Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind

December 15, 1939

1. The book has 5 parts. the first part, opens April 15, 1861, at "Tara," a plantation owned by Gerald O'Hara, an Irish immigrant who has become a successful planter, and his wife, Ellen Robillard O'Hara, from a coastal aristocratic f...

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Historical Fiction

1048 Pages
4.8

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Book Content


1. The book has 5 parts. the first part, opens April 15, 1861, at "Tara," a plantation owned by Gerald O'Hara, an Irish immigrant who has become a successful planter, and his wife, Ellen Robillard O'Hara, from a coastal aristocratic family of French descent.

Gone with the Wind is a novel by American writer Margaret Mitchell, first published in 1936. The story is set in Clayton County and Atlanta, both in Georgia, during the American Civil War and Reconstruction Era. It depicts the struggles of young Scarlett O'Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, who must use every means at her disposal to claw her way out of poverty following Sherman's destructive "March to the Sea". This historical novel features a Bildungsroman or coming-of-age story, with the title taken from a poem written by Ernest Dowson.

 

Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell (November 8, 1900 – August 16, 1949) was an American novelist, and journalist. Mitchell wrote only one novel, published during her lifetime, the American Civil War-era novel Gone with the Wind, for which she won the National Book Award for Most Distinguished Novel of 1936  and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937. In more recent years, a collection of Mitchell's girlhood writings and a novella she wrote as a teenager, Lost Laysen, have been published. A collection of articles written by Mitchell for The Atlanta Journal was republished in book form.

 

Summary: Chapter I

 

Sixteen-year-old Scarlett O’Hara lounges on the front porch of Tara, her father’s plantation in northern Georgia, in the spring of 1861. She flirts with the nineteen-year-old twin brothers Brent and Stuart Tarleton. The boys excitedly discuss the rumors that a war will soon break out between the North and the South. Scarlett changes the subject to the next day’s barbecue and ball at the Twelve Oaks plantation. Brent and Stuart tell her that Ashley Wilkes, the son of the proprietor of Twelve Oaks, will announce his engagement to Melanie Hamilton, his cousin, at the ball. Scarlett, who wants Ashley for herself, tries to act normally but cannot maintain her vivaciousness. The twins leave, baffled by Scarlett’s sudden silence.

Summary: Chapter II

 

    Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything. . .

Distressed by the news of Ashley’s engagement, Scarlett hurries to the road to wait for her father, who has gone visiting at Twelve Oaks. Gerald O’Hara rides into view at breakneck speed and jumps a fence. Scarlett teasingly reminds him that he promised her mother, Ellen, not to jump fences, but she vows to keep his reckless behavior a secret. At Scarlett’s probing, Gerald confirms that Ashley plans to marry Melanie. He sharply warns Scarlett that she and Ashley would make a terrible match. Gerald says the Wilkeses are too interested in music and poetry, and though Ashley excels at masculine pursuits like riding and shooting, his heart is not in them. On the porch, Scarlett and her father encounter Ellen, who is rushing out to help baptize Emmie Slattery’s dying newborn. Mammy, an old slave who has been with Ellen since childhood, does not think Ellen should help the unwed Emmie, whose “white trash” family lives adjacent to the O’Hara plantation.

Summary: Chapter III

 

Scarlett thinks about her mother’s gentle grace and good breeding, so different from her own willful and passionate ways. Scarlett inherited her temperament from Gerald, who fled his unremarkable life in Ireland after killing another man in a feud. Gerald won his first slave, Pork, and his plantation in a poker game. Though lacking good breeding, Gerald won over the neighbors’ hearts with his kindness. Ellen, a placid, serious woman from the aristocratic Robillard family of Savannah, agreed to marry Gerald after the death of her first love, her cousin Philippe. She blamed her family for driving Philippe away from Savannah and from her, and out of frustration and revenge she married the low-class Gerald. Scarlett, the oldest and most strong-willed O’Hara daughter, lacks beauty. Still, she has learned ladylike behavior from Ellen and Mammy and has used her charms to become the most-pursued belle in the neighborhood.

Summary: Chapter IV

 

That day, Gerald has purchased a slave named Dilcey from Twelve Oaks so that Dilcey can be with Pork, who is her husband. At dinner that night, Dilcey thanks Gerald and offers Prissy, her daughter, to be Scarlett’s personal maid. Ellen returns late from the Slattery’s house. As Ellen leads the nightly prayer, Scarlett concocts a plan to win Ashley from Melanie. She resolves to tell Ashley she loves him at the barbecue. She feels sure that when Ashley knows her true feelings he will elope with her. Scarlett overhears Ellen telling Gerald that Jonas Wilkerson, Tara’s Yankee overseer, must be dismissed. Scarlett realizes that Wilkerson was the father of Emmie Slattery’s dead child.

Analysis: Chapters I–IV

 

The first chapters of Gone with the Wind present the pre-Civil War South. The O’Haras and the Wilkeses are upper-class, wealthy, white plantation owners who mix traditional values like chivalry, honor, and propriety with a pioneer-style enthusiasm for drinking, horseback riding, and shooting. Family and money rule the social hierarchy, as we see by the neighbors’ initial hesitancy to accept Gerald O’Hara. Even so, Gerald’s ultimate acceptance by the neighbors shows that a devotion to the South and to its culture—along with a good marriage—can secure respect for a self-made man such as he. The slaves also live in a set social order. House workers outrank field hands and take pride in their higher status. For poor whites like the Slatterys, called “white trash” by wealthy whites and poor slaves alike, survival depends on the charity of rich neighbors. Pride permeates even the lowest rungs of society, however, and the Slatterys refuse to be bought out of their land. The characters also take great pride in the South, and in the weeks before the war this pride swells among the young men who have signed up to fight against the North.

 

The Southern society of the novel expects men and women to conform to specific gender roles. The narrator notes that the man owns the property but the woman manages it; the man takes credit for managing the property, and the woman then “praise[s] his cleverness.” Owning property gives men rights and power, but they share little of the reward that results from the women’s hard work. Women have all the work and responsibility of running the property, but enjoy only those rights that men deign to grant them. The narrator stresses the absurdity of these gender roles, sarcastically saying, “[t]he man roared like a bull when a splinter was in his finger, and the woman muffled the moans of childbirth, lest she disturb him.” In this society, men expect women to suppress their needs and desires and focus attention on the men. Women are not even allowed to take credit for their own intelligence, bravery, and strength.

Part One: Chapters I–IV

            Society punishes those women who put a toe over the gender lines. Scarlett, willful like her father, who sometimes treats her like the son he never had, constantly butts against these rigid gender roles. As a child she prefers playing in the trees with boys to sitting calmly inside with girls. As she grows older, she resents putting on a façade of helplessness and silliness to attract men. Like the men of the Old South, Scarlett acts selfishly and vainly and requires constant pampering. Although in character Scarlett resembles the men around her more than she resembles the women, her world does not allow her to budge from the restrictive role prescribed for women. Scarlett adapts to this social restraint, using her cunning and will to present a ladylike face to the world while maintaining her masculine interior.

 

Foreshadowing abounds in the early chapters. When we see Ellen O’Hara rush off to help Emmie Slattery and Emmie’s dying newborn, we glimpse a character trait in Ellen—her selflessness—that becomes significant during the war. Similarly, Gerald’s reckless fence-jumping establishes a pattern of dangerous behavior that recurs in a later scene. The brief mention of an implied relationship between the stereotyped characters Jonas Wilkerson, the Yankee overseer, and Emmie Slattery, a poor “white trash” girl, foreshadows these characters’ eventual return to the lives of the O’Hara family. These scenes and interactions seem unimportant, but they lend crucial credibility to later plot developments.

 

Summary: Chapter V

 

On the morning of the Wilkes’s party Scarlett chooses a dress that will show off her seventeen-inch waist. Mammy persuades Scarlett to eat something to discourage an unladylike appetite at the barbecue. Ellen cannot attend the barbeque because she must go over the plantation accounts with Jonas Wilkerson before he leaves Tara. On the road, the O’Haras meet the Tarleton women. Gerald and feisty Mrs. Tarleton talk about horses and the possibility of war. Scarlett barely listens, and even the mention of Ashley’s engagement fails to disrupt her daydreams of eloping with him.

Summary: Chapter VI

 

All the county’s best families have arrived at Twelve Oaks. Scarlett notices a tall, dark, and powerfully built man staring at her without proper deference. His boldness thrills and shocks her. She learns that he is Rhett Butler, a scandalous man from an aristocratic family in Charleston, South Carolina. Rhett once took a girl out without a chaperone and then refused to marry her, though he should have married her after such outrageous behavior. In defense of his sister’s honor, the girl’s brother challenged Rhett to a duel. Rhett killed the brother during the duel.

 

Scarlett commands the largest circle of suitors and admirers at the barbeque, including Charles Hamilton. Charles, Melanie’s timid brother, showers Scarlett with awkward attention. He even proposes to her, although he is already Honey Wilkes’s beau. Scarlett hardly hears Charles, fixing her attention on Ashley. Sitting with Melanie, he seems oblivious to Scarlett’s admirers.

 

The talk of war has attracted men young and old, who boast that they will defeat the Yankees in a month or less. Rhett contemptuously interjects that there are no cannon factories in the South, only a few iron foundries, and no naval power to keep the Southern ports open. He claims that the Yankees will prevail easily and excuses himself before the outraged men can respond.

 

After the women and girls go upstairs to take their afternoon naps, Scarlett slips into the dark library to intercept Ashley. When Ashley enters, Scarlett confesses her love. To her dismay, he says that he plans to marry Melanie and tells her that she would come to hate him if they were married because they are too different to make a good match. Her pride stung, Scarlett slaps him. He walks quietly out of the room and she hurls a bowl at the wall, shattering it. Unbeknownst to Scarlett, Rhett has been lying on the couch, and he now he sits up and teases her about her unladylike manner. Furious and humiliated, Scarlett storms out with all the dignity she can muster. She goes upstairs and overhears Honey jealously telling Melanie that Scarlett is “fast.” To Scarlett’s disgust, Melanie, who can see only the good in people, defends Scarlett. Scarlett runs back downstairs just as news arrives that President Lincoln has called for troops, signaling the start of the Civil War. Charles spots Scarlett and again asks her to marry him. Seeing an opportunity to hurt Ashley and Honey and salvage her own pride, Scarlett accepts.

Summary: Chapter VII

 

The next months pass in a blur. Scarlett and Charles marry just one day before Melanie and Ashley’s wedding. The men then go off to war and Charles dies of measles only two months later. Scarlett gives birth to a son and names him Wade Hampton Hamilton, after Charles’s commanding officer. Scarlett hates the restrictive and boring life of a widowed mother, hates the general excitement over the war, and hates that Ashley is married. She takes a trip to Atlanta to stay with Melanie and her aunt, Pittypat.

Analysis: Chapters V–VII

 

Rhett Butler appears in Chapter VI as a foil (a character whose attitudes or emotions contrast with and thereby accentuate those of another character) for Ashley Hamilton. Rhett plays the North to Ashley’s South, and the contrast between the two men deepens our understanding of the clashing cultural attitudes and tensions in the South. Blond, gentle Ashley stands for the romantic and doomed values of the Southern world, while dark, powerful Rhett represents the hardened, practical Northern world that rises up victorious after the war. When Scarlett desperately attempts to get Ashley’s attention, his chivalrous devotion to Melanie contrasts with Rhett’s ungentlemanly, heated stares at Scarlett. After Ashley takes Scarlett’s slap with dignified pain and sorrow, Rhett mercilessly teases Scarlett in manner unbecoming a refined Southern gentleman.

 

Scarlett’s interactions with Ashley and Rhett mirror the conflict the South is to undergo between old and new ways. The Civil War breaks out just as Scarlett loses Ashley to Melanie. Marrying Ashley, who represents the pinnacle of Southern chivalry, would have cemented Scarlett in the wealthy plantation lifestyle. The declaration of war necessitates the pair of hasty marriages and Scarlett’s loss of Ashley. Scarlett’s loss of Ashley therefore reflects the South’s impending loss of its aristocratic culture in the war. Ashley becomes unattainable for Scarlett, just as the life he represents becomes irrecoverable for the South. At this crucial moment, the introduction of Rhett, an outcast from aristocratic society, represents a new future for both Scarlett and the South. Scarlett, with her desire for more personal freedom than her culture allows her, finds herself drawn to Rhett. Later, Scarlett finds herself struggling to choose between the honorable Southern gentleman Ashley Wilkes and the opportunistic, irreverent cynic Rhett Butler, just as the South finds itself struggling to choose between its traditional culture and values based on land, inheritance, and slave-driven agriculture, and the new Northern way of life driven by the industrial economy and individual freedom.

 

The omniscient narrative voice shifts between a focus on Scarlett and a general perspective. Primarily, the narrative concerns itself with Scarlett’s actions and thoughts, allowing us to see her as other characters cannot. Upon Charles’s death, Melanie and Aunt Pittypat think that Scarlett is crying over the loss of her husband, but the narrator reveals that Scarlett is actually crying because of her secret passion for Ashley and her jealous hatred of Melanie. This shifting narrative voice also allows Mitchell to explain historical events that Scarlett does not understand and does not want to understand. It is important to understand the historical context of the novel’s setting, which shapes the lives of all of the characters. The narration also speaks from a general perspective in order to illustrate the difference between the sentiments typical of the wealthy Southern culture and those of Scarlett, which are often atypical. For example, when talk turns to war or patriotism, the narrator shows both typical Southern war fever and Scarlett’s unusual lack of interest. Shifting between viewpoints accentuates Scarlett’s independence.

 

Review:

Gone With the Wind is a story about civil war, starvation, rape, murder, heartbreak and slavery. It is not necessarily a book one would associate with hope. And yet, at the novel’s heart lies Scarlett O’Hara, one of the most ruthlessly optimistic characters in literature.

 

No moment illustrates Scarlett better than her return to Tara – the family home – after the collapse of Atlanta. She allows herself one night of lamenting all that has been lost; the next morning, she marches blindly into the future. “Scarlett was never to look back,” as Margaret Mitchell puts it.

 

Scarlett maintains this headstrong hopefulness as society collapses around her. She has a one-track mind, to the point of selfishness – she barely manages to fake interest in “the Cause”, the southern US states’ doomed stand against the Yankees. Everything beyond her circle is essentially irrelevant.

Reading this novel in 2016, it is notable which characters survive and prosper in the new world. It is not the “good” characters who renew themselves from the disintegration of a civilisation; as Rhett Butler, Scarlett’s eternal sparring partner, points out: “The nicest people in town are starving.”

 

Instead, it is the carpetbaggers and the speculators who thrive in the collapse of the south; the people who seize their moment, abandoning the past for the possibilities of the future. “There’s good money in empire building,” Rhett notes. “But there’s more in empire wrecking.” This is hope, but not hope for all.

 

Mitchell carefully analyses the nature of human resilience, and holds up hopefulness as the critical tool for getting through the worst times. At one of the lowest points, Scarlett’s neighbour, the elderly Grandma Fontaine, insists that Scarlett continues to hope. “We bow to the inevitable,” she tells Scarlett. “We’re not wheat. We’re buckwheat. When a storm comes along it flattens ripe wheat because it’s dry and can’t bend with the wind. But ripe buckwheat’s got sap and it bends. And when the wind has passed, it springs up, almost as straight and strong as before.”

 

But never – never – can Scarlett pause in this battle for survival. “Don’t think you can lay down the load, ever,” says Grandma. “Because you can’t. I know.”

 

Paradoxically, hope is also Scarlett’s Achilles heel. She clings on to the dream of her great unfulfilled love, Ashley, for years – wilfully ignoring any other course to happiness. Her focus on tomorrow constantly pushes good deeds into an indeterminate future. One day, she’ll get around to teaching her son “his ABCs”. One day, she fully intends to be a “great lady”, mimicking the poise of her sainted mama. But she never quite gets round to it. Instead, Scarlett ensures that those close to her are dragged along in her wake. Even if the once-pampered beauty doesn’t like most of her family, they will not be permitted to fall through the cracks.

In my family, Gone With the Wind is handed down from mother to daughter in the way other families pass down heirlooms. It is our survival guide. My mother tackles most problems with a “what would Scarlett do?” mindset – and even if the answer is “rip down the curtains, knock together a dress and get the hell on with it”, that’ll be what she does. Scarlett wouldn’t bat an eyelash at anything from bad hair to bullying bosses – she would just calculate the best possible next move and go for it.

 

But most of all, in the bleak days of 2016, it is Scarlett’s belief that tomorrow will be better that feels endlessly and gleefully hopeful. After all, as she knows so well: “Tomorrow is another day.”

 

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