By the beginning
of summer 1863, a series of battle victories for the Confederacy has led to
optimism in the South. But in July, news arrives in Atlanta that there has been
heavy fighting near a small town called Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. The women
of the town gather at the newspaper office to await news of their loved ones.
Among them are Scarlett and Melanie, who are both awaiting news of Ashley.
Rhett rides up, bringing casualty lists that he has obtained from headquarters,
and distributes them to the women. Scarlett, Melanie and Pittypat find that
Ashley has survived, but many families have lost someone. Dr and Mrs. Meade's
eldest son, Darcy, is one of the dead. The Meades' younger son, Phil, tries to
cheer his mother up by saying that he will join the army and kill the Yankees,
but Mrs. Meade desperately clutches his arm and says, "No!"
shocked to see that Brent and Stuart Tarleton, and their brother Thomas, have
all been killed. Their only other brother, Boyd, was killed in the first year
of the war. Rhett sympathizes with Scarlett, and says that the Confederate
leader General Lee must have lost the battle. He adds that more casualty lists
will arrive tomorrow, and Scarlett realizes that Ashley may still be killed.
At the Meades'
house, Melanie tells Scarlett that she longs to have a son with Ashley.
Scarlett critically thinks that Melanie does not have the figure to bear
children: her hips are extremely narrow and her breasts are flat.
loses the battle at Gettysburg. Near Christmas time, Ashley comes home on
leave. Now Major Ashley Wilkes, he is suntanned and leaner than he was, and
Scarlett finds him even more thrilling than before. She eagerly looks forward
to finding a minute to be alone with him, but to her annoyance, India, Honey
and Melanie follow him about constantly. As Ashley tours the house saying his
farewells, Scarlett finally gets her moment alone with him. She gives him a
going-away present, a yellow silk sash she has made from a shawl that Rhett had
given her. She confesses to him that she would do anything for him, and he
takes the opportunity to ask her to look after Melanie if he should be killed.
He tells her that he believes the Yankees will win the war, and that he has
only been talking optimistically to his family about the Confederate cause to
prevent them being frightened. He adds that the Confederate army is so short of
supplies that some of his men are barefooted in the snow. The Yankees, though,
are buying soldiers from Europe by the thousands.
promises to look after Melanie, and asks him to kiss her. As Scarlett pulls him
close, he kisses her passionately for an instant, but then suddenly tenses and
detaches her arms from his neck. She tells him that she has always loved him,
and only married Charles to hurt him. She asks him to admit that he loves her.
His face betraying a mixture of love for Scarlett, shame, and despair, Ashley
can only wish her goodbye. He leaves.
At the beginning
of 1864, nearly all of Tennessee is held by the Yankees. The people of the
South have come to distrust their leaders, and some of the state governors,
including Governor Brown of Georgia, are refusing to send state militia troops
and arms out of their borders. Confederate money has fallen in value again and
prices have soared. Atlanta ladies are lining their old dresses with rags and
newspaper to keep out the wind. The North is holding the South in a state of
siege. Few ships are able to slip past the blockade. The South can neither sell
nor buy goods. Gerald, unable to get his cotton to England, wonders how he will
feed his family and slaves through the winter.
As food and
clothing grow scarcer and more expensive, the public outcry against the
speculators becomes ever more venomous. Rhett has sold his boats because
blockading has become too dangerous, and is now openly speculating in food.
hardships, Scarlett is happy because she knows that Ashley loves her. But in
March, Scarlett is devastated to learn that Melanie is pregnant. The following
day, a letter arrives saying that Ashley is missing, believed captured.
One day, Melanie
faints while waiting at the telegraph office waiting for news of Ashley. Rhett
brings her home and promises that he will try to find out what has happened to
Ashley. Rhett discovers that Ashley is at Rock Island prison camp in Illinois.
Conditions are known to be especially harsh there. Rhett reveals that the
Yankees are recruiting men to fight the Native Americans from among the
Confederate prisoners. If Ashley had taken the oath of allegiance to the
Yankees, he would have been released and sent West. But Ashley refused.
Scarlett says she cannot understand why he did not take the oath and then
desert and come home, but Melanie angrily insists that Ashley would never do
such a thing. Scarlett asks Rhett if he would have done this, and Rhett agrees
that he would. When Scarlett asks why Ashley did not, Rhett replies
contemptuously that he is too much of a gentleman.
As the war
continues, the South's lack of self-sufficiency brings it close to crisis
point. Lacking a manufacturing base and prevented by the blockades from selling
its cotton abroad, it rapidly declines from extraordinary wealth into abject
poverty. Unlike the North, which is wealthy enough to buy soldiers from Europe,
the South cannot replace the men it has lost. Rhett's words at the Wilkes'
barbecue - that all the South has is cotton and arrogance - have proved to be
blockade-running in favor of speculating in food reinforces Rhett's status as a
social pariah. The public outcry against speculators becomes increasingly
venomous. The South is portrayed in this novel as a victim of unscrupulous
speculators and profiteers, though Mitchell clearly shows the naivet´┐Ż of the
South's leaders in not considering the region's economic vulnerability before
seceding from the industrializing North and then taking it into a disastrous
war. Conspicuously absent from this picture of the South as victim, however, is
any moral critique of the South's almost total reliance on a slave economy at a
time when slavery was viewed as unacceptable over much of the United States and
by every other advanced nation.
There is great
irony in Scarlett's continuing attachment to Ashley in spite of her obvious
similarity to Rhett. She passionately tells Ashley that she still loves him,
and his looks and actions suggest that he returns her love. But when Rhett
reveals that Ashley could have bought his freedom by betraying the Confederacy,
Scarlett echoes Rhett's New Southern attitude: both would take the path of self-interest.
Melanie, on the other hand, like Ashley, is of the Old South and could never
contemplate such a dishonorable action. We see clearly that Ashley was correct
in saying that he and Melanie are alike and understand each other; and we are
frustrated that Scarlett does not see that she is far better suited to Rhett
than to Ashley.
there is something unattractively dishonest about Ashley, in love and in war.
The fact that he fights in a war that he does not believe in, may, as Melanie
claims, be construed as noble; but the fact that he fails to marry the woman he
cares most deeply about (Scarlett), yet kisses her behind his wife's back and
then sneaks off guiltily without quite managing to confess his love, is
decidedly ignoble. He comes across as unworthy of both women and compares
unfavorably to the brutally honest Rhett.
In extracting a
promise from Scarlett that she will look after Melanie, Ashley unwittingly
forces her to consider someone else's welfare other than her own. Naturally, Scarlett
only agrees to look after Melanie, whom she dislikes and resents, because she
loves Ashley. But it could be said that Scarlett's love for Ashley is itself
the beginning of her journey beyond narrow self-interest.