Analysis: Chapters V–VII

Rhett Butler appears in Chapter VI as a foil (a character whose attitudes or emotions contrast with and thereby accentuate those of another character) for Ashley Hamilton. Rhett plays the North to Ashley’s South, and the contrast between the two men deepens our understanding of the clashing cultural attitudes and tensions in the South. Blond, gentle Ashley stands for the romantic and doomed values of the Southern world, while dark, powerful Rhett represents the hardened, practical Northern world that rises up victorious after the war. When Scarlett desperately attempts to get Ashley’s attention, his chivalrous devotion to Melanie contrasts with Rhett’s ungentlemanly, heated stares at Scarlett. After Ashley takes Scarlett’s slap with dignified pain and sorrow, Rhett mercilessly teases Scarlett in manner unbecoming a refined Southern gentleman.

Scarlett’s interactions with Ashley and Rhett mirror the conflict the South is to undergo between old and new ways. The Civil War breaks out just as Scarlett loses Ashley to Melanie. Marrying Ashley, who represents the pinnacle of Southern chivalry, would have cemented Scarlett in the wealthy plantation lifestyle. The declaration of war necessitates the pair of hasty marriages and Scarlett’s loss of Ashley. Scarlett’s loss of Ashley therefore reflects the South’s impending loss of its aristocratic culture in the war. Ashley becomes unattainable for Scarlett, just as the life he represents becomes irrecoverable for the South. At this crucial moment, the introduction of Rhett, an outcast from aristocratic society, represents a new future for both Scarlett and the South. Scarlett, with her desire for more personal freedom than her culture allows her, finds herself drawn to Rhett. Later, Scarlett finds herself struggling to choose between the honorable Southern gentleman Ashley Wilkes and the opportunistic, irreverent cynic Rhett Butler, just as the South finds itself struggling to choose between its traditional culture and values based on land, inheritance, and slave-driven agriculture, and the new Northern way of life driven by the industrial economy and individual freedom.

The omniscient narrative voice shifts between a focus on Scarlett and a general perspective. Primarily, the narrative concerns itself with Scarlett’s actions and thoughts, allowing us to see her as other characters cannot. Upon Charles’s death, Melanie and Aunt Pittypat think that Scarlett is crying over the loss of her husband, but the narrator reveals that Scarlett is actually crying because of her secret passion for Ashley and her jealous hatred of Melanie. This shifting narrative voice also allows Mitchell to explain historical events that Scarlett does not understand and does not want to understand. It is important to understand the historical context of the novel’s setting, which shapes the lives of all of the characters. The narration also speaks from a general perspective in order to illustrate the difference between the sentiments typical of the wealthy Southern culture and those of Scarlett, which are often atypical. For example, when talk turns to war or patriotism, the narrator shows both typical Southern war fever and Scarlett’s unusual lack of interest. Shifting between viewpoints accentuates Scarlett’s independence.