Gone with the Wind is a historical fiction told in simple language from an omniscient perspective and also with heavily accented vernacular from most of the characters. The book is rich in themes of war, the uncomfortable issue of race, slavery, social class, human nature, and gender dynamics. Some of these themes are hidden in layers of obscurity that can only be unraveled through in-depth analysis. There are also numerous literary devices employed in the book and significant symbols in the story.
Gone with the Wind Themes
In many ways, Margaret Mitchell expresses through Gone with the Wind that war is never a good resort for the resolution of political differences. And in conformity with many other’s views about war, Mitchell agrees that there are winners in war only in name but that the destruction inherent in war, leaves everyone a loser.
However, it is easily discernible that between the two contenders of the war, Margaret Mitchell sympathizes with the Confederacy, she fails to acknowledge that the war was fought to put an end to slavery, and the Union is seen as plain evil villains who chose to destroy the South for no reason. An instance of this is in Rhett Butler’s remark:
“It isn’t the darkies, Scarlett. They’re just the excuse. There’ll always be wars because men love wars.”
This is the most controversial of all the themes in Gone with the Wind. The novel paints a picture of a glorious South before the war where there is prosperity and everything is perfect but fails to condemn the slavery which drives the prosperous economy.
Race in Gone with the Wind is a double-faced coin. On one side are black characters that are strong, dignified, admirable, and proud even as slaves. Characters such as Mammy, Pork, Dilcey, Uncle Peter, Big Sam. Also, the loving relationship these black characters have with their white folks is admirable. For instance, Scarlett who had grown cold and insensitive to the rest of the world was still warm and affectionate to the ‘darkies’ in her life. After a touching conversation with Pork, Pork tells Scarlett that the world would be a better place if she was half as nice to white folks as she was to black folks.
On the flip side, the novel contains some racially offensive and derogatory statements and sentiments. For instance, referring to Mammy as using the “bland guile of her race” is racially derogatory. Also offensive is a statement like, “Negroes are always so proud of being the bearers of evil tidings” which is highly prejudicial.
Margaret Mitchell also painted a picture of massive abuse of white women by freed black slaves and seemed to justify the indiscriminate killing of blacks by white men. For instance, in chapter thirty-six, Rhett Butler boldly spoke of killing a black man for being “uppity” to a lady.
Two groups are subjected to slavery in Gone with the Wind. The first is the Negro slaves of plantation and farm owners of the South. The second are convicts of the state leased out to do hard labor for individual business owners.
Margaret Mitchell gives a romanticized portrayal of the first group of slaves. The black slaves in Gone with the Wind are happy slaves, they love their masters and have an affectionate relationship with them. This portrayal may be insensitive in the face of intensive scrutiny. For instance, the situation of Dilcey whose only means of being together with her husband and daughter lies in the magnanimity of Gerald O’Hara who purchases her from the next plantation shows the disturbing reality of one human being owned by a fellow human.
The second is the enforced hard labor of the convicts leased by the state to work for opportunistic business owners. This is frowned upon in Gone with the Wind even by the black slaves who through the character Mammy claim that the black slaves are not miserable like the convicts.
Gone with the Wind has a distinctly stratified social structure both within the white community and the black community.
At the top of the white social strata in Gone with the Wind are the rich plantation owners whose slaves run in hundreds; then at the very bottom are the poor whites who are derogatorily referred to as ‘white trash’ and in between are the small farmers, hunters in the backwoods, swamp trappers and Crackers.
Among the black folks, those at the top are the house servants because their white masters chose those with the highest aptitude to be in proximity. Next are the slaves who can learn a craft such as cobbling or carpentry, then at the bottom are those who do not have any aptitude to learn a skill and those are the ones employed as field hands.
Like many socially stratified societies, the social classes in Gone with the Wind have conflicts between them. For instance, the slaves of the rich plantation owners look down on the free whites who are poor; and Grandma Fontaine does not approve of Suellen’s marriage to Will Benteen, despite the upheaval of order by the war, Grandma Fontaine does not like that the daughter of a plantation owner should marry a Cracker.
Conformity and Human Nature
Gone with the Wind teaches that there are various traits in individuals that make them different from others but that most times, individuals keep their real traits hidden because of a need to be accepted by society. Scarlett O’Hara is greedy, ruthless, and opportunistic but she carefully tries to conceal these traits in herself. However, with the hardships of the war, she must bring these traits to the fore to survive and she decides she no longer cares what society thinks of her, yet she is still not bold enough to openly display her alcoholism.
Also, there can be good in humans even in those the society perceives as the vilest people due to stereotypes and prejudice. The character Belle Watling is a prostitute, viewed in the worst light by the society of Atlanta, but she proves to have a charitable heart by secretly donating money for the treatment of injured soldiers and she agrees to be a witness before the provost marshal to save some men of Atlanta who were mean to her. Then, the Yankee soldiers who camped at Tara were kind and gracious to the O’Hara family, contrary to the heartless barbarians they expected every Yankee soldier to be.
As indicated in the novel, Gone with the Wind is set in a society that places a ‘low premium on feminine naturalness’. Gone with the Wind tries to show the many restrictions on women in its setting and how women are regarded as inferior to menfolk. For instance, Scarlett is nagged by her husband, Frank Kennedy, and scorned by the whole of Atlanta for being a woman and running a mill business after the war.
Margaret Mitchell in Gone with the Wind makes observations like “Southern men give women everything except credit for being intelligent”. The character Grandma Fontaine says to Scarlett “God intended women to be timid frightened creatures and there’s something unnatural about a woman who isn’t afraid”.
Mitchell also refers to another culture to draw a parallel on unfairness to women. Rhett Butler tells Scarlet, who is afraid to dance in public while in mourning, that the system of mourning in Georgia is as barbarous as the Hindu Suttee where a widow is expected to jump into the burning pyre of her husband’s funeral and burn to death.
Analysis of key moments in Gone with the Wind
- Scarlett becomes heartbroken by the news of Ashley Wilkes’s engagement to Melanie Hamilton
- She pleads with Ashley to leave Melanie and elope with her but Ashley refuses. Rhett Butler overhears the whole conversation
- Scarlett rashly agrees to marry Charles Hamilton to spite Ashley
- Scarlett becomes a pregnant widow after two months of being married to Charles because Charles enlists in the army and dies as the war begins
- Scarlett gives birth to a son but seems to fall into depression. Her parents send her away from their home Tara to Atlanta to live with her sister-in-law, Melanie, hoping that the new scenery will cheer her up
- Rhett Butler meets Scarlett in Atlanta and gets her to dance in public and to stop wearing mourning clothes for Charles
- Ashley gets a furlough from the army and visits Scarlett and Melanie in Atlanta
- Scarlett continues to profess her love to Ashley but he only begs her to look after Melanie and departs for battle
- Melanie discovers that she is pregnant with Ashley’s child
- Atlanta is held in a siege on the day Melanie goes into labour
- With many injured soldiers to look after, there is no available doctor to deliver Melanie’s baby and Scarlett is forced to be the midwife in the delivery
- Scarlett is forced to flee Atlanta immediately after Melanie’s childbirth and asks Rhett Butler to help them escape to the countryside
- Rhett butler steals a horse and carriage to help them flee Atlanta but leaves them midway to join the army himself
- Scarlett manages to return safely to Tara with her son, her nursemaid, Melanie, and the newborn baby
- At Tara, she discovers that her mother was dead from a disease, that her two sisters were very sick, and that her father had lost his mind
- As the war ends, Scarlett tries to rebuild Tara but exorbitant taxes imposed by the new government put Scarlett at the risk of losing Tara to bankruptcy
- She returns to Atlanta with hopes of getting a loan from Rhett Butler but finds him in prison and incapable of helping her
- Desperate for a solution, she runs into her sister’s beau, Frank Kennedy, and sensing he is wealthy, lies to him that her sister was engaged to someone else then manipulates him into marrying her.
- Scarlett gets the money for the taxes from Frank Kennedy a retains ownership of Tara.
- Scarlett gives birth to a baby girl for Frank Kennedy
- Scarlett gets attacked by some criminals and Frank Kennedy and his fellow members of the Ku Klux Klan launch an attack on the freed blacks’ neighborhood but Frank Kennedy is killed in the attack
- Ashley Wilkes and many other members of the Ku Klux Klan become suspects for complicity in the attack but Rhett Butler helps them escape death by hanging by lying that they spent the night at a prostitute’s saloon whose name is Belle Watling.
- Rhett Butler proposes to Scarlett after Frank’s death and Scarlett marries him
- Scarlett gives birth to a baby girl for Rhett. They name her Bonnie and she becomes the center of Rhett’s affection
- Bonnie dies in an accident and it breaks Rhett’s spirit and causes a serious strain on his marriage
- Melanie gets pregnant for a second time and suffers a miscarriage
Style, Tone and Figurative Language
Gone with the Wind is narrated in simple language from a third-person perspective. The tone of the narrator is sometimes dispassionate and sometimes very opinionated in the story. The narrator is omniscient and can tell the thoughts of characters or sometimes tells a background story about characters.
Irony, metaphor, and hyperbole are the most used figurative language in the novel. Margaret Mitchell also created some prominent character foils with characters that are extremely opposite the other for instance, Scarlett is as cold and selfish as Melanie is as warm and selfless.
Analysis of Symbols in Gone with the Wind
This symbol comes from the title of the novel. It symbolizes a powerful force that destroys an existing order. The first wind alluded to in Gone with the Wind is the Battle of Boyne which blows away Gerald O’Hara’s ancestral wealth and dream in Ireland.
The other is the American Civil War that blows away the old order of the South and Scarlett O’Hara’s sheltered life.
The Soldiers’ Graves
The graves symbolize a shared fate in the destruction of war by both the winners and the losers. The women of Atlanta would weed the graves of the Confederate soldiers and leave that of the Yankee soldiers unkempt but the overgrown weeds on the Yankee soldiers’ graves make a caricature of their efforts to beautify the graves and this symbolizes that continued segregation after the war would hamper everyone’s effort at recovery.
The Confederate Note
After the defeat of the confederacy, the currency note of the confederacy becomes worthless. However, Will Benteen finds one of such notes with a poem written on it.
The note represents the lost values of the old south, serving no utility in the new world but THE poem on it pleads to be remembered by future generations. It also represents a plea to future generations to never forget the battles of their ancestors.
During the hardships following the war, Scarlett begins to have recurring nightmares about running from a terrifying mist. That mist is used to symbolize uncertainties and insecurities in the struggle for survival.
The Hamilton family has a sword which their grandfather got from fighting in the Mexican war, the Hamilton family then began a tradition of passing that sword from one generation to the next and it eventually gets to the little boy Wade. The sword symbolizes family legacy and how descendants can draw courage from their ancestral history.
What is the most important theme in Gone with the Wind?
The most important theme in Gone with the Wind is subject to the perspective of the reader because the book has so many themes layered in its story. Nonetheless, survival is one of the most prominent themes in Gone with the Wind and it is made more vivid by the theme of war in the story. There are also prominent themes of race, gender, and morality in the story.
Why is Gone with the Wind so popular?
Gone with the Wind is popular because it is one of the first historical fictions to tell the story of the American Civil War from the perspective of elite southerners. Its movie adaptation also contributed to its popularity. Then the many controversies and thematic discussions it provokes continually keep it relevant in popular culture.
Does Gone with the Wind have a sequel?
Gone with the Wind has over twenty sequels but none of the sequels was written by Margaret Mitchell herself. Margaret Mitchell in her lifetime had refused to make a sequel to Gone with the Wind despite pleas from her publishers and fans. She believed making a sequel to Gone with the Wind meant insulting the integrity of an already complete story.
Some of the sequels were written with authorization by Margaret Mitchell’s estate. For instance, Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley published in 1991 and Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig published in 2014.