Gone With the Wind
Margaret Mitchell, 1936
Simon & Schuster
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. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—July 8, 1900
• Where—Atlanta, Georgia, USA
• Death—August 16, 1949
• Where—Atlanta, Georgia
• Education—Smith College (Massachusetts)
• Awards—Pulitizer Prize
"If the novel has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people able to come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don't. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those who go under...? I only know that the survivors used to call that quality 'gumption.' So I wrote about the people who had gumption and the people who didn't."
—Margaret Mitchell, 1936
Author of the bestselling novel of all time, Margaret Mitchell was born Nov. 8, 1900 in Atlanta to a family with ancestry not unlike the O'Hara's in Gone With the Wind. Her mother, Mary Isabelle "Maybelle" Stephens, was of Irish-Catholic ancestry. Her father, Eugene Muse Mitchell, an Atlanta attorney, descended from Scotch-Irish and French Huguenots. The family included many soldiers — members of the family had fought in the American Revolution, Irish uprisings and rebellions and the Civil War.
The imaginative child was fascinated with stories of the Civil War that she heard first from her parents and great aunts, who lived at the family's Jonesboro rural home, and later, from grizzled (and sometimes profane) Confederate veterans who regaled the girl with battlefield stories as Margaret, astride her pony, rode through the countryside around Atlanta with the men.
"She was a great friend of my cousin," recalled Atlanta resident Mrs. Colquitt Carter. "My cousin always said that when Peggy would spend the night, she would get up in the middle of the night and write things. She was always obsessed with expressing herself."
The family lived in a series of homes, including a stately home on Peachtree Street beginning in 1912. Young Margaret attended private school, but was not an exceptional student. When, on one memorable day, she announced to her mother that she could not understand mathematics and would not return to school, Maybelle dragged her daughter to a rural road where plantation houses had fallen into ruin.
"It's happened before and it will happen again," Maybelle sternly lectured the girl. "And when it does happen, everyone loses everything and everyone is equal. They all start again with nothing at all except the cunning of their brain and the strength of their hands."
Chastened, Margaret Mitchell returned to school, eventually entering Smith College in the fall of 1918, not long after the United States entered World War I. Her fiancé, Clifford Henry, was killed in action in France. In January 1919, Maybelle Mitchell died during a flu epidemic and Margaret Mitchell left college to take charge of the Atlanta household of her father and her older brother, Stephens.
Although she made her society debut in 1920, Margaret was far too free-spirited and intellectual to be content with the life of a debutante. She quarreled with her fellow debs over the proper distribution of the money they had raised for charity, and she scandalized Atlanta society with a provocative dance that she performed at the debutante ball with a male student from Georgia Tech.
By 1922, Margaret Mitchell was a headstrong "flapper" pursued by two men, an ex-football player and bootlegger, Berrien "Red" Upshaw, and a lanky newspaperman, John R. Marsh. She chose Upshaw, and the two were married in September. Upshaw's irregular income led her to seek a job, at a salary of $25 per week, as a writer for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine where Marsh was an editor and her mentor.
"There was an excitement in newspapering in the 1920's, famed editor Ralph McGill recalled. Margaret Mitchell, he said, "was a vibrant, vital person — excited, always, and seeking excitement. And this excitement, I think, was a sort of a hallmark of the 20's."
The Upshaw marriage was stormy and short lived. They divorced in October 1924, and less than a year later, she married Marsh. The two held their wedding reception at their new ground-floor apartment at 979 Crescent Avenue — a house which Margaret affectionately nicknamed "The Dump."
Only months after their marriage, Margaret left her job at the Journal to convalesce from a series of injuries. It was during this period that she began writing the book that would make her world famous.
Gone With the Wind was published in June 1936. Margaret Mitchell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her sweeping novel in May 1937. The novel was made into an equally famous motion picture starring Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable. The movie had its world premiere at the Loew's Grand Theater in Atlanta Dec. 15, 1939 with Margaret Mitchell and all of the stars in attendance.
On Aug. 11, 1949, while crossing the intersection of Peachtree and 13th — only three blocks from "The Dump", Margaret Mitchell was struck by a speeding taxi. She died five days later and is buried in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery with other members of her family. (From Barnes & Noble, courtesy of the Margaret Mitchell and Museum.)
This is beyond a doubt one of the most remarkable first novels produced by an American writer. It is also one of the best. — Books of the Century
New York Times (1936)
The best novel to have ever come out of the South...it is unsurpassed in the whole of American writing.
Fascinating and unforgettable! A remarkable book, a spectacular book, a book that will not be forgotten.
Gone With the Wind is one of those rare books that we never forget. We read it when we're young and fall in love with the characters, then we watch the film and read the book again and watch the film again and never get tired of revisiting an era that is the most important in our history. Rhett and Scarlet and Melanie and Ashley and Big Sam and Mammy and Archie the convict are characters who always remain with us, in the same way that Twain's characters do. No one ever forgets the scene when Scarlet wanders among the wounded in the Atlanta train yard; no one ever forgets the moment Melanie and Scarlet drag the body of the dead Federal soldier down the staircase, a step at a time. Gone With the Wind is an epic story. Anyone who has not read it has missed one of the greatest literary experiences a reader can have.
James Lee Burke
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 maybe, 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?
(Questions issued by publisher.)
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