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The main theme in Gone with the Wind is that of survival in times during which traditions, ways of life and thinking, even love and understanding are gone with the wind, such as in the South during the Civil War. Margaret Mitchell was fascinated by the idea of survival and fashioned an exploration of the idea of who survives trying times and who does not and what qualities each has. Mitchell establishes that a dominant quality is to let go of the past ways and adapt to new ways. For instance Ashley could not let go of his breeding and adapt to demands in a war-torn South, just as Melanie clung to old ways of living while she and her Sewing Circle lamented what was blown away with the wind of war. On the other hand, both Rhett and Scarlett see what advantages can be claimed during the war and profit by it. This quality of foresight and adaptability and ruthless release of what is not profitable prompt their actions. Rhett runs blockades and stores his payments, received in gold, in European banks while Scarlett buys wood mills that produce a commodity that the armies require.
The main idea of Mitchell's work is to laud the triumph of the human spirit and the human being's ability to adapt. Scarlett would represent both. At the outset of the novel, she is frivolous and completely consumed with trivial matters. This is a perspective that changes as the war alters many lives in the South in a permanent manner. Throughout these changes, Scarlett displays a condition where she adapts to the conditions around her, assumes a role of leadership, and defines her character as one which is driven with a sense of empowerment and internal strength. Through Scarlett, the reader understands what it means to have strength and courage in the most trying of times.
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