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Free Study Guide - Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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GONE WITH THE WIND PLOT SUMMARY / ANALYSIS

CHAPTER 16

Summary

By February of 1864, the center of the Southern line has fallen and the Yankees hold most of Tennessee. Atlanta clings to a shred of morale over a victory at Chickamauga where the Yankees had been driven out of Georgia back into Tennessee. Yet, life is becoming an almost unbearable struggle with prices for everything from food to clothes rising to exorbitant levels. The people are also becoming frustrated and discontented over the perceived inadequacies of the southern politicians. Rhett himself is openly engaged in food speculation.

Scarlett is imagining ways to get Ashley to leave Melanie and marry her when he comes home from the war when Melanie informs her that she is pregnant. Scarlett thinks that she can no longer live in the same house with the woman who is carrying Ashley’s child, but then a telegram arrives informing them that Ashley is missing. At first the reports are "missing, believed dead," but in a few days they are changed to "missing, believed captured."

Melanie wears herself out with hanging around the telegraph office hoping for news. After she faints one day, Rhett helps bring her home and carries her to her bedroom. Then he informs her that he is aware of her pregnancy and promises to pull what strings he can to try to find word of Ashley-providing Melanie promises to take better care of herself. Eventually he finds out that Ashley was wounded and taken prisoner, but is not dead. He is however, in Rock Island, a place reputed as the worst of all the Yankee prison camps. Furthermore, Ashley had a chance to get out by taking an oath of allegiance to the Yankees and then going west for two years to fight Indians. His refusal is an action that Scarlett cannot understand, especially as it is exactly what Rhett would have done in the same place.

Notes

Ashley's refusal to take the Yankee offer shows strength in his convictions. The fact that Scarlett does not understand it also shows how much she is really not a part of the society into which she was born. Rhett does not help resolve her frustrations when he says that he would have taken the offer. His statement is clearly not sincere, but it is in keeping with the character he is trying to portray for himself. Scarlett, however, only hears what she wants to hear.



PART THREE

CHAPTER 17

Summary

By May of 1864, the Yankees are amassing for an attack on Dalton, but the people of Atlanta are not alarmed. According to Dr. Meade, General Johnson is standing between the Yankees and Atlanta like "an iron rampart." In an attempt to cheer Melanie and Mrs. Elsing’s daughter Fanny-whose beau Dallas McClure is dead-Miss Pittypat decides to have a party and share the last chicken. Rhett joins the party without invitation, but is on his best behavior for most of it. He treats Fanny with kindness and puts Scarlett’s little boy Wade to sleep in his arms. Finally, however, when talk turns to war he speaks up, informing the company that Sherman is rumored to have over 100,000 men with him in the mountains and that General Johnson only has 40,000, including the deserters. Mrs. Meade protests that there are no deserters in the confederate army, and Rhett corrects the word to "furloughs" from which men have never returned to the battles. Dr. Meade responds with an assurance that one Confederate is worth a dozen Yankees; Rhett too, counters this as he reminds them that the Confederates are without bullets, food or shoes. Dr. Meade loses his temper, insisting on the surety of the mountain for invaded people throughout history.

In an attempt to save her party, Pittypat asks Scarlett to play the piano. However, Scarlett can think of nothing but war songs until Rhett comes to her rescue and tells her to play "My Old Kentucky Home."

Dr. Meade’s predictions prove true to a point. Sherman is unable to break through the mountain fortifications of Johnston. However, the Yankees simply pull back and move around the confederates, coming at them from behind. This action forces a repeated movement of pull back and fight, pull back and fight for the Confederates. It is as effective as if it were outright retreat and brings the Yankees to Kennesaw Mountain.

Scarlett continues working in the hospital although the novelty has worn off and she is sick of the smells and screams of men who have to endure amputations without anesthetizing. One day she sneaks away from the hospital and orders Rhett to take her riding someplace where no one will see her. They see a line of marching troops, the home guard that includes her father’s black overseer, Big Sam and several of the other male slaves from Tara. Their leader, Captain Randall, tells Scarlett that they are using the "biggest bucks" of the county to dig additional rifle pits around Atlanta in the event of a siege. He catches himself and assures her that there won’t be a siege, but that Old Joe is taking precautions. Scarlett suspects that Captain Randall is teasing her, but when she tries to get a straight answer out of him, they end up in a quarrel.

Notes

The drafting of the slaves from the plantations is the beginning of the end, and Scarlett knows it in spite of Old Joe's denial. Aunt Pittypat's pitiful attempt to have a party and share her last rooster is symbolic of the people's refusal to give up the old ways in their hearts and minds even if they are driven to the wall and forced to surrender literally. Perhaps Rhett's presence and his way of forcing them to acknowledge that many of their men have deserted-even though that desertion may be given fancy names-keeps them in touch with enough reality to be able to save themselves at the necessary moment.

Rhett illustrates his ability to probe the very depths of Scarlett's thoughts by asking her if Ashley ever kissed her. She is able to lie easily enough to most people, but she cannot lie to Rhett. Her only recourse is silence, which he interprets as assent.

 

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