April 1861 Tara Plantation, sprawling in twenty-five miles from Atlanta, Georgia, Gemini Tarleton Stewart and Brent, being in love with the charming daughter of Tara host, sixteen years old Scarlett, tell her two pieces of news. In the first place, a war is about to start between the North and the South. Secondly, Ashley Wilkes is going to marry Melanie Hamilton, which will be announced tomorrow, when the Wilkes house holds a large reception.
News of the impending war for Scarlett is nothing compared with the message of Ashley’s marriage. The subject of the sighing of almost all young people of the parish, Scarlett herself loves only Ashley, who seems not to be indifferent to her as well. She could not understand what he found in Melanie.
Scarlett shares her experiences with father, but Gerald O'Hara is convinced that his daughter and Ashley is not a perfect match. He admits that likes young Wilkes although cannot fully understand him. Yes, Ashley is able to drink and play poker better than other young people, but he does so without a soul, as if obeying the conventions of current perceptions. Ashley is attracted to books, music, paintings, and it is simple puzzling for a direct Irishman. He frankly tells his daughter that he would be happy to leave her Tara if she married someone else around, there are many decent young people. Scarlett throws in the hearts that she does not care about Tara and all this land does not mean absolutely anything. Father ends abruptly that there is nothing more important than the land, for it remains forever.
Scarlett appears in the reception at Wilkes. She hopes to speak with Ashley and get him to change the decision. Among the guests there is Rhett Butler. He was expelled from the Military Academy at West Point, and then was kicked by his father out of the house after he refused to marry the girl, which, supposedly compromised. But Scarlett now has nothing to do with Butler. She needed to talk to Ashley. Seizing the moment, she explained to him in the library. Alas, her plans go to pieces. Ashley is firm in his intention to marry Melanie. He loves Scarlett, but the mind takes precedence over feelings and tells that Melanie that is the same as he. They think and see the world the same way and, therefore, there is hope that their marriage will be happy.
Ashley leaves the library, Scarlett remains one and furiously launches vase into the wall above the sofa. To her dismay, it turns out that on the couch was dozing Rhett Butler, which was awakened by their explanation with Ashley. He expressed admiration for the power of the spirit and purpose of Scarlett and wonders why Ashley Wilkes remained indifferent to her merits. Scarlett furiously slams the door and leaves.
Rumors of war are confirmed. Young people are going with the arms to defend the rights of their native South. First of May wedding of Ashley and Melanie is to be held. To annoy him, Scarlett takes courtship of shy and soft Melanie's brother Charles and agrees to become his wife. Their wedding takes place on the day before the wedding of Ashley and Melanie.
Two months later, Scarlett became a widow. Charles died of pneumonia, without having been in a fight. Scarlett gave a birth to a son Wade. In May 1862, she moved to Atlanta. She is forced to wear mourning and lead a sad existence of a grieving widow, although her whole nature is opposed to this.
But once she appears at a charity bazaar for the benefit of the hospital, where he again meets Rhett Butler. A cynic, and joker, he sees her through, understands what prompted her to marry. When there is a jewelry collection for the purchase of medicines, she rips off her wedding ring. Melanie admires her act and gives her own ring. Then Captain Butler buys the right to dance with Scarlett. It plunges the local guardians of public morality in the confusion, but what to do - Butler insists on his own, and the hospital needs money. They are patient with Butler solely because he delivers numerous products to the South, despite the fact that northerners staged a naval blockade of southern ports. However, adding fuel to the fire of idle gossip, Butler argues that is doing this not out of a sense of patriotism, but for the sake of personal gain. He doubts that the southerners will be able to win.
Rumors of a "scandalous" behavior of Scarlett reach Tara, and her father is coming to Atlanta to take the daughter away. But the meeting with Captain Butler leads to unexpected consequences. Gerald gets drunk and squanders all the money in the poker that was intended for the purchase of basic necessities. This confusion makes him temper his moral indignation, and Scarlett remains in Atlanta. She occasionally meets Rhett Butler, but she continues to love Ashley Wilkes.
Gradually, the situation in the theater of operations is complicated, and the confidence of Southerners gives way to the realization that the war will be long and hard. There appeared the first lists of the dead. They include many familiar of Scarlett. Are killed brothers Tarleton, but Ashley remains unharmed. He comes on a short furlough.
Scarlett hopes to explain with him alone, but Melanie is constantly with her husband. Before his departure from Atlanta Ashley asks Scarlett to look after his wife, because she, in his opinion, does not have the vitality like Scarlett. Ashley is ready to fulfill honestly his duty, but he, like Rhett Butler, cannot believe that the South is able to overcome a very strong opponent.
1864, after the defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg Confederate position is critical. There comes a message that Ashley is missing. Melanie is in grief, and only the thought that she is carrying Ashley’s child, helps her to live. Butler continues to meet with Scarlett, but it is limited to a slight flirtation, walking and talking. He says he wants to wait until Scarlett forgets taste of a kiss, which incomparable Ashley Wilkes awarded her with at parting. This leads Scarlett in fury, and in this state she appears to Rhett altogether irresistible.
Butler makes inquiries through her friends in the North. It turns out that Ashley was alive. He is in the prison camp in Illinois. He is offered start of the military units that protect American territory from the Indians, but Ashley refused. For him there cannot be military service on the side of northerners, and he prefers this captivity to such a freedom.
Atlanta is under siege. Almost all of the male population is in the militia. Scarlett intends to return to Tara, but Melanie pleads not to leave her. Again there is Rhett Butler. He tells Scarlett that craves for her since that first meeting in Wilkes. When Scarlett asked whether he proposed to her, Butler replied that he was not of those who get married, and openly invites her to become his mistress. As it has often happened, the conversation ends in a quarrel, and at the request of Scarlett Butler leaves her house.
In the midst is the Battle of Atlanta, Melanie labor pains begin. All Scarlett’s attempts to bring to her a doctor end in failure - all the doctors are with the wounded, the number of which increases with each passing hour.
With the help of Negro Prissy, Scarlett takes birth of Ashley and Melanie's son. Then Scarlett decides to whatever to leave Atlanta. She wants to go back to Tara. Rhett Butler helps her and Melanie to leave Atlanta, which is about to be entered by the northerners, but refuses to take them to Tara. He reports that he has decided to go with the remnants of Atlanta defenders and to continue with them the resistance.
This news surprised Scarlett. She cannot understand why the cynical Rhett always so skeptical of holy cause of the South, suddenly decided to take up arms. It also surprised that he left her when she was so helpless. On this Rhett says that she is not helpless, and as for the reasons that prompted him to join the army, he himself is difficult to call them - whether because of sentimentality, or from a sense of shame for being aloof from the struggle, preferring to make money in the delivery of goods. Scarlett does not believe in the sincerity of those words. It seems that he, as always, is a little mocking. But nothing to do, she has to make their way to Tara with her son, a servant and helpless Melanie and a baby. The road is hard and dangerous, but they get to Tara unharmed.
Returning, however, does not promise any joy. Around reigns chaos and destruction. Manor of Wilkes is burned, Tara was luckier. The house is intact - it was the headquarters of the northerners, but the estate was plundered. Moreover, the mother of Scarlett did not wait for her daughter. She died of typhus. The death of his wife becomes a terrible blow to Gerald, and he has damaged mind.
Scarlett does not give up. She decides to do anything to save Tara from complete collapse. Suddenly, in the house there is an intruder. Northern soldier decided to seize everything he could. But he underestimated Scarlett - she shoots and kills him.
Life on the plantations is established with difficulty. Again, there are northerners and take away the little that is left. Moreover, they set fire to the house, and only desperate efforts of households manage to extinguish the fire.
Army of South capitulates. Ashley sends a message: he is returning. Melanie and Scarlett cannot wait, when he appears at Tara, but still no. Past the house stretch soldiers returning home from the POW camps. One of them, Will Benthin remains at Tara and takes care of the basic management of the estate. Finally there appears Ashley, but Melanie is the first to meet him.
1866 war behind, but life has not become easier. Those conducting the so-called Reconstruction of the slave South, do everything to the former plantation owners could no longer use their land. Tara is heavily taxed, and if the money is not be made, the estate will go under the hammer and the former foreman Wilkerson is likely to get it. Scarlett hoped that Ashley would come up with a way out, but he frankly admits he does not know what to undertake. Scarlett invites him to drop everything and go somewhere in Mexico, but Ashley could not leave his wife and son for themselves.
Scarlett realizes that only Rhett Butler can help her. However, he is now in a difficult position. The new authorities threw him in jail, and he faces the gallows, if he does not share his capital acquired during the years of blockade.
Scarlett comes to him in prison. She pretends that she is doing well, but Rhett cannot be tricked. He understands that she has come to him for money. Scarlett is forced to admit that she really needed three hundred dollars, and for the sake of Tara is ready to become the Butler’s mistress. But he is not able to manage his finances. Parting is marred by a scandal. Butler, wounded that Scarlett is interested only in his money, ironically advises her to show more heat when next time she asks the man for a loan.
However, just so she does. When he learned that Frank Kennedy being in love with her younger sister, has some cash, which is going to buy a sawmill on, Scarlett sets in motion all her feminine charm and soon became Mrs. Kennedy. Tara is rescued, and that for this it was necessary to cross the road of her sister, does not bother Scarlett.
Scarlett started up in full in the business. She manages Frank’s store, and then borrow money from released to freedom Butler to buy the very sawmill, which Frank took a fancy to. Soon she gets one more sawmill and makes it go smoothly. There occurs money, but public opinion in Atlanta is set against her – it is not to a lady’s face to do business. However, Rhett Butler assures her that it is an inevitable consequence of the choices she has made - the money and success lead to loneliness.
Gerald dies. Coming to Tara to his funeral, Scarlett learns about the Ashley’s intention to leave for New York - he had been promised a place in the bank. Scarlett persuades him to stay, offers work in a lumber mill and half the proceeds from it. He refuses, but then Melanie comes to the aid. Under her pressure Ashley accepts Scarlett’s offer.
Liberated negros, however, work worse and worse, and to generate income of the sawmill, Scarlett begins to use cheap labor of prisoners for which oversees cruel Johnny Gallagher. Honest Frank is in horror, but Scarlett stands on her: it's the only way to make a profit. The sawmill, which hosts Ashley, does not bring profits: he categorically refuses to use convict labor.
Meanwhile, in response to the constant harassment of the "carpetbaggers" and promiscuity of some former slaves the Ku Klux Klan is created, whose members active members become Frank Kennedy and Ashley. The authorities have spared no effort to put an end to the activities of this secret organization, and they manage to lure the activists into the trap. Only the timely intervention of Butler helps Ashley to save his life and freedom, but less fortunate was Frank Kennedy, and Scarlett again becomes a widow.
But then Rhett proposes to her, and she agrees. They go to New Orleans, and then returned to Atlanta, where they soon move into a new house. Among their friends are too many business people, "carpetbaggers" - and nowhere appeared dealers of those Southerners who used not to be allowed to the threshold in decent homes. Scarlett gives a birth to a girl, and Rhett loves her insanely. Then Scarlett strongly expresses unwillingness to more children, and this is the beginning of the crisis in the relationship with her husband. Rhett spends more time away from home and often returns drunk.
The day of Ashley's birthday approaches. Melanie is going to arrange a festive reception. On the eve Scarlett meets with Ashley in his office, and it comes to the old times. This is a very sad conversation, Scarlett learned a lot about the person she loved, and what is now called to her inner eye, plunges her into grief. Ashley was in the past, he cannot bring himself to look into the future, cannot adapt this. The memories of pre-war days and hopes caused her tears. Ashley tries to comfort her, hugging her, and then, in her trouble, appear strangers. Soon the news reaches Melanie and Rhett. Scarlett refuses to go to the reception, but Rhett makes her almost by force. However, Melanie, the only one of all of Atlanta, did not believe the evil slander and accepts Scarlett with the same warmth. Upon returning home, Rhett lets his jealousy, and then they were the first time after a long break in bed. Scarlett wakes up with a happy feeling that Rhett loves her, but discovers that he is not in bed, nor even in the house. He returned only the next day, making it clear to his wife that had a good time on the side.
Then Rhett leaves for three months, and when he returns, Scarlett tells him that she is pregnant. Rhett's barbs offend her, a quarrel breaks out, which ends with a disaster: Scarlett falls down the stairs, and she happens to miscarriage. Life is coming back into the groove. Rhett with head goes into politics, and not without his participation Democrats-southerners manage to win the election over the Republicans, supported by the North. But then the family dumped another misfortune: Rett's favorite little daughter Bonnie falls from her horse and dies. Relations between spouse becomes more formal. Scarlett has the money has the property, but there is no happiness at all.
Scarlett leaves Atlanta, but a telegram from Rhett urges her to return immediately. Melanie dies. The doctors forbade her to give birth, but she ignored their prohibitions - she wanted too much to give Ashley another child. On her deathbed, she asks Scarlett to take care of her son and Ashley, because "he's so impractical." And she asks Scarlett to be kind to Rhett, for he loves her.
Now, when there was no Melanie, Scarlett realizes how lonely she was and how much his woman meant to her, whom she considered a hindrance to their happiness. Scarlett makes another discovery: it seems she loved no Ashley Wilkes but her dream of a strong, inflexible man. Now, looking at Ashley - tired, insecure, all his mental strength of spending on it, to endure with dignity defeat in this life - Scarlett whispers to herself that lost a beloved one, but instead got another child.
Scarlett realizes how much Rhett means to her. She is eager to tell quickly him about it, but she will get one more disappointment.
Rhett calmly listened to her recognition and said that now he has all the same. His love for her has faded just as faded Scarlett’s love to Ashley. Rhett Butler admits he loved her at first sight, and, no matter how hard he tried to throw her out of his dreams, he could not. He never lost hope that sooner or later she would appreciate his feelings, understand how well they were suited to each other, but all his efforts to bring his love to Scarlett went to pieces. He says that after that night he left home early because he feared that she would raise him to laughter, and that if he returned she gave to understand that he is not indifferent to her, everything would be different. But this did not happen, and now he feels only compassion for her.
Rhett announces his intention to leave for a long time, perhaps, for England and promises to come back from time to time in order to not give much cause for rumors and gossip. For a desperate Scarlett’s question: "And what about me?" Rhett replied with a sigh, that it does not bother him anymore.
Scarlett thinks about just heard. It is very hard, but her selfish vigorous nature refuses to admit defeat. Scarlett is convinced that everything is not lost yet, and if she now cannot think of anything that would help remedy the situation, tomorrow she certainly will find a way out.