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BOOK SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS
Ashley comes home for a short furlough right before Christmas of 1863. Cade Calvert, two of the Monroe boys and the Fontaines come home with him. Scarlett is jealous because Melanie has obtained enough gray broadcloth to make Ashley a new coat and is giving it to him for Christmas. Scarlett tries to think of a way that she could get one of Rhett’s many hats and dress it up for him from herself. Instead she cuts up a shawl to make a sash for him.
Scarlett spends the week trying unsuccessfully to maneuver a few minutes alone with Ashley; on the day he is leaving, she waits downstairs for him. She begs to go to the train with him, but he refuses. Ultimately she gives him both a hat and the sash and promises that she would do anything for him. He responds by asking her to look after Melanie. As he reaches the door she dashes after him and begs him to kiss her goodbye. He does so, losing control for a brief minute as she wraps her arms around his neck in a strangle hold. Then he pushes her away and says good-bye, ignoring her protestations of love for him. She imagines that she sees love for her in his face, but that it is coupled with shame and despair.
Ashley's behavior creates confusion. Is he secretly in love with Scarlett as she believes, or does his sense of honor merely create a dilemma in that he cannot bring himself to hurt her by telling her that he doesn't love her? He does seem to be unable to resist her, but I think it is something more complicated than a neglected or denied love affair.
By February of 1864, the center of the Southern line has fallen and the Yankees hold most of Tennessee. Atlanta clings to a shred of morale over a victory at Chickamauga where the Yankees had been driven out of Georgia back into Tennessee. Yet, life is becoming an almost unbearable struggle with prices for everything from food to clothes rising to exorbitant levels. The people are also becoming frustrated and discontented over the perceived inadequacies of the southern politicians. Rhett himself is openly engaged in food speculation.
Scarlett is imagining ways to get Ashley to leave Melanie and marry her when he comes home from the war when Melanie informs her that she is pregnant. Scarlett thinks that she can no longer live in the same house with the woman who is carrying Ashley’s child, but then a telegram arrives informing them that Ashley is missing. At first the reports are "missing, believed dead," but in a few days they are changed to "missing, believed captured."
Melanie wears herself out with hanging around the telegraph office hoping for news. After she faints one day, Rhett helps bring her home and carries her to her bedroom. Then he informs her that he is aware of her pregnancy and promises to pull what strings he can to try to find word of Ashley-providing Melanie promises to take better care of herself. Eventually he finds out that Ashley was wounded and taken prisoner, but is not dead. He is however, in Rock Island, a place reputed as the worst of all the Yankee prison camps. Furthermore, Ashley had a chance to get out by taking an oath of allegiance to the Yankees and then going west for two years to fight Indians. His refusal is an action that Scarlett cannot understand, especially as it is exactly what Rhett would have done in the same place.
Ashley's refusal to take the Yankee offer shows strength in his convictions. The fact that Scarlett does not understand it also shows how much she is really not a part of the society into which she was born. Rhett does not help resolve her frustrations when he says that he would have taken the offer. His statement is clearly not sincere, but it is in keeping with the character he is trying to portray for himself. Scarlett, however, only hears what she wants to hear.