Gone with the Wind | Study Guide

Margaret Mitchell

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Gone with the Wind | Part 3, Chapter 23 | Summary

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Summary

Atlanta is on fire as the Confederates destroy their supplies rather than let the Yankees have them. Rhett arrives, driving a broken-down wagon with an emaciated and feeble horse, all he could find. When he tries to stop Scarlett from going to Tara, she becomes hysterical. Rhett comforts her so gently she almost can't believe it's him. He and Scarlett and Prissy get Melanie, Wade, and the new baby into the wagon, and they set off toward Tara. They pass a small band of Confederate soldiers. Rhett grows thoughtful after watching an exhausted young boy who collapses in the road but still insists he can fight.

After Rhett gets them out of town, he announces he is leaving to join the army. Scarlett is furious, but Rhett sweeps her into his arms, tells her he loves her, and begins kissing her. No one else's kisses have ever affected her like Rhett's. Then Wade's cries bring her back to reality, and she slaps Rhett in the face. As he leaves, Scarlett leans on the horse and cries.

Analysis

Rhett's tenderness toward Scarlett surprises her, though it makes sense. Scarlett is only a teenager, after all, and Rhett is old enough to be her father. He understands her fear and admires her determination, even if he thinks she is crazy to try to get home to Tara. Scarlett is grateful for his presence because he makes her feel safe. Until now Rhett largely has been portrayed as dangerous and piratical: now he seems safe compared to the war's overwhelming dangers.

Rhett's other unexpected gesture in this chapter is more complicated. Scarlett can't understand why he wants to volunteer for the Confederate army now, and Rhett doesn't offer much explanation. The reader is left to puzzle out his decision alone.

When the soldiers first cross their path, Rhett jeers at them. But when the young soldier collapses and then is determined to continue, Rhett's attitude changes. The young soldier symbolizes the gallantry and courage of the South, even on the losing side of the war. The South put itself on the wrong page of history by attempting to maintain slavery, but many Southerners undeniably fought bravely to defend what they saw as their rights.

Rhett mentions his "quixoticism," a reference to the novel Don Quixote (published in two parts, 1605 and 1615), by Miguel de Cervantes. Quixote is an elderly man who thinks he is a knight, and he rides off into the countryside attempting to do good deeds, such as attacking "giants"—which are, in fact, windmills. The word quixotic thus means "unrealistically or foolishly idealistic." It is not a word one would associate with Rhett up until this point.

Rhett's decision suggests—despite all his advice to Scarlett—he can't entirely disregard his upbringing. His passionate declaration to Scarlett shows a romantic side, even though he laughs at her and at himself for it. Until this point Rhett was an interesting character but somewhat one-dimensional. He now reveals unanticipated depths in his character, guaranteeing he will continue to fascinate Scarlett—and largely dominate the action of the novel.

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