In 1936 Margaret Mitchell published her one and only book, “Gone With the Wind”. It was such a sensation that it almost immediately developed a cult following. Hollywood grabbed it and made a movie in 1939. The movie is still considered one of the greatest films ever made, and it was just a taste of the book. Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler are two characters that have survived the ages. She is willful, self-centered and vain, yet strong and courageous. He is the epitome of the male character in romances. Tall, strong, a bit sardonic, and totally devoted to those he loves.
The story begins with them meeting at the barbecue on a lovely plantation in Georgia before the Civil War. By the time it ends, the war has ended and the south is trying to recover. Although the story follows Scarlett through her marriages, and from riches to poverty and back to riches, the strongest character in the book is the Civil War.
The book begins with showing a relaxed South. Proud and defiant, like Scarlett herself. But, the war beats it down, again, like Scarlett. When she rebuilds her life with a vengeance, so does the South. Sometimes the steps they take aren’t pretty, but, they trudge on. By the end of the book, they are both realizing their mistakes and trying to find a way towards happiness. She, by finding her footing in the land of her home, and the South by trying to work together, without the violence. Let the old grudges die and move on to a more productive future. Which is good advice for Scarlett and Rhett as well.
Gone With the Wind opens with a beautiful young girl surrounded by eager young men. She is Scarlett O’Hara, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Gerald, an Irish immigrant, and Ellen, a true Southern lady. Scarlett is spoiled,vain and selfish. The year is 1861 and the place is a plantation called Tara, owned by her father, in Southern Georgia.
The two boys trying to get Scarlett’s attention are discussing the upcoming war. As gentlemen, they can’t wait to break away and set up a Southern Government. Of course, as young romantics, they can’t wait to fight in battles. They are surprised that Scarlett doesn’t want to talk about it, everyone else is very interested, but not Scarlett. They do peak her interest when they mention the upcoming engagement between Ashley Wilkes and his cousin, Melanie Hamilton. But, not the way the two swains had hoped. Scarlett becomes quiet. She is in love with Ashley and wants him for herself. Even though her father is against the match, telling her Ashley is not right for her, Scarlett decides that she will tell Ashely of her feelings at the upcoming barbecue and he will, of course, marry her.
Days later, at the barbecue that is being held at the plantation of the Wilkes, Scarlett sees Rhett Butler for the first time. She finds herself drawn to his masculinity, but will not let herself be swayed from her pursuit of Ashely, even when Melanie’s brother, Charles Hamilton proposes to her.
While the ladies are taking an afternoon nap, Scarlett finds Ashley and tells him of her love. He rejects her because they would not be right for each other. She is furious and slaps him. After he leaves, she flings a dish against a wall, which rouses Rhett Butler, who was resting on a couch in the room and heard the exchange. He teases her about being unladylike. She stalks from the room, only to overhear Melanie talking with Honey Wilkes, who is pursuing Melanie’s brother, Charles. Honey thinks Scarlett is too flirty, and Melanie who can only see the good in people defends Scarlett.
When Scarlett goes downstairs, the news has arrived that President Lincoln has called for troops, and the war has begun. Charles asks Scarlett to marry him again, and this time, seeing it as a good opportunity to punish Ashley and his sister, Honey, and also to salvage her pride, she accepts Charles’ offer. Soon Scarlett finds herself married to Charles, the day before Ashley’s wedding. Then Charles and Ashley are off to war, and within two months, Charles is dead of measles. Scarlett finds herself a widow with a baby on the way. She names him Wade Hampton Hamilton. Bored, and not liking her new role as a widow, Scarlett decides to visit Melanie and her aunt, Pittypat in Atlanta.
In May of 1862, Scarlett arrives with her maid and baby Wade in Atlanta. The hustle of the city starts to revive her, although, she is not pleased with wearing black or working at the hospital, tending the wounded soldiers, like all respectable ladies do. She learns from Charles, uncle about his fortune that is now in her care. The ladies throw a fundraiser that, as a widow, Scarlett is not supposed to attend. But, at the last minute, she and Melanie are asked to tend a booth. There she sees Rhett, who teases her about being married. When Dr. Meade comes around to ask women to donate jewelry to the cause, Scarlett throws in her hated wedding ring. Melanie, moved by Scarlett’s sacrifice, throws her own in.
Dr. Meade proposes a fundraiser in which the men bid for a dance with the lady of their choice. Rhett, who has become a famous blockade runner for the South, bids one hundred and fifty dollars in gold for a dance with Scarlett. Even though it is quite scandalous, Scarlett accepts. She can’t wait to dance. Rhett tells her he admires her beauty and spirit. He also knows she is as bored with the ’cause’ as he is. She pretends to be angry, but she actually agrees with him.
The next day all of the Atlanta is talking about Scarlett’s behavior of the day before. They denigrate Rhett, too, until he sends Melanie’s ring to her. He bought it from the basket the night before. Scarlett’s father, Gerald arrives in Atlanta to take his wayward daughter home and to confront Rhett. He doesn’t return until late in the night. He is drunk and has lost most of his money playing poker. Scarlett agrees to not tell her mother of his behavior if he will let her stay in Atlanta.
Rhett begins to pay frequent visits to see Scarlett. The town is scandalized, especially when he says he’s just running blockades for the money. He doesn’t believe in the cause and thinks the war is about money. The whole town hates him, but, Melanie still defends him. She says that Ashley says basically the same thing in his letters. Scarlett is surprised to find the two men agree on the topic.
One day, a prostitute named, Belle Watling, gave Melanie some money wrapped in a handkerchief for charity. When Scarlett sees the initials on the handkerchief are Rhett’s, she is furious that he would visit a prostitute.
The war rages on. Hoping to see a change after Gettysburg, the south is shocked to learn they lost the battle. Scarlett and Melanie join the rest of the women waiting by the newspaper office to learn of casualties. Although Ashley is fine, almost every family has lost someone. Soon Ashley comes home on leave, and Scarlett arranges to be alone with him before he leaves to go back to the war. This was why she stayed in Atlanta, for the chance to once again declare her love. She kisses him passionately, and he responds at first, but then pushes her away running to the train station.
In early 1864, Atlanta is starving. Rhett is still running supplies but is reviled for his success. Scarlett is heartbroken to learn that Ashley has been captured and Melanie is pregnant. Rhett tells her that Ashley could have been released if he had betrayed the south. But, Scarlett says Ashely is a gentleman.
As the war moves closer to Atlanta, the wounded soldiers keep pouring in by the trainload. One day, Scarlett can’t take tending them anymore and runs from the hospital. Rhett picks her up and gives her a ride back to where she is staying. Even the old men are enlisting now. Gerald would, but, he has a bad knee. Finally, people begin to flee Atalanta, including Aunt Pittypat. Scarlett longs to go home to Tara, but, can’t leave Melanie, who is too big to travel. She promised Ashley, before he left, to take care of Melanie, so she stays, even when she hears that the northerners are close to Tara and that her mother and two sisters both have typhoid fever. Melanie is too ill to move and fears she won’t survive the birth. She begs Scarlett to take her baby if she doesn’t make it.
As the city falls all around her, Melanie goes into labor. Scarlett wades through the dead and dying to get to the doctor, but, he can’t leave to deliver the baby. Scarlett is forced to attend the babies birth. The Yankee’s torch Atlanta and Scarlett send her maid to find Rhett. She wants him to help them flee the burning city. He steals an old horse and buggy and takes Scarlett, her maid, Melanie and her baby and little Wade for a harrowing ride out of the city. Scarlett tells him she is determined to return to Tara. He says it is suicidal, but he can’t take her, as he has decided to join the Confederate Army.
After a long and horrible ride, Scarlett arrives at Tara with a weak Melanie and the children. She finds out that her mother died the day before. Although Tara was used as a headquarters by the Yankees, they didn’t burn it down, just robbed it of all its stores. Scarlett is faced with huge hardships. Not only is her mother gone, but her sisters are still both sick as is Melanie, the food and slaves are almost all gone, and her father, who has dementia, thinks his wife is still alive. Scarlett goes next door to the Wilkes farm, which has been burned down, and manages to dig up a few turnips from the garden. She swears then, she will never go hungry again. As she devotes herself to feeding everyone, she becomes hard. As soon as her sisters are well enough, she makes them work in the fields with her, growing vegetables. As she works in the land, she gains her strength from it and becomes even more attached to Tara.
Finally, the war is over. The soldiers come home to the south a few at a time. Reluctantly, Scarlett shares their meager supplies with passing soldiers. One of them, a man named, Will Benteen, who has lost a leg, stays to work at Tara. He has a quiet, hard working, steadfast nature, and is just what Scarlett needed. He falls in love with her sister, Careen, but she doesn’t notice him. When Ashley comes up the lane, Will stops Scarlett from rushing to him, reminding her that he is Melanie’s husband, they need some time alone.
With the end of the war, comes the occupation. This also brings the scalawags and carpetbaggers, they were southern men who collaborated with the Yankees for personal gain. The occupying forces raised the taxes on Tara. Having heard that Rhett Butler was back in Atlanta, and had stolen lots of money from the Yankees, Scarlett decided to see him and make him marry her, so she could pay her taxes. If he wouldn’t marry her, then she would offer to be his mistress. Not wanting to seem desperate, she makes a new dress out of the green velvet curtains.
Upon arriving in Atlanta, she sees everything changed. Scarlett learns from her Aunt Pittypat that Rhett is in jail for killing a black man that was attacking a white woman. She visits him there and almost has him convinced until he sees her calloused hands. He tells her he couldn’t give her any money anyway, the army would trace the check and confiscate all his money, but she can watch him hang.
Dejectedly, Scarlett heads back to her aunt’s house. Along the way she sees Frank Hamilton, her sister’s fiance. He is driving a new buggy and tells her he has a store and plans to buy a sawmill soon. Despite his engagement to her sister, Scarlett knows she must marry Frank in order to save Tara. She tells him her sister is going to marry someone else and romances him down the aisle. After the marriage, he gives her the money to save Tara.
Scarlett begins to run Frank’s business and becomes a ruthless businesswoman. Having bribed his way out of prison, Rhett stops in to congratulate her on her marriage. He offers to loan her the money to buy a sawmill if she won’t use it to help Ashley. He doesn’t realize she has given up on her school girl crush and is now just looking to acquire the power money can give her. Frank is terrified of Scarlett and hopes to have a baby will settle her down. As Atlanta churns with unrest, Scarlett keeps her mind on business and puts off other worries until later. Scalawags are churning up the blacks, and the Ku Klux Klan are churning up the whites.
Scarlett learns of her father’s death and heads back to Tara. When she arrives, she learns that Will has decided to marry her sister, Suellen, and stay at Tara. After her father’s funeral, Ashley announces that he is going to take his family to New York to find work. He doesn’t want to live off Scarlett’s charity. Scarlett begins to cry, and Melanie finds her. Melanie urges Ashley to accept Scarlett’s offer of helping her with the sawmill to repay her for her kindnesses and to let their son grow up in Atlanta instead of the North. Ashley agrees even though he feels it costs him his honor.
After Will and Suellen’s wedding, Careen joins a convent, and Ashley, Melanie, and their baby move into a little house next to Aunt Pittypat’s. Melanie’s house quickly becomes a meeting place for southern families due to her kindness and generosity.
After the birth of her daughter, Ella, Scarlett wants to go back to the mills and to work, but, Frank forbids her. She goes anyway. After the Georgia legislature refuses an amendment granting freed slaves citizenship, she knows the Yankees are going to make it harder on Atlanta. Against all protests, Scarlett leases ten convicts to work in the mills and hires an Irishman, Johnnie Gallegher as foreman. To her dismay, he gets a lot more production out of the workers than Ashley did.
Things start to get worse for Scarlett. She learns that Gallegher is starving and beating the convicts. She wants to fire him but is discouraged because of his successes. Then she comes across Big Sam, a former slave from Tara. He is wanted for killing a Yankee. Scarlett tells him to meet her that night and she will help him escape to Tara. When she comes back that night, she is attacked by a poor white man and his black companion. Big Sam runs out and saves her. She goes back home and collapses into sobs. Frank sends her to stay with Melanie, while he goes out. Later, Rhett shows up and asks where Frank and Ashley have gone. Scarlett doesn’t know what’s happening. Melanie tells them that Frank and Ashley are with the Ku Klux Klan and are avenging the attack on Scarlett.
A Yankee captain arrives, demanding to know where the men are. Rhett arrives with Ashley and another man. The two have Ashley supported between them and are acting drunk. They said they had been at Belle Watling’s house all night. After the captain leaves, they reveal that Ashley is not drunk, but hurt. In her worry for Ashley, Scarlett neglects to asks about Frank. Rhett tells her that Frank was shot and is dead.
The next day, Scarlett, Melanie and Belle must testify to the claims of the night before. Belle supports their story, and Melanie thanks her profusely. Belle is amazed that a lady like Melanie would talk to her. Later, Scarlett is drinking and feeling guilty about how she treated Frank. Rhett arrives, tells her to marry him, and then kisses her. She agrees to shock the people of Atlanta, and they leave on a honeymoon to New Orleans.
Scarlett settles into a life of opulence married to Rhett. She builds a huge mansion and entertains Yankees and scalawags. She is only interested in wealth and disdains the proud Southerners. She is happy with Rhett even though he often belittles her. He tells her she can have anything money can buy, but he will not support the sawmills and Ashley. Whenever the Southerners scorn her and Rhett, Melanie defends them and prevents them from being completely shunned.
Soon, they have a baby girl. They name her Eugenie Victoria, but when Melanie remarks on how blue her eyes are, they nickname her Bonnie Blue. Rhett has an intense love for his daughter and embarks on a quest to raise his standing with the Southern ladies so as to make Bonnie accepted. The southern women accept Rhett and his daughter, but still shun Scarlett.
Melanie throws a surprise party for Ashley and sends Scarlett to stall him. They begin to speak of the old days, and she begins to cry. He hugs her to console her and is seen by his sister and her husband. They run back to tell Melanie. Scarlett is worried because Melanie’s opinion matters so much to her. Melanie welcomes her with open arms. But, still most of the society turns away. When Scarlett returns home, she finds Rhett furious and drunk. He carries her upstairs to bed and takes her roughly. She decides she loves him and wants to be with him, but, he tells her he will take Bonnie and go on a vacation without her. While he is gone, she discovers she is pregnant again. When he returns he scornfully tells her to relax, maybe she will miscarry. When she tries to slap him, he dodges and she falls down the stairs. She loses the baby. While she is recuperating he tearfully tells Melanie that he loves Scarlett, and begs her to convince Ashley to buy the sawmill from Scarlett. He will give Ashley the money anonymously.
As Rhett works to rebuild the South and bring the Democratic party into office, he continues to spoil Bonnie. When she asks for a pony he gives her one. She falls during a jump and doesn’t survive. Rhett is inconsolable. Only Melanie can help him. Scarlett tries to reach him, but he stays drunk and spends his time at Belles.
Scarlett receives word that Melanie is dying. Although she was told not to get pregnant again, she did and the miscarriage is killing her. Melanie asks Scarlett to take care of Ashley and their son. She agrees and finds that she must be strong for him. When she goes back to her and Rhett’s home, she tells him that she loves him, he says he doesn’t “Give a Damn”. Then he leaves. Scarlett is at a loss, then decides she will go back to Tara to find strength and she will “think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of a way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.”
Scarlett O’Hara – for Scarlett the world revolves around her. She is vain, self-centered, and sure of herself. When she wants something, she should have it whether it is a new dress or a man. Scarlett is a flirt. She is used to manipulating men to get what her way.
When the story begins, Scarlett is sixteen years old, and has decided the handsome boy next door is supposed to be hers. Not that she actually knows him as a man, she has romanticized him. When he rebuffs her, she does what most teenagers would do and seeks revenge. And, like teenage girls have done throughout time, she hurts herself in trying to hurt him. Along the lines of, “I’ll show you! You’ll be sorry! I can have any man I want!” So, she marries the next boy who asks her, and since he is the brother of Melanie, who is the girl Ashley is marrying, the boy next door, the revenge is even sweeter. In her mind she is probably picturing the torment Ashley will go through every time he sees them together. And, she probably thinks he will stop the wedding and declare his love to her. But, Scarlett and Charles Hamilton are married the day before Ashley and Melanie, without anyone objecting.
By the end of the book, Scarlett has buried two husbands, has had a child by each of them, and her third marriage is in trouble. But, the saddest part is the loss of the daughter from her third marriage to Rhett. In a few short years, Scarlett goes from a precocious young girl to a hardened woman. She tries to cover up her flaws and roughened interior, but it’s still there. Just as with the Southern states, when trying to rebuild their way of life. They had been demoralized so completely that it was impossible to ever go back. In the end of the book, Scarlett hopes to renew herself at Tara, but the reader knows it will take more than that.
Rhett Butler – Rhett is one of the strongest romantic leading men written. He ranks up there with Jane Austen’s Darcy as a “book boyfriend” by a lot of women. He is tall and handsome with a devil may care attitude toward life. Although he shows contempt for the Southern way of life, it actually holds a special place in his heart.
The Butler’s are a fine, distinguished Southern family, but Rhett is the black sheep. Thrown out of West Point, he is not the type of man to fall in line and take orders. He also is too pragmatic for the romanticized nature of the Southern Gentleman. He even announces he is no gentleman. The first time Rhett sees Scarlett he is attracted to her feisty nature. He sees her flaws, and although he desires her, he doesn’t want to marry her. Every time he sees her, his straightforward honesty calls her on the ‘proper’ lies she tells herself and others.
When they do finally marry, his goal is to remove the stresses of rebuilding her life and teach her to enjoy herself again. He makes her be more woman, less lady, which is her true nature. When their daughter is born, he transfers his devotion from his wife to his daughter. Unfortunately, that involves indulging her every whim. Even a pony, and jumping fences she is too young to tackle. When their daughter dies, he is completely devastated. Instead of turning to Scarlett, he turns away. In the end, his pain is too deep. Not being able to express his love to Scarlett for fear she will lose interest, and the only person he had been able to express his love for was now gone, he closed off his heart, and assumed, since Scarlett never showed love, that hers was already closed. In the end, he was just so broken that he didn’t care what Scarlett or anyone else did, he just wanted to get away.
Ashley Wilkes – the epitome of the Southern Gentleman. Although he shows his baser nature with Scarlett, he always goes back to doing his duty. Having led Scarlett to believe he will marry her, he instead does his duty and marries the lady his family wants him to marry. But, before he does, he allows Scarlett to think he still loves her. Throughout the book, he strings her along, wanting to keep her idealized version of himself going, but, not taking into account what it is doing to her emotionally. When she finally realizes he is not as wonderful as her girlish dreams made him, she is able to give her love to Rhett.
Melanie Wilkes – the epitome of the Southern Lady. She is stoic, quiet, loyal and kind. Of course, Scarlett hates her because she is all that Scarlett’s fiery nature would never allow herself to be. But, she also admires her, as all who meet Melanie do. She shows a surprising strength during the war and is a staunch supporter of Scarlett. Melanie considers Scarlett her sister, since she married, Charles, Melanie’s brother. But, more than that the bond the two women form during the war, can never be broken. In the end, Scarlett realizes that the uncompromising love Melanie has shown her is what has helped her to survive, and more important than whatever Scarlett thought she felt for Ashely. If Ashley represents the Old South and its heavy weight of tradition, Melanie represents the parts of the South that can pull through the restructuring of traditions. She shows the strength that will still be standing when all is said and done.
Margaret Mitchell Biography
Born in 1900, Margaret Mitchell started out life as the privileged little girl of a well to do Southern family. When she was very little an accident involving a gate and a fire, made her mother determine to never let her wear dresses. Until Margaret was fourteen, she wore pants and was referred to as Jimmy. Her brother refused to play with anyone who wasn’t named Jimmy. Her brother categorized her as a tomboy. During this time, she was already making up stories.
She started with stories about animals, moved to fairy tales and adventure stories. Some of these stories have been preserved, and are now in print, “Before Scarlett: Girlhood Writings of Margaret Mitchell”. An avid reader, she would curl up on the breezy front porch of her family’s Victorian home, in Atlanta, Georgia. When she was twelve years old the family moved from Jackson Hill to the most affluent neighborhood of Peachtree Street.
All through school, Margaret wrote. She wrote stories and plays, then when her mother passed away, Margaret finished the school year, and went home to take care of her father. There were domestic and social functions that the world thought only a woman could fill. It didn’t matter that her mother had wanted Margaret to get an education. Feeling that she might succumb to the ‘Spanish flu’ of 1918, Margaret’s mother’s last words to her were in a brief note, “Give of yourself with both hands and overflowing heart, but give only the excess after you have lived your own life.”
Margaret had also just lost the love of her life, Lt. Clifford West Henry. He was killed in action in France, and she was devastated.
A debutante and a member of society in Atlanta, Margaret had certain criteria she was to follow in order to be termed a ‘lady’. She did not follow the rules. Margaret scandalized the society matrons by dancing the tango and flirting outrageously. Although many men professed their love for her, she never misled any of them, but, found herself engaged to five different men.
In 1922, she was seriously dating two men, Berrien “Red” Upshaw and his roommate and friend, John R. Marsh. She finally married Red, but then she discovered he was an abusive drunk, so she divorced him in 1924. Then in 1925, she married John Marsh. During this time, Margaret was working as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine. Since journalism was not the ‘thing to do’ in her social circle, Margaret received no support from family and friends. But, her stories proved to be successful. Especially, the story about Rudolph Valentino, who she tangoed with, and the last surviving bridesmaid at the wedding of Theodore Roosevelt.
In May of 1926, Margaret hurt her ankle severely. Because of this, she had to leave her job as a journalist. Through boredom, she had her husband stop at the library to bring books home to her almost daily. Finally, fed up, he suggested she just write her own book. Thus, “Gone With the Wind” was born.
When it was finally published, the success of the book was phenomenal. Margaret never wrote another because the aftermath of this book kept her extremely busy. Her book was to become a movie. The producers wanted her input, and her experience writing plays and the stories she grew up with of the Old South, the Civil War and it’s aftermath, were needed. The premier of “Gone With the Wind” movie was aired in Atlanta. Margaret and her husband were there, including some Civil War Vets. She took the time to shake all their hands.
Margaret Mitchell was an extremely gracious woman. After her book spread across the world, she received millions of fan letters and tried to personally answer every one. She was asked to christian ships, open factories, etc. She became Atlanta’s in-house celebrity and lent her name to charities and causes. During World War II, Margaret corresponded with soldiers, trying to keep their morale up. She volunteered at the Red Cross and sold War Bonds. She even sewed hospital gowns.
Then on August 11, 1949, when Margaret was only 48 years old, she was struck by a drunk driver while crossing the street with her husband on their way to see a movie. The driver was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and only sentenced to eighteen months in jail. He served eleven months.