Margaret Mitchell's epic novel of love and war won the Pulitzer Prize and went on to give rise to two authorized sequels and one of the most popular and celebrated movies of all time.
Many novels have been written about the Civil War and its aftermath. None take us into the burning fields and cities of the American South as Gone With the Wind does, creating haunting scenes and thrilling portraits of characters so vivid that we remember their words and feel their fear and hunger for the rest of our lives.
In the two main characters, the white-shouldered, irresistible Scarlett and the flashy, contemptuous Rhett, Margaret Mitchell not only conveyed a timeless story of survival under the harshest of circumstances, she also created two of the most famous lovers in the English-speaking world since Romeo and Juliet.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:July 8, 1900
Date of Death:August 16, 1949
Place of Birth:Atlanta, Georgia
Place of Death:Atlanta, Georgia
Read an Excerpt
The next morning Scarlett's body was so stiff and sore from the long miles of walking and jolting in the wagon that every movement was agony. Her face was crimson with sunburn and her blistered palms raw. Her tongue was furred and her throat parched as if flames had scorched it and no amount of water could assuage her thirst. Her head felt swollen and she winced even when she turned her eyes. A queasiness of the stomach reminiscent of the early days of her pregnancy made the smoking yams on the breakfast table unendurable, even to the smell. Gerald could have told her she was suffering the normal aftermath of her first experience with hard drinking but Gerald noticed nothing. He sat at the head of the table, a gray old man with absent, faded eyes fastened on the door and head cocked slightly to hear the rustle of Ellen's petticoats, to smell the lemon verbena sachet.
As Scarlett sat down, he mumbled: "We will wait for Mrs. O'Hara. She is late." She raised an aching head, looked at him with startled incredulity and met the pleading eyes of Mammy, who stood behind Gerald's chair. She rose unsteadily, her hand at her throat and looked down at her father in the morning sunlight. He peered up at her vaguely and she saw that his hands were shaking, that his head trembled a little.
Until this moment she had not realized how much she had counted on Gerald to take command, to tell her what she must do, and now Why, last night he had seemed almost himself. There had been none of his usual bluster and vitality, but at least he had told a connected story and now now, he did not even remember Ellen was dead. The combined shock of the coming of the Yankees and her death had stunned him. She started to speak, but Mammy shook her head vehemently and raising her apron dabbed at her red eyes.
"Oh, can Pa have lost his mind?" thought Scarlett and her throbbing head felt as if it would crack with this added strain. "No, no. He's just dazed by it all. It's like he was sick. He'll get over it. He must get over it. What will I do if he doesn't? I won't think about it now. I won't think of him or Mother or any of these awful things now. No, not till I can stand it. There are too many other things to think about things that can be helped without my thinking of those I can't help."
She left the dining room without eating, and went out onto the back porch where she found Pork, barefooted and in the ragged remains of his best livery, sitting on the steps cracking peanuts. Her head was hammering and throbbing and the bright sunlight stabbed into her eyes. Merely holding herself erect required an effort of will power and she talked as briefly as possible, dispensing with the usual forms of courtesy her mother had always taught her to use with negroes.
She began asking questions so brusquely and giving orders so decisively Pork's eyebrows went up in mystification. Miss Ellen didn't never talk so short to nobody, not even when she caught them stealing pullets and watermelons. She asked again about the fields, the gardens, the stock, and her green eyes had a hard glaze which Pork had never seen in them before.
"Yas'm, dat hawse daid, layin' dar whar Ah tie him wid his nose in de water bucket he tuhned over. No'm, de cow ain' daid. Din' you know? She done have a calf las' night. Dat why she beller so."
"A fine midwife your Prissy will make," Scarlett remarked caustically. "She said she was bellowing because she needed milking."
"Well'm, Prissy ain' fixing to be no cow midwife, Miss Scarlett," Pork said tactfully. "An' ain' no use quarrelin' wid blessin's, cause dat calf gwine ter mean a full cow an' plen'y buttermilk fer de young Misses, lak dat Yankee doctah say dey'd need."
"All right, go on. Any stock left?"
"No'm. Nuthin' 'cept one ole sow an' her litter. Ah driv dem inter de swamp de day de Yankees come, but de Lawd knows how we gwine get dem. She mean, dat sow."
"We'll get them all right. You and Prissy can start right now hunting for her."
Pork was amazed and indignant.
"Miss Scarlett, dat a fe'el han's bizness. Ah's allus been a house nigger."
A small fiend with a pair of hot tweezers plucked behind Scarlett's eyeballs.
"You two will catch the sow or get out of here, like the field hands did."
Tears trembled in Pork's hurt eyes. Oh, if only Miss Ellen were here! She understood such niceties and realized the wide gap between the duties of a field hand and those of a house nigger.
"Git out, Miss Scarlett? Whar'd Ah git out to, Miss Scarlett?"
"I don't know and I don't care. But anyone at Tara who won't work can go hunt up the Yankees. You can tell the others that too."
"Now, what about the corn and the cotton, Pork?"
"De cawn? Lawd, Miss Scarlett, dey pasture dey hawses in de cawn an' cah'ied off whut de hawses din' eat or spile. An' dey driv dey cannons an' wagons 'cross de cotton till it plum ruint, 'cept a few acres over on de creek bottom dat dey din' notice. But dat cotton ain' wuth foolin' wid, 'cause ain' but 'bout three bales over dar."
Three bales. Scarlett thought of the scores of bales Tara usually yielded and her head hurt worse. Three bales. That was little more than the shiftless Slatterys raised. To make matters worse, there was the question of taxes. The Confederate government took cotton for taxes in lieu of money, but three bales wouldn't even cover the taxes. Little did it matter though, to her or the Confederacy, now that all the field hands had run away and there was no one to pick the cotton.
"Well, I won't think of that either," she told herself. "Taxes aren't a woman's job anyway. Pa ought to look after such things, but Pa I won't think of Pa now. The Confederacy can whistle for its taxes. What we need now is something to eat."
"Pork, have any of you been to Twelve Oaks or the MacIntosh place to see if there's anything left in the gardens there?"
"No, Ma'm! Us ain' lef' Tara. De Yankees mout git us."
"I'll send Dilcey over to MacIntosh. Perhaps she'll find something there. And I'll go to Twelve Oaks."
"Who wid, chile?"
"By myself. Mammy must stay with the girls and Mr. Gerald can't "
Pork set up an outcry which she found infuriating. There might be Yankees or mean niggers at Twelve Oaks. She mustn't go alone.
"That will be enough, Pork. Tell Dilcey to start immediately. And you and Prissy go bring in the sow and her litter," she said briefly, turning on her heel.
Mammy's old sunbonnet, faded but clean, hung on its peg on the back porch and Scarlett put it on her head, remembering, as from another world, the bonnet with curling green plume which Rhett had brought her from Paris. She picked up a large split-oak basket and started down the back stairs, each step jouncing her head until her spine seemed to be trying to crash through the top of her skull.
The road down to the river lay red and scorching between the ruined cotton fields. There were no trees to cast a shade and the sun beat down through Mammy's sunbonnet as if it were made of tarlatan instead of heavy quilted calico, while the dust floating upward sifted into her nose and throat until she felt the membranes would crack if she spoke. Deep ruts and furrows were cut into the road where horses had dragged heavy guns along it and the red gullies on either side were deeply gashed by the wheels. The cotton was mangled and trampled where cavalry and infantry, forced off the narrow road by the artillery, had marched through the green bushes, grinding them into the earth. Here and there in road and fields lay buckles and bits of harness leather, canteens flattened by hooves and caisson wheels, buttons, blue caps, worn socks, bits of bloody rags, all the litter left by a marching army.
She passed the clump of cedars and the low brick wall which marked the family burying ground, trying not to think of the new grave lying by the three short mounds of her little brothers. Oh, Ellen She trudged on down the dusty hill, passing the heap of ashes and the stumpy chimney where the Slattery house had stood, and she wished savagely that the whole tribe of them had been part of the ashes. If it hadn't been for that nasty Emmie, who'd had a bastard brat by their overseer Ellen wouldn't have died.
She moaned as a sharp pebble cut into her blistered foot. What was she doing here? Why was Scarlett O'Hara, the belle of the County, the sheltered pride of Tara, tramping down this rough road almost barefoot? Her little feet were made to dance, not to limp, her tiny slippers to peep daringly from under bright silks, not to collect sharp pebbles and dust. She was born to be pampered and waited upon, and here she was, sick and ragged, driven by hunger to hunt for food in the gardens of her neighbors.
At the bottom of the long hill was the river and how cool and still were the tangled trees overhanging the water! She sank down on the low bank, and stripping off the remnants of her slippers and stockings, dabbled her burning feet in the cool water. It would be so good to sit here all day, away from the helpless eyes of Tara, here where only the rustle of leaves and the gurgle of slow water broke the stillness. But reluctantly she replaced her shoes and stockings and trudged down the bank, spongy with moss, under the shady trees. The Yankees had burned the bridge but she knew of a footlog bridge across a narrow point of the stream a hundred yards below. She crossed it cautiously and trudged uphill the hot half-mile to Twelve Oaks.
There towered the twelve oaks, as they had stood since Indian days, but with their leaves brown from fire and the branches burned and scorched. Within their circle lay the ruins of John Wilkes' house, the charred remains of that once stately home which had crowned the hill in white-columned dignity. The deep pit which had been the cellar, the blackened field-stone foundations and two mighty chimneys marked the site. One long column, half-burned, had fallen across the lawn, crushing the cape jessamine bushes.
Scarlett sat down on the column, too sick at the sight to go on. This desolation went to her heart as nothing she had ever experienced. Here was the Wilkes pride in the dust at her feet. Here was the end of
the kindly, courteous house which had always welcomed her, the house where in futile dreams she had aspired to be mistress. Here she had danced and dined and flirted and here she had watched with a jealous, hurting heart how Melanie smiled up at Ashley. Here, too, in the cool shadows of the trees, Charles Hamilton had rapturously pressed her hand when she said she would marry him.
"Oh, Ashley," she thought, "I hope you are dead! I could never bear for you to see this."
Ashley had married his bride here but his son and his son's son would never bring brides to this house. There would be no more matings and births beneath the roof which she had so loved and longed to rule. The house was dead and, to Scarlett, it was as if all the Wilkeses, too, were dead in its ashes.
"I won't think of it now. I can't stand it now. I'll think of it later," she said aloud, turning her eyes away.
Seeking the garden, she limped around the ruins, by the trampled rose beds the Wilkes girls had tended so zealously, across the back yard and through the ashes of the smokehouse, barns and chicken houses. The split-rail fence around the kitchen garden had been demolished and the once orderly rows of green plants had suffered the same treatment as those at Tara. The soft earth was scarred with hoof prints and heavy wheels and the vegetables were mashed into the soil. There was nothing for her here.
She walked back across the yard and took the path down toward the silent row of whitewashed cabins in the quarters, calling "Hello!" as she went. But no voice answered her. Not even a dog barked. Evidently the Wilkes negroes had taken flight or followed the Yankees. She knew every slave had his own garden patch and as she reached the quarters, she hoped these little patches had been spared.
Her search was rewarded but she was too tired even to feel pleasure at the sight of turnips and cabbages, wilted for want of water but still standing, and straggling butter beans and snap beans, yellowing but edible. She sat down in the furrows and dug into the earth with hands that shook, filling her basket slowly. There would be a good meal at Tara tonight, in spite of the lack of side meat to boil with the vegetables. Perhaps some of the bacon grease Dilcey was using for illumination could be used for seasoning. She must remember to tell Dilcey to use pine knots and save the grease for cooking.
Close to the back step of one cabin, she found a short row of radishes and hunger assaulted her suddenly. A spicy, sharp-tasting radish was exactly what her stomach craved. Hardly waiting to rub the dirt off on her skirt, she bit off half and swallowed it hastily. It was old and coarse and so peppery that tears started in her eyes. No sooner had the lump gone down than her empty stomach revolted and she lay in the soft dirt and vomited tiredly.
The faint niggery smell which crept from the cabin increased her nausea and, without strength to combat it, she kept on retching miserably while the cabins and trees revolved swiftly around her.
After a long time, she lay weakly on her face, the earth as soft and comfortable as a feather pillow, and her mind wandered feebly here and there. She, Scarlett O'Hara, was lying behind a negro cabin, in the midst of ruins, too sick and too weak to move, and no one in the world knew or cared. No one would care if they did know, for everyone had too many troubles of their own to worry about her. And all this was happening to her, Scarlett O'Hara, who had never raised her hand even to pick up her discarded stockings from the floor or to tie the laces of her slippers Scarlett, whose little headaches and tempers had been coddled and catered to all her life.
As she lay prostrate, too weak to fight off memories and worries, they rushed at her, circled about her like buzzards waiting for a death. No longer had she the strength to say: "I'll think of Mother and Pa and Ashley and all this ruin later Yes, later when I can stand it." She could not stand it now, but she was thinking of them whether she willed it or not. The thoughts circled and swooped above her, dived down and drove tearing claws and sharp beaks into her mind. For a timeless time, she lay still, her face in the dirt, the sun beating hotly upon her, remembering things and people who were dead, remembering a way of living that was gone forever and looking upon the harsh vista of the dark future.
When she arose at last and saw again the black ruins of Twelve Oaks, her head was raised high and something that was youth and beauty and potential tenderness had gone out of her face forever. What was past was past. Those who were dead were dead. The lazy luxury of the old days was gone, never to return. And, as Scarlett settled the heavy basket across her arm, she had settled her own mind and her own life.
There was no going back and she was going forward.
Throughout the South for fifty years there would be bitter-eyed women who looked backward, to dead times, to dead men, evoking memories that hurt and were futile, bearing poverty with bitter pride because they had those memories. But Scarlett was never to look back.
She gazed at the blackened stones and, for the last time, she saw Twelve Oaks rise before her eyes as it had once stood, rich and proud, symbol of a race and a way of living. Then she started down the road toward Tara, the heavy basket cutting into her flesh.
Hunger gnawed at her empty stomach again and she said aloud: "As God is my witness, as God is my witness, the Yankees aren't going to lick me. I'm going to live through this, and when it's over, I'm never going to be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to steal or kill as God is my witness, I'm never going to be hungry again."
Copyright 1936 by Macmillan Publishing Company, a division of Macmillan, Inc.
Copyright renewed © 1964 by Stephens Mitchell and Trust Company of Georgia as Executors of Margaret Mitchell Marsh
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Gone with the Wind includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Widely considered The Great American Novel, and often remembered for its epic film version, Gone With the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A superb piece of storytelling, it vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning story is the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life. A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage, in the pages of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell brings to life the unforgettable characters that have captured readers for more than seventy years.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Gerald O’Hara is described as “vital and earthy and coarse” (pg. 50). Why do you think society still considers him a gentleman? Is it simply because he married Ellen? Does his daughter Scarlett possess these same traits? What about her sisters, Suellen and Careen?
2. Discuss the general attitude towards education in Gone With the Wind. Gerald, Scarlett, and others refer to Ashley Wilkes’s studies as “foolishness.” Does this surprise you? If art and literature are unimportant to so many, what qualities are admired?
3. “To Mammy’s indignation, [Scarlett’s] preferred playmates were not her demure sisters or the well-brought-up Wilkes girls but the negro children on the plantation and the boys of the neighborhood…” (pg. 75). Why doesn’t Scarlett befriend other girls? As a young woman, whom does she show general affection and why?
4. “Sacrilegious though it may be, Scarlett always saw through her closed eyes, the upturned face of Ellen and not the Blessed Virgin, as the ancient phrases were repeated” (pg. 87). Does Scarlett have these emotions because Ellen is her mother or because she admires her as a person? Why is Ellen so special to Scarlett? Is there anyone else Scarlett admires to the same degree?
5. While preparing for the party at Twelve Oaks, Scarlett asks Mammy “Why is it a girl has to be so silly to catch a husband?” (pg. 95). Considering the times, do you think this statement is accurate? Does Scarlett follow these rules herself? Are there any women in the novel who don’t act “silly” in the presence of men?
6. Several of the families frequently refer to the Slatterys and others as “white trash.” Is this simply a matter of them having less money? During the time period, which traits must one possess to be considered a member of genteel society? Are exceptions ever made?
7. After overhearing her declaration of love to Ashley, Rhett Butler tells Scarlett “you, Miss, are no lady” (pg. 131). Is this the very reason he’s drawn to her? What is it about Scarlett that instantly attracts Rhett’s eye? Conversely, Aunt Pitty believes Rhett could be a gentleman if only he respected women. Do you agree? Are there any women he does respect? Why them as opposed to others?
8. There is very little discussion of Scarlett’s first husband, Charles Hamilton: “Within two weeks Scarlett had become a wife, and within two months more she was a widow” (pg. 139). Why is there a jump in time from Charles’s introduction to his death? Were you at all surprised at Scarlett’s reaction to widowhood?
9. Discuss the many complicated issues of race in this novel. Mammy and Pork consider themselves a higher status than those who work in the field. Why do they believe this? Do they also consider themselves better than “po whites” like the Slatterys? How would you describe Scarlett’s different relationships with Mammy, Pork, Dilcey, and Prissy?
10. When Scarlett first arrives in Atlanta, she notes the city as being “as headstrong and impetuous as herself” (pg. 149). Both during wartime and afterwards, what other similarities exist between Scarlett and her adopted home?
11. Most of her fellow Southerners will do anything for “The Cause,” and yet Scarlett admits to herself it means “nothing at all to her” (pg. 177). Is she being selfish or merely honest? Why do you think she feels this way? Does her opinion change throughout the novel? And if she doesn’t care about The Cause, why does she still hate “Yankees” so much?
12. Rhett warns Scarlett that he “always gets paid” (pg 242). Discuss the times when this is true. Why does he have this attitude? Is Rhett ever purely generous?
13. Considering he knows of her love, why does Ashley ask Scarlett to look after his wife, Melanie, while he’s at war? Is this a fair favor to ask? Does Scarlett agree only because she’s in love with him, or has she learned to love Melanie, as well?
14. “Oh, what fun! If he would just say he loved her, how she would torment him and get even…” (pg. 327). Why do Scarlett and Rhett feel the need to trick one another? Are there ever moments when they allow themselves to be vulnerable with each other? Why is honesty such a problem for them?
15. When the Yankees arrive in Atlanta, Rhett leaves Scarlett in the wagon to take care of Melanie and the others. Why does he leave them behind, as well as a life of comfort, to join the army he claims to dislike so much?
16. On her deathbed, Ellen calls out for her lost love, Philippe. Why does Margaret Mitchell include this seemingly insignificant back-story? Does this relationship parallel any others in the novel?
17. When she returns to Tara to find the Yankees have destroyed all their food and cotton, Scarlett utters one of the most well-known lines from Gone With the Wind: “as God as my witness, I’m never going to be hungry again” (pg. 408). Does this moment change Scarlett? From where does she find her strength?
18. Scarlett is often annoyed that her son, Wade Hampton, appears to prefer Aunt Melly. How would you describe her relationship with Wade? Much like his father Charles, why is he mentioned so infrequently? Do you judge Scarlett when she yells at him?
19. After Scarlett kills the Yankee soldier, Melanie immediately helps her dispose of the body, causing Scarlett to begrudgingly admire her “thin flashing blade of unbreakable steel” (pg. 420). How would you describe Melanie—as weak or strong? Does she know about Scarlett’s feelings for Ashley? If so, why does she remain so loyal to her?
20. Describe Atlanta once the war is over. Besides the physical damages, what are the biggest changes? Why do you think some of the newly free men remain loyal to their white families, while others try to start new lives? Do any of the former slaves now seem “successful”?
21. When Ashley returns to Tara, he confides in Scarlett that despite his wartime heroics, he considers himself a coward. What does he mean by this statement? Do you agree with him? Does Scarlett agree?
22. After finally finding a moment alone with each other, Scarlett and Ashley declare their love, but she admits “they were like two people talking to each other in different languages” (pg. 499). Were they ever really in love, or do they just admire each other greatly? And if he does love her, why doesn’t he stop her from offering herself to Rhett in exchange for the money to pay off the taxes?
23. When the war leaves them all poor, Scarlett cannot believe so many respectable families “still think, in spite of everything, that nothing really dreadful can happen to any of them because they are who they are…” (pg. 517). Do you agree that the former aristocrats remain the same, or as Ashley describes it, are in a “state of suspended animation” (pg. 677)? If so, why do you think this is? What makes Scarlett different? Does she still care what they think of her?
24. After Tara is safe, why does Scarlett remain so involved with the mill? Does she enjoy working even though it’s deemed unladylike? Where did she learn her business skills? Why is she successful when so many of the men are not? And why does she decide to do business with the Yankees, whom she continues to hate?
25. Why do so many of the white Southern men join the Klan? Is it a matter of race, or politics, or dislike of the Yankees? Do they want some sense of control after losing the war and having “Carpetbaggers” run their local government? Why is Scarlett one of the few to speak against the Klan? And why does Rhett try to rescue Ashley and Frank from the meeting when he learns of the Yankee soldiers’ trap?
26. Discuss the importance of religion in the novel. How important is God to Scarlett? During tough times, she often claims not to care what He thinks. Do you believe this is true? What about following the death of her second husband, Frank Kennedy? Does she feel guilt? When she tells Rhett she’s afraid of going to Hell and has many regrets, do you believe her (pg. 768)?
27. “No, my dear, I’m not in love with you, no more than you are with me, and if I were, you would be the last person I’d ever tell” (pg. 778). If what Rhett says is true, why does he propose to Scarlett, especially after repeatedly claiming he isn’t a marrying man? And why does he choose to propose so shortly after Frank’s death? Does he make a good husband?
28. Scarlett has one child with each of her husbands. Does she treat them differently? Does fatherhood change Rhett? If so, do you think his behavior would be different if he had a son instead of a daughter? How are Scarlett and Rhett affected by Bonnie’s death, both individually and as a couple?
29. The novel ends with Rhett rejecting Scarlett’s love, and her thinking “tomorrow is another day” (pg. 959). Is this another example of Scarlett refusing to quit, or does she really believe she’ll win him back? Do you think he’s truly fallen out of love, or will Rhett return to Scarlett “another day”?
30. In the beginning of the novel, Gerald tells Scarlett that land is “the only thing in the world that lasts…” (pg. 55). Is this true in Scarlett’s world? Ultimately, does she love Ashley, or Rhett, or her own children as much as she loves Tara?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. After your book club discussion, watch the film version of Gone With the Wind. Discuss the differences and similarities between the novel and the Oscar-winning movie. Is there one you prefer? If you had already seen the film, did you envision the actors as the book’s characters? Do you think this changed your perspective while reading?
2. Fashion is very important to Southern society during this time period. Do research on 1860s clothing and bring in pictures or sketches to share with the group. Decide which outfits Scarlett, Melanie, and the other women might select for themselves and why.
3. Gone With the Wind goes into great detail to describe the Civil War’s impact on society. Now research the historical aspects of the war. Have each member write a brief recap of the war’s major battles and then share with the group. Does the novel portray these battles accurately?
4. If you’re in the Atlanta area, take a trip to the Margaret Mitchell House, where you can tour the rooms in which the famous author wrote her novel. If this trip isn’t convenient for your group, you can visit the website at: http://www.gwtw.org/.
5. At the end of the novel Rhett leaves Scarlett, but the two never seem to stay apart for long. Do you imagine Rhett ever returns to her? Write an epilogue for the story detailing what you think happens to Scarlett, Rhett, and the others.