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PLOT SYNOPSIS AND ANALYSIS
Scarlett faces the repercussions of her night of dancing. Although Aunt Pittypat thinks her behavior utterly scandalous, Melanie, to Scarlett’s chagrin, defends her and says that perhaps they have been selfish in their grief and ought to begin getting out more.
A little slave boy brings Melanie a package, which Pittypat at first interprets as a note that Ashley is dead. Instead it is Melanie’s wedding ring, redeemed for ten times its value by Rhett Butler and returned to her with a note complimenting her for her courage. The gesture wins Melanie’s heart and convinces her that Rhett is a gentleman after all and must be invited to Sunday dinner. Scarlett thinks that an invitation to dinner was his primary motive for redeeming the ring.
Scarlett receives a severe letter from her mother followed by a visit from her father who is supposed to return with her to Tara. He intends to have a talk with Butler first, and ends up getting drunk and gambling away $500. Butler brings him home and helps Scarlett get him into the house and onto a settee in the parlor. The next morning, she taunts her father with his "disgraceful behavior" and promises not to tell her mother about it if he will leave her in Atlanta and tell Ellen that the stories of Scarlett’s behavior were nothing but the gossip of a couple of old biddies.
This chapter foreshadows the growth of a quiet, but powerful friendship between Melanie and Rhett. The fact that the most noble character in the book likes the "rogue" validates our own fondness for him.
As the previous chapter suggested, we can't help but like him as he uses his influence to protect the people he is interested in. He returned Melanie's ring because he could see how it tortured her to donate it and that she genuinely loved her husband. However, he donated far more for the ring than it was worth and toward the cause in which he himself did not believe. He also acts to protect Scarlett from having to return to Tara when he deliberately gets her father drunk. Once Scarlett has something to hold over her father, she can get her own way. She and her father both fear Ellen's wrath.
Scarlett snoops into a packet of letters Ashley has written to Melanie. Melanie generally shares portions of the letters with the family, but it is the parts she doesn’t read that torment Scarlett. By this time she has been surreptitiously reading the letters for so long that it doesn’t bother her conscience. She seeks information that would reveal that Ashley still loves her, or at the very least, that he doesn’t love his wife. He addresses Melanie as "my dear," not honey or darling, which seems comfortingly formal to Scarlett. In this latest letter, he talks primarily about the war, reminding Melanie of the tall stranger at the barbecue who had predicted that the south would lose. Ashley says they have been betrayed into thinking that one or two of them could whip a dozen Yankees, and that war is nothing like the boys had thought it would be. His dread of losing irritates Scarlett; she returns the letters in anticipation of a better one on another day.
It seems that Scarlett has no conscience when it comes to gleaning information for herself. She thinks she has found proof that Ashley really doesn't love his wife, but is too shallow to see that he is actually sharing his deepest feelings in his letters to her. Ashley is a symbol of a lifestyle and will never change. He participates in the war but he doesn't believe in the war or in the southern cause. He believes, like Rhett, that the south is doomed to lose and wishes they had listened to him instead of to the statesmen who predicted an easy victory. He also realizes that whether the south wins or loses, they will lose the easy, lazy, slow lifestyle of which he was a part. These are concerns that he could not share with his comrades or with anyone that he did not trust completely.
The war continues with Confederate money becoming scarce and goods becoming higher in price. Scarlett works at the hospital and occasionally visits Tara for short periods. Her mother has gotten thin and worn and has little time for pleasantries with her daughters.
Back in Atlanta, Scarlett is forced to entertain Rhett Butler regularly as he makes frequent visits to Miss Pittypat’s home. She is jealous of the gentle way in which Rhett treats Melanie, but he scoffs at Scarlett’s anger. Melanie, he says, is one of the few great ladies he has ever known and is also kind, sincere and unselfish.
Because of the war, traditionally formalities are frequently modified. Girls get the opportunities to talk with people they could never ordinarily be seen with, and even Rhett enjoys a temporary acceptance in Atlanta. He is running Yankee blockades and bringing goods they can get in no other way, yet he deliberately insults southern sensibilities at every opportunity. He finally gets himself thrown out of respectable homes when, at a musical put on by the Elsings, he makes an offhand comment about the "cause" of the south. When Willie Guinan of the militia and Dr. Meade challenge him on whether the cause of the south is "sacred," he tells them that all wars are sacred to those who start them and those who have to fight them, but in reality wars are fought over money squabbles. Later, on the way home, Mrs. Merriwether blames Miss Pittypat for harboring Rhett who ultimately spoiled their party. Mrs. Merriwether virtually orders Pittypat and the girls to refuse to entertain or even speak to him. Melanie, however, defends him, saying she will not be rude to him and will not forbid him to enter their house. Melanie acknowledges that Rhett should have kept his words to himself at the party, but she cannot forbid her house to a man who has the same thoughts as her husband. As Mrs. Merriwether fumes and sputters, Melanie explains that Ashley has said they should not be fighting the Yankees, that statesmen and orators mouthing catchwords and prejudices betrayed them into it.
As Scarlett listens to Melanie, the real meaning of the letter she had read dawns on her. She finds it surprising that someone as perfect and noble as Ashley could have the same ideas as Rhett. The difference is that while both men see the truth of the war, Ashley is willing to die for the cause anyway, and Rhett isn’t. To her, that shows Rhett’s good sense. "Rhett could look people in the face and enrage people by sharing his views on the war while Ashley could hardly bear to face it."
Scarlett admires Rhett's perfect physique, noting that "it's almost as if I'm in love with him." This foreshadows a future relationship with him even though she never slows down or allows herself to think deeply enough to actually understand her own feelings for him.
Rhett continuously returns good for evil. He is so charming that the ladies cannot resist him in spite of his reputation, and if he would just keep his thoughts to himself, he could be the most popular figure in Atlanta. He demonstrates his ability to do almost anything for even those who disapprove of him when he supplies yards of satin and lace to Maybelle Merriwether for her wedding gown, and does it "in honor of one of our heroes" so the Merriwether's can't refuse it.