Gone with the Wind is a 1936 American novel by Margaret Mitchell set in the Old South during the American Civil War and Reconstruction. The novel won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize and was adapted into an Academy Award-winning 1939 film of the same name. It was also adapted during the 1970s into a stage musical titled Scarlett; there is also a 2008 new musical stage adaptation in London's West End titled Gone With The Wind. It is the only novel by Mitchell published during her lifetime, and it took her ten years to write it. The novel is one of the most popular books of all time, selling more than 30 million copies (see list of best-selling books). Over the years, the novel has also been analyzed for its symbolism and treatment of mythological archetypes.
Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.
Scarlett is miserable until she concludes that Ashley does not know she is in love with him. She plots to make Ashley jealous by surrounding herself with men at the barbecue the next day at the Wilkes plantation of Twelve Oaks, then admit to him that she prefers him above all the others. Among the fawning gentlemen are Melanie's brother, Charles Hamilton and Frank Kennedy, the beau of her sister, Suellen O'Hara. Things do not go according to plan. After Scarlett pulls Ashely into the library and confesses her love, Ashley says that he loves her, but he will still marry Melanie. The unreceived Rhett Butler, resting on a couch during the emotional scene, sees Scarlett throw a vase across the room in anger after Ashley leaves. Surprised by his presence, Scarlett tells Rhett that he is no gentleman, and Rhett responds by telling her that she is no lady. Rhett is impressed by her fire, thus cementing the saga that soon will unfold.
Later in the day, when the news of Lincoln's call for troops arrives and as the men at the party exitedly leave to join the war, Scarlett impulsively accepts a marriage proposal from Charles Hamilton in an attempt to make Ashley jealous.
Both couples marry within weeks. Scarlett bitterly regrets her decision, but receives a warm welcome from Melanie, who now considers Scarlett to be her sister. Two months later, Charles dies of measles and pneumonia at a military camp, before he has had the opportunity to fight on the battlefield, confirming Scarlett's opinion of his unheroic weakness. Her only lamentation is the fact that she is forced to dress in all black.
As a widow, Scarlett is relegated to the stringent mourning rituals of the day: years of wearing unadorned black, living quietly at home, and limited social interaction. She gives birth to a son Wade Hampton Hamilton. (In keeping with tradition, Scarlett names him for Charles' commanding officer). She is more distressed over her boredom and new motherhood than at Charles' death. Her mother, Ellen O'Hara, believing Scarlett to be pining away from a broken heart, sends her to Atlanta to Charles' elderly aunt Aunt Pittypat and Melanie in an attempt to raise her spirits.
In Atlanta, Scarlett quickly joins the hustle and bustle of the city. Melanie treats Scarlett like a sister and is blind to Scarlett's contempt and jealousy towards her. At a bazaar to raise money for the hospital, they encounter Rhett Butler. He outrages Atlanta society by asking Scarlett to dance, despite her mourning. Scarlett happily accepts stating she would dance with any one, including Abe Lincoln himself.
Against the background of war, Scarlett stays in Atlanta and enjoys the company of Rhett. He ostensibly calls on Aunt Pittypat, as widows cannot properly receive male callers. His sharp wit and sarcastic charm both infuriate and beguile Scarlett, though she continues to carry a torch for Ashley. When Ashley comes home for Christmas in 1863, Scarlett becomes acutely aware of the privileges Melanie holds as his wife. The day Ashley leaves, Scarlett again reveals her feelings to him, hoping Ashley will also break down and allow himself to tell Scarlett that he loves her too.
Ashley has a more important matter to discuss with Scarlett. Sensing the end of the war and the fall of the South, he makes Scarlett promise that she will look after Melanie and see his family through the upcoming crisis in his absence. Scarlett blindly agrees to his promise. As Ashley heads for the door, Scarlett clings to him desperately and they share a passionate, forbidden embrace. Scarlett sobs that she loves him and that she only married Charles to hurt him. Ashley says nothing and wrenches himself from her grasp. He hurries from the house and away from Scarlett.
Ashley has left Melanie with child. And then word comes that Ashely has been killed. Eventually the news changes that he is missing. Rhett pulls some strings and find out that he is in a union prison.
The tide of war has turned against the South. Atlanta is under siege; when the Yankees finally begin their siege of Atlanta, the city evacuates. In the nearly deserted town, Rhett comes to see Scarlett and asks her to become his mistress, which she atomatically refuses because she would get nothing out of it than a passel of brats.
Melanie and Scarlett cannot leave, as Melanie is about to give birth. Scarlett must deliver Melanie's baby with only the help of Prissy, as everyone has fled or is too busy caring for wounded soldiers to spare time to be able to help. After a drawn out and damaging birthing, Melanie is nearly dead from blood loss. Scarlett goes outside to get some air as Prissy bathes the infant, and a soldier walks by informing Scarlett that the army is leaving Atlanta. Scarlett sends Prissy out to find Rhett. He arrives to assist them but the best he can provide is a broken-down horse and a dilapidated wagon stolen from the Army. He carts the weakened Melanie, her infant son Beau, Prissy, Wade, and Scarlett out of Atlanta. In a fit of conscience, he abandons them at Rough and Ready on the road back to Tara to turn back and fight for the South. Before he leaves, he kisses Scarlett and tells her he loves her, but she angrily pushes him away.
Arriving at Tara, Scarlett finds the house in ruins, the crops burned, most of the slaves run off, her mother dead, her father demented, and her two sisters sick with typhoid. The reins of authority had been unfairly thrust into her hands. Forced to take up "slave work" and bouts of near starvation, Scarlett realizes her compassion and complete loyalty to the land of Tara. When a lone Yankee soldier arrives looking to loot and assault Scarlett, she shoots him. The still-weak Melanie comes running with Charles' sword, but it is too heavy for her to lift. Nonetheless, Scarlett feels the beginnings of comradeship with her sister-in-law. The two loot the dead soldier's pockets and knapsack before swearing each other to secrecy about his death. Adn they bury him under the arbor.
Months later, news finally reaches Tara that the war is over and the Confederacy dissolved. Soldiers begin straggling home. On their way, some seek the refuge of Tara for food and hospitality. Comrades bring a wounded soldier named Will Benteen, whom Carreen nurses back to health. Benteen remains at Tara after he recovers, and takes on more responsibility and shifts Scarlett's heavy load onto his own shoulders. Suellen's beau Frank Kennedy asks Scarlett for her sister’s hand in marriage, and she gives her consent.
The only word of Ashley is that he was in a Yankee prison for the last year of the war. One day he finally appears coming up the long road towards Tara. Melanie and Scarlett both rush to greet him, but Will stops Scarlett by saying, "He's her husband, ain't he?" Scarlett reluctantly hangs back, but is nonetheless euphoric over Ashley's return.
Pork returns from town with the news that the Yankees have raised the taxes on Tara to $300. Dejected, Scarlett seeks comfort from Ashley as he is chopping wood, lamenting her life at Tara and asking him to run away with her. At first, Ashley embraces and comforts her, and then pushes her away, telling her that his honor will not allow him to leave Melanie and their child.
As Scarlett returns to the house, Jonas Wilkerson, the former overseer of Tara, arrives. He wants to buy Tara for himself and his wife, Emmie Slattery, thinking that Scarlett will not have the money to pay the taxes. Scarlett angrily tells him to leave, throwing a handful of dirt at him. Wilkerson threatens to buy Tara once she and her family are unable to pay the taxes and are put out.
Frantic to save Tara and anxious to keep Jonas and Emmie out, Scarlett goes to Atlanta to beg Rhett for money, willing to offer herself to him as a mistress to save her home and her family. By asking Mammy to sew Scarlet a dress out of her deceased mother's curtains, she is able to feign wealth in front of Rhett, and also feigns an interest in him. He momentarily buys it, until he takes notice of her ragged hands, which suggest the back-breaking work she's been doing. He announces that he wouldn't give her the money if he could, to which she declares she hopes he gets hanged and storms out in the rain.
Upon leaving the jail, she runs into Frank Kennedy, now a successful store owner, and in desperation, manipulates Frank to believe that an impatient Suellen is to marry someone else. Frank, saddened by Suellen's supposed defection and unable to resist Scarlett's charms, marries her and gives her the tax money. After Rhett gets out of jail, he lends her more so that she can buy a sawmill, with the promise that she will not use the money to help Ashley Wilkes.
To her dismay, Scarlett becomes pregnant with Frank’s child. She earns the wrath of the "Old Guard" of Atlanta society when she continues showing herself in public when pregnant and succeeding in the man's world of business. The daughter is named Ella Lorena, a reference to the Civil War Era song Lorena; the author's girlfriend to whom the song was dedicated was named Ella. Additionally Ella was named after her grandmother, Ellen.
Scarlett receives word from Tara her father Gerald has died. When she returns to Tara for the funeral, Will tells her about the circumstances of his death. Suellen had tried to persuade a disoriented Gerald to sign the Ironclad Oath (to the Yankee government) for money. Briefly lucid, Gerald realizes her intentions, flies into a rage and disowns Suellen. In an attempt to jump a fence with his horse, he falls and breaks his neck. The community despises Suellen for her part in Gerald’s death. Scarlett, struggling with her family’s poverty, quietly agrees with her. Despite his love for Carreen, Will announces his intention to marry Suellen to assuage the community’s animosity toward her. Carreen, unable to recover from the death of Brent Tarleton at Gettysburg, enters the convent. After Gerald's funeral, Scarlett manipulates Ashley into returning to Atlanta to run her sawmill, wanting to stop him from leaving for the North to find work. Being dependent on Scarlett and having to work for her breaks Ashley's spirit and independence.
Scarlett regularly drives alone to and from the sawmill, despite being warned against it by her acquaintances. One day she is assaulted by a poor white man and his black companion as she drives through the woods near shantytown. Her former slave Big Sam appears and fights off the attackers. To avenge the attack, Frank, Ashley, and the rest of the local men (as part of the Ku Klux Klan) raid the shantytown. Ashley is injured and Frank is killed.
Following Frank’s funeral, Rhett unceremoniously proposes to Scarlett, wanting to marry her before she marries someone else. Belle Watling, a local madam and Rhett’s mistress, hears that Melanie wishes to pay a call on her in order to thank her for saving Ashley's life on the night of the raid. To forestall the visit, which would scandalize Atlanta society, Belle stops by Melanie's house in a closed carriage to see Melanie. Melanie offers Belle her friendship in return.
Scarlett marries Rhett in 1868 and finds marriage to him surprisingly pleasant. Other than refusing to help Ashley Wilkes, Rhett completely spoils her. Scarlett begins spending time with the newly rich Yankees, who are portrayed as having few if any scruples. Scarlett builds a mansion and spends money lavishly. The Old Guard decide to cut Scarlett and Rhett out of society for keeping company with Yankees and flaunting their wealth.
Only Melanie's undying loyalty keeps Scarlett in the fold at all. Scarlett soon learns that she is pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl. While they name the infant Eugenia Victoria (for Queen Victoria and Empress Eugenie of the French), Melanie, while talking to Rhett, mentions that the child's eyes are as blue as the Bonnie Blue flag, inadvertantly creating the lasting nickname of Bonnie Blue Butler. Rhett is immensely proud of the child and spoils her unabashedly. Not wanting to betray her continuing love for Ashley who has mentioned that he hates the thought of Rhett's hands on Scarlett's body and chagrined at the ruination of her figure, Scarlett informs Rhett that as she does not want to have any more children, they will no longer share a bed. Rhett becomes bitterly angry, but he does not do anything to try to change her mind. He tells her that there are other beds.
Rejected by Scarlett, Rhett turns to their daughter Bonnie for comfort. He decides that Bonnie should have everything and turns to winning over Atlanta. He lavishes Bonnie with all of the love and affection that he intended to give to his wife.
In April of 1871, Melanie plans a surprise birthday party for Ashley. Scarlett goes to her mill after being asked by Melanie to stall him, and she and Ashley chat about old times at Twelve Oaks. He hugs her in an attempt to console her because she is overwhelmed by the memories because she hates to look back at the past. However, India Wilkes, Mrs. Elsing, and Archie misinterpret this embrace, all suspecting Scarlett's true feelings for Ashley. They eagerly spread the rumor. Later that night, Rhett, having heard from Archie, forces Scarlett out of bed and to the party in her most flamboyant dress. Incapable of believing anything bad of her beloved sister-in-law, Melanie stands by Scarlett's side so that all know that she believes the gossip to be false.
At home later that night, Scarlett finds Rhett downstairs drunk. Blind with jealousy, he tells Scarlett that he loves her and could kill her to make her forget Ashley. Picking her up, he carries her up the stairs and the two make passionate, uninhibited love. Scarlett wakes up alone the next morning, eager to see her husband. Rhett stays away as he is horrified at his behavior, returning three days later to inform Scarlett that he is leaving with Bonnie for an extended trip. All of Atlanta chooses sides between India and Scarlett. Melanie continues to support Scarlett and rejects India, her husband's own sister.
Scarlett discovers that she is pregnant again. For the first time, she is glad. In July of 1871, when Rhett returns after three months and rebuffs her attempts at reconciliation, she tells him she does not want the baby. Hurt, Rhett scornfully says, "Cheer up. Maybe you'll have a miscarriage." Enraged, Scarlett tries to attack him, but he dodges her slap. She is thrown off balance and can't keep herself from falling down the stairs. She suffers a miscarriage. Rhett, frantic with guilt sits in his room drinking himself into the ground convinced that he has killed Scarlett. When Melanie goes to him to finally tell him that Scarlett is doing better, he cries to Melanie about his jealousy. He refrains from telling Melanie about Scarlett's true feelings for Ashley.
Scarlett goes to Tara to recuperate with Wade and Ella in tow. After she recovers, Rhett tricks Scarlett into selling the sawmills to Ashley. Rhett spends his time edging Bonnie back into Southern society.
At some time after her fourth birthday (by most estimations sometime in the summer of 1873), tragically, Bonnie dies while trying to jump her horse, Mr. Butler, just as her grandfather Gerald O'Hara did. Scarlett blames Rhett, Rhett blames himself, and they refuse to see each other. Scarlett regrets what she said and desperately wants to see him. But a chasm has formed between the two, and they continue living together as strangers passing in the halls.
While Scarlett is away at Marietta with Wade and Ella, she receives an urgent telegram from Rhett that Melanie is gravely ill. Scarlett rushes back to Atlanta, only to learn that Melanie is dying from complications of a misscarriage. After having Beau, she was warned by doctors not to have any more children. She always desired more children and became pregnant. Rhett drops Scarlett off at the Wilkes home and leaves.
On her deathbed, Melanie tells Scarlett to watch out for Ashley and to be good to Rhett because he loves her. Scarlett goes to Ashley to find strength to help her in her grief, but she finds someone more a drift than she is. She realizes she never really loved Ashley. Rather she loved the noble "knight" and her memories of her carefree childhood, which he represented to her.
She rushes home through the mist to share her revelation with Rhett, now finally drained of his love for Scarlett. He rejects her overtures and tells her that he is leaving her, that he had already planned on it before Scarlett had left for Marietta. Scarlett cries, "But what will I do? Where will I go?" Rhett replies with the famous line, "My dear, I don't give a damn." (The movie inserted the word "frankly.") He goes up the stairs to bed to presumably return to his hometown of Charleston. Devastated by her realization of true love and the consequences of her past selfishness, Scarlett decides to go back to Tara. She is sure she can think of a solution. She still believes that Rhett will return to her if she tries to reconcile. The book ends with Scarlett's proclamation: "After all, tomorrow is another day!"
Note: In the movie, Scarlett didn't have any children with her first two husbands. The only child she had was Bonnie with Rhett Butler.
Note: In the film, India Wilkes was in love with Charles Hamilton and hates Scarlett for stealing him away.
The book includes a vivid description of the fall of Atlanta in 1864 and the devastation of war (some of that aspect was missing from the 1939 film). The novel showed considerable historical research. According to her biography, Mitchell herself was ten years old before she learned that the South had lost the war. Mitchell's sweeping narrative of war and loss helped the book win the Pulitzer Prize on May 3, 1937.
An episode in the book dealt with the early Ku Klux Klan. In the immediate aftermath of the War, Scarlett is assaulted by poor southerners living in shanties, whereupon her former black slave Big Sam saves her life. In response, Scarlett's male friends attempt to make a retaliatory nighttime raid on the encampment. Northern soldiers try to stop the attacks, and Rhett helps Ashley, who is shot, to get help through his prostitute friend Belle. Scarlett's husband Frank is killed. This raid is presented sympathetically as being necessary and justified, while the law-enforcement officers trying to catch the perpetrators are depicted as oppressive Northern occupiers.
Although the Klan is not mentioned in that scene (though Rhett tells Archie to burn the "robes"), the book notes that Scarlett finds the Klan abominable. She believed the men should all just stay at home (she wanted both to be petted for her ordeal and to give the hated Yankees no more reason to tighten martial law, which is bad for her businesses). Rhett is also mentioned to be no great lover of the Klan. At one point, he said that if it were necessary, he would join in an effort to join "society". The novel never explicitly states whether this drastic step was necessary in his view. The local chapter later breaks up under the pressure from Rhett and Ashley.
Scarlett expresses views that were common of the era. Some examples:
While Margaret Mitchell used to say that her Gone with the Wind characters were not based on real people, modern researchers have found similarities to some of the people in Mitchell's own life as well as to individuals she knew or she heard of. Mitchell's maternal grandmother, Annie Fitzgerald Stephens, was born in 1845; she was the daughter of an Irish immigrant, who owned a large plantation on Tara Road in Clayton County, south of Atlanta, and who married an American woman named Ellen, and had several children, all daughters.
Many researchers believe that the physical brutality and low regard for women exhibited by Rhett Butler was based on Mitchell's first husband, Red Upshaw. She divorced him after she learned he was a bootlegger amid rumors of abuse and infidelity.
After a stay at the plantation called The Woodlands, and later Barnsley Gardens, Mitchell may have gotten the inspiration for the dashing scoundrel from Sir Godfrey Barnsley of Adairsville, Georgia.
Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, the mother of US president Theodore Roosevelt may have been an inspiration for Scarlett O'Hara. Roosevelt biographer David McCullough discovered that Mitchell, as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal, conducted an interview with one of Martha's closest friends and bridesmaid, Evelyn King Williams, then 87. In that interview, she described Martha's physical appearance, beauty, grace, and intelligence in detail. The similarities between Martha and the Scarlett character are striking.
It made international news in 1989 when Dr. E. Lee Spence, an underwater archaeologist and shipwreck expert from Charleston, South Carolina, announced his discovery that Margaret Mitchell had actually taken much of her compelling story of love, greed and war from real life and that Mitchell had actually based most of Rhett Butler on the life of George Alfred Trenholm. Like Rhett, Trenholm was a tall, handsome, shipping magnate from Charleston, South Carolina, and made millions of dollars from blockade running. Both the real life Trenholm and the fictional Rhett were accused of making off with much of the Confederate treasury and were thrown in prison after the Civil War where they were visited by a beautiful woman with a "fast" reputation. Spence's literary discovery that had its roots in his prior discoveries of some of Trenholm's wrecked blockade runners made international news.
In his book, Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The "Real Rhett Butler" and Other Revelations, Dr. Spence reveals what the editors of Life magazine called "overwhelming evidence" that shipping and banking magnate George Trenholm was the historical basis for Mitchell's romantic sea captain. Spence's book gives a compelling case that Mitchell had falsely claimed Rhett was pure fiction.
Author Pat Conroy was approached to write a follow-up, but the project was ultimately abandoned.
In 2000, the copyright holders attempted to suppress publication of Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone, a book that retold the story from the point of view of the slaves. A federal appeals court denied the plaintiffs an injunction against publication in Suntrust v. Houghton Mifflin (2001), on the basis that the book was parody protected by the First Amendment. The parties subsequently settled out of court to allow the book to be published. After its release, the book became a New York Times bestseller.
In 2002, the copyright holders blocked distribution of an unauthorised sequel published in the U.S, The Winds of Tara by Katherine Pinotti, alleging copyright infringement. The story follows Scarlett as she returns to Tara where a family issue threatens Tara and the families reputation. In it Scarlett shows just how far she will go to protect her family and her home. The book was immediately removed from bookstores by publisher Xlibris. The book sold in excess of 2,000 copies within 2 weeks before being removed. More recently, in 2008, Australian publisher Fontaine Press re-published "The Winds of Tara" exclusively for their domestic market, avoiding U.S. copyright restrictions.
A second sequel was released in November 2007. The story covers the same time period as Gone with the Wind and is told from Rhett Butler’s perspective -- although it begins years before and ends after. Written by Donald McCaig, this novel is titled Rhett Butler's People (2007).
Gone With The Wind has been adapted several times for stage and screen, most famously in the 1939 film starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. On stage it has been adapted as a musical Scarlett (premiering in 1972), and was again adapted as a musical called Gone With The Wind which premiered at the New London Theatre in 2008 in a production directed by Trevor Nunn.
Takarazuka Revue also adopts the novel in a musical with the same name. The first performance is in 1977, performed by Moon Troupe; and the most recent one is in 2004, performed by Cosmo Troupe.