Gone with the Wind | Study Guide

Margaret Mitchell

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Gone with the Wind | Part 4, Chapters 45–46 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 45

Frank seems to take Scarlett's attack very calmly, and she is furious when he heads off to his regular political meeting, leaving her at Melanie's. She wants people to fuss over her, but Melanie and India seem strangely tense. Rhett shows up at their door, demanding to know where "they"—Frank and Ashley—have gone and saying it's a life-or-death situation. Melanie tells him where to find the men; after Rhett leaves she tells Scarlett the truth about their "political meeting": Frank and Ashley and the others are all part of the Klan, and they're planning to kill the two men who attacked Scarlett. Rhett learned the Yankees are planning to arrest or kill all the Klan members they can find. Scarlett makes it clear she is terrified—above all for her store's safety and then for Ashley's life; she doesn't even mention Frank.

As the women confront their fears, Yankee soldiers show up at the door. They ask for Ashley and Frank; when told the men aren't home, the soldiers wait for them to return. The women sew, and Melanie reads aloud from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables (1862). Scarlett pays no attention; she is too busy thinking it will be her fault if Ashley and Frank die.

Loud, drunken singing interrupts them. Rhett, Ashley, and another man come stumbling in. Rhett and Melanie act out an argument, and Rhett "admits" the men were at Belle Watling's house of prostitution. When the Yankees leave, the women discover Ashley was shot. Scarlett asks about Frank, and Rhett finally says he is dead—shot through the head.

Chapter 46

Rhett's scheme saves the day, and the Klansmen are freed. Belle Watling is particularly persuasive in court, and the Yankees take great pleasure in laughing at the high and mighty Confederate women whose husbands supposedly meet at Belle's every week.

Belle shows up outside Melanie's house that night. Melanie had written her a thank-you note, and Belle wants Melanie to know they cannot be seen as friendly because it will spoil Rhett's plan. Belle says she lied for Melanie's sake; she hasn't forgotten Melanie's kindness. Belle says she did nothing for Scarlett's sake, though Melanie tries to defend Scarlett.

Analysis

A minor detail—Melanie reading Les Misérables—says a lot about Southerners' views in Gone with the Wind. Victor Hugo's 1862 novel tells the story of Jean Valjean, who is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child. After 19 years in prison, Valjean is freed, but for the rest of the—very long—novel he is pursued by a police officer who wants to put him back in jail. Valjean does numerous good deeds and even saves people's lives, but to the authorities he is always a criminal. Melanie, India, and the other Southerners see the Klan as a group of Jean Valjeans, righting wrongs and being persecuted for their good deeds. Needless to say, this is a gross misrepresentation of the real Klan, even if "good" men like Frank and Ashley are involved.

Rhett's scheme is a success, but he manages to make most of the men resent him, thanks to his story about Belle Watley. True to his nature, Rhett seems to enjoy making himself an outsider: even when he does something that could endear him to Southern society, he can't resist irritating people.

Once again Melanie proves herself a remarkable woman. She plays right along with Rhett's scheme, which saves Ashley's life, but she also defends Scarlett to India and later to Belle. Melanie is fiercely loyal, even to lost causes like the Confederacy—and Scarlett.

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