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Introduction

Gone with the Wind is a1939 film adapted from Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel by the same name. The epic, set in the American South in and around the time of the Civil War which made the South start life from nothing like a tsunami that washes out everything- man, his riches, his loved ones . Starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard and Olivia de Haviland, this is the story of the Civil War from a white Southerner's point of view.

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It received ten Academy Awards, a record that would stand for years, and has been named by the American Film Institute as number four among the top 100 American films of all time. It has sold more tickets than any other film in history, and has today become one of the most popular films , one of the most enduring symbols of the golden age. Adjusting for inflation, the film is the highest grossing of all time.

The novel was a pioneer to carry the power of social evolution – so vast and intense that it has sold more than 28,000,000 copies. Nearly 250,000 copies of the book still sell every year, about one copy every two minutes. Other than the Bible, no other book measures up to this classic, particularly considering it was first published in 1936.

Central Theme

Gone with the Wind is a story about the process of human accomplishment. The story is set during a period of radical evolutionary social upheaval during the Civil war which breaks in to wipe out the remains of old times that were reluctant to give way for higher social development. It depicts how four central characters respond differently to the challenges of the times, some clinging to the past which is receding and others embracing the future with an intense aspiration for higher achievement.

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The story centers around the relationships of the four main characters before, during and immediately after the war. Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is deeply in love with the aristocratic Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) who is powerfully attracted to Scarlett, but marries his cousin Melanie (Olivia de Haviland). Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) insistently pursues and eventually marries Scarlett. It all happens during the pre and post war upheavals that destroy the old southern culture, a collection of deep rooted age-old rigid class structure, aristocracy, grand plantations, slavery and many more social conventions. Every man, woman and child in the story faces the raw challenges of survival that met the first settlers in new world two centuries earlier.

Scarlett’s love for Ashley is the driving force for her in life, and gives her the courage to face the extreme challenges brought about by the war. Ashley marries Melanie who is an embodiment of goodness, gratitude, love and affection. Melanie’s love for Ashley is so intense and pure that not even Scarlett, with all her energy and strength can come between them. Rhett’s ambition to marry Scarlett since their first meeting is finally accomplished.

The story outstandingly narrates to us, the recent biggest cataclysm of America where slaves were freed, the strict hierarchy of class system torn down, the high were brought low, and the low who had useful skills were able to rise in the new society and new climate of entrepreneurship. Formerly powerful gentlemen from grand plantation families like Ashley were no longer valued if they lacked practical skills such as farming, or an entrepreneurial spirit that would allow them to succeed in trade.

The underlying truth of the story is that the final outcome is the result of the intense aspirations and drives of the two main characters Scarlett and Rhett. During those tumultuous times, social forces were extremely powerful and strongly influenced the relationship between the characters. The fittest such as Scarlett and Rhett were able to withstand the changeover, whereas the weak passed away and became inexistent. Life responds to the strength of the characters and rewards them based on their aspiration, energy, courage, resourcefulness and goodwill.

Synopsis of Plot

The story extends over a time period of twelve years in the life of narcissistic plantation belle Scarlett O'Hara, from the start of the Civil War through the Reconstruction Period, and covers her various romantic pursuits against the backdrop of an important time in the American history where the war completely sweeps away the southern plantation culture - an outdated archaic obsolete southern civilization that is gone with the wind. The history of an aspiring selfish woman who doesn't want to admit her feelings about the man she loves instead runs behind a false love and finally discovers her true love when it is too late are depicted strikingly.

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The central driving force is Scarlett’s intense seeking for Ashley, who marries his cousin Melanie who is more like him. She exhibits intense infatuation throughout the story towards Ashley even after he is married. Ashley is obviously attracted by Scarlett’s charms and passion for life, but backs away in the name of honor. Rhett Butler instantly falls for Scarlett’s high energy and vitally responds to her energy and strength. Rhett has complete knowledge of human nature and is able to laugh at her folly of yearning to win Ashley.

The war breaks in and lasts nearly 4 years, destroying the traditional southern society, just another natural phenomenon to restore equilibrium in the process of evolution of human life style, elevating them socially and economically in a more practical sense. Ashley and a many other men enlist and leave home to fight the Yankees. Rhett becomes a blockade runner. He makes money from both sides by courageous enterprise. The Yankees gradually defeat and capture the South at the cost of innumerable lives and the old way of life.

The massive disturbance destroys the plantations, the long-established economic and social systems of the South only to make them more fit for survival of the new era, bringing about new systems like entrepreneurship. The strongest, bravest and the most adaptable become the new generators of income, and sometimes, these are even women, such as Scarlett. She ignores all conventions, paying more attention to practical matters of survival and existence. She doesn’t allow herself to be disturbed or distracted from her goal either by scruples of her conscience or the prevalent social norms.

With the social edifice crumbling due to the war, Scarlett’s father dies unable to withstand the loss of the old times, the loss of his accomplishments, the loss of his wife, the rise of blacks and carpetbaggers. Scarlett is left to struggle alone. She has nothing left except plantation Tara. She has to start from scratch, from nothing, she vows to go through the hardest days. She exhibits in all her strength and force, a deep motivation and commitment to save Tara, an identity of her father’s social status. She pursues her goal with absolutely no inner and outer restraints or inhibitions. Though Scarlett is disapproved of by the Old Atlanta society for her unwomanly behavior when she runs her own businesses, the war has at least made it possible for a woman to break out of her traditional gender role - such a thing would have been unthinkable before.

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Scarlett and Melanie share the same devotion towards Ashley, which is why Life makes them live together till Ashley returns safely from the war. Scarlett’s strength and Melanie’s goodness protect Ashley. Rhett marries Scarlett, becoming her third husband. Life brings the two together. Scarlett throws away an opportunity for happiness with Rhett by constantly pining over Ashley. Rhett is never able to get her care or love, though he is always ready to make their marriage work better. Scarlett’s blind infatuation for Ashley prevents her from realizing that Rhett is a far more suitable partner than Ashley can ever be. The pent up unhappiness is so intense in both that their negative energies play an important role in the death of their child Bonnie. Finally when Scarlett gets to realize the open truth that Ashley is not for her, the survivor instinct in her runs in search of Rhett and expresses her need for him. But Rhett leaves her.

Character Analysis

Scarlett O’Hara

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Scarlett is from a wealthy plantation family born to an aristocratic mother, Ellen Robillard and an Irish immigrant father, Gerald O’ Hara. The O’ Hara’s , though not aristocratic like the Wilkes, strengthened their social status with efficiently run large plantations, hundreds of well treated slaves, good manners and equality in helping even the lower class like the poor white trash Slatterys.

Scarlett takes more after her father, Gerald, a wilful, self-made man of practical Irish peasant stock. She inherits his energy and aspiration. Her outward manners are what have been imposed on her by her mother and the strict discipline of Mammy. She combined her mother’s beauty and her father’s energy and spark.

She is a complex character. She is sensible, committed, determined, practical, energetic, charming, attractive, strong, fun-loving, quick witted and lively, and at the same time she is also wild, coarse, rebellious, opportunistic, unscrupulous, wilful, sometimes rude, headstrong, selfish, ruthless, mercernary and sharp tongued.

Scarlett symbolizes both the Old and New South, and life parallels her to that of the South during the war and Reconstruction period. Her clinging to Ashley represents the Old Southern part of her, whereas her attraction to Rhett represents the New Southern. Both Scarlett and the South overcome terrible hardships and adapt to the changing times in order to survive. They set aside the Old Southern values of chivalry, the importance of 'good' breeding, integrity and kindness in favor of the New Southern values (influenced by the North), of entrepreneurship, ruthless opportunism and financial success. Scarlett adapts extraordinarily well because her hard, ruthless character finds a match in the nature of the times; Life designed her for this age.

There are no limits to Scarlett’s aspirations. She aspires for the highest level of material accomplishment. She not only wants to get over poverty and hunger, she wants to be immensely rich and goes to any extent to accomplish on this. Life rewards her accordingly. Further she is willing to change to the times in order to attain her desires. As a perfect survivor, she responds to every single opportunity and challenge she encounters. She faces them straight with no excuse although she has no values to cling to, except for her binding with Tara.

Rhett Butler

Lp-clark
Rhett is Scarlett's third husband, often publicly shunned for scandalous behavior, sometimes accepted for his charm. He is portrayed as the perfect man's man. He is the dark, dashing and disreputable son of a wealthy old family. Disowned by his family and expelled from Charleston for dishonorable behavior. Rhett is something of an outsider in genteel Southern society. Cynical and brutally honest, he delights in puncturing pomposity and hypocrisy by telling the truth as he sees it, caring little about what others think of him. Most of the time, he refuses to conform to Southern patriotic expectations and is openly contemptuous of them.

Rhett symbolizes the New South, the values of entrepreneurship and ruthless opportunism that the South is forced to adopt under the influence of the North in order to survive the war. Throughout the story, Rhett is extremely sensible, highly practical, energetic, strong, fun-loving, quick witted, lively, wild, coarse, rebellious, opportunistic, unscrupulous to social values, willful, truthful, humorous, social and scandalous. He possesses true human knowledge, vast worldly knowledge, has an impeccable dress sense, displays uncompromising well manners and is always willing to take chances.

His strength of personality is so original,it never fails him. He easily tides over the changing times of the society and is not affected both during the war and the reconstruction period. Rhett’s energy is so high and contagious throughout. He is absolutely nonreactive during the worst social destruction. Even the strong headed Scarlett feels safe and strong when he is around.

Bonnie Blue Butler

Bonnie is Rhett and Scarlett's child. She is a favorite of both parents. Like Scarlett, she is headstrong and spoiled, and like Rhett, she is charming. Rhett is devoted to Bonnie and when he is rejected by Scarlett, he pours all his love into the child. He even reinvents himself as a patriotic Democrat and pillar of the community in order to smooth Bonnie's path in Atlanta society. Atlanta switched over to him for the sake of the child but regretted it. Life did not give the sanction to that child

Bonnie's strong will proves fatal, as she demands to be allowed to jump her pony over a dangerously high bar and is thrown to her death. Her death is reminiscent of her grandfather Gerald's, and they die with the same words on their lips - "Watch me take this one!" After Bonnie's death, Rhett and Scarlett's marriage collapses.

Ashley Wilkes

Lp-leslie
The man Scarlett loves, Melanie's husband.

Ashley is a charming gentleman. He stands in contrast to Rhett. He is honorable, cultured, aristocratic, good natured courteous and skilled in the gentlemanly pursuits of the arts, poetry, and riding. After the war, unlike Rhett and Scarlett, he fails to adapt to the new society and his weaknesses become more obvious. He dreams of the old days, when life had a beauty and grace that has now been swept away by the war. Most of the time, his nature is self-pitying.

Ashley is a weak person by mind has no energy to survive. He clings to Scarlett and submits to her intentions when she asks him to take over the mill and work for her when he could have strongly refused and made a life on his own. He is the object of Scarlett’s love and most of Scarlett’s decisions are biased and based on this false love. He is a constant temptation to Scarlett and he lets this go on till the death of his wife Melanie. Ashley represents an unformed weak character. He is unable to be strong and wilful from within like Rhett.

Scarlett and Ashley have little in common, indeed, the qualities she thinks she admires in him are the ones that make her feel contempt for Melanie.

Ashley represents the Old South and those Southerners who yearn for the days before the war. He is unwilling or unable to change over and thus is one of those who are "winnowed out" by the war. Ashley sees no compulsion to renounce family and culture and even his attraction to Scarlett’s energy is an expression of the weakness and degeneration of that culture.

Melanie Hamilton Wilkes

Lp-olivia
Ashley's wife and second cousin, Scarlett's sister-in-law, a true lady. Called "mealy-mouth" by Scarlett, but she quietly has a backbone of steel.

Melanie is full of goodness. She cannot recognize evil in anybody. She is pure, forgiving, sweet-tempered, loving, cheerful and extremely good natured. Melanie is frail and weak on the outer, but has high inner strength and tides through the worst days. She is a genuine and complete personality except for the fact she cannot see bad in anybody but the Yankees.

She is a content person and never complains. She aspires to lead a happy life with Ashley. Her childhood is in Atlanta where she and her brother Charles (Scarlett’s first husband) are brought up by their unmarried Aunt Pittypat, a very soft natured person with no knowledge of the life and men outside her home. Charles and Melanie inherit similar qualities of their aunt, being meek, soft and unworldly.

She is frail to withstand the post war period. Life doesn't let her live happily with Ashley and her son Beau after the war ends.

Insights into the Character of Life

Subtle indications in early events of the eventual outcome of the story

  • The Tarleton twins carry the message of Ashley’s engagement to Scarlett. They share the secret to gain her attention at the ball the next day. But they are carriers of this significant news about Ashley, not knowing how central a person he is to Scarlett. Scarlett sees a total reversal of events in her life right from this moment. Later in the story, none of these three succeed in their individual romantic pursuits. Moreover, the twins get killed in the war.
  • Gerald confirms the news of Ashley and Melanie’s engagement. He tells his daughter she wouldn’t be happy even if she got Ashley. He says he will leave Tara for her. He speaks of what is to come in future.
  • At Twelve Oaks, when Scarlett tells Ashley that she wanted to say something important, he ignores her, he is more interested in her meeting Melanie - A raw indication to Scarlett that Melanie is the one to win Ashley.
  • When she gets Ashley alone, she makes her best attempt to get him to propose and elope. The meeting doesn’t go as she expected. To make it worse, she slaps Ashley on the face. Ashley only walks off. He is never her man in life. An indication early in the story.
  • After Charles’ death, Scarlett visits Atlanta in the hope of meeting Ashley when he will come home for his holidays. But before she meets Ashley, Rhett appears at the confederate gathering.
  • Scarlett longs to dance, but stays unwillingly controlled in her mourning clothes. Rhett frees her, gets her to dance, makes her feel like the center of attraction she used to be in Georgia. Rhett is the one who can accept her with all her follies and provide her the happiness she desires – not Ashley - a beautiful significance which Scarlett can’t see.
  • Scarlett tries to talk love when Ashley is leaving after his holidays, he responds to her intense seeking by expressing the same care and affection towards Melanie. He gets Scarlett to promise that she would take care of Melanie in any circumstance. She agrees. Life makes her spend the energy of all the love she has for Ashley on his wife – not on him.
  • Rhett leaves her on the road to Tara. When she comes asking for a loan, he talks of collaterals. Rhett withdraws every time she wanted him, came to him asking for help. Life’s indication of what their relationship is to be at the end.

Life Response

  • Scarlett marries Charles only to take hurt Ashley and punish India. She doesn’t marry him for love. She marries him to prove something – She uses marriage for a different purpose. Later, though having married 3 times, marriage never allows her its true purpose. She never gets the peace, harmony and romance of a beautiful marriage.
  • Melanie and Rhett share a unique friendship. At no time does Rhett reveal to her that her husband Ashley is the love interest of Scarlett. Rhett sees Melanie as a true lady and he comes to her aid in all her crises. Her ultimate and complete goodness attracts even the strongest person’s service.
  • When they announce the news of men dead in the war, Rhett comes to Scarlett and Melanie’s relief to hand them over the list. Ashley’s name is not there in the list. Ashley is protected doubly by the devotion and love of Scarlett and Melanie. Rhett’s good will to Melanie also adds to Ashley’s safety.
  • When Ashley leaves after his holidays, Melanie gives him a tunic as a Christmas present. She gets the cloth as a gift from a woman whose son Melanie nursed in the hospital. She sees it as a form of the goodness she showed the woman’s son. She believes this goodness will protect and shield Ashley and Life does so.
  • Scarlett too presents Ashley a sash. She gets the cloth for the sash from Rhett who has no high regard for Ashley, except for the sake of Melanie. Rhett sees the goodness in Melanie. He wishes her goodwill. Even Rhett’s goodwill for Melanie saves Ashley through the war.
  • When Atlanta is burning, Melanie delivers her baby. Life thrusts this massive responsibility solely on Scarlett. She is forced to do this for the promise she made to Ashley. Life respects her strength of commitment and helps Scarlett bring about Melanie’s baby without any hassle. Prissy’s timely uselessness aids in the process.
  • Scarlett’s decision to go all the way to Tara with Melanie and the newly born baby is as bad as remaining at Atlanta. She is willing to take the risk. She doesn’t even consider it a risk. She is certain that Tara would be safe and her mother Ellen would nurse Melanie and her baby. Her focus and blind confidence are rewarded, at least partly, when she finds Tara unaffected.
  • Scarlett finds her mother dead at Tara. Her father has lost his mind. His state is the result of his total devotion to his wife. It is also because of the old that is lingering in him and is reluctant to see and face the war. Gerald dies because he lost his highest accomplishment.—his wife, his plantation, his slaves.
  • Mammy says Ellen contracted typhoid and died of it. Ellen performed the duty as an efficient mistress of Tara, readily helped even the white trash, managed hundreds of slaves. The war destroys all that she has been acting on, now she has nothing left to perform. She crumbles with the crumbling old times of the South. Life lawfully cannot provide existence to Ellen and Gerald to see the changing social climate.
  • Scarlett faces the entire turmoil with her true natural character. She does all that she can - anything to win over hunger and poverty. Life sanctions help from all directions, though the process is difficult. It is a reward to her courage, her determination and willingness to do anything, even if it means doing the slaves’ job of working in the field.
  • When the government raise the taxes on Tara, Scarlett confronts Ashley. He recollects the wealthy times of his boyhood, which is all he is capable of doing. He is unable to fit himself in the present crisis. He is simply weak. Scarlett thinks a way out. She decides to meet Rhett. She is even ready to be his mistress so he would pay her tax. Such is her attachment and participation towards Tara. For an effort of this type, Life makes sure she overcomes the hurdle.
  • Rhett is not able to help her with the money. Scarlett’s aspiration has to be answered somehow. On her way out she meets Frank Kennedy, learns of his new business and instantly decides to marry him. Mammy sees through her motive, but silently encourages her. Conditions are favourable on Scarlett’s side. Her readiness to do anything for the sake of Tara as she does for Ashley is also by itself a positive quality.
  • Melanie dies in labour. She is in her purest form. Life doesn’t sanction her continued existence in the new Atlanta Society.

Repetition of actions

  • Scarlett repeats her mother’s act of falling in love with aristocratic Ashley and never being able to fulfil that emotion, but instead marrying a coarse but essentially good person who acquired his wealth by gambling and speculation, Rhett.
  • Bonnie repeats her grandfathers act of riding a horse and jumping over a high bar only to fall off and lose her life.
  • Scarlett's opportunities come to her through conflicts. Life presents Rhett to her even before the war breaks out. But she is blind to the opportunity and is keen on getting Ashley. She choses the toughest path to happiness. Later Scarlett is totally into hunting new means for survival. Life acknowledges her ambition; It brings in a yankee soldier who comes to rob them. The soldier’s wallet that is full of gold coins that can solve her immediate financial needs. But she has to go to the extreme step of killing him before that.
  • Frank repeats Charles’ act of having a disappointed short lived marriage with Scarlett. She can only drain the energy of her husband. Probably weak men like Charles and Frank subconsciously realised what it is to be married to Scarlett.

Love, marriage and romance in Gone with the Wind


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