April 1861 Plantation Tara, stretching twenty-five miles from Atlanta, Georgia.
Twins Tarlton, Stewart and Brent, in love with the charming daughter of the owner of Tara, sixteen-year-old Scarlett, give her two news. First, the war between the North and the South is about to begin. Secondly, Ashley Wilkes marries Melanie Hamilton, which will be announced tomorrow, when the Wilkes’ house hosts a big reception.
The news of the impending war for Scarlett is nothing compared to the report of Ashley’s marriage. The subject of the sighing of almost all the young people of the district, Scarlett herself loves only Ashley, who, she thinks, is not indifferent to herself. She can not understand what he found in Melanie, this very real blue stocking.
Scarlett shares her feelings with her father, but Gerald O’Hara is convinced that his daughter and Ashley are not an ideal couple. He admits that although he is good at young Wilkes, he can not fully understand
it. Yes, Ashley can drink and play poker no worse than other young people, but he does it without a soul, as if obeying the conventional conventions. Where Ashley’s books, music, paintings are attracted to, and this puzzles the simple and straightforward Irishman. He honestly informs his daughter that he would be glad to leave her with Tara, if she married someone else, around decent enough young people. Scarlett throws in her heart that she does not care about Tara and all this land does not mean anything at all. The father abruptly cuts off and suggests that there is nothing more important than the earth, for it remains forever.
Scarlett appears at the Wilkes’ reception. She hopes to talk to Ashley and get him to change his mind. Among the guests is a certain Rhett Butler, who is told about the most eerie things. He was expelled from the military academy of West Point, and then was expelled from his home by the father after he refused to marry a girl whom, in the general opinion, compromised. But Scarlett now does not care about Butler. She needs to talk to Ashley. Having seized the moment, she is
explained with him in the library. Alas, her plans go to rubble. Ashley is firm in his intention to marry Melanie. He loves Scarlett, but the mind takes over the feelings and suggests that Melanie is the same as he. They think and look at the world in the same way, and so there is a hope that their marriage will be happy.
Ashley leaves the library, Scarlett remains alone and furiously fires a vase into the wall above the sofa. To her confusion, it turns out that Rhett Butler was dozing on the couch, who was awakened by their explanation with Ashley. He expresses admiration for Scarlett’s spirit and determination and is surprised why Ashley Wilks remained indifferent to her virtues. Scarlett slams the door in fury and leaves.
Rumors about the war are being confirmed. Young people gather with weapons in their hands to defend the rights of their native South. On the first of May, the wedding of Ashley and Melanie should take place. To annoy them, Scarlett takes courtship of the shy and dim brother of Melanie Charles and agrees to become his wife. Their wedding takes place one day before the wedding of Ashley and Melanie.
Two months later Scarlett becomes a widow. Charles dies of pneumonia, never having been in combat. Scarlett is the son of Wade. In May 1862, she moved to Atlanta. She is forced to mourn and lead the sad existence of a grieving widow, although her whole nature is opposed to this.
But one day she appears at a charity bazaar in favor of the hospital, where she again meets Rett Butler. A cynic and a scoffer, he sees it through, understands perfectly well what inspired her to marry, and this freaks her out. When there is a collection of jewelry to buy medicines, she tears her wedding ring off her finger. Melanie admires her action and gives her own ring. Then Captain Butler buys the right to dance with Scarlett. This puts the local guardians of public morality in turmoil, but what to do – Butler insists on his, and the hospital needs money. Butler is tolerated solely because he delivers to the South numerous goods, despite the fact that the northerners have arranged a naval blockade of the southern ports. However, pouring oil on the fire of idle talk, Butler argues that it does not engage in a sense of patriotism, but for personal gain. He doubts that the southerners will be able to win, and the death for the cause of the South for him is no more majestic than the death on the rails under the wheels of the locomotive.
Rumors of Scarlett’s “scandalous” behavior reach Tara, and her father arrives in Atlanta to take her daughter home. But the meeting with Captain Butler leads to unexpected consequences. Gerald gets drunk and pisses in poker all the money that was meant for buying the most necessary. This embarrassment causes him to moderate his moral indignation, and Scarlett remains in Atlanta.
She occasionally meets with Rhett Butler, whose ironic attitude to what society reveres as a shrine, and outrages, and attracts Scarlett, although she still loves Ashley Wilks.
Gradually, the situation in the theater of military operations is complicated, and the former self-confidence of the southerners gives way to the understanding that the war is long and difficult. The first lists of the dead appear. Among them are many of Scarlett’s acquaintances. The Tarlton brothers were killed, but Ashley is unharmed. He comes for a short stay.
Scarlett hopes to talk to him privately, but next to her husband is always Melanie. Before leaving Atlanta, Ashley asks Scarlett to look after his wife, because she, in his opinion, does not have the viability of Scarlett. Ashley is ready to fulfill his duty honestly, but he, like Rhett Butler, does not believe that the South can defeat a very powerful opponent.
1864 After the defeat at Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the position of the southerners becomes critical. A message comes that Ashley is missing. Melanie is in a grief, and only the thought that she is carrying the baby Ashley, helps her to live. Butler continues to meet with Scarlett, but everything is limited to easy flirting, walks and conversations. He says that he wants to wait until Scarlett forgets the taste of the kiss that was rewarded by her incomparable Ashley Wilks. This leads Scarlett into a frenzy, and in this state she seems to Rhett and completely irresistible.
Butler makes inquiries through his friends in the North. It turns out that Ashley is alive. He is in a prisoner of war camp in Illinois. He is betrayed to join the military formations that guard the American territories from the Indians, but Ashley refuses. It is impossible for him military service on the side of the northerners, and he prefers the bondage to such freedom.
Atlanta is under siege. Almost all the male population in the militia. Scarlett intends to return to Tara, but Melanie begs not to leave her. Again appears Rhett Butler. He tells Scarlett that he’s been thirsty since the first meeting with the Wilkes. Asked by Scarlett if he was proposing to her, Butler replied that he was not one to marry, and openly invited her to become his mistress. As it often happened, the conversation ends in a quarrel, and on demand Scarlett Butler leaves her house.
In the midst of the battle for Atlanta, Melanie begins labor. All of Scarlett’s attempts to bring her to the doctor fail – all the doctors remain with the wounded, whose number increases every hour.
With the help of a black Prissy, Scarlett takes birth – Ashley and Melanie had a son. Then Scarlett decides to leave Atlanta no matter what. She wants to return to Tara. Rhett Butler helps her and Melanie to leave Atlanta, which is about to enter the northerners, but refuses to deliver them to Tara. He reports that he decided to leave with the remnants of the defenders of Atlanta and continue with them resistance.
This news surprises Scarlett. She can not understand why the cynical Rett, always so skeptical about the holy cause of the South, suddenly decided to take up arms. She is also surprised that he leaves her when she is so helpless. To this, Rhett says that she is not at all helpless, and as for the reasons that prompted him to join the army, he himself finds it difficult to name them either from sentimentality or out of a sense of shame for having been away from the fight earlier, preferring to make money to deliver goods. Scarlett does not believe in the sincerity of these words. It seems to him that he, as always, slightly mocks. But there is nothing to do, she has to make her way to Tara with her son, a servant and a helpless Melanie with a baby. The road is heavy and dangerous, but they get to Tara unharmed.
Return, however, does not promise any joys. Around there is chaos and ruin. The Wilkes estate was burned, Tara was more fortunate. The house was intact – there was a staff of northerners in it, but the estate was plundered. Moreover, Scarlett’s mother did not wait for her daughter. She died of typhus. The death of his wife becomes a terrible blow for Gerald, and he is injured by the intellect.
There is something to fall from, but Scarlett does not give up. She decides to do everything to save Tara from complete decay. Suddenly an uninvited guest appears in the house. Soldier-northerner decided to take everything that lies badly to his hands. But he underestimated Scarlett – she shoots at the marauder and kills him.
Life on the plantation is established with difficulty. Again, the northerners appear and take away what little remains. Moreover, they set fire to the house, and only through the desperate efforts of the households is it possible to put out the fire.
The Army of the South capitulates. The news comes from Ashley: he comes back. Melanie and Scarlett are waiting to wait, when he will appear in Tara, but he’s not there. Walking soldiers are walking past, returning home from the camps of prisoners of war. One of them, Will Bentin, remains in Tara and takes on the main care for managing the estate. Finally, Ashley appears, but Melanie meets him first.
1866. The war is over, but life has not become easier. Those who conduct the so-called Reconstruction of the slave-owning South, do everything possible so that former planters can no longer use their land. Tara is taxed with high taxes, and if the money is not paid, the estate will go under the hammer and, most likely, will get to the former supervisor Wilkerson. Scarlett hopes that Ashley will come up with a way out of the situation, but he honestly admits that he does not know what to do. Scarlett asks him to quit everything and go somewhere to Mexico, but Ashley can not leave his wife and son to the mercy of fate.
Scarlett understands that only Rhett Butler can help her. However, now he is in a difficult situation. The new authorities threw him behind bars, and he is threatened by a gallows, if he does not share his capital, acquired during the siege.
Scarlett comes to him in prison. She pretends that everything is going well for her, but you will not get hold of Retta. He realizes that she came to him for money. Scarlett is forced to admit that she really needs three hundred dollars and for the sake of saving Tara she is ready to become Butler’s mistress. But he is not in a position to dispose of his finances. The parting is overshadowed by the scandal. Butler, hurt by the fact that Scarlett is only interested in his money, ironically advises her to show more warmth when she next turns to a man for a loan.
However, that’s exactly what she does. Learning that the lover of her younger sister Frank Kennedy has cash, which is going to buy a sawmill, Scarlett launches all her female charm and soon becomes Mrs. Kennedy. Tara is saved, but the fact that for this sake had to cross the road to her sister, Scarlett does not bother.
Scarlett is in full swing into business. She runs a Frank store, and then, borrowing from the released Butler money, buys the very sawmill Frank liked. Soon she gets a second sawmill, and her business goes smoothly. Money appears, but public opinion in Atlanta is against it – a real lady is not a person to do business. However, Rhett Butler assures her that this is an inevitable consequence of the choice she made – money and success lead to loneliness.
Gerald dies. Arriving in Tara for his funeral, Scarlett learns of Ashley’s intention to go to New York – he was promised a place in the bank. Scarlett persuades him to stay, offers work at the sawmill and half the proceeds from it. He refuses, but then Melanie comes to her aid. Under her pressure, Ashley accepts Scarlett’s offer.
The freed Negroes, however, are working harder and worse, and to make the sawmill generate revenue, Scarlett begins to use the cheap labor of prisoners, overseen by the brutal and impure Johnny Gallagher. Honest Frank is terrified, but Scarlett stands on his own: this is the only way to make a profit. The sawmill, where Ashley is hosting, does not bring profit: he categorically refuses to use the labor of convicts.
Meanwhile, in response to the constant harassment of “carpetbaggers” and the debauchery of some former slaves, a Ku Klux Klan is being created, with active members Frank Kennedy and Ashley. The authorities are sparing no effort to put an end to the activities of this secret organization, and they manage to lure activists into a trap. Only timely intervention Butler helps Ashley save life and freedom, Frank Kennedy was less fortunate, and Scarlett again becomes a widow.
But then Rhett makes her an offer, and she answers with consent. They leave for New Orleans, and then return to Atlanta, where they soon enter a new house. Among their acquaintances there are too many business people, “carpet-baggers” – everyans and unknown businessmen who came from those southerners, who were not allowed to enter the decent houses before. Scarlett is born a girl, and Rhett soul in it does not chaet. But then Scarlett resolutely declares the reluctance to give birth, and this is the beginning of a crisis in her relationship with her husband. Rhett more and more often spends time outside the home and comes back drunk.
Ashly’s birthday is approaching. Melanie is going to have a party. On the eve of Scarlett meets with Ashley in his office, and talking about the old days. This is a very sad conversation, Scarlett learns a lot about the man she loved so much, and what is now revealed to her inner gaze plunges her into sadness. Ashley is in the past, he can not bring himself to look to the future, can not adapt to the present. Memories of pre-war days and hopes cause her tears. Ashley tries to comfort her, hugs her, and then, for her misfortune, there are strangers. Soon the news reaches Melanie and Rhett. Scarlett refuses to go to the reception, but Rhett makes her almost a force. However, Melanie, the only one from all of Atlanta, does not believe evil evidences and accepts Scarlett with the same warmth. Upon returning home, Rhett gives the will of jealousy, and then they for the first time after a long break find themselves in bed. Scarlett wakes up with a happy feeling that Rhett loves her, but discovers that he is not in bed or in the house at all. He returns only the next day, letting his wife know that he had excellent walks on the side.
Then Rhett leaves for three months, and when he returns, Scarlett informs him that she is pregnant. Rhett’s insults offend her, a quarrel breaks out, which ends in misfortune: Scarlett falls down the stairs, and she has a miscarriage. Life again comes in the usual rut. Rhett goes head over heels into politics, and not without his participation, democrats-southerners manage to win a victory over the Republicans backed by the North. But then a new misfortune falls on the family: Rhett’s pet, the little Bonnie falls from her horse and breaks to death. Relations between spouses become even more formal. Scarlett has money, property, but there is no happiness at all.
Scarlett leaves Atlanta, but the telegram from Rett urges her to return urgently. Melanie is dying. Doctors forbade her to give birth, but she neglected their prohibitions – too much like her to give Ashley another child. On her deathbed, she asks Scarlett to take care of her son and about Ashley, because “he’s so impractical.” And she asks Scarlett to be kind to Rhett, because he loves her very much.
Now that Melanie is gone, Scarlett suddenly realizes how lonely she is and how much this woman meant to her, which she considered an obstacle to her happiness. Scarlett makes another discovery: she seems to have always loved not Ashley Wilkes, but her dream of a strong, unbending man. Now, looking at Ashley – tired and insecure, all his mental strengths spending to dignify defeat in this life – Scarlett whispers to herself that she has lost her lover, and instead has acquired another child.
Scarlett understands how much Rhett means to her. She is eager to tell him about it as soon as possible, but she has yet to receive another disappointment.
Rhett indifferently listens to her confession and says that now he does not care. His love for her faded away just as Scarlett’s love for Ashley faded. Rhett Butler admits that he fell in love with her at first sight, and, no matter how much he tried to throw dreams of her out of his head, he did not succeed. He did not lose hope that sooner or later she would appreciate his feelings, understand how well they fit together, but all his efforts to convey to Scarlett his love went to waste. He says that after that night he left home early, because he was afraid that she would laugh him out and that if, on his return, she let him know that he was not indifferent to her, everything would be different. But this did not happen, and now he feels compassion for her.
Rhett declares his intention to leave for a long time, perhaps, to England and promises to return from time to time in order not to give a special occasion for gossip and gossip. On a desperate question, Scarlett: “What about me?” Rhett with a sigh replies that he does not care anymore.
In private, Scarlett reflects on what he has just heard. She is very hard, but her self-respecting vigorous nature refuses to admit defeat. Scarlett is convinced that not everything is lost and if nothing comes to mind that would help to correct the situation, tomorrow she will certainly find a way out.