Gone with the Wind: Differences Between the Book and the Movie


Just in case you glossed over the title of this post, you should know that it gives away the story. However, I suspect that most people are familiar with the movie, at least. I think it’s pretty difficult to grow up in North America without having seen some parts of it. It’s on television about once a year.

I watched the movie over the last couple of nights to refresh my memory. I picked up the book about a month ago and couldn’t put it down. While reading, I kept trying to remember the movie and wondered about the differences between the two. So, here goes….

The book is much darker than the movie. Mitchell eloquently writes of Scarlett’s thoughts and feelings. They are much more complex and venomous than the movie portrays. For example, in the movie, when Scarlett is going to deliver Melly’s baby, she pauses on the stairway and actually looks concerned for the woman she hates. Not so in the book. As well, Mitchell writes about racial tensions. The book, in fact, was criticized for some of her portrayals of blacks. And she writes of the Klan. In the book, a black man grabs Scarlett when she is driving her buggy past Shantytown. It’s a white man in the movie. In the book, Ashley, Frank, Dr. Meade et al are Klan members so that is why they go to take matters in their own hands after the buggy incident, believing the Yankees will do nothing. Their Klan activities are why the Yankees know about the Shantytown raid. In the movie, Frank mentions he has a “political meeting” as an alibi to Scarlett. But the reference is so weak that if I hadn’t read the novel, I would have missed it. By avoiding any mention of the Klan in the movie, the Yankees’ awareness of the raid seems less plausible.

I also found the escape of Scarlett, Melanie, her baby, and Prissy in the movie to be a little lighter than the book’s description. Prissy definitely gets cuffed by Scarlett more times in the book. The movie makes no mention that Melanie’s baby is starving (because she has no milk) and that’s why finding the cow is such a blessing. There is no rain in the book. I think the movie tried to depict the hopelessness visually with the scene of them (buggy and horse included) hiding from soldiers, under a bridge in the pouring rain.

There are many other darker scenes and relationships in the book. The controversial scene of a drunk Rhett sweeping an angry, uninterested Scarlett off to the bedroom is downplayed in the movie, probably so it looks less like marital rape. Moreover, Scarlett has three children in the book – one from each of her marriages. She has a boy named Wade with Charles, a girl named Ella with Frank, and another girl named Eugenie Victoria (Bonnie Blue) with Rhett. Her horrible parenting—only referred to in the movie by Rhett when he says that cats are better mothers—and lack of love for her children make her a vile character in writing. In the movie, she often looks simply superficial and distracted.

Looking at those finer points may make it sound like the movie doesn’t hold up. It does. It’s actually the best film I’ve seen that was made from a novel. I think some of the darker elements were left out to make it more widely appealing, as well as to avoid controversy.

The movie does an excellent job of compressing events. Here are a couple of examples. Much of Rhett’s and Scarlett’s courtship takes place when they are travelling in carriages. Scarlett and Mrs. Meade are present when Belle Watling gives Melanie money for the hospital. That way Scarlett can immediately see that the prostitute’s gold coins are wrapped in one of Rhett’s handkerchiefs. Also, Gerald O’Hara dies chasing their old Yankee overseer off their property, whereas in the book his accident happens because he’s upset after Sue Ellen (his daughter) tries to have him sign papers proving he’s a Yankee sympathizer. In the book, Scarlett does not witness his death. The only compression in the movie that I didn’t like is Scarlett’s hurried revelation that she is not in love with Ashley – that she was in love with a fantasy of him.

And there are still other differences:
– Many characters, along with Scarlett’s first two children, are cut from the movie, like Will Benteen, a Confederate veteran who helps Scarlett rebuild Tara; Dilcey (Pork’s wife); and Honey Wilkes, whom Charles Hamilton was courting in the book. In the movie, he was courting India before falling in love with and marrying Scarlett.
– In the novel, Scarlett marries Charles the day before Melanie and Ashley marry, which is extremely rude considering the order of the engagement announcements. In the movie, Melanie and Ashley marry before Scarlett and Charles.
– Rhett’s relationship with Belle Watling is sanitized in the movie.
– Rhett’s last words in the novel are: “My dear, I don’t give a damn.” In the film, he adds a “Frankly” to the beginning of them.
– On the night of the Shantytown raid, Melanie reads from David Copperfield in the movie, rather than Les Miserables.
– In the novel, Scarlett gives her ring to The Cause before Melanie follows suit. Melanie makes the offer first in the movie.

Phew. All of that pretty much covers the differences between the book and the movie. I still would choose the book over the movie, but the latter is very good and well worth watching if you’ve somehow missed it.

Thanks to IMDB, AMC Filmsite, and a post by Andrea Rowe on Yahoo! Voices for helping to remind me of the many differences.

About gwenamon

bookworm, confidante, creative director, cyclist, global wanderer, music lover, shutterbug, shoe shopper, snowboarder, writer, yoga geek. i'm also a very proud mama of a lil mister named james.
This entry was posted in I Watch and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Gone with the Wind: Differences Between the Book and the Movie

  1. Pyra says:

    You have inspired me to read this now… Your review is perfect, thank you :)

  2. Lindsey says:

    I agree the dark aspects of the novel are mostly left out in the movie. I feel the characters were not as developed but it is hard to include the myriad of thoughts Scarlett has to make here such a round character as she is in the book. The movie didn’t paint her as being so selfish and I wish the movie did not cut or edit any conversations between Rhett and Scarlett. It only lessened the tragedy of the demise of their relationship and Rhett’s brokenness at the end. Rhett’s defeat is whatade me so sad at the end: a once strong, confident and impregnable man also fell victim to Scarlett’s wrath. I had to go back and reread all of their conversations to truly catch how he was guarding his heart with all of his mocking games and searching eyes. He succumbed in the end and I think Bonnie was his breaking point with the beginning being in New Orleans when he knew her heart was still with Ashley even though he tries his best to get her to forget. This was followed by Scarlett and Ashley’s inappropriateness being caught at the mill and the tragic fall down the stairs and Scarlett not asking for Rhett so close to death. Scarlett is a man-eater and she broke the strongest man she had ever met and that is the true tragedy. Scarlett never truly loved anyone; her selfishness and survival instinct prevents her to do so. Selfishness is self-induced while the latter, survival instinct, is a product of what she had to endure. You admire her for this strength and fortitude, but her selfish ways holds you back for truly feeling sorry for her. Also, she is smart on how to survive and pulling herself up by her boot straps, but not so much in book knowledge and many other areas such as recognizing who people really are and what she really wants such as Ashley. Their love was a figment of her imagination she held onto for years and began because he was the only beaux she could not have. If she realized this at 16 she would not have struggled so much and we wouldn’t have such a fine story. Ashley and Scarlett are polar opposites and Ashley as well as Rhett tried to pound this into her head numerous times. If she would have only realized Rhett was the only one who try understood her and still loved her despite her shortcomings I would have been happy. Im not sure id she truly loves Rhett like she claims in the end or if she has a selfish reason behind this declaration and Rhett, as always, can read past her words to her true meaning. However, he did go into the marriage full knowing she didn’t live him but was very “fond” of him. He held out on his true profession of love Tim the end which kept me guessing as well because he knew she would eat him Ali e he she knew.

  3. David Kusumoto says:

    I only stumbled upon this 3 1/2 years after it was written. I’ve always been curious about the differences between Mitchell’s book and the 1939 film. Your post listing the differences is spectacular and turns up as the #1 listing via Google search when I entered the following terms: “how does gone with the wind book differ from the movie?” Thank you for posting it and now I can jump into the book knowing that it is an uncompressed and less sanitized version of a classic story – with whom more people today associate with the Selznick film than Mitchell’s original 1936 novel. Kudos and A+ to you and I hope your blog post has an eternal life because it does the best job of summarizing the differences in a columnist/journalistic format! Best, David in San Diego.

    • gwenamon says:

      Thanks so much, David. Happy you liked the post. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the book. I couldn’t put it down.

  4. Bambilicious says:

    I think it is all relative, but in the movie when Scarlet talks about naming the baby Eugenia Victoria, he seems to nix that idea claiming she will be called Bonnie Blue Butler. I do not think in the movie that it was just her nickname. I feel like they intended for it to be seen as him deciding on a different name for the child, and getting his way.

    • gwenamon says:

      Yes, I can understand that. It’s a good way to show the conflict between Rhett and Scarlett without delving into the book’s many more examples. Thanks for pointing out. It’s great to see this post has longevity.

  5. I just re-read the book over the Thanksgiving holiday and could not put it down either. What I found interesting is that I am on Scarlett’s side despite how rotten she is. It was shocking that she stole and married her sister’s man with no compunction whatsoever. She is a sociopath, yet for me she was sort of protagonist and antagonist all rolled into one. Scarlett and Rhett’s relationship is not very romantic to me either in book or film. They are awful to each other. The writing was gripping. I cried a lot especially over all the young men dying in the war. This may be the best written book I’ve ever read other than “Angela’s Ashes”. The movie just really doesn’t hold a candle to the book although the acting was great, especially Leigh, Gable, de Havilland. They were perfectly casted. I cannot not fathom the casting of Ashley who seemed way too old and homely to me, but I suppose Leslie Howard was a heartthrob back in the day.

  6. Pingback: Ink, Paper, Action! | Williamson County Public Library Blog

  7. Michelle says:

    The film also changes the reason Rhett was in prison following the war. In the book it was because he was suspected of the murder of at least one if not two black men. He admits his guilt to Scarlett following his release and his reason of it being due to so-called “disrespect towards a white woman” will conjure up images of racially motivated murders like the murder of Emmett Till , though Till was murdered nearly 20 years after the book was released. Similar murders happened far too often following the Civil War. In the film, the reason is given that the Union believes Rhett has the Confederate treasury or knowledge of where it is located. Which is partially true,since in the book he admits to Scarlett that he and other blockade runners pocketed money meant for goods when it became impossible to get through the blockade. The film is rather vague about how Rhett is so wealthy following the war.

    It also leaves out moments when Rhett would say cruel things about Scarlett’s dead father or would throw her under the bus within their social circle to play up the image of the long suffering husband. The film simplifies their complex relationship too much. The film presents him as a better husband and father than he is in the book, making the viewer wonder why Scarlett is unable to see how he loves her. But in the book there are moments where the reader can question his feelings. If you want someone to know you love them, criticizing their dead father is not a good way to go about it. There are other moments of cruelty from him too, but that particular one has stayed in my memory.

    • gwenamon says:

      Thanks for pointing those things out, Michelle. I hadn’t caught them and they’re great to have here. The film is definitely more sanitized.

  8. Mariiyn says:

    I noticed the movie didn’t make any mention of the age differences between the men and women or that cousins fell in love with each other. Scarlett’s parents were married when her mother was fifteen and her father was in his forties. Suellen was fifteen and Frank Kennedy was also in his forties at the beginning of the novel. Scarlett was sixteen and Rhett Butler would have been thirty-three, actually a year older than Scarlett’s mother. Scarlett’s mother, Ellen, had been in love with her cousin and Ashley and Melanie were cousins. Melanie’s brother Charles Hamilton had been expected to marry Ashley’s sister Honey, also a cousin. I suspect that would have been too much for the audience, even in the late 1930’s.

    • gwenamon says:

      Great points, Marilyn. Thanks for commenting and adding to this post. I’m now going to research when cousins marrying became unacceptable because I agree — too much for an audience in the 1930’s.

  9. Salma Javed says:

    I am doing my research on racial profiling and sentimental interiority where Gone with the Wind is also one of the texts I’m exploring. This write-up is definitely a great help. <3

    • gwenamon says:

      That’s great to hear, Salma. Thanks for letting me know and good luck with your research. Happy if this post can help.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s