Gone with the Wind | Study Guide

Margaret Mitchell

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Gone with the Wind | Part 3, Chapters 17–18 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 17

The Confederates are losing the war. Food is scarce; the hospitals are overflowing. One day Scarlett simply can't stand hospital work anymore and walks out. On the street Rhett spots her and offers her a ride in his carriage. They encounter a group of slaves, including some from Tara, who are digging embankments for the Confederate army to defend Atlanta against the Yankees. Scarlett is frightened and displays her ignorance of history and current events. Rhett finds this amusing; he starts to tease her, and they end up discussing why he never tries to kiss her. He insists she's too young for proper kissing and says he is waiting until she is no longer in love with Ashley. Furious, she gets down from his carriage and vows never to speak to him again.

Chapter 18

Young boys and old men must go fight now. Scarlett sees Ashley's father, John Wilkes, for a brief moment; he seems to understand he himself will not survive the war. Later in the chapter Scarlett finds out he is right. The Confederates retreat into Atlanta. Yankee soldiers lay siege to the city and move past it, attacking areas closer to Tara. Many people flee Atlanta, but Melanie is now too far along in her pregnancy, and far too frail, to move. Aunt Pittypat leaves the city, but Scarlett, bound by her promise to Ashley to care for Melanie, must stay put.

Analysis

The war is now more real and more painful for Scarlett. Ashley is imprisoned, and his father dies in battle. Field slaves from Tara are digging protective earthworks around Atlanta. The danger is coming closer, and Scarlett cannot leave.

Scarlett demonstrates her ignorance repeatedly in these chapters. She often repeats what she's heard others say with little understanding. When Rhett or others refer to historical events, she doesn't know why those events matter. However, she does finally get an answer to why Rhett never kisses her: he sees her as a child, and he is waiting for her to lose interest in Ashley. Scarlett is heartily offended by both comments, but Rhett, once again, has spoken nothing but the truth.

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