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November 19, 2016

Gone With The Wind – Conflict in Writing

by Byddi Lee
English: Cropped screenshot of Vivien Leigh fr...
English: Cropped screenshot of Vivien Leigh from the trailer for the film Gone with the Wind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your friend tells you about a recent trip they went on. They arrived safely. The hotel was lovely. They had a nice time, and they came back without incident. Nice. I’m sure that you’re happy for your friend’s good fortune, but if you read a short story or a novel that went like this, chances are you’d get bored pretty quickly.

In stories, we want drama, to hear about things going wrong. We glean satisfaction from how our hero overcomes these challenges. Even in real life, as we share experiences with our friends, aren’t the best stories the ones where disaster strikes? Aren’t the most memorable dinner parties the ones where the waiter spilled the tomato soup all down your white dress, or the time you’d booked a room on the fifth floor in a quaint little hotel that had no elevator or bellhop to carry those huge suitcases you’d packed? Yes, uncomfortable at the time, but for years after you can tell the story and laugh at (or bemoan) the experience. The best stories arise from the crappiest of situations. It’s in our nature to love conflict – especially if we are experiencing it second hand through story.

Conflict is what blocks your character from achieving his goals both short term and long term. Scarlet O’Hara displays many forms of conflict in Gone With The Wind.

Internal Conflict

Scarlet wants to live up to her dear mother’s expectations and be a “great lady,” but Scarlet struggles to achieve this goal because of her willful temperament and impatience. Throughout the book, her true personality is at odds with how she knows she should behave, and when she misbehaves she suffers from remorse. This is internal conflict, though one might argue that its origins stem from external conflicts.

Ashley’s internal conflict is more straightforward. He’s attracted to Scarlet but he loves Melanie. He’s too much of a gentleman to have a full-on affair with Scarlet, but he dreams of her nonetheless.

In most cases, internal conflict arises when the character wants to act upon one emotion or drive but is held back by another. For example, the character might want to go to another city for work or study but doesn’t want to leave a sick parent. The parent may even be urging the character to go, but it is the characters own internal arguments that cause the conflict.

External Conflict

There are three types:

  1. Conflict against another person
  2. Conflict against a group of people (e.g. a government or a society)
  3. Conflict against a non-human source:
    1. Nature
    2. Technology
    3. The supernatural

In Gone With The Wind, Scarlet demonstrates conflict with another person in her relationship with Melanie Wilks. Scarlet wants Ashley but he chooses Melanie, so for Scarlet, Melanie is the enemy. What’s interesting is that Melanie does not reciprocate this animosity, preferring to see Scarlet as a friend.

Conflict between two people usually arises when they are both reaching  for the same goal. The battle to win this prize is what keeps the story interesting. If Scarlet had won and married Ashley with no contest, then lived happily ever after, no-one would have been very interested!

Most of Scarlet’s person-to-person conflict is about Ashley. Even her relationship with Ashley is soaked in conflict, between her wanting him and him fighting her off. Scarlet’s conflict with Rhett is also driven by her obsession with Ashley. Rhett also succinctly outlines Scarlet’s conflict with a group of people, her southern society peers.

As a widow, she longs to wear colorful dresses instead of the mourning black, and Rhett buys her a flashy bonnet. She yearns to dance when she is forbidden to because of mourning, but Rhett wins the right in an auction to ask for a dance, creating scandal.

With Rhett’s encouragement, Scarlet breaks all the rules and becomes a successful business woman, unheard of for a lady of that era, she really shows the conflict between person-and-society. Interestingly, as this conflict deepens her internal conflict lessens as she accepts she’ll never live up to her mother’s standard. At this stage, she is even prepared to throw herself at Ashley.

It is during the aftermath of the war that Gone With The Wind employs conflict between man-and-nature as Scarlet and her crew attempt to farm Tara. She works the fields for the first time to provide for the family, even for the people she is at odds with, like Melanie. This is what makes Scarlet such an interesting heroine. She does the right things, for all the wrong reasons.

At first, it seems ridiculous to think that the conflict between person-and-technology can be illustrated in Gone With The Wind, but there are various instances of where Scarlet has to use transportation to get what she needs. There’s the old cart that Rhett procures for her to take Melanie and the baby to Tara. She has to fight to keep the mule going. Later, she undertakes to drive herself to the mill, leaving her vulnerable to attack, which in turns causes even more strife. In an era where the most advanced transport technology was the horse and cart, I think this qualifies.

Nowadays this conflict can arise from any of our tech gadgets – smartphone, internet, robots – not co-operating with us. Anyone who is not tech savvy can attest to the conflicts that can arise in these scenarios!

Finally, it could be argued that the conflict between person-and-supernatural is really for fantasy and horror genres. This is conflict between a human and a non-human being, like a ghost, a vampire, demons or even a super-being such as a god. As a God-fearing woman, Scarlet is terrified of being condemned to everlasting hell as a result of some of her actions. This is an example of very subtle conflict between person and supernatural.

As writers, every word we write needs to be dripping in conflict. Employing different types of conflict builds interesting layers into your story-telling. Watch for how it is used in anything you read. Without conflict, we’d have no media, news-broadcasts nor stories to tell each other after dinner. When you experience a day full of conflict just think of it as another story to tell, for without that conflict, you’d have no exciting tales!

Byddi Lee grew up in Armagh, Ireland, and moved to Belfast to study Biology at Queen’s University when she was 18. She made Belfast her home for twenty-one years, teaching science and writing for pleasure before returning to Ireland. In 2008 she and her husband moved to San Jose, California where she made writing a full-time career. After the publication of her short story, Death of a Seannachai, she decided it was time to write, March to November, which was published in 2014 and received international acclaim. She and her husband recently relocated to Paris, France where she is working on her second novel. Read about her adventures on her blog We Didn't Come Here for the Grass.

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