Gone with the Wind | Study Guide

Margaret Mitchell

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Gone with the Wind | Part 1, Chapters 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

It's springtime in 1861, and Scarlett O'Hara, age 16, sits on the porch of her family's Georgia plantation house with two aspiring suitors, twins Stuart and Brent Tarleton. The Tarleton twins are both courting Scarlett, and she flirts with them just as she flirts with all boys. They chat about war between the South and the North, which the boys believe will start any day now, but Scarlett complains and they stop. The twins get Scarlett to promise them preferential treatment at a barbecue and dance the next day. To obtain her promise, they tell her a secret: Ashley Wilkes, the son of another local plantation owner, is going to marry his cousin, Melanie. Scarlett is startled and dismayed: she wants Ashley for herself. After this bit of news the conversation seems to die down a bit, and the twins take their leave of Scarlett.

Chapter 2

Scarlett broods over the news about Ashley and Melanie. She is convinced Ashley loves her. Scarlett conceals her anguish in front of Mammy, the African American slave who helped raise her. To find out if the news about Ashley is true, she leaves the house to wait for her father to come home. Gerald O'Hara arrives, jumping his horse over fences although he promised his wife he wouldn't. Scarlett greets him and promises not to tell her mother about Gerald's misdeeds. As they talk, her father says Ashley and Melanie are engaged; unlike the Tarleton twins, he can see this upsets Scarlett. Gerald tells her to forget Ashley because he and Scarlett would be completely mismatched. The Wilkes family is interested in poetry and music, after all, and Scarlett is as down-to-earth as they come. Gerald suggests she marry one of her other boyfriends and offers to give her the family plantation, Tara, when he dies. Scarlett is emotional and says she doesn't care about Tara. This provokes an outburst from Gerald, who loves Tara more than anything except his wife.

Gerald and Scarlett arrive home just in time to see Ellen, Scarlett's mother, leaving with Mammy to help the Slatterys, a "poor white" family living nearby. Gerald moves on to other conversations, but Scarlett remains distraught about Ashley.

Analysis

The first chapters quickly establish Scarlett's spirit, her self-centeredness, and her desire to have her own way—all of which will play a significant role in the novel. She is fixated on Ashley Wilkes, who is engaged to his cousin, Melanie. Scarlett may think Ashley is her soulmate, but the two could not be more different; these differences will prove profoundly significant. These chapters also capture the genteel life of wealthy white plantation owners in the pre–Civil War South.

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