The Dissatisfying Resolution of Gone with the Wind

“All great literature (and all great storytelling) has two elements: conflict and resolution.”

Dr. B already had my attention, but when he started in on this, I couldn’t wait to hear more.  I was sitting in the first class meeting of my first graduate class, and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t began working on my master’s degree sooner. This was where I belonged.  This was where I felt connected to people like me.  This was the place that I could finally talk seriously about books.

He continued, “Resolutions are found to be satisfying by large numbers of people.”

Hmmm.  I could see that.  But wait!  What about all of the books I found to be dissatisfying.  The class agreed with my thoughts and we all began naming what we thought were exceptions.  He denied every suggestion, explaining that it would still be considered a satisfying ending.

I chimed in.  “What about Gone with the Wind?” At this he chuckled, but maintained his theory, even about this book.  I contended that Scarlett being so thickheaded and Rhett declaring that he did not give a damn was not satisfying to me.  Smiling through his thick beard, Dr. B explained that large numbers of people disagreed with me.

And he’s right.  The book, published in 1936, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.  (It’s also number 21 on the BBC book list.)  There are over a hundred printings of the first edition, and the novel has sold over 28 million copies as of the 1990s.  It received praise in the popular presses and spent 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.   There was some criticism from literary critics, particularly Bernard DeVoto.  However, the popular success of the novel tells us that the overall story, including that darned resolution, is satisfying.

I have to admit that I, too, enjoyed the novel.  It is roughly a thousand pages and took a few weeks to read, but I lost myself in the world of the south, wondering what would happen next, whose lives would be changed forever, and when Scarlett would never go hungry again.  Every twist and turn of the plot and the changing of the years held my attention.  I alternately hated Scarlett and loved her, reprimanded her and cheered for her.  I found myself swooning over Rhett.

But I was not satisfied.  He could not just turn his back on her, although she was a difficult minx with too much fiery passion and a likely personality disorder.  She was still the heroine, and they still had a life to keep building together.  How could Rhett abandon her?  Was it the grief?

I do not know what it is like to lose a child, but I do suppose it would wreak havoc on a marriage.  Their little Bonnie Blue name was the light and joy of Rhett’s life, and likely one of the reasons he put up with Scarlett’s difficult nature.  Of course he lost his will to continue fighting, living so tumultuously.  He’d seen death in the preceding years of the war, death that counted for nearly nothing once it all finished.  Bonnie’s innocent death, the result of a ridiculous accident, became too much for him to handle.  Their disloyalty to one another certainly didn’t help the situation, either.

So, because of my dissatisfaction, I turned eagerly to Scarlett (1991) by Alexandra Ripley.  I knew that this author couldn’t possibly live up to Mitchell’s storytelling abilities, nor could she really tell the true story, but whatever she had to write I wanted to read.  I wanted to escape back into the world of Rhett and Scarlett and suspend my belief that Mitchell’s resolution had been the correct one.  I wanted an alternate reality.  I guess I was seeking a fix.

Big disappointment.  Of course, Ripley puts Rhett and Scarlett back together.  In Ireland.  Really?  Ireland?  Of course there is conflict and tension that is ultimately resolved through connection and romance.  But it was all too much.  I finished the book, but I was left feeling hollow and worse that before.  This romance novel constructed out of the more realistic world I had enjoyed so much at Mitchell’s hands, had let me down.  I guess fixes always do that.

What’s your take on Gone with the Wind?  Are you satisfied with the ending?  How would you rewrite it?


56 thoughts on “The Dissatisfying Resolution of Gone with the Wind

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  1. Thanks for warning me away from Ripley’s Scarlett. I find the ending of GWTW satisfying because I don’t think the story is about Scarlett and Rhett. Rhett is an important character, but ultimately the story is about Scarlett. She begins naive and silly; because of the war and her poor choices, she is weathered down, toughened, and chastised. She ends up a sadder but wiser person, and there is still hope for her at Tara. I guess I don’t read it for the romance, so I’m not disappointed that it ends without Rhett. I love that Mitchell seems to say that no man can complete Scarlett; she must tackle life on her own, with all of her fabulous gumption.

    1. That is a great point that I didn’t focus on either! You’re right, although Rhett gave her money to get her financial start, she really did everything herself. She doesn’t need Rhett, but he could have added something significant to her life if she had let him. Love I suppose is a blessing, not a requirement. I think Mitchell had other positive feminist ideals too, that Scarlett was smart in math and business, that she could make decisions that were normally masculine, etc. It’s important that Ashley is dreaming and bookish, and Scarlett is hard working and shrewd…

    2. True Ariel!It takes a while to realise that.Scarlett is the protagonist and the villain.The story revolves around her!But what disappointed me when they got together was.After yet another 839 pager,Ripley brought them together suddenly in the last 20 or pages.It seemed so…..forced and fantasised!

  2. I was, and remain, satisfied with the resolution in Gone With the Wind. It is one of my all time favorites. To me the climactic ending signified that Scarlett and Rhett had finally conquered their own demons which were both the source and the calamity of their love affair.

  3. In the end … resolution can happen in the reader after completing the book. The author can lead them to a place where resolution is possible, and then rely on the reader to complete the thought.

    Interactivity, indeed!

  4. In my pending books to read is this book. I have listened so many good comments about the movie that i would like to compare them. When i read it i will make my opinion. Hreat job with this post.

  5. What a great post! I too found the ending of Gone with the Wind to be unsatisfying. I remember when I first saw the movie and I couldn’t get over the fact that Rhett just left. I wanted to yell “Explain yourself, Margaret Mitchell!” You wrote a damn long book, now write an ending I can live with.

    Like you, I read Scarlett and wondered why the sequel of a great American Novel was set in Ireland. But whatever. Yes, they got together and I think I breathed a sigh of relief and said “Now the universe is fixed.” But not really.

    I had to find the “fix” in my head. In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett says “tomorrow is another day.” From there, I catapulted my imagination into what I hoped would happen in the future– that Scarlett and Rhett would reunite and all would be well with the world.

  6. I felt exactly like you did, but somehow, even though Ireland is a bit far fetched, most of the events in -what I call- the sequel were natural. As opposed to that, ‘Rhett Butler’s People’ told the entire story from his perspective and then went over and ended with both of them uniting at Tara. But even though the location is more appropriate, and the resolution exactly what I want, it felt unnatural that they be together so easily after Rhett’s epic “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

    1. One thing I liked about the movie better than the book is the addition of the word “frankly.” In the book it is simply, “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” Rhett is almost never frank in the book, and I think that he is lying here too.

  7. I loved your analysis of Gone with the Wind. You are a gutsy girl. I think Mitchell was giving us a hard dose of reality in her ending. Life doesn’t always resolve. I don’t think Rhett and Scarlet could ever have been happy together. They were both too stubborn and hot-headed.

    1. Thank you! You are right that it is realistic. I am now wondering why I found myself dissatisfied when I am known in my neighborhood for liking “depressing” books. Realism is right up my alley. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  8. Gone With the Wind is one of my favorite books. I also swooned over Rhett, but i found a lot of myself in Scarlet. I was satisfied with the ending, it fit the characters and their roots. How else would it have ended? It wouldn’t fit for Rhett to just give into Scarlet, that’s what her life was, controlling others. Rhett was the one thing and person in Scarlet’s life that she couldn’t control or influence drastically. For Rhett to just fall down on his face and beg for Scarlet to love him wouldn’t have fit him, and i would have probably been more upset with the ending. I’ve come to an acceptance of the ending, and I still love the story. It’s a model and standard for literature. I really enjoyed your analysis on it. 🙂

    1. Thanks! I like your explanation of the characters. You are spot on. It would have been forced and artificial to have them give in to each other. So sad, though. Every marriage involves some form of give and take.

  9. GWTW is one of my favorite books. I, too, get frustrated with the ending. I read somewhere that Margaret Mitchell had begun drafting a sequel, but, sadly, her life was cut short. I also picked up Ripley’s Scarlett and was dissatisfied with it. I believe, however, that Scarlett and Rhett found each other again. At Tara, of course! 🙂

  10. I struggle with the ending too. It breaks my heart! I just finished it this morning. Even though I have seen the excellent movie, which follows the book quite well, it moved me more than I would have thought. They are two people who are too similar. Rhett was afraid of rejection and Scarlett was afraid she couldn’t function without the fantasy of Ashley. The real tragedy of the book is not that Rhett leaves, although that is gut wrenching, but that Scarlett finally learns to analyze herself and Ashley and Rhett. Throughout the book the narrator says that Scarlett isn’t analytic and she learns these skills too late. Rhett is burned out of loving her. But at the same time, if he ever was truly kind to her and TOLD HER HOW HE FELT then maybe things would have been different. But he was always brutal and mocking. Another thing the narrator stresses. I think they are both guilty. But by the end of the book you really feel bad for Rhett. Women who break social rules die too often in literature, well Scarlett’s dreams die, her child dies, and her relationships die, but she survives. Just as she has survived everything. She is a character that I felt chagrined to admire and cheer for, but Ashley, Melanie, and her family would have starved in poverty if it weren’t for her. The other thing I found dissatisfying is that Melanie dies. I understand it propels the ending of the book, but it was still frustrating.

    There is one thing that actually left me hopeful. Rhett says he will come around often enough to prevent too much scandal since she doesn’t want a divorce. So if he actually does that then over time through gentler interactions it is possible they could get back together. I don’t think love dies the way Rhett tries to explain, especially with the intensity that he loves Scarlett. That little line about him still coming around and Scarlett focusing on tomorrow makes me feel like it is not as bleak as I always felt at the end of the four hour movie.

    This book was awesome in its ability to make you feel compassion for Southerners. Not something I have come across a lot as a child of the 90s born in CA. The abhorrent racism is very difficult though.

    1. Great insights! A lot of what you say I’ve forgotten, but I like that you still see hope and possibility. I suspect that too, even though such an “unresolved” ending is more realistic. I did like the view of Southerners during that time too. Yes, hard stuff to understand and swallow now, but certainly there’s something to be learned from it. I am glad you read it!

  11. A man’s point of view: The ending isn’t conventionally happy, but it restates the novel’s thesis– that the human will to live is triumphant

    See how Scarlett pushes on, no matter what– this is her most essential, most seductive quality as a character. Remember when Ashley rebuffs her and gives her the ball of red clay? How he admires her when she’s walking away, “destroyed but not defeated”, as Hemingway would say? This, over and over , makes Scarlett who she is.

    A happily-ever-after ending just wouldn’t cut it. That’s not reality, neither for Scarlett nor for the South. And not for most of us human beings either. Yet we keep fighting on, we’re never licked, and that’s a triumph in its own right.

    So in my opinion, Scarlett’s “Tomorrow’s another day” is perfect, true to the novel, true to life. Her fighting spirit inspires me more than some “In the end, everything always works out” ending would. Ya know?

    1. Excellent argument! I can agree logically and from a literary perspective, but my romantic side still wants them to stay together. But yes, happy endings aren’t realistic and I am a huge fan of “depressing” novels, so I guess I should accept this! Thanks for weighing in.

  12. Have not read the book, but watched the movie growing up and as a kid, was very dissatisfied with the ending, but as a more mature audience, my perceptions in life have changed. So now I see the ending with more clarity.

    As Scarlett has analyzed her feelings and realized her love for Rhett, she is determined to get him back in the future. Hence ,”Tomorrow is another day”.

    Earlier in the Movie …Rhett always told Scarlett he is not the marrying kind, but then love takes over and to get her, he marries her.

    In the end , he does not divorce her and says he will come around often to prevent scandal.

    Even when Rhett says “Frankly, my dear I don’t give a damn”. He know that Scarlett is too capable of pulling herself together and surviving on her own.

    Scarlett and Rhett`s relationship was always explosive, but they were always honest with each other about their feelings, and throughout the movie, they come together and then separate and come back together. When the movie ends, they don’t divorce and he needs to leave from the grief and loss of his child and her.

    So my hope is that when he does come to see her in Tara, they would grow closer and another explosion in their relationship because of their personalities will throw them apart. And in the future they will keep separating and coming back together, like they always have in the past. Their relationship seems like a loop of separating, analyzing, growing in the relationship, coming back together and then separating again.

  13. Gone With the Wind is probably one of my favorite books of all time, but certainly not for the ending. Like you, I get lost in the reality of the book, and in the way Margaret Mitchell so perfectly sucks you into a world that is long gone (for good reason of course). I am, however, not satisfied with the ending, and I never will be. The love they could have shared was beautiful and real. It wasn’t all sunshine and flowers, it was pain and struggle mixed with beautiful moments of laughter and joy in their early years. I sometimes like to think what would have been had Bonnie not died, or had one of them opened up and said what they felt sooner, such as when she lost the baby. But, that’s not how it was written, and we have to live with that.

    1. You’re right. We DO have to live with that. In some ways, I can see why it needed to end that way, but the romantic in me still wants to see a happy ending, but that probably would not have been “realistic.”

  14. One of my favourite books in the world! I love the ending: “Tomorrow, is another day.” Anything could happen! 🙂 Perhaps she got him back? Perhaps she didn’t? It’s entirely up to us to decide!

  15. Hi, I recently finished reading the book for the second time. The first time I read it was about ten years ago, so this time I knew exactly what would happen. I felt like a sequel was necessary both of the times I read it but I’m not really satisfied by the attempted sequels that is available. Books such as Scarlett are not only out of context but also out of character too. I feel like a sequel was desperately needed not only because we want to know if Scarlett will win back Rhett’s heart, if Rhett is just going through a phase but also because Melanie has only recently passed away and we want to know how Scarlett is going to cope looking after Ashley without her. She knows she doesn’t love Ashley now but she promised Melanie that she would look after him. She always said she wanted to be more like her mother Ellen but always prolongs that she’ll strive to get there in future. Now that Melanie has passed away and with her restored love in her husband, her promise to Melanie, she can strive to be with the virtues that died away with Melanie. She’ll always be married to her husband, she doesn’t want to divorce him and even if he does not love her, he still has marital duties to her. She has plenty time to win back his love for her. He’ll still be a good husband to her whether he loves her or not and divorce won’t be an option. Nobody she knows in the 19th century or her own family have yet been divorced. She has plenty time to show him she loves him again and if she convinces him to have another child she can strive to rebuild their family again. He hates her because she pushed him towards Belle Wittling and was incredibly cold to him when Bonnie died but she has lots of time to make up for that. People seem to forget that Scarlett changed Rhett just as much as Rhett changed Scarlett because he’s at a place where he wants to restore his reputation with the old gentry, whereas previously he didn’t care. He now cares about his reputation with the ex-confederates, so it might tempt him to come around about having other kids. Scarlett’s now the one who doesn’t care what people think of her but she has plenty time to make up for the cold way she’s treated him and to prove to people that she can be as great a Lady as Ellen and Melanie.

    1. You make such a good point. I agree. The sequel was fun to pick up, but something different was needed to address the rest of the complexity. Thanks for the comment!

  16. I recently read the book and immediately went online to know other people’s ideas on the ending ;).
    Personally I am extremely saddened by the ending. I don’t think Rhett and Scarlett would ever be together again. Even if they did get together they’d separate again. I think they’re too independent to completely surrender to their love. Even though he was fiercely independent, Rhett did try to give in to love completely, although it remained unexpressed, and with just cause, in the beginning. By the time Scarlett does the same, its too late. Rhett has had his heart broken by Scarlett a lot since the beginning. If what he said at the end – about having his love burning out – is false, they might get together again. But it would be a tainted love; and some stains never completely wash away. They’d separate again. If what he said was true, again they’d never be able to be together again. And if Scarlett pushes herself on him, he’s the kind of person to resent her or hate her eventually; Rhett isn’t the kind of person who likes to be forced to bend to anyone’s will.

    1. You are right. As much as I want them to find happiness and stay together, given their personalities and the conflicts they have face, it would not be realistic. The further away I get from this book and the time I read it, the more inclined I am to agree with the ending and find satisfaction in it.

      1. To me the ending was perfect. It was realistic. Scarlett was always strong willed, cold hearted and manipulative woman. She wanted things that she couldn’t have like Ashley. No man could have lived with her happily ever after as she was very immature with an emotional IQ of a 10 year old. For a lack of better words she was what you call a garden variety bitch. Rhett was also like Scarlett but he knew how to love and wanted the same in return from scarlett. Also, I object to the fact that Rhett didn’t express his love for Scarlett. For instance the time when he tells Scarlett to sell the mill and start a new life together elsewhere. The countless times he hold her in embrace and told her that he will never love a woman more than Scarlett. I was cheering and happy for Rhett when he left Scarlett. Love is a two side affair. Had he stayed their relationship would have turned sour. When he uttered ” frankly, my dear, i don’t give a damn” I was like good for you mate and cheers to a new beginning.

  17. Reblogged this on hilkeflebbewordpresscom and commented:
    This is such a great blog. It seems to link the past with the present. There´s nothing like sitting infront of a fireplace with a cup of warm Earl Grey Tea in your hands, indulging in a box of chocolates and loosing yourself in a book. Of course lying in the sun at the beach with a cocktail and a book in the summer isn´t bad either:-) I love the way you share your experiences with us in your blog. Having just opened my eyes to the digital world are am enjoying this new experience of cyber sharing. Good Luck for your future Blogs. I´m definitely a follower of yours. With my kindest regard s Hilke

  18. Throughout the movie Scarlett is diluted in how she percieves “ashley.” It’s as if she’s in a fantasy mind that never lets go of her till the end when she faces reality that she never really knew Ashley. Then she wakes up from the gripping thoughts of her delusions. By then it’s too late and Reds left her. Scarlett thinks she can get him back, after all tomorrow’s another day. Maybe this trick of the mind is the lesson we learn. That the delusion we keep in our minds is what keeps us going, that motivates our actions no matter how flawed they are. They grip out lives and shape our character.

  19. I have been contemplating the continuation of my grandmother’s (“Maw maw” to me) own memories and way of living from the south. Raised by a neighborhood of friends and family into the person I have become today, I wish I had more of those sitting in the doorway of the “ole butler family store” drinking freeze box coca-cola from the bottle with a small bag of peanuts my sister and I shared while trying to keep cool myself with my Rainbow Brite doll and my sister Jen with her pound puppy “Cooler”stuffed animal listening to the good Ole tales. I have started it many times but not completed. Think it might be time to continue her work. Always in her love watching from above and beyond the horizons before me I will forever miss Margret Mitchell aka Maggie Lee but it was always Maw maw to me. -Christy Lee Smoth

  20. Hey Emily, I just finished Gone with the Wind. And instantly ran to Google to see if anyone in the world also disapproved of this ending After trampling through the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era watching Scarlett deal with free blacks and convicts and the shame of her love affair with Ashley behind Melanie’s back and her horrible mothering skills then as the last pages are being turned Bonnie and Melanie die then Rhett turns into a weak version of Ashley, sorrowful and full of regret. i don’t buy it. it’s unrealistic for his character. what is Mitchell saying? that he can be a scalywag without any honor, but as soon as “love” enters the picture he earns morals? no going back to the Old South now? Rhett no longer loves Scarlett, the dream of the Confederate South is dead? that wasn’t how I wanted to end 1000 pages i’m trying to think of how Mitchell could have ended it maybe instead of Rhetts head in Melanie’s lap, it could’ve been Rhett’s head in Scarlett’s lap in the carriage on the way to Tara

    1. Yeah, it is a tough ending for those of us who were expecting something more romantic. I think maybe the fact that the south is dead is a good thing, and maybe the characters were a reflection of that? It has been so long since I read it and posted this that I can’t remember exactly how I wanted it to have ended, but I do remember it was disappointing.

  21. this book is just legendary, colored with such intricate and complex characters as Rhett and Scarlett, and evoking feelings of mingled happiness and immense sorrow at the same time…

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