Summary of the Novel
Gone with the Wind begins at Tara, the O’Hara family cotton plantation in Georgia, just prior to the Civil War. Hearing the news of Ashley’s engagement to Melanie, Scarlett O’Hara tricks Charles Hamilton into marrying her. After Charles’ death in the Confederate Army, Melanie (who returns to Atlanta after their marriage and Ashley’s enlistment) and Pittypat convince Scarlett to bring her baby for an extended stay. There, she becomes trapped by the war. On the night of Atlanta’s burning by the Union Army, with Melanie having just given birth, Scarlett realizes it is too dangerous to stay. She convinces Rhett Butler to steal a horse and wagon so they may return to Tara. They arrive, without Rhett, to find Ellen dead, Suellen and Carreen ill, Gerald out of his mind, no supplies or horses, very few slaves, and many of the neighboring plantations burned to the ground. On a return trip to Atlanta to raise the higher taxes newly demanded on Tara by the victors, Scarlett discovers Rhett is in jail. She sees him there and offers herself as collateral for the tax money. Although previously interested, his admiration for her now will not allow this, nor can he reach his money because of the political situation. Scarlett then lies to Frank Kennedy so that he will marry her. He has money and a store which promises more if Scarlett’s heartless and aggressive business methods are used. Having already been cast from society for her "unwidowlike" behavior, she has no reason not to pursue business. Marrying Frank means another separation from Tara since she will live at Pittypat’s house. Having promised herself she would never be hungry again, Scarlett finds another way of making money by buying and managing two saw mills. Afterwards, she borrows money from Rhett. Frank is not happy, but indulges her, thinking another baby will end such behavior. Ella is born but Scarlett does not convert to contentment with home and family. In Atlanta, Scarlett continues to do business, despite the dangers of Shantytown, an area through which she must travel inhabited by prostitutes, freed slaves, and lawbreakers. Archie refuses to continue as Scarlett’s bodyguard since she exploits ex-convicts who work in the mills. She is then accosted as she passes through Shantytown. Both Ashley and Frank are members of the Ku Klux Klan and feel they must protect her honor. In the fight, Frank is killed and Ashley wounded. Only Rhett’s warning and quick thinking save the rest. Widowed for the second time with two small children, Scarlett marries Rhett and befriends Scalawags and Carpetbaggers. She builds an imitation of southern society around her with Rhett’s money and these newly acquired friends. Upon Melanie’s death, Scarlett realizes she does not love Ashley but rather Rhett, only to learn that since the death of their daughter, Bonnie (for which Rhett blames himself), he has ceased to love her.
The Life and Work of Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell wrote only one book, Gone with the Wind, and won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1937, as well as the National Book Award. Written in 1936, Gone with the Wind set a sales record of 50,000 copies in one day and 1.5 million copies in its first year of publication, making it one of the most successful bestsellers ever written. It has been translated into at least 30 languages, including Braille (becoming the longest novel ever translated into this language). In 1939, the book was used as the basis of what is probably the most popular film ever made. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, which she uses for the setting of her story, on November 8, 1900, Ms. Mitchell wrote this novel over a period of 10 years, after her marriage to John March in 1925. During this time, she wove material from the stories of the Civil War she had heard at home (as the daughter of the president of the Atlanta Historical Society) into this historical novel of over 1,000 pages, written from the Southern point of view; local history had been a pervasive part of her childhood. The story, itself, begins just before the Civil War in 1861 and ends during the Reconstruction period. Her two main characters—Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler—are among the best-known in American literature. Although she attended Smith College during 1918-1919, when her mother died she returned home to keep house for her father and brother. On August 16, 1949, a car struck Ms. Mitchell, ending her life. In 1976, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind Letters: 1936-1949 was published. A continuation of the novel, Scarlett: The Sequel to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, written by Alexandra Ripley, was published in 1991.
Master List of Characters
Archie—murderer freed from prison for agreeing to fight in the Confederate Army; Melanie employs him as a bodyguard for Scarlett in Atlanta.
Will Benteen—Confederate soldier left at Tara to convalesce from pneumonia; stays to work Tara into a functioning farm; eventually marries Suellen.
(Eugenie Victoria) Bonnie Blue Butler—Rhett and Scarlett’s daughter; deeply loved and indulged by Rhett; Scarlett’s favorite child.
Rhett Butler—Scarlett’s third husband; years before their marriage, befriends and falls in love with Scarlett due to his admiration for her hard business dealings and calculating mind; shunned by society for his scandalous behavior.
Dilcey—Pork’s wife; bought by Gerald from John Wilkes’ neighboring plantation, Twelve Oaks, to honor Pork’s request that the newlyweds may live together.
Mrs. Elsing, Mrs. Merriwether, and Mrs. Whiting—the leaders of Atlanta’s society.
Charles Hamilton—Scarlett’s first husband; tricked into marrying her as revenge when she realizes Ashley really is going to marry Melanie, Charles’ sister.
Henry Hamilton—Charles and Melanie’s uncle; constantly at odds with his sister, Pittypat; the family lawyer.
(Sarah Jane) Pittypat Hamilton—Charles and Melanie’s spinster aunt; Scarlett lives with her in Atlanta while mourning Charles’ death; Ashley, India, and Honey Wilkes’ cousin.
Wade Hampton Hamilton—Scarlett and Charles’ son; born after Charles’ death of pneumonia following measles while serving in the Confederate Army.
Ella Lorena Kennedy—Frank and Scarlett’s daughter.
Frank Kennedy—Scarlett’s second husband; owns a store in Atlanta; was engaged to Scarlett’s sister, Suellen, for many years before Scarlett tricked him into marriage.
Mammy—body slave of Ellen O’Hara’s mother; raises Ellen, Ellen’s three daughters, and Scarlett’s children.
(Caroline Irene) Carreen O’Hara—the youngest of the three O’Hara sisters; becomes a nun after the death of her beloved, Brent Tarleton, in the Civil War.
Ellen Robillard O’Hara—Scarlett’s mother; a respected woman who raises her daughters to be Southern ladies.
Gerald O’Hara—Scarlett’s father; an Irish immigrant and self-made man.
(Katie) Scarlett O’Hara—the protagonist of the novel; born to the luxury of pre-Civil War plantation life in Georgia; eldest daughter of Gerald and Ellen O’Hara; wife of Charles Hamilton, Frank Kennedy, and Rhett Butler; mother of Wade Hampton Hamilton, Ella Lorna Kennedy, and Eugenie Victoria Butler.
(Susan Elinor) Suellen O’Hara—Scarlett’s younger sister; engaged to Frank Kennedy for many years before Scarlett marries him; marries Will Benteen.
Uncle Peter—Pittypat’s faithful slave.
Pork—Gerald O’Hara’s body slave; survives both Gerald and Ellen; continues to help keep the family plantation, Tara, from falling into Union hands during the Civil War years.
Prissy—Dilcey’s daughter; also purchased by Gerald as a surprise for Pork when he buys Dilcey.
Ashley Wilkes—a neighbor Scarlett convinces herself she loves although he is to marry his cousin from Atlanta, Melanie Hamilton.
(Beauregard) Beau Wilkes—Ashley and Melanie’s only child; born during the burning of Atlanta by the Union Army.
Honey Wilkes—one of Ashley’s sisters.
India Wilkes—another of Ashley’s sisters; becomes one of Scarlett’s many enemies in Atlanta.
(Melanie) Melly Hamilton Wilkes—Ashley’s wife; becomes Scarlett’s greatest defender and sister-in-law when Scarlett marries Melanie’s brother, Charles.
Estimated Reading Time
This is a lengthy book which takes some time to read. We would suggest finding your own pace and reading the book over a period of perhaps 40 hours. Break this into manageable reading periods, five or so chapters at a sitting, to allow yourself to complete the book without reading too much at a time.