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The primary conflict throughout the story is two fold; it is between Scarlett O'Hara and the "old guard" or members of the southern culture as it was before the war and between Scarlett and Rhett Butler. Scarlett antagonizes her community with her own determination and lack of scruples in her drive to acquire money. Rhett himself is in love with Scarlett, but cannot tell her because she uses love as a tool to manipulate people and to hurt them. Consequently, although she is fond of him at times, she sees him primarily as a critic and a desperado entirely lacking in gentility.
The society of Atlanta and Rhett Butler
Rhett thinks Scarlett is still "chasing" Ashley. He takes her to bed himself one last time. The action results in pregnancy followed by a miscarriage and extended illness.
Rhett turns all his energies to little Bonnie until she is killed by a fall from her pony. He returns to his former drinking habits. Then Melanie dies; Rhett assumes that Scarlett will now turn to Ashley. He leaves her, saying that he doesn't care what she does. She will return to Tara and from there she'll try to figure out a way to get him back.
SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
Scarlett O'Hara is the belle of the county and knows it. She participates in a seemingly endless round of parties, dances and barbecues, always surrounded by boys with whom she appears to be playing an elaborate game. She receives the first shock of her young life when Ashley Wilkes, son of a neighboring plantation owner, announces his engagement to his cousin Melanie Hamilton. When she cannot convince Ashley to change his plan, she quickly throws herself at Charles Hamilton who is shocked and thrilled to think that she would even consider him. Her plans are further disrupted when war breaks out, taking the young men away as soldiers, and Charles is among the first to die. She spends several years in Atlanta where she tries to enjoy life in her own way in spite of the disapproval of other women of her class.
Her life is further complicated by the presence of Rhett Butler who is known to be a privateer and opportunist and is "not received" in his own hometown of Savannah. Scarlett admits that she is fond of Rhett, but his candor and frank observations of her character infuriate her whenever he is near. During the siege of Atlanta, she flees home to Tara along with her sister-in-law, Melanie, and the newborn baby Beau. There she learns to survive unspeakable hardships from work in the fields to shooting a Yankee soldier in defense of her home.
Just when Scarlett thinks the war is over and she can finally put Tara to rights, a major crisis comes in the form of new taxes-levied deliberately by the new government administrators and scalawags to try to take Tara away from her. She returns to Atlanta, hoping to trick Rhett into marrying her so she will have access to his money. When this fails, she steals her sister's fiancé, who happens to have a store and a little money saved toward his wedding. She marries him and takes his savings to pay her taxes. Two weeks after the wedding, she borrows money from Rhett to buy a lumber mill. She manages the mill herself and runs sharp bargains with her lumber, stealing customers from other lumber mills and preying on the sympathies of Yankees to sell her own. As the political climate in Atlanta worsens, Scarlett's careless behavior turns the people even more solidly against her. Finally, expectations are fulfilled and Scarlett is attacked. The Ku Klux Klan, of which nearly all the men are a part, pursue vengeance on her behalf and her second husband, Frank is killed.
Scarlett finally marries Rhett who believes he can't get her any other way, and the two have a tempestuous marriage in which Scarlett often fantasizes that Rhett is Ashley. Any chance of salvaging a relationship with Rhett is lost when their four-year old Bonnie dies in a fall from her pony. When Melanie dies, leaving Scarlett virtually friendless, and then Rhett leaves her, she returns again to Tara.