes and thick black eyelashes. The antagonist of the story is not well known. You could say perhaps at times the antagonist is Rhett Butler, the un-predicable man who she becomes very close to, but hates quite frequently throughout the story, but a more likely candidate would be the war. The war seems to get in the way of everything she wants and plans to do, cropping up in unexpected ways, and ruining her plans. So perhaps the war is a good choice for the antagonist. Other minor characters are Scarlett’s sisters and friends, who remind her of the “good old days” before the “Yankees” came.

 This story took place in the South at the time of the Civil War. This story spans the time before the civil war, throughout the war and after the war. Over all, I would say it contains the information of about 11 to 12 years or Scarlett O’Hara’s life.

The author gives us an insight on life and human nature when she details the animal like willingness Scarlett has to go to extreme measures just to ensure safety and food. After being nearly starved during the war, when the war is over and Scarlett becomes rich, she acts miserly and is afraid of ever being hungry again. She is obsessed with money, and having lots of it. Near the end of the book Scarlett learned a very important lesson about trying to make others something they are not. This is only setting yourself up for disappointment and it is something we can all learn from.

Through out all of these events; the war, starvation, saving Tara (her fathers plantation), and becoming rich, Scarlett still is hopelessly in love with Ashley. She hates Melanie for “taking Ashley from her” and wishes she could be his husband.  Nearing the end of the book, she has been married three times (Charles, to make Ashley jealous, Frank to get money to feed the family, and Rhett because he has money and he is interesting) but throughout each marriage she still wants Ashley. Finally, Melanie dies, and asks Scarlett to promise that she will take care of Ashley. Scarlett does and as Melanie dies, she realizes just how wonderful Melanie was, the woman who she had hated, but came to love.

At this time, Scarlett realizes that she loves Rhett, this strange, unpredictable and wild man more than she could ever love Ashley, but after years of watching her cry over Ashley, he is done. He tells her he is leaving, and now she can have her “stupid Ashley” despite her pleas and arguments. As soon as she can have Ashley, she sees that he was really nothing but a character she had created, one that suited her fancy. She no longer cares for him a bit, and it disturbs her that the love she had felt so passionately was going, no more than an dream long forgot. The conflict of her love for Ashley now fades away, and she learns that it is not wise to change people, if only in your own imagination. 

Now, Scarlett is a very different girl from the vivacious, laughing and spoiled belle in the beginning of the book. She has been wounded by the war, by her own foolishness, and yet she is still ready to fight back and survive. So many things have changed, so many things have been lost, and I think that is why the book is titled ‘Gone With the Wind”.    As soon as the war was over, everything changed, all of the old traditions and ways vanished…almost as if they had gone with the wind.

This story is told in a “third person limited” point of view which means that you see everything through the main characters eyes but you can also see the feelings of others and the full story as it unfolds. Scarlett sometimes has flashbacks remembering things the way they were before the war, but most often her flashback occurs in a dream, where she is hungry again and scared to death. The only flashforward she had in the book was right before her daughter Bonnie fell off her pony and died- in a split second she recalled her dad Gerald O’Hara saying the same thing Bonnie did (“watch me take this one!”) before he broke his neck and died. She called out to stop, but too late, and Bonnie fell, breaking her neck as well. The purpose of the flash-forwards and the flashbacks were to romanticize  or add drama to a certain feeling the author wanted to portray.

I think this book does a great job of describing life in the before/during/after phases of the civil war. The tale of the Civil War is often seen from a “Yankee’s” point of view, and so learning about how the war was for the southerners, as well as how it affected their lives was very interesting. The way the author tied up this already dramatic plot with a tale of what appeared to be unrequited love and the battle of honor vs. human nature makes it a true work of art. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to learn more about the Civil War. If you love historical fiction, or even just plain old fiction, this is a must read. It paints a vivid picture of the South in its richest time on the canvas of your mind. It brings to life an era that died long ago, an era that (one might venture to say) has gone with the wind. If you read carefully, and look closely, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the South in all its glory. Elegant ladies, dashing young men, prosperous plantations and working slaves, all brought to life by the magic of words.