Rhett comes to visit and reminds Scarlett that he loaned her the money to buy the mill on condition that she refrain from using the money to help Ashley. Noting that Ashley is now being paid to run the mill, Rhett tells Scarlett she has become unscrupulous. Scarlett insists that she had no choice and says she will be kind once she is rich and secure. Laughing, Rhett tells her to urge Frank to spend more nights at home. Scarlett thinks Rhett is insinuating that Frank is having an affair, but Rhett laughs and departs, leaving Scarlett confused and angry.
By March, Georgia has come under harsh military rule for its refusal to grant the vote to blacks. Tensions mount between the freed blacks, the Confederate whites, the Yankee soldiers, and the Ku Klux Klan. One day, driving through the dangerous black area of Shantytown, Scarlett encounters Big Sam, who is wanted for killing a Yankee. Scarlett decides to help him escape to Tara and tells him to meet her in the same spot that night. She rides to the mill, where she finds that Johnnie Gallegher has been starving and whipping the convicts. She flies into a rage, but Johnnie threatens to quit unless she gives him free reign to do as he pleases. Remembering that he has doubled the mill’s productivity, Scarlett lets the matter drop. On her way back through Shantytown, Scarlett is attacked by a poor white man and his black companion. Big Sam appears and fights the attackers. He then jumps into Scarlett’s carriage and drives her to safety as she collapses in sobs.
That night, Frank sends Scarlett to Melanie’s house while he and Ashley attend a political meeting. At Melanie’s, the other women and Archie seem strangely tense. Rhett appears and asks Melanie where Ashley and Frank have gone, saying that it is a matter of life and death. Melanie tells him they have gone to the old Sullivan plantation, and Rhett disappears. Melanie explains to Scarlett that Frank and Ashley are Klansmen, as are all the men they know, and they have gone to avenge the attack on Scarlett.
A Yankee regiment bursts in and demands to know the men’s location. At last Rhett, Ashley, and a man named Hugh Elsing stumble in drunkenly. Rhett tells the Yankee captain that he and the other men were at Belle Watling’s house all night. The Yankee, a friend of Rhett’s, is suspicious but embarrassed, and he quickly departs. Rhett dispatches Archie to burn the Klan robes and dispose of two unspecified dead bodies. Ashley is not drunk but wounded, and Scarlett realizes the whole scene has been a desperate cover-up. In her concern for Ashley, Scarlett hardly notices Frank’s absence. Rhett finally informs her that Frank has been shot through the head.
The next day, a Yankee court calls Belle, Ashley, and Rhett to testify about the events of the preceding evening, and their convincing alibi clears them of all charges. Melanie expresses her gratitude and admiration to Belle, who is dumbstruck that a great lady like Melanie has stooped to speak to a prostitute. The other Confederate women in Atlanta look down on Scarlett for her connection to the preceding evening’s events.
Scarlett sits alone in her bedroom, drinking brandy and feeling sick with guilt. She believes that she manipulated Frank into marrying her and then caused his death. Rhett arrives and proposes to Scarlett. Surprised, Scarlett refuses and tells Rhett that she does not love him. Rhett tells her to marry him for fun. He takes her in his arms and kisses her deeply. Feeling dizzy and faint, Scarlett accepts the proposal. Rhett says he must leave for a long trip but that they will be married when he returns. Atlanta is scandalized to hear about Scarlett’s engagement to Rhett, but Scarlett ignores the gossip, marries Rhett, and goes to New Orleans for a long honeymoon.
In this section, the pervasive influence of the Ku Klux Klan becomes clear. The Klan plays a pivotal role in the lives of many of the novel’s most prominent male characters. Now, for the first time, both we and Scarlett begin to understand the extent of Klan involvement among the white men of Atlanta. Scarlett’s friends have kept her in the dark about Frank’s Klan involvement, knowing that she disapproves of the Klan. Scarlett believes that Frank goes out to political meetings at night, even when Rhett laughingly hints at Frank’s Klan membership by urging Scarlett to have Frank spend more nights at home. She remains oblivious to Frank’s Klan involvement until the night he is killed. In Chapter XLV, Scarlett’s peaceful oblivion shatters when she learns that not only Frank but also Ashley and all the other Southern men she knows, young and old, have joined the Atlanta Klan. No one in Scarlett’s circle is untouched by the Klan, because Klansmen will avenge any attacks—real, threatened, or imagined—on them or their women. The Yankees in power keep a watchful eye on the Klansmen, waiting for any chance to jump on them and convict them. When the Klan moves or takes action against people they consider to be enemies, the Klansmen put themselves in great danger. Only Rhett’s quick scheming saves the prominent men involved in revenge against Scarlett’s attackers.
As a result of the Klan raid, not only does Scarlett lose Frank but she also invokes the wrath of Atlanta. The women of Scarlett’s society blame Scarlett for endangering their men. The Klan believes that any attack on a member of that society must be revenged, so if Scarlett provoked the attack then she must be held responsible for whatever happens to the men engaged in the revenge mission. Scarlett already feels guilty about Frank’s death, and to be held responsible for the woes of the other women is too much for her to bear. The Atlanta women hate Scarlett because she has apparently endangered Southern men and even gotten some killed, and furthermore because they must now feel grateful to Rhett Butler, whom they detest, and to Belle, whom they scorn. After the raid, Scarlett feels cast out of her society. This feeling partially explains her hasty engagement to Rhett. Although the engagement at first seems selfish, the scorn of Scarlett’s society makes it easier and perhaps even comforting for Scarlett to break with this society and marry Rhett, another outcast.
The attack on Scarlett once again illustrates the novel’s racist implication that good slaves remain loyal to their masters and freed slaves are always violent and bad. The events are almost cartoonish, as the figure of the bad slave, who accepts his freedom, does evil to Scarlett, while the figure of the good slave, who rejects his freedom, does good for her. The freed slave who attacks Scarlett presumably lives in Shantytown, which the novel depicts as a hotbed of rebelliousness. Big Sam, who saves Scarlett, has just announced that he is tired of freedom and wants to go back to Tara to work for the O’Haras. This desire to leave Shantytown is supposed to demonstrate Big Sam’s essential goodness, since he clearly wants no part of the seedy stirrings of the freed slaves. Scarlett’s attack is one of many incidents in which Mitchell glorifies slaves like Mammy, Pork, and Uncle Peter who reject freedom in favor of staying with their old masters. She also vilifies slaves who leave their old masters and move to the cities, portraying them as insolent and menacing. While this racism probably reflects the attitudes of whites in Scarlett’s time and even in Mitchell’s time, it is one of the reasons why blacks and whites protested at theaters across the country when the movie version of Gone with the Wind premiered in 1939.