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Free Study Guide - Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

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BOOK SUMMARY FOR GONE WITH THE WIND

CHAPTER 53

Summary

Scarlett has a long awaited understanding with Ashley, but India and Mrs. Elsing appear at the wrong moment and misunderstand the situation. Melanie is planning a birthday party for Ashley. Since Scarlett has to ride to the mills with paychecks anyway, Melanie asks her to hold Ashley there until India and Mrs. Elsing come for him. Ashley sees through the ruse as all the men have already clued him in on the surprise, but he and Scarlett begin talking about old times. He reminds her of the way their lives used to be, and Scarlett realizes that nothing has turned out as she had planned. In fact, she doesn’t even feel the passion she thought she had for Ashley. Her feeling seems to be just a warm and soothing friendship. She begins to cry and Ashley wraps his arms around her in comfort. At that moment, India and Mrs. Elsing appear.

Scarlett tries to skip the party, but Rhett-who also believes she was throwing herself at Ashley, forces her to attend. In spite of her dread, Scarlett’s dignity is saved when Melanie greets her at the door and keeps her at her side during the entire party. She tries to explain that she really wasn’t doing anything wrong, for once, but Rhett will not listen. For herself, she has just realized that she was in love with a fantasy all along, a fantasy into which she had inserted Ashley Wilkes.

Notes

Scarlett's emotions become very complicated here. She thinks that she simply doesn't love Ashley and never did. However, I believe that he was the one she really did love, even if he was part of a fantasy. The reason she feels no emotion now is because both of them have changed so drastically. She has become hard and businesslike, no longer interested in playing the coquette. He is no longer the dashing young son of a plantation owner, but is a beaten man, the last of his own kind; before the onslaught of overwhelming change, he is helpless and resigned. He is an example of the same weakness she thought she had seen in Charles and Frank, but she had misread them. Ashley's weakness is real; Scarlett's strength and determination puts her in a world so far from Ashley that she never could love what he has become.

The irony of this situation is that when she finally got Ashley alone for a heart to heart talk, all the passion was gone. The embrace seen by India and Mrs. Elsing was nothing more than brotherly comfort. Because Rhett knows of her lifelong fantasy for Ashley, he immediately assumes that a romantic moment was interrupted. When he begins insulting her, she stiffens her own resolve and refuses to dignify his insults with explanation.


CHAPTER 54

Summary


Following the party, Rhett berates Scarlet for chasing Ashley after kicking her own husband out of her bed. She tries to explain, but he won’t hear it, and after a few moments of his insults, she no longer cares to explain. He tells her that he has always loved her and has been waiting for her to return his love. Finally he carries her off to bed and makes savage love to her. She responds with equal passion, but in the morning her bed is empty. She clings to his claims of love, but after two days decides that it was all a lie. When he does come home, he gives her only a casual hello and a sarcastic apology for his behavior. She vows to keep her door locked in the future. Rhett takes Bonnie and leaves for a trip to New Orleans.

Notes

Once again, Scarlett would return Rhett's love, but his own misunderstanding prevents reconciliation between them.


CHAPTER 55

Summary

Scarlett visits Melanie, intending to explain the incident with Ashley and to tell her the whole truth of her long fantasized love affair with him. However, Melanie refuses any explanation and clearly does not believe there was ever anything other than sisterly love between her sister-in-law and her husband. Melanie has accused India of inventing lies and has kicked her out of the house. She calls on the rest of her lady friends and insists that Scarlett go with her. In the end it becomes a scandal that splits the entire town, half siding with India, the other half with Melanie. Most people have no idea whether Scarlett is truly guilty, but they don’t want to lose Melanie’s friendship. Scarlett herself is well aware of and deeply humiliated by the fact that if she did not have Melanie’s support, the whole town would be against her, and she would be an outcast.

Notes

Melanie shields herself with her refusal to believe anything bad about Scarlett. One almost feels as if she knew the truth, but protected them both with her own denial. This is one humiliation that Scarlett cannot walk away from with a haughty, I-don't-care, attitude. The town disapproves of her anyway, so how much worse could it be? The fact that she goes along with Melanie is an indication of the strength of Melanie's character as well as a demonstration that Scarlett does indeed care what her people think of her.


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