First off, I'd like to say that I was very happy not to have ever seen the film prior to this read. Often, unconsciously, I note how far into the story I am and try to figure out how the story will resolve. While reading GWTW, I never had any idea what might happen next. The war was over and I was only halfway through the book. What else could happen ? I was familiar with Rhett's famous words, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", but thought they could've been a Hollywood addition. I didn't know for sure if he would ever really say this to Scarlett.
I found all of Mitchell's characters well-written, believable. It was like a kick in the gut when Scarlett, whom I admit is not a very likeable protagonist, sunk so low as to steal her sister's fiance. I also was surprised by Frank's involvement in the KKK, if only because Ashley was also involved and I hadn't anticipated this. I recently read a true account of an American soldier who spent time in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during WWII. The prisoners responded very differently from one another to their plight. Mitchell's characters resonded to their fates in very different ways as well. Some gave up completely, some fought tooth and nail to survive, some tried to maintain their lives as they were before the war.
The relationship between Scarlett and Rhett was heartbreaking. While both of them were "scoundrels", Mitchell was somehow able to make you want them to succeed as a couple. While I did find Scarlett to be mostly bad, I thought Rhett was mostly good pretending to be mostly bad. I was rooting for them. I like that Mitchell did not give a happily-ever-after ending to the story. Real relationships are not so clear cut.
I was fascinated by Mitchell's portayal of the South throughout the period from before the Civil War right through the Reconstruction period and am interested in following up with some non-fiction.