Analysis: Chapters XLIII–XLVII

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.