Before the Civil War, Scarlett is the coquettish belle of the ball attending soirees where she flirts with and torments young men who fall in love with her beauty and burning sexual energy. Scarlett is in love with melancholic Ashley who is love with Melanie. At one of these parties, Scarlett throws herself at Ashley as they are alone in a drawing room. Ashely rebuffs her advance and withdraws. Scarlett throws a vase against the wall in a rage only to find Rhett Butler lying on the couch who has overheard the previous exchange between Scarlett and Ashley. Rhett is immediately intrigued by Scarlett's beauty and energy as are most men. The audience, though, immediately recognizes that Rhett is the man for Scarlett. He is the only one who can tame and domesticate her, which is what she needs.
The story unfolds as the tension builds between the two properly matched couples, Ashley/Melanie and Rhett/Scarlett. Scarlett resists Rhett while being intrigued by him as she marries several other men along the way toward finally marrying Rhett. The entire time, she dreams of marrying Ashely who is married to Melanie. Finally, Scarlett wrecks her marriage with Rhett only realizing what the audience saw all along--that she was intended for Rhett, not Ashely.
Scarlett comes to her senses too late as Rhett walks out the door saying to Scarlett in reply to her question what will happen to her if he leaves her, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." The final scene in the story finds Scarlett pulling herself together after crying over Rhett's leaving and her worrying over how to get Rhett back saying, "I can't let him go. I can't. There must be some way to bring him back. Oh I can't think about this now! I'll go crazy if I do! I'll think about it tomorrow. (She closes the door.) But I must think about it. I must think about it. What is there to do? (She falls forward onto the ascending stairs.) What is there that matters?...Tara!...Home. I'll go home, and I'll think of some way to get him back! After all, tomorrow is another day!"
Scarlett represents both the Old South belle and the New South businesswoman. In both settings that change so drastically in the story and in reality, Atlanta moves from a semi-feudalistic society of manners and morals to a raucous business climate in which everything goes. Scarlett uses her beauty, charm, and craftiness in both social climates to attain her ends. Scarlett gains most everything she thinks she wants through sheer willpower and moral compromise with the exception of Ashley only to realize too late that she has lost her integrity and what she really needs. The story unfolds as a mirror to Atlanta as it has sold itself out for money and acceptability. This is why Atlanta's Southern culture is tragically "Gone with the Wind."
Rhett Butler: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."