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Free Study Guide - Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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Will returns home from a trip to Jonesboro with news that the people in charge of reconstruction have raised the taxes on Tara and are demanding an additional $300. The strategy is to raise taxes on the few remaining plantations so high that the owners can’t pay them and then to sell the land at sheriffs’ sales where northerners will use the opportunity to buy it up. Will has no suggestions on how to come up with the money; although Scarlett knows that Ashley has no money, she goes to him in the fields and explains the situation.

The result is a short period of reminiscing as Ashley recalls the times before the war and explains that he is afraid to face the new world without the traditions and beauty of the old, graceful south to which he belonged. Scarlett throws herself at him, begging him to run away with her. For a few moments, he succumbs to her pleas and kisses her, but then recovers his dignity and his reserve. When Scarlett realizes that he will die before being unfaithful to Melanie, she regains her own pride and promises that she will never throw herself at him again. She thinks that if she doesn’t have Ashley, she has nothing, but he presses a handful of clay into her hand and reminds her that she still has Tara, which is far dearer to her than any man.


Scarlett wants some sort of comfort from Ashley, perhaps a suggestion of where they might get the money or even an apology for not having such an idea. Ashley, however, has nothing to offer her and has a low opinion of even his own ability to help. In contrast to Will, Ashley has never engaged in even the simplest physical labor and is unfit to do anything but read books, discuss intellectual topics, and bask in the benefits of a big plantation. Scarlett's question, "What will become of us?" is answered with vague generalities. She wants to know how they will live at the moment, where they will get money to pay the taxes so they don't end up homeless, but he changes the subject to what will happen to the southern culture, to those who will be "winnowed out" because they have neither the brains nor the courage to adapt to a new life. She tries to bring him back to earth by telling him not to "talk nonsense" when they are the ones who will be "winnowed out," but he tells her he can't help her, that his own tendency to shrink from reality makes it even harder to face new realities that come along on a daily basis. His words excite Scarlett because he seems to be trying to truly share his thoughts with her, but she has no comprehension of what he is talking about.

Scarlett ends up comforting him, trying to tell him that they will figure something out. He sees no hope in their situation and begins talking about escape. Again she misunderstands him and takes him literally. For a few minutes, she would leave her family and Tara as well, to run away with him. At least he has his feet on the ground solidly enough to know that Melanie and Beau are a part of his reality and that he will not hurt them no matter how much he is attracted to Scarlett. It's little wonder that she spends most of her life believing that he really loved her in the first place. It seems that he does love her, but he loves his wife, too. He is a man caught between fantasy and reality. Melanie is a part of his dream, a part of the past life he wants to cling to, but at the same time, she is his reality. Scarlett represents a bold, practical, straightforward approach to life at any given moment. She is the one who sees the reality of their situation most clearly, but she is also his fantasy.



Scarlett arrives back at the house, the clay still in her hand, to see Jonas Wilkerson and Emily Slattery getting out of a coach and walking up to the front steps. Emily is dressed like a slut, flaunting her new wealth-acquired through her marriage to Wilkerson. Scarlett angrily tells them to get lost and deliberately insults Emily. Wilkerson tells her not to talk so to "his wife"; he claims they were making a neighborly visit and he had intended to offer a fair price for Tara, as Emily had always wanted to live there.

The identity of the person who wants Tara makes Scarlett even more desperate. She recalls Ashley’s words, that the only person he knows who has money is Rhett Butler. She pulls down her mother’s velvet curtains, and, after a good bit of persuasion, gets Mammy to help her make a new dress. Her strategy is to go to Atlanta, find Rhett and get him to marry her so she will have access to his money. Mammy agrees to help her make the dress, but insists on going to Atlanta with her. Ashley blames himself for driving Scarlett to that extreme. He admires her determination in ways that she herself would never understand.


Ashley blames himself, but it is actually the visit from the Wilkersons that pushes Scarlett into her trip to Atlanta. The very idea that Emmie Slattery, the "dirty, tow-headed slut...who had given typhoid to Ellen," might take Tara from her is more than she can endure. This is the final insult to Tara, and Scarlett tells herself that she would burn Tara to the ground before she would see it turned over to such scum.

Scarlett had thought that life would return to normal when the war was over, but in this chapter she realizes that for her and many of her people, the war will never be over. In fact, in many ways, the real fighting is just beginning. She feels that she has become a woman who has nothing to fear. Since Ashley has failed her, she no longer fears the loss of love or the stigma of public opinion. Her only fear is hunger, and she will stop at nothing to insure against it.

Scarlett underestimates Rhett, however. She thinks that if she goes to him "as a queen granting favors," he will fall for her. She forgets how quickly he responded to the needs of the people in Atlanta before the war, how generously he responds to a person who comes to him with sincerity. She thinks that she has to have the appearance of a well to do "lady" in order to get his interest. Since she does not love him, or thinks she doesn't, she believes she has to trick him into helping her.

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