Even the most ardent fans of Gone With the Wind admit that time has allowed some of the film’s wrinkles to show. The film’s patronizing, racist treatment of African Americans is widely acknowledged as a sweeping sentimentality for the pre–Civil War South. The plot, especially that of Part Two, contains enough dramatic deaths and emotional cliffhangers to clearly mark the film as an ancestor of today’s television soap operas. The film is old-fashioned in its story, style, and cast, serving more as the end of a cinematic era than as the start of a new one. Nonetheless, it has remained a popular favorite, so much so that in 1998 American Film Institute voters chose Gone With the Wind as one of the greatest films of all time.
An important aspect of the film’s popularity is its iconic elements, the most prominent of which is Scarlett O’Hara herself. Brave, resourceful, and unbeaten, Scarlett embodies the universal desire to achieve one’s dreams in the face of adversity. Though more flawed than classic heroines, Scarlett has imperfections that make her endearing to her fans. Scarlett’s rise to financial independence inspired American women who entered the workforce for the first time during World War II. Rhett, too, is a symbol of hope and recovery. Self-reliant and cynical, he is beaten down by war and love but still helps his fellow man. This spirit was embodied in the strength of people living in Europe during the 1940s. Gone With the Wind gave Europeans hope that they too could overcome the fear and hardships of war.
Gone With the Wind is an engaging story told well. The characters are complicated and stubborn, and their presence together creates a resonant emotional tension. The scenes of Atlanta burning and of dying Confederate soldiers remain powerful despite decades of technical advancement in film. Characters undergo quests, survive hardship, and find and lose love—traditional storytelling devices as ancient as Greek mythology.