Gone With The Wind: Themes & Setting

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Set in the deep South in the midst of the Civil War makes for some interesting theme and setting ideas for '~'Gone With the Wind'~'. In this lesson, you'll get a glimpse at both, including some words from the author herself.

Gone With the Wind

If you're looking to get caught up in an epic novel, with a coming-of-age tale, sweeping historical drama and a look at life on a Southern plantation, you can't go wrong with the book that's the subject of this lesson.

Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, published in 1936, packs in a lot of details. Of course, it's more than a thousand pages long so there's plenty of space in which to cover a young girl growing into a woman, race, war and the deep South during a particularly tumultuous period in United States history.

The book earned Mitchell the Pulitzer Prize and was adapted for film a few years later.

Vivien Leigh portrayed Scarlett OHara in the film adaptation of the Margaret Mitchell classic.
gone with the wind, margaret mitchell, vivien leigh

We won't get into the complexities of the novel itself or the fascinating elements of the movie, including one of the all-time most memorable movie lines ever (''Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!''). We'll leave that to another lesson or two. What we will cover here are two important pieces of Mitchell's writing, including the setting, which incorporates a spectacular house, an important time period and a crucial location, as well as the theme of the novel from the author's own perspective.


There are three things to consider when you're looking at the setting, or time and place, of Gone With the Wind. First, there's the plantation house, affectionately known as ''Tara''. The sprawling white house sat among rolling green pastures and red fields, and incited a feeling of love from the book's main character, Scarlett O'Hara, who said: ''Nowhere else in the world was there land like this.''

The house is a plantation home, with working slaves, an accurate representation of the area where the house was situated (in Georgia) during the time period covered in the novel (the mid- to late-1800s). Tara is one of the few plantations that survived the march of General Sherman that brought destruction across the South during the Civil War.

The story of Gone With the Wind begins with the Civil War and continues about ten years after the war's completion, a time known as the Reconstruction Era when the South was rebuilt. The time period is particularly interesting because we see stereotypical representations in many parts of the story: women who were supposed to act a certain way, delicate and unaffected by even the most common of feelings - hunger. At one point, Scarlett is disagreeing with her black maid and housekeeper, Mammy (a racial stereotype representing an older, dark-skinned woman), about eating before a picnic rather than at the picnic:

''At that barbecue when you were sick and I didn't eat beforehand, Ashley Wilkes told me he liked to see a girl with a healthy appetite.''

It might be worth noting that the South, as the characters saw it in Gone With the Wind, never really existed for the readers of the book. Their ideal South was ushered out with the presence of the Civil War, so all we see is the South as the key players want us to see it. It doesn't stop them from pining over the old days, though: ''The old days had gone but these people would go their ways as if the old days still existed, charming, leisurely, determined not to rush and scramble for pennies as the Yankees did, determined to part with none of their old ways.''


If you were to write a book and be asked the theme, that would have to be the theme, right? In 1936, someone did just that. The book's author, Margaret Mitchell, was asked her thoughts on the theme of her own book.

This is what she offered: ''If the novel has a theme, it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don't. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality 'gumption.' So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn't.''

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