Gone With the Wind: Summary, Characters & Author

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

Gone with the Wind is the ultimate American Civil War story. Filled with southern belles and plantations, war and death and redemption, ruthless women and besotted men, Gone with the Wind will stand up as one of the best novels of all time.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, was published in 1936. This sweeping Civil War saga owes its popularity to its gritty descriptions of war and its flowery love stories. Gone with the Wind, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937, is the story of the way a land and people ravaged by war can reach within themselves and overcome what seem to be insurmountable odds. This novel also shatters stereotypes about the place of women and minorities in society.

Major Characters

Scarlett O'Hara is sixteen, the daughter of Ellen and Gerald O'Hara. She is not beautiful, but she has a manner about her that draws the male suitors. Scarlett is ruthless, and values both her plantation home of Tara and her independence. She will do anything to keep either.

Ashley Wilkes is the man Scarlett believes she loves. Though he has feelings for Scarlett, he marries his pretty, but frail, cousin Melanie. Ashley is pale and handsome, but often has trouble making up his mind. His wishy-washy attitude is in direct contrast to Scarlett's single-minded determination.

Melanie (Hamilton) Wilkes is Ashley's cousin and later wife. Always sickly, Melanie is everything Scarlett is not: kind, demure, and self-sacrificing. Though she'd love to hate Melanie, Scarlett feels a grudging respect for her dedication to Ashley and their son.

Rhett Butler is a dashing man who is described as a 'scalawag' often in Gone with the Wind. He is the opposite of the calm Ashley: dark, handsome, a drinker and gambler and all around ne'er do well. Rhett is the one man that Scarlett cannot control, and this makes her want him even more.

Gone with the Wind
Gone with the Wind

Before the Civil War

The story begins in springtime, 1861, the day before the men in Georgia are called to the Civil War. Tensions are high as everyone is sure that Georgia will secede and war is imminent. The men think that the war will be great fun and a chance to send the Yankees home with their pride in tatters. None of these spoiled boys realize what a battle entails.

Sixteen year old Scarlett O'Hara is not impressed with the talk of war. The typical Southern Belle. flirts with her many male suitors and pines over Ashley Wilkes, who is engaged to Melanie Hamilton. Scarlett confronts Ashley, who admits he has feelings for her, but is still going to marry Melanie. In a not-so-rare display of temper, Scarlett slaps Ashley, but soon realizes that her fit was witnessed by Rhett Butler, who comments on her unladylike behavior.

During the Civil War

The War begins, and the men rush off to battle. Charles Hamilton proposes to Scarlett, and she agrees to spite Ashley (and maybe Rhett). They marry, Charles joins the army and dies of measles, and Scarlett realizes she is pregnant. She has a son, Wade, but she is bored and miserable at Tara. So, she leaves for Atlanta with Melanie to visit Melanie's Aunt Pittypat, and soon runs into Rhett Butler. The two date, though society is scandalized.

The War progresses, and both food and clothing become harder to get. Melanie and Scarlett spend their time helping the war effort, though Melanie's motivations are true while Scarlett wants to look good to society. Daily, the lists of dead and missing are posted, and both Melanie and Scarlett fear for Ashley's safety. Their fears are realized after the Battle of Gettysburg, where Ashley is taken prisoner. The Union army bears down on Atlanta, and Scarlett is stuck cowering with the heavily pregnant Melanie.

The Yankees arrive and set Atlanta on fire, as Melanie gives birth to a baby boy, Beau, with Scarlett as midwife. Rhett arrives and helps Scarlett and Melanie escape, but leaves them outside the city so he can be a hero and join the army. Scarlett curses him for just now becoming concerned with the war effort, but she (again) does what she has to. Scarlett drives the cart through the night and finally reaches Tara.

But Tara isn't the sanctuary she'd hoped. Her mother has died, her father is insane, and the Union soldiers have looted their home, leaving no food. Starving, the once-proud Scarlett rummages in the dirt for something to eat, vowing she will never go hungry again. This moment is a turning point for Scarlett, who finally realizes that the only person she can count on is herself.

After the Civil War

Scarlett rebuilds Tara, defending her home against thieves and fire. Scarlett learns that a man named Jonas Wilkerson, who used to work for the O'Hara's, has raised their taxes because he wants to buy the property. The O'Hara's owe three hundred dollars, and Scarlett doesn't even have a penny.

Scarlett goes to Atlanta to try to get Rhett, who got rich running the Union blockades, to give her some money. But, he's held prisoner by the Yankees and can't help. So, she goes to see Frank Kennedy, her sister Suellen's beau. Scarlett puts Tara ahead of her family and seduces and marries Frank, breaking her sister's heart, but getting the money to save Tara.

Time passes, and the South slowly recovers from the war. Scarlett becomes a feared businesswoman, and she and Frank have a baby girl, Ella. One night, Scarlett is attacked and almost robbed, and the next day the Ku Klux Klan avenges the crime. During the attack, Frank is killed and Scarlett is widowed for the second time.

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