Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) travels the heroine’s journey. The story begins with a young naïf: Scarlett, spoiled and pampered, is so used to getting her own way that when drippy Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) refuses her hand, she foolishly marries the first suitor who asks her out of pure petulance. Typically, the naïf is thrust from her protected home into the frightening real world: Widowed quickly after the outbreak of the war with the North, Scarlett is sent from her beloved Tara to her aunt’s house in Atlanta. Our hero faces personal and moral danger in the big, bad world: Atlanta under siege is a city in the grip of a panic brilliantly depicted, threatening bodily harm, and Scarlett’s reputation is at risk when she falls in with the blockade runner Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), even though she’s still supposed to be in mourning for her dead husband.
But our heroine survives the dangers, and emerges wiser and old beyond her years: Scarlett finds it within herself to protect Ashley’s wife, Melanie (Olivia De Haviland), simply because she promised him she’d take care of Melanie, though she can’t stand the woman who stole the man she loves. The heroine returns to her cherished home, usually under attack from the outside, hoping to save it: Scarlett goes back to Tara to find it devastated, her father unable to care for it, her mother dead, and vows to rebuild.