When Rhett abandons Scarlett to join the Confederate Army, it marks a turning point for both of them. Rhett’s steadfastly anti-Southern exterior begins to crack, revealing that he may turn out to be a hero not just for the New South but for the Old South as well. Rhett’s brash anti-South rhetoric loses strength until finally he decides to join the Confederate army. Never the shining knight, however, Rhett performs his patriotic duty while leaving Scarlett in the dust to save herself and the lives of four others. Scarlett has only a horse, a carriage, and her own wits, and she has never driven a carriage before. However, she grits her teeth and maneuvers safely past soldiers of both camps who would gladly rob her of her horse. The long ride is harrowing, but Scarlett has changed so much that she can handle the difficulty. When she arrives at Tara, she finds herself caring for her demented father and the bewildered Mammy.

Scarlett would gladly give up her new responsibility and collapse into the arms of her mother, but Ellen has died. Scarlett cannot put down the burden that she never meant to pick up. In order to persevere, she adopts a mantra that returns throughout the novel: “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” Scarlett uses this phrase to explain and justify her decisions. She convinces herself that she must act without thinking about her actions or her plight. This mantra becomes her survival mechanism. When she feels she must do something unethical, she repeats her mantra and does what she must in order to protect Tara, her own life, and the lives of those people in her care. Ignoring her conscience comes easily to Scarlett. She routinely ignores her moral twinges when, for example, she reads Ashley’s letter to Melanie. Still, the acts she must now commit are not naughty but ruthless, and she often finds herself repeating her mantra during her difficult days at Tara.

Gerald’s dementia results from the loss of Ellen, whom he loved dearly. His dementia symbolizes the inability of the Old South to recover and adjust after the Civil War. Gerald cannot run his plantation, comprehend the new order of things, or accept the loss of his wife and his way of life. He embodies the helpless state of the postwar South. Like many of his peers, he must rely on others to take care of him and make decisions for him. Scarlett takes loving charge of him, but other men in Gerald’s position find themselves at the mercy of opportunists from the North. Men like Gerald, who have known only the easy, good life of the Old South, find themselves bereft after the Civil War.