It is time for another check-in for our read-along of Gone With the Wind, originally hosted by Corinne. I am filling in for her today, and the next check-in, on July 25, will be hosted by Brona.
If you don’t want to know what happens in Chapters 41 through 50, stop reading now.
After Gerald’s funeral and the wedding of Will and Suellen, Scarlett returns to Atlanta with Melly and Ashley. Melanie quickly becomes the most popular woman among the Old Guard in Atlanta, but Ashley proves to be a poor manager of Scarlett’s mill. Scarlett gives birth to a baby girl and itches to get back to work. But Frank won’t let her drive around alone, so she employs Archie, an old Confederate soldier, as bodyguard. When Scarlett learns that Georgia has refused to ratify a Constitution granting citizenship to former slaves, she knows that the Yankees will make life even more miserable. She decides to lease prisoners to work at her mills, much to the outrage of her fellow Southerners. Things get worse when she is attacked by a two men, one of them black, on the way back home from the mill. Consequently, the men of the Old Guard go out to revenge Scarlett, and in the ensuing fight, Frank is killed. Only with the help of Rhett and Belle do the men avoid being arrested by the Yankees. Scarlett is heartbroken to realize that she caused Frank’s death. But when Rhett proposes to her, she accepts and a few months later, they are married. Scarlett starts to enjoy the lavish life she has always wished for, once again completely ignoring what others think and say about her. She has a second daughter, and all of Atlanta is surprised and amused by how much the child means to Rhett. Thoughts About Scarlett
Boy, does Scarlett ever push the boundaries in this part. In the previous ten chapters, I admired her independence and business spirit. In this part, her stubborn side emerges again. Her mills are making money, but it is not enough for her. She is smart enough to see how much the Yankees are controlling life in Atlanta, and her fear of losing everything and being poor again drive her relentlessly. She completely ignores the advice of the people around her, although it is not surprising that she completely ignores them. It is only when she realizes that all the men she knows are part of the Ku Klux Klan and that she is responsible for the death of two of them that she feels some remorse. What bad timing that Rhett comes along at exactly the moment she finally does some soul-searching. He knows exactly what to say to make her feel better again, which is nice of course, but nips the beginning of some personal growth in the bud. No matter how I feel about Scarlett, it is obvious that she and Rhett are right for each other—and so dangerous to each other at the same time. Their constant need to one-up each other can only mean trouble.
There is such a contrast between Scarlett and Melanie in these chapters. Scarlett is self-centered and adventurous, readily throwing the old way of doing things overboard if the new way of doing things will mean personal gain for her. Melanie is the complete opposite. She embodies the pre-war way of life of the South. I don’t think it ever enters her mind to change the way she does things ever so slightly. It is not surprising that she quickly becomes the heart and soul of the Old Guard. She is patriotic and traditional, but she has a spine of steel. She never waivers in her support for Scarlett, supports her by sending her Archie, and has no trouble deceiving the Yankees when she needs to lie in order to save Ashley, Rhett, and the other Ku Klux Klan members. While she is conventional in her way of life, she is fair in her treatment of others and has no problem putting people in their places. She is in all respects beyond reproach (except that she doesn’t consider black people as equal either).
The portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan continues to be very problematic for me. Granted, in its beginning, this might have been some kind of benevolent society, but by the time Mitchell wrote the book, she must have known that it was a group of people mostly made up by racist vigilantes. I also have trouble with the argument that Mitchell shows how class barriers broke down after the war. It is true that both Will and Archie can move into a society they would have never been welcomed into before the war, but most other characters who do not belong to the Old Guard remain sketchy. Likewise, the only black characters who are developed are those former slaves who decided to stay with their owners. I still haven’t seen a “good Yankee” or a “bad genteel Southerner.” While I continue to enjoy the historical aspect of life in Atlanta after the war, I cannot look at this book presenting a complete picture.
And oh, the toxic relationship that is Scarlett and Rhett. As I continue to care less and less for Ashley, I want to like Rhett, but isn’t he just such a smooth talker? I feel that he is toying with me just like he is toying with everyone else (except for Melanie). As I said, he is perfect for Scarlett in that he is able to tell her exactly what he thinks about her and is not blinded by her flirting. But you know they are headed for disaster, as neither one wants to admit any kind of weakness.
Finally: Favorite Quotes
“My pet, the world can forgive practically anything except people who mind their own business. But why should you squall like a scalded cat? You’ve said often enough that you didn’t mind what people say about you. Why not prove it?” (Rhett to Scarlett during their honeymoon)
“[Scarlett] could not look down on him from the heights of womanly superiority, smiling as women have always smiled at the antics of men who are boys at heart. This annoyed her a little, whenever she thought of it. It would be pleasant to feel superior to Rhett. All the other men she had known she could dismiss with a half-contemptuous “What a child!” (…) Only Ashley and Rhett eluded her understanding and her control for they were both adults, and the elements of boyishness were lacking in them. She did not understand, nor did she trouble to understand him….”
My question for you, dear read-alongers: Did Ashley make the right decision going to Atlanta with Scarlett? Did he have a choice?