Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything, for ’tis the only thing in this world that lasts.
Gerald O’Hara expresses this philosophy to Scarlett in Chapter II in an effort to comfort her in her disappointment about Ashley Wilkes’s engagement to Melanie Hamilton. Gerald emphasizes the importance of land, and of Tara in particular, foreshadowing the end of the novel. Scarlett initially rejects the idea that land can be more important than getting Ashley, the man she loves. However, love of Tara increasingly motivates Scarlett’s actions. Years later, Ashley hands Scarlett a clump of Tara’s dirt and tells her that she loves Tara more than she loves him. Scarlett realizes that Ashley is right. By the end of the novel, Scarlett has been abandoned by her true love, and only the thought of Tara gives her hope and comfort. Gerald’s speech precisely predicts the end of the novel: Scarlett loses her love for Ashley, her relationship with Melanie, and her marriage with Rhett, and only Tara “lasts.”
Ashley speaks these words to Scarlett in Chapter XXXI after the Civil War has ended and he is living and working at Tara. Ashley understands the divide between Old South and New South. As an embodiment of the Old South, he finds himself completely out of place after the war, his old way of life having disappeared. He excels at a variety of leisurely skills practiced by Southern gentlemen: riding horses, talking politics, and treating his peers with respect. These skills are useless, however, in the harsh new world of Reconstruction, and Ashley cannot develop useful new skills. He struggles and fails to labor on Tara and run Scarlett’s sawmill for profit. Even though Ashley cannot change while Scarlett excels at improvisation, Ashley understands the absolute need for change while Scarlett does not. Scarlett’s survival instinct, not her analytical skills, guides her behavior. Here Ashley provides commentary and analysis of the South and of Scarlett’s actions because Scarlett herself cannot. In this quotation he expresses the idea that people like Scarlett have the “brains and courage” to survive.
A startling thought this, that a woman could handle business matters as well as or better than a man, a revolutionary thought to Scarlett who had been reared in the tradition that men were omniscient and women none too bright.
This passage describes Scarlett’s revelation after looking through Frank’s poorly kept business ledgers, in Chapter XXXVI, that she could manage the mill more effectively than Frank. Though Scarlett is a strong, independent woman throughout the novel, this passage is the only statement that explicitly expresses ideas of gender equality. Many critics consider Gone with the Wind an early feminist work, a novel with a strong, smart, and capable female protagonist. Scarlett’s budding feminist mentality prompts the shock and condemnation of her society, which frowns on the idea of a woman owning and running a mill. Scarlett has difficulty hiring a man from her class to run her mill because they are all ashamed to work for a woman. She finds support from Rhett alone, because like her he is ahead of his time. Though Rhett often treats Scarlett like a child or a pet, he is one of the few men who expects women to have a brain. He nurtures Scarlett’s skills and encourages her to take advantage of her strengths.
Rhett utters this line, likely the most famous in the whole novel, in the final chapter, after Scarlett asks what she will do if Rhett abandons her. Rhett leaves Scarlett for the last time with these words, illustrating the love-hate nature of their relationship. The indifference and profanity in the line perfectly encapsulate Rhett’s charming but spiteful character. Because Rhett hides his emotions, most notably his love for Scarlett, beneath a surface of nonchalance for so long, we cannot be sure of his exact feelings at this moment. The placement and alliteration of the words “dear” and “damn” seems to give them equal weight, accentuating the tension between the two. This line thus establishes a new conflict for Scarlett to resolve, which in turn gives us the sense that the story of Rhett and Scarlett does not end with Rhett’s departure.
Incidentally, when the movie version of the novel was released in 1939, the use of the word “damn” set off a wave of publicity and scandal, and the director was fined $5,000 for its inclusion. Though “damn” appears frequently in the novel, such language was seen as explicitly objectionable in film, and its use cemented the line and the movie in popular culture history.
I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.
These words, Scarlett’s personal motto, conclude Gone with the Wind. Scarlett repeats some variation of this line several times over the course of the novel when hardships plague her. She knows that she often acts immorally and that she faces absurdly difficult circumstances, and to avoid feelings of guilt and helplessness she simply avoids reflecting on her life. Scarlett knows that eventually she should mull over her plight, but she always puts it off until another, different day, which never truly comes. But this refusal to reflect is crucial to Scarlett’s survival. Her attitude contrasts directly with Ashley’s obsession with the past and his inability to let go of nostalgia and adapt to new times. Scarlett’s determination to believe that “tomorrow is another day” indicates her fundamental optimism about the future. Because Scarlett represents the South, her optimism indicates Mitchell’s general optimism about the South’s ability to survive in the face of change.