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Free Study Guide - Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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The war continues with Confederate money becoming scarce and goods becoming higher in price. Scarlett works at the hospital and occasionally visits Tara for short periods. Her mother has gotten thin and worn and has little time for pleasantries with her daughters.

Back in Atlanta, Scarlett is forced to entertain Rhett Butler regularly as he makes frequent visits to Miss Pittypat’s home. She is jealous of the gentle way in which Rhett treats Melanie, but he scoffs at Scarlett’s anger. Melanie, he says, is one of the few great ladies he has ever known and is also kind, sincere and unselfish.

Because of the war, traditionally formalities are frequently modified. Girls get the opportunities to talk with people they could never ordinarily be seen with, and even Rhett enjoys a temporary acceptance in Atlanta. He is running Yankee blockades and bringing goods they can get in no other way, yet he deliberately insults southern sensibilities at every opportunity. He finally gets himself thrown out of respectable homes when, at a musical put on by the Elsings, he makes an offhand comment about the "cause" of the south. When Willie Guinan of the militia and Dr. Meade challenge him on whether the cause of the south is "sacred," he tells them that all wars are sacred to those who start them and those who have to fight them, but in reality wars are fought over money squabbles. Later, on the way home, Mrs. Merriwether blames Miss Pittypat for harboring Rhett who ultimately spoiled their party. Mrs. Merriwether virtually orders Pittypat and the girls to refuse to entertain or even speak to him. Melanie, however, defends him, saying she will not be rude to him and will not forbid him to enter their house. Melanie acknowledges that Rhett should have kept his words to himself at the party, but she cannot forbid her house to a man who has the same thoughts as her husband. As Mrs. Merriwether fumes and sputters, Melanie explains that Ashley has said they should not be fighting the Yankees, that statesmen and orators mouthing catchwords and prejudices betrayed them into it.

As Scarlett listens to Melanie, the real meaning of the letter she had read dawns on her. She finds it surprising that someone as perfect and noble as Ashley could have the same ideas as Rhett. The difference is that while both men see the truth of the war, Ashley is willing to die for the cause anyway, and Rhett isn’t. To her, that shows Rhett’s good sense. "Rhett could look people in the face and enrage people by sharing his views on the war while Ashley could hardly bear to face it."


Scarlett admires Rhett's perfect physique, noting that "it's almost as if I'm in love with him." This foreshadows a future relationship with him even though she never slows down or allows herself to think deeply enough to actually understand her own feelings for him.

Rhett continuously returns good for evil. He is so charming that the ladies cannot resist him in spite of his reputation, and if he would just keep his thoughts to himself, he could be the most popular figure in Atlanta. He demonstrates his ability to do almost anything for even those who disapprove of him when he supplies yards of satin and lace to Maybelle Merriwether for her wedding gown, and does it "in honor of one of our heroes" so the Merriwether's can't refuse it.



By 1863, Miss Pittypat’s home is the only one Rhett can enter. Dr. Meade took action late in 1862 to write a letter to the newspaper in which he maligned profiteering; although he did not mention Rhett by name, the meaning was obvious. This is followed by a series of rumor about Rhett having his own boats and buying up others as well, then selling the cargo at outlandish prices. Melanie continues to defend Rhett, saying he is as patriotic as anyone else, but just doesn’t choose to show it. Scarlett, however, knows he is every bit the mercenary and suspects that most of the rumors about him are true.

One day he brings her a green bonnet, something not in keeping with the mourning black that she is still expected to wear. He threatens to take it from her if she does anything to change it and vows that he will continue to bring her gifts and that eventually he will demand something from her in return. She expects him to try to kiss her and immediately begins thinking about how she could toy with him if he should fall in love with her.

The day after the hat incident, Melanie comes home from the hospital in tears and with a guilty look on her face. Uncle Peter, the family’s black carriage driver, housekeeper, and caretaker saw her talking with the town madam, Belle Watling. Belle was trying to contribute to the work at the hospital, but Mrs. Elsing had refused to even talk to her. So she has given a handkerchief tied with money in it to Melanie. The two girls untie the handkerchief to count the money, and Scarlett sees Rhett’s initials on the corner. To Scarlett, the very idea that he has anything to do with Miss Watling proves that he couldn’t be in love with her. She burns the handkerchief, wishing she could throw it in his face instead. Unfortunately, a lady could never let him know that she even realized such women existed.


We are given a sharp contrast between Melanie and Scarlett as well as some insight into the character of the "bad" woman of the town. Melanie is capable of recognizing the good in Belle even though she is terrified to be seen talking with her. Scarlett cares nothing about Belle, but is insanely jealous over Rhett's apparent association with her. At this point Scarlett still maintains an appearance of conforming to at least some of the social conventions.

The fact that Belle has to find a ruse to donate money to the "cause" is a reflection on the stuffy attitudes of the people. They are desperately in need of money but will refuse it if they know the source is from someone they disapprove of. They are incapable of seeing that beneath the occupation Belle has created for herself, there lies a heart of gold and a shrewd understanding of the people of her era.

Scarlett herself needs little excuse to stop wearing black, but is too blind and self-centered to see that Rhett brings her gifts because he is in love with her. In fact, when she does think about the possibility of love, it is only to ponder ways to manipulate it to her own advantage. This blind, cruel streak in her permeates everything she does and is enough to keep some readers from ever being wholly sympathetic toward her.


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Ruff, Dr. KSC. "TheBestNotes on Gone With the Wind". . 09 May 2017