Scarlett and Rhett enjoy a lavish New Orleans honeymoon. On their last night, however, Scarlett has a nightmare: she is running through the mist near Tara, searching for something she cannot name. Rhett comforts her, telling her she will get used to being safe. He adds that she can have as much money as she likes for anything she wants but that he will not spend a cent on her businesses because he does not care to support Ashley Wilkes.
Still angry with Scarlett for causing the Klan raid that endangered so many men, the women of Atlanta intend to cut Scarlett and Rhett out of society. Melanie passionately defends Scarlett and prevents the community from shunning her completely. Scarlett supervises the construction of the most lavish mansion in Atlanta and befriends many wealthy and corrupt Republicans, Scalawags, and carpetbaggers. She loves being rich, and cares little that the society dedicated to the Old South refuses to attend her parties. Rhett pays the bills, though he regards Scarlett’s new social circle with undisguised contempt. He warns her that she will regret severing ties with Old Atlanta when the Democrats are back in power, but Scarlett dismisses this possibility.
Scarlett generally enjoys her life with Rhett, though he often mocks her and treats her with indifference. One afternoon, Scarlett discovers, to her horror, that she is pregnant. She wants to terminate the pregnancy, but Rhett angrily says that he once saw a woman die while aborting her baby and refuses to allow Scarlett to risk her life. Scarlett gives birth to a daughter, and Rhett stuns everyone with his unabashed love for his daughter. They name her Eugenie Victoria, but when Melanie observes that the baby’s eyes are blue like the bonnie blue flag (a Confederate flag), the baby’s nickname becomes Bonnie Blue Butler.
Scarlett goes to the mill to go over the books with Ashley. Ashley indicates that he is jealous of Rhett. Thrilled that Ashley still loves her, Scarlett decides to tell Rhett that she wants separate bedrooms, which implies that she wants to end their sexual relationship. Rhett tells her with indifference that he will look elsewhere for female companionship. After he leaves, Scarlett cries while thinking of everything she will miss about sharing a bed with Rhett, like waking in his arms after a nightmare and long conversations before sleep.
Rhett decides that Bonnie must not suffer in Atlanta simply because he and Scarlett have fallen from society’s grace. He begins an elaborate campaign to regain the good favor of the old Southern matrons. He also breaks ties with the Republican Party and works to put the Democrats in power. Gradually, Old Atlanta comes around and embraces Rhett and Bonnie, though it still scorns Scarlett and her Republican socializing. When she is two years old, Bonnie develops a pronounced fear of the dark. Rhett allows Bonnie to sleep in his room with a lit lamp every night.
Scarlett’s pregnancy brings children to the forefront of the novel for the first time. Beginning with Wade’s birth in Chapter VII, Scarlett has been a mother for nearly the entire novel. Until now, however, her children do not play an important role in either Scarlett’s life or the plot: Wade is not mentioned for long sections of the novel, though he becomes slightly more prominent in Part Five, and Ella receives only passing mention after her birth. Bonnie, however, appears more often in the novel because of Rhett’s love for her. Scarlett has never really loved anyone besides her parents—her passion for Ashley is more childhood fantasy than love—so it is not surprising that she does not care for her children. Scarlett’s instinct for self-preservation is so strong that it leaves little room for her to worry about the preservation of those to whom she feels no attachment. Each time she becomes pregnant, she reacts with a horror that would have been regarded as highly unnatural in her day. Scarlett exhibits none of the natural maternal thought essential to the feminine nature. Scarlett also dislikes her children because they resemble their fathers instead of her: Wade is timid and weak like Charles, and Ella is ugly and silly like Frank. Scarlett cares little for her husbands, so she cares little for the children of her husbands. Bonnie exhibits the selfishness and strong will that Rhett and Scarlett share, so she elicits feeling from Scarlett just as Rhett does.
In this section, Rhett solidifies his position as the novel’s male hero. Throughout the novel, Mitchell makes it difficult for us to embrace Rhett, painting him as charming at times and downright obnoxious at others. Mitchell originally presents Rhett as an anti-Southern opportunist, although she endears him to us through his wit, strength, and charisma. He also charms us by refusing to fall under the spell of Scarlett’s charisma. He teases her and torments her about the same qualities that we may find annoying and repellent in Scarlett. In Chapter XXIII Rhett proves that some of his unpatriotic scoffing is just bluster when he joins the Confederate army. Now Rhett becomes even more respectable by supporting the Democrats and becoming a devoted and loving father. Rhett also shows that despite his seeming indifference he does care for Scarlett. He vehemently objects when she wants to endanger her life with a primitive method of abortion. Though Scarlett clings to her childhood passion for Ashley, she comes to rely increasingly on Rhett’s strength and love. As he becomes more and more important to Scarlet over the course of the novel, Rhett replaces Ashley as the dominant male figure.
Rhett’s decision to change party loyalties foreshadows the coming shift in political power in the South. Rhett, who always caters to the group that is set to emerge wealthy and powerful, now deserts the Scalawags and Republicans to join the Democrats. As the Southern Democrats rebuild their party and the Republicans become increasingly corrupt and unpopular, Rhett transfers his loyalties and his money to the Democratic cause, showing that he cares more about his social position than his honor. He makes this shift for Bonnie’s sake, to regain the respect of Southern society, but he does it in accordance with his unerring instincts. Rhett’s shrewd political sense never fails, and, as he has sensed it would, Reconstruction soon draws to a close.