Gone With the Wind

Movie: Directed by Victor Fleming, George Cukor.

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, 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 story 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 story’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, 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 half an hour to itself—is essentially one long First Plot Point segment, the film 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 story 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 hike the property taxes on Tara, threatening to turn her out of her home if she cannot find the necessary sum.

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.

Second Pinch 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. Scarlett promptly marries Rhett Butler.

Third Plot Point: Scarlett’s longstanding and mutual “lost love” with Ashley is finally brought to light when his vengeful sister discovers Scarlett weeping in his arms. Out of this event comes a spiral of catastrophes, including the unraveling of her marriage with Rhett.

Climax: As Rhett and Scarlett are on the brink of making up, their beloved daughter Bonnie breaks her neck in a riding accident and dies. Out of the stress of the tragedy, Melanie miscarries her own baby.

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 put up with her. He leaves, but Scarlett determines to find a way to get him back “tomorrow.”

Notes: The movie (a massive accomplishment in itself) follows the structure of the book very closely, mirroring its major structural moments beat for beat until it reaches the Second Pinch Point. In the book, Frank’s death marks the Third Plot Point, with the period of Scarlett’s marriage to Rhett taking up only the final quarter of the book.

In the film, the marriage (which is, of course, the heart of the story) is given more time. The change-up in structure isn’t necessarily a bad move, but I do feel the book’s organization of events is the better of the two, giving proper weight and balance to all the periods of Scarlett’s actions and evolutions, and leveraging the more symbolic moment of Frank’s death as a stronger Third Plot Point.

Click here to read the book’s Story Structure Database analysis.

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