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Free Study Guide - Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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In June Scarlett returns home to Tara, having received word that her father has died. Will meets her at Jonesboro and on the way home tells her that he wants to marry Suellen and that Carreen-who never got over the death of her beau-intends to join a convent. He also startles her with the news that Ashley is considering moving north to get work for himself, thereby getting away from the charity of living at Tara.

Will tells Scarlett the story of her fatherís death. Suellen had discovered, via Hilton, that the Yankees were paying union sympathizers for claims on destroyed property. A person had only to take the "iron clad oath" that he did not serve in the confederate army or support them in any way and he would receive as much as 150,000 dollars in cash. Suellen, who longs for fine dresses and a carriage of her own, spends weeks trying to talk her father into signing the oath. Eventually he agrees and she takes him to Jonesboro. There, after she primes him with brandy, he almost signs the paper. However, Suellen makes the mistake of revealing that Hilton and the Slatterys have also signed. Gerald seems for a few moments like his old self as he tears up the paper and throws it in Suellenís face. He mounts the first horse he sees at the rail and rides home at a dead run, but at the fence, the horse balks rather than jumping. Gerald is thrown and killed instantly.


The behavior of Scarlett and that of Suellen are seen in sharp contrast. Both girls are willing to do anything for money, but Scarlett's desperation is to save her home and to keep her family from being hungry. Suellen imagines that Scarlett has a fine carriage and new clothes, and that she got them through stealing a husband. Suellen is in competition, wanting a carriage for herself. She does not intend to kill her father; rather, she is attempting to take advantage of his weak state of mind. She thinks that her father will not remember signing the oath, and that it won't make any difference to him anyway as he is an immigrant himself and did not actually aid the Confederate army. It doesn't turn out the way she planned, however. Her father is more firmly attached to the plantation he built than she realizes. Through his own work, he has become a proud southern plantation owner, and even in his feeble state, he has not lost that pride. He will not do anything that would have his name listed with the Slatterys and MacIntoshes.



The community around Tara gathers for Gerald's funeral. Ashley and Will anticipate trouble because of a custom of "speaking over the grave," a tradition that gives anyone present a chance to say anything they want about the departed individual. Usually such speakings are eulogistic, but occasionally people have taken advantage of the opportunity to vent their own anger or to say things that are misunderstood by the family of the deceased. In this case, they are quite sure that Mrs. Tarleton and Grandma Fontaine are both just waiting their chance to lash out against Suellen, especially as they have already been glaring at her, and most have refused to speak to her.

Ashley and Will make arrangements between them to prevent Suellen from being hurt. Ashley conducts the funeral service, blending Catholic and protestant prayers in such a way that the people aren't sure when he is finished. Careen, who has become devoutly Catholic recognizes that Ashley has not followed the script which she provided for him, but when he launches into and eloquent Epicopalian burial recitation, the Baptists and Methodists who are there all think that he is using a Catholic ceremony. Only Careen knows that a "devoutly Catholic Irishman is laid to rest by the Church of England's service."

As soon as Ashley asks if anyone would like to speak a word, Will jumps forward, claiming that it is his right to speak because in only another month or two he would have been able to refer to Gerald as 'Pa." The people think he is speaking of marrying Careen, so he gets a quick surprised reaction when he announces that he is going to marry Suellen, but he pretends not to notice. He describes Gerald in the most practical terms, saying that he was a fighter and a gentleman who could not be defeated by any force from the outside. Rather it was his own heart that destroyed him as he had no will left once Mrs. O'Hara was gone. Will explains that the people have the same weakness that Gerald had, although in different ways. Each of them can stand indomitably against outside forces but can be destroyed from the inside out by clinging too desperately to a world and a time that is gone forever.

Following his speech, Will says that no more words will be said over the grave because the family is too tired to hear it, and it won't do Gerald any good either. Then he quickly turns to Mrs. Tarleton and asks her to help get Scarlett and Grandma Fontaine out of the hot sun. Scarlett is embarrassed by having attention called to her pregnancy, but Grandma Fontaine sees through the ruse and knows that Will's action was to prevent them from speaking out against Suellen. She speaks admiringly of him, and also compliments Scarlett for her practical way of looking at life. Grandma does not exactly approve of Will and Suellen marrying, for Suellen is marrying well below her class, but at the same time, she knows that Suellen needs a husband and Tara needs someone who can take care of it. She and Scarlett talk about some of the other people in the community, Grandma pointing out those who were not able to recover and make something of their lives after the war. She includes Ashley in her remarks, saying that he was bred for books and nothing else, and that although he is a fine man, he is as helpless as a turtle on his back. Grandma believes that if Ashley survives, it will be because Melanie pulls them through; Scarlett calls Melanie a ninny and is unable to see how the sickly, easily frightened Melanie will ever be able to accomplish anything.


Although she isn't capable of hearing the echo in Grandma Fontaine's words, Scarlett herself sees the difference between those who survived the war and those who didn't. At the funeral, she notes the dirty, unkempt appearance of Cathleen Hilton particularly. She realizes that she and Cathleen had been left on equal footing after the war, both of them with nothing more than empty hands and their individual intelligence. Scarlett calls it "gumption," but realizes that if she hadn't held onto Tara and stood up to Yankees and anyone else who opposed her, she would be no better off than Cathleen. The paper thin division between "quality folks" and poor whites has never been more apparent.

Grandma also validates Scarlett's approach to life. She tells her to bend with the wind when it's necessary, but that the survivors spring back up when the wind has gone past, play along with the lesser folks and take what they can get from them. But eventually, she says, they kick the folks whose necks they've climbed over. She is referring indirectly to Scarlett's dealings with the Yankees in Atlanta. She tells her to "go for it," to get every cent out of them she can, but when the Yankees can serve her no longer, to "kick them in the face... and do it properly, for trash hanging onto your coattails can ruin you."

Scarlett's mistake, and the difference between her and Grandma Fontaine, is that Scarlett uses not only her enemies to her own ends, but also takes advantage of those who would try to love her, manipulating people to get whatever she wants regardless of the cost.

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