One enduring legacy of Gone with the Wind is that people worldwide incorrectly think it was the "true story" of the Old South and how it was changed by the American Civil War and Reconstruction. The film adaptation of the novel "amplified this effect." The plantation legend was "burned" into the mind of the public through Mitchell's vivid prose. Moreover, her fictional account of the war and its aftermath has influenced how the world has viewed the city of Atlanta for successive generations.
Some readers of the novel have seen the film first and read the text of the novel through the film. One difference between the film and the novel is the staircase scene in which Rhett carries Scarlett up the stairs. In the film, Scarlett weakly struggles and does not scream as Rhett starts up the stairs. In the novel, "he hurt her and she cried out, muffled, frightened."
Earlier in the novel, in an intended rape at Shantytown (Chapter 44), Scarlett is attacked by a black man who rips open her basque while a white man grabs hold of the horse's bridle. She is rescued by another black man, Big Sam. In the film, she is attacked by a white man while a black man grabs hold of the horse's bridle.
The Library of Congress began a multiyear "Celebration of the Book" in July 2012 with an exhibition on "Books That Shaped America", and an initial list of 88 books by American authors that have influenced American lives. Gone with the Wind was included in the Library's list. Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington said:
This list is a starting point. It is not a register of the 'best' American books – although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not.
Among books on the list considered to be the Great American Novel were Moby-Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, The Catcher in the Rye, Invisible Man and To Kill a Mockingbird.
Throughout the world, the novel is received for its crosscultural, universal themes: war, love, death, racial conflict, class, gender and generation, which speak especially to women. In the police state of North Korea, readers relate to the novel's theme of survival, finding it to be "the most compelling message of the novel".
More than 24 editions of Gone with the Wind have been issued in China in the past few years. Lost in translation, a Taiwanese newspaper claimed that Mitchell's first choice of a title for the book was "Tote Your Heavy Bag".
Margaret Mitchell's personal collection of nearly 70 foreign language translations of her novel was given to the Atlanta Public Library after her death.
On August 16, 2012, the Archdiocese of Atlanta announced that it had been bequeathed a 50% stake in the trademarks and literary rights to Gone With the Wind from the estate of Margaret Mitchell's deceased nephew, Joseph Mitchell. One of Mitchell's biographers, Darden Asbury Pyron, stated that Margaret Mitchell had "an intense relationship" with her mother, who was a Roman Catholic.
Margaret Mitchell herself had separated from the Catholic Church.