The story is a familiar one, with Scarlett O'Hara as the prominent belle of the south residing in splendor at Tara, her family's plantation. Her easy-going carefree life of balls and barbecues - and her pastime of pining after Ashley Wilkes - is drastically upset by the onset of the Civil War. The epic American conflict is recounted through Scarlett's eyes and the drama of the war is paralleled with the daily struggles of the women left behind struggling to feed themselves and their families. Meanwhile, tangled webs and love triangles are set up as Ashley marries Melanie Hamilton and Scarlett weds Melanie's brother, Charles - leaving Scarlett as sister-in-law to the wife of the man she really loves. Adding to this particular drama, is the dashing figure of Rhett Butler who has an eye for Scarlett's fiery Irish personality which perfectly matches his own.
Through the days of the war, the South's surrender, and the chaos of Reconstruction, Mitchell's novel follows these expertly drawn and fully realized characters as well as a supporting cast that brings the settings and struggles alive. The writing is stirring and emotional with themes of love and loss, and the descriptions are amazingly vivid, bringing balance to an action-filled plot. Scarlett O'Hara is not always a likable heroine but even when the reader disagrees with her actions and despises her motives, there remains something admirable in her gumption and passion for life. Though the film is excellent (I admit that Gable and Leigh were expertly cast, staying true to Mitchell's descriptions) even at four hours of running length it can only scratch the surface of this amazing novel. The depth and detail ensconced in almost 900 pages of text provide a richness to the story that assures Gone With the Wind its rightful place as an American masterpiece.