Course Hero. "Gone with the Wind Study Guide." Course Hero. 13 July 2017. Web. 14 May 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Gone-with-the-Wind/>.
Course Hero. (2017, July 13). Gone with the Wind Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 14, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Gone-with-the-Wind/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Gone with the Wind Study Guide." July 13, 2017. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Gone-with-the-Wind/.
Course Hero, "Gone with the Wind Study Guide," July 13, 2017, accessed May 14, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Gone-with-the-Wind/.
After Bonnie's death, everything is wrong. Scarlett is depressed; Rhett is even more so. Rhett begins drinking heavily and can no longer hold his liquor. Scarlett believes he spends much of his time at Belle's.
Because Scarlett conceals how much she grieves for Bonnie, people think she is cold and heartless compared to Rhett. Scarlett realizes how few people she has to talk to these days; even Mammy has asked to go back to Tara. Only Melanie, Ashley, and Aunt Pittypat will visit her, and Rhett will barely speak to her. Scarlett is alone.
Scarlett is in Marietta when she gets a telegram from Rhett saying Melanie is very sick. Scarlett, realizing how much she values Melanie, races home. Rhett meets her at the station and says Melanie was pregnant and had a miscarriage. She is dying.
Scarlett is devastated; she considers how central Melanie has been to her life, how many times she leaned on Melanie through the years. When Melanie asks for her, Scarlett is allowed into the sickroom. Melanie asks her to care for Beau and Ashley after she is gone. Scarlett promises and then says goodbye. She realizes Melanie, like Scarlett's own mother, was a quiet source of strength and goodness, and she grieves for her loss.
Scarlett seeks out Ashley, hoping he can console her, but he is equally distraught. Scarlett, finally awakening to the truth, asks why he didn't appreciate Melanie when he had her. She says Ashley may have wanted Scarlett for her body, but he really loved Melanie. Ashley's face tells her she's right. Now Scarlett understands she never really loved Ashley at all; she loved her idea of him, and that idea bore no semblance to reality. Now she is responsible for Ashley because she promised Melanie she would take care of him. Except for that promise, she thinks bitterly, "I wouldn't care if I never saw him again."
Melanie's is the only deathbed scene in a book with many deaths, and there is a purpose in that. Losing Melanie wakes Scarlett up to some hard truths. It also reopens old wounds. Scarlett never got to say goodbye to Ellen, her mother, and barely had time to grieve; Melanie's death is like losing Ellen all over again.
Her death should not come as a shock, either to Scarlett or the reader. She seemed frail, Beau's birth was difficult, and doctors warned her against having another child. Yet despite all these well-established facts, Melanie's death is a shock. Like a parent, Melanie has been ever-present since the novel's early chapters. And Scarlett and others have relied on her without realizing it.
Often in literature a parent's death serves as a catalyst, causing a character to grow up. Scarlett grows a bit when her mother dies and Gerald, her father, loses his mind, but she evolves further when Melanie dies. Now she is responsible for Beau and Ashley, though Ashley seems to weigh on her mind far more heavily. Once again, as in the bad years back at Tara, Scarlett must be responsible for weaker people. But this time she will do it without Melanie's help.
When Scarlett finally realizes she doesn't love Ashley, it's no real surprise to the reader. All along Scarlett's feelings for Ashley have seemed shallow, based largely on her imagination. She had a crush on Ashley, like a teenager might have on an actor or a singer. Now, for the first time, Scarlett resents Ashley for the ways he has failed her, Melanie, and himself. Rhett has suggested as much for years, and Scarlett always hotly defended Ashley. Now she realizes Rhett was right.