Gone with the Wind | Study Guide

Margaret Mitchell

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Gone with the Wind | Part 5, Chapter 53 | Summary



Melanie is hosting a surprise party for Ashley's birthday. She asks Scarlett to go down to the mill and delay Ashley so he doesn't come home too early. Scarlett is delighted to do so. When she gets there, she learns Ashley already knows about the party but is playing along to make Melanie happy.

Scarlett feels more friendly warmth than passion toward Ashley, which startles her. She even can understand some of what he is thinking. When the two talk about the old days, Scarlett feels sad and starts to cry. To comfort her, Ashley puts his arms around her. There is nothing romantic about the gesture. Scarlett thinks, "it was good to be in his arms, without passion ... as a loved friend." However, Ashley's sister, India, sees them from the doorway and gets a very different idea.

Ashley tells Scarlett to leave; she heads home feeling embarrassed and upset. She knows everyone will believe the worst one and will take pleasure in humiliating her. This is especially true of India. But Scarlett worries most about what Melanie will think.

She retires to her room and pleads a headache, but Rhett confronts her. He knows what happened between Scarlett and Ashley; he is furious and cold but won't allow her to explain. He insists she must attend Ashley's party with him, and so she does, bracing herself to be treated badly. But Melanie greets her with a determined look in her eye and says India was unable to come to the party. Melanie invites Scarlett to stand with her and receive people all night long.


It has finally happened. Scarlett has been headed for this moment since the start of the novel. At times she even fantasized about what would happen if she could get "caught" with Ashley. Yet now she and Ashley are being punished for one of the least romantic moments in their relationship.

When Scarlett goes to see Ashley, she's surprised to find she feels friendly toward him. Maybe she is not in love with him anymore. For a change Scarlett can follow Ashley's thoughts because she is not trying to force him into her "hero" mold. As they share memories, Scarlett begins to reflect on what she has lost—things she swore not to think of again. It's plain there is nothing wrong in what they are doing. But because of their past feelings, they react guiltily when they are "caught."

Scarlett's first worry is for herself, which is unsurprising. Her second thought is for Melanie, which is unexpected. Scarlett worries dreadfully about Melanie's reaction before she even thinks of Rhett.

Rhett reacts as expected. He knows how much guilt lies between Scarlett and Ashley. He forces her to attend the party—to punish her or to prevent any more damage to Bonnie's reputation, or both—and she does so. But Melanie greets her and makes it clear she has once again taken Scarlett's side against the world, even if Scarlett doesn't deserve it.

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