The Civil War relaxes the stringent rules governing women’s behavior, however. Because men must go off to war, courtship and marriage must happen with new speed. The hospitals need volunteers so badly that even widows like Scarlett find themselves attending to wounded and sick men and seeing sights previously thought too vulgar for a woman’s eyes. Even guidelines for widows change slightly. According to the customs of the Old South, widows must wear black for years after the death of their husbands, and for them it is unthinkable to enjoy the company of an unmarried man, much less dance with one. However, the topsy-turvy atmosphere of war makes such rules mutable, and thus Scarlett can dance with Rhett in Chapter XII and afterward still show her face in Atlanta society. In a time of few resources and overwhelming motivation to support the war effort, people realign their priorities to give primacy to the war rather than to custom.

Just as Mitchell uses Ashley and Rhett to represent the Old South and the New South, respectively, she equates Tara with the Old South and Atlanta with the changing, New South. Tara stands for a slavery-driven plantation world of leisure and luxury for the wealthy owners. Atlanta, Gerald tells Scarlett, was born the same year she was, and like Scarlett it lives through newness and change. Scarlett’s old way of life cannot survive in this new world. No longer idle and pampered as she is back at Tara, she spends much of her time nursing wounded soldiers and rolling bandages for the war. She even notes that she feels like a slave. In Scarlett’s eyes, at least, social codes have been turned on their heads when a Southern belle like herself must work as hard as a field hand. At Tara, Scarlett tries to adhere to old Southern values. In Atlanta, however, she begins to defy the rules that society has impressed upon her since birth. Scarlett has always felt rebellious, but in Atlanta she acts on her rebelliousness, boldly dancing despite her widowhood. Scarlett remains nervous about stepping out of line, but Atlanta’s wartime culture grants her room to express her strong will and follow her selfish desires—until Atlanta itself changes in Part Three.