Gone With the Wind

Book: By Margaret Mitchell.

Inciting Event: In an effort stop her beau ideal Ashley Wilkes from marrying his cousin Melanie Hamilton, Scarlett corners him at the Twelve Oaks barbeque and declares her love for him. He indicates he returns her feelings but cannot break his engagement with Melanie. Scarlett is then mortified to discover the disreputable newcomer Rhett Butler overheard her conversation (in effect, their meet cute). Before she leave the barbecue, the guests all learn war has been declared between the North and the South. Scarlett rashly decides to punish Ashley by marrying Melanie’s brother (and Ashley’s sister’s de facto beau) Charles. After Charles precipitously dies of pneumonia (and after she gives birth to his son), she travels to Atlanta to stay with Melanie and her Aunt Pittypat.

Quite a lot for an Inciting Event, isn’t it? In truth, of course, there is only one Inciting Event, which is Scarlett’s declaration and Ashley’s refusal, but note how brilliantly tight the plotting in this huge novel is. It keeps all the major plot-turning events neatly grouped, and together Ashley’s engagement and the onset of the war are the one-two punch that knocks down all the rows of dominoes.

First Plot Point: In the closing days of the war, Atlanta comes under siege by Sherman’s army.

The only section of this book’s structure that gave me pause in my structural analysis was the First Plot Point. Don’t get me wrong: it works perfectly. But the progression of events is a little unorthodox here. Although the advent of the real war upon Scarlett’s doorstep is certainly a departure from her Normal World, she doesn’t truly enter the Adventure World of the main conflict (survival) until returning to Tara after the First Pinch Point (see below).

In essence, despite the timing, the siege upon Atlanta is the Key Event (when the character first engages with the main conflict) and her escape from a burning Atlanta on the eve of Sherman’s invasion is the true First Plot Point (when she is thrust from her Normal World).

First Pinch Point: After Rhett Butler abandons her to join the doomed Confederate Army, Scarlett escapes a burning Atlanta and struggles, starving, back home to her father’s plantation Tara—only to discover her mother dead, her father insane, her sisters barely recovered from typhoid, all the neighborhood mansions burned to the ground, and Tara stripped of all food and sustenance.

As mentioned above, this turning point features many of the structural requirements of the First Plot Point. However, it also fills in admirably for the necessary Second Pinch Point, emphasizing the antagonistic force of poverty, starvation and oppression.

(Be sure to note how, even though the Atlanta siege section—more than 100 pages to itself—is essentially one long First Plot Point segment, the book still supplies the necessary major turning points in all the right places—at the 25% mark and here at the 37% mark).

Midpoint: The war ends. The book is neatly divided into two sections—Scarlett’s antebellum Southern belle days and the post-war survival of the fittest during Georgia’s Reconstruction. Along with the end of the war comes the return of Ashley Wilkes, who remains at Tara with Scarlett, her family, and his wife and child—even though he surprises Scarlett by proving himself of little use in taking the burden of caretaker from her shoulders. She then gets her first recognition of the new enemy she faces when the Carpetbaggers and Scallawags hike the property taxes on Tara, threatening to turn her out of her home if she cannot find the necessary sum.

Second Pinch Point: After trying and failing to sell herself to an imprisoned Rhett to gain the money for the taxes, Scarlett deceitfully steals away her sister’s fiancé Frank Kennedy and marries him. She convinces him to pay the taxes on Tara, then begins scheming for ways they can earn more money.

Third Plot Point: After Scarlett is assaulted in a bad part of town, Frank, Ashley, and others ride out for revenge—only to end up in a Yankee trap. The group as a whole is barely saved by the artifices of Rhett Butler. Frank, however, is killed. Within the year, Scarlett marries Rhett Butler—beginning the climactic Third Act of her ongoing relationship with the man who has defined her life more than anyone else, save Ashley.

Climax: Scarlett’s longstanding and mutual “lost love” with Ashley is finally brought to light when his vengeful sister discovers Scarlett weeping in his arms. The irony is that this turning point also marks Scarlett’s first major move away from her blind infatuation with Ashley and into a more settled sense of friendship.

But the damage is already done. Out of this event comes a spiral of catastrophes, including the unraveling of her marriage with Rhett and, eventually, the death of their beloved daughter Bonnie.

Climactic Moment: Melanie dies as the result of a miscarriage. As a result, Scarlett realizes many things: that she loved and appreciated Melanie, that Ashley always loved Melanie more than her, and that, indeed, Scarlett herself always loved Rhett more than Ashley.

Resolution: Scarlett rushes home to finally tell Rhett she loves him and that she is through with Ashley. But Rhett is a broken man who can no longer respond to her love. He leaves, but Scarlett determines to find a way to get him back “tomorrow.”

Notes: This huge novel is tremendously readable. In no small part, I credit that to its extremely tight and solid structure.

To read the (very similar) structural analysis for the movie, click here.

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