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Free Study Guide - Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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The novel is written with a simple, linear plot that spans about eight years. The single most important event is the Civil War, which changes the lives of everyone in the south and drives Scarlett to some of her most reckless deeds. Forward motion is achieved by a pattern of foreshadow and fulfillment which at times is so obvious that overt prediction is a better term than foreshadowing. The men with whom Scarlett carelessly flirts in the beginning both end up marrying her. Rhett whom she claims to hate from the moment she lays eyes on him becomes an important figure not only for Scarlett but for the rest of the characters as well. In fact, he makes many of the predictions that anger them the most. As soon as Scarlett says she will never have children, we know she will have them. And when she breathes a sigh of relief that the worst of the war tragedies is over, we know that something worse yet is just around the corner.

Rhett warns Scarlett to tell Frank to stay home if he wants to see his daughter grow up. Frank does not stay home, and he is killed. Rhett also tries to explain to Scarlett that she is endangering herself and the other women by her carelessness. She ignores him and is, of course, attacked on the way home from her mills. Even Rhett himself is caught in the cycle. He dotes too much on Bonnie and loses her. We know as soon as he says that he is not the marrying kind, that he will ultimately marry Scarlett. The one twist occurs at the end. Scarlett realizes that he is the one she wants, the person in her dream mist, and promptly loses him. It is probably this singular twist that made the novel so popular.


Love of Money

Scarlett and Rhett both pursue wealth at the cost of their reputations. Rhett, however, knows that he has done so while Scarlett never fully understands that money cannot buy either happiness or respect.

Fantasy versus reality

Scarlett's love life is based in fantasy. However, it is a fantasy she was taught from the time she was a child. She was raised to behave in a certain artificial way-even though she doesn't always do it-and to expect men to respond in a certain way. To her, strength is something one can see, like a garment, and she associates the debonair bearing with manliness. By the time she gets over her fantasy love, it is too late.

In other things, however, she faces reality with a brutality that infuriates the people of Atlanta. She is chillingly practical and determined in the face of even the worst criticism.

Loss and Change

The Civil War brings devastating loss and life changes to the people of the south. The tendency to tear down everything of the past is a heritage that persists in the city of Atlanta, Georgia to this day. Yet, while the people of the north who moved into Atlanta brought their own ways, they had a romanticized perception of the old Southern society and wanted to be a part of it. Among the southerners themselves, those who found a way to fit into the new economy had a chance of surviving while those who could do nothing but look back longingly to the past died, sometimes of starvation.


Margaret Mitchell said herself that if the novel has a theme, it is "survival." The novel presents many characters, some who survive, and many who do not. For example, although they are minor characters, the Elsings survive because they "stoop" to using their home as a boarding house. Although Aunt Pittypat thinks such mercenary activities are deplorable, Scarlett admires them for it, wishing she could have found paid boarders for Tara. The Merriwethers also survive because Mrs. Merriwether makes pies and other pastries and sells them to the soldiers. Toward the end of the story, she takes a bank loan (arranged by Rhett) to establish a bakery.

Scarlett's second husband, Frank Kennedy, probably would have survived without Scarlett to take over his business. Even though he couldn't bring himself to force people to pay him, he had acquired enough to be able to buy one of the mills; Scarlett just got to it first. In Jonesboro, the Calverts do not survive because they are a people caught in the middle. The connections Mr. Calvert had via his Yankee wife do not hold up once the war is over. When Mr. Calvert dies, his family no longer belongs. A reader could go through the story in this manner, drawing conclusions about who will be successful in the new south and who will die in dignified poverty, if we want to call it that.


The novel is written in an omniscient view point, primarily from Scarlett's perspective, but switching to the view of Rhett, Melanie, or Ashley whenever a part of the story where Scarlett is absent needs explaining. The sections about the war are in an objective third point, clearly the voice of the narrator as she explains things the characters would not have known.

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Ruff, Dr. KSC. "TheBestNotes on Gone With the Wind". . 09 May 2017