Mitchell suggests that there are two choices for Southerners living under Reconstruction: they can cling to their gentility and pride and do as they are told, or they can fight back. Ashley, too moral to behave with the necessary cunning, clings to his old Southern gentlemanly ways. Scarlett, on the other hand, is prepared to abandon all the social ideals from before the war in order to save Tara. Before the fall of Atlanta she throws Rhett out of her house for proposing that she become his mistress, disgusted by his affront to her honor. Now, however, she rides to Atlanta willing to become his mistress in exchange for the three hundred dollars she needs, prioritizing matters of survival over matters of honor. Like all other Southerners, Scarlett suffers her share of shame and helplessness in the postwar years.

Scarlett changes after her last proclamation of love to Ashley. He rebuffs her once again, and finally she leaves behind the last of her spoiled, coquettish ways. She cannot understand Ashley’s self-loathing and passivity or his unwillingness to act on his love for her. She finally comprehends, however, that his integrity will always prevent him from leaving Melanie. Scarlett realizes that “[t]he words, hospitality and loyalty and honor, meant more to him than she did,” and that passion and flirtation will not win him. For the first time, she imagines herself in Ashley’s position and realizes that it pains him that they cannot act on their attraction. After her conversation with Ashley, Scarlett makes Tara the driving force in her life, which complements her resolution never to throw herself at Ashley again. She has abandoned all trace of her foolish girlhood and has become a woman on a mission.