Scarlett sneaks into Melanies room and reads the latest letter that Ashley has sent to Melanie. Ashley reveals his doubts about the war. He writes that the Confederate soldiers have been betrayed “by words and catch-phrases, prejudices and hatreds coming from the mouths of those highly placed.” He is fighting for his old plantation way of life, but even if the South wins the war, this way of life is lost forever. The South will become as brash, commercial and mercenary as the North. He feels that none of the causes the Confederates believe they are fighting for – “King Cotton, Slavery, States Rights, Damn Yankees” – are worth the slaughter and hate that the war has brought. Ashley recalls Rhetts unpopular statements at the Wilkes barbecue about the lack of foundries and factories in the South, and how easily the North could blockade the South, and recognizes that he was right.
Scarlett is bored by Ashleys ideas and only feels relieved that he has not written his wife a passionate love letter. She is convinced that he must still love her, Scarlett. Scarlett notes that unlike the other soldiers, who write letters about the events of the war, Ashley virtually ignores the war itself: “It was almost as if he were trying to believe there wasnt any war.” Scarlett struggles to understand his psychology, and settles for the conclusion, “He lives inside his head instead of outside in the world and he hates to come out into the world.” She is puzzled by the fact that Ashley, whom she idolizes as a hero, should have come to the same conclusions about the war as Rhett, who she thinks is “a scamp.”
The war drags on, Confederate money has dropped in value and the price of food and clothing has risen. Luxuries such as fabrics for clothes are hard to get, and people bring their old looms out of their attics to make “homespun.” The old social conventions are breaking down further and a new informality is taking hold, as strange men whose families are unknown call on peoples daughters without letters of introduction. Scarlett has resumed living like a single woman rather than a widow, dancing, going to parties and flirting.
Rhett calls on Scarlett whenever he is in town. Though she finds him exasperating, she looks forward to his visits. He brings her small luxuries that he has run through the blockade. When Scarlett calls him a rascal, he calmly admits it, pointing out that it is only hypocrites like Scarlett, who are “just as black at heart but trying to hide it, who become enraged when called by their right names.”
Rhett acquires the romantic aura of a dashing blockade-runner. He takes boats out of Charleston and Wilmington filled with cotton, which he sells to England and Canada. As time passes, however, dents appear in his heroic image. There are rumors that he is also making money speculating on foodstuffs brought to the South. In addition, a perversity in his character prompts him to tell truths that make people uncomfortable, such as that the Confederate soldiers at the front feel as afraid as he does when he runs a blockade; and that he only runs blockades for the money, not for the Cause. He also points out that if he could make money out of government contracts supplying shoddy goods to the Confederacy – as plenty of Southern firms and individuals were doing – then he would do that. He cannot resist deflating the pompous and exposing the ignorant, which alienates the towns goodwill.
Rhett is finally ostracized at Mrs. Elsings musical benefit for the convalescents. Rhett upsets a member of the militia by saying that the Cause for which the Confederates were dying is not sacred. He points out that the people who start wars make them sacred, or else no one would fight in them. In fact, he says, all wars are only about money, but few people realize it because “their ears are too full of bugles and drums and fine words from stay-at-home orators.” Rhett bows and leaves, while Mrs. Elsing loudly condemns him as a traitor and a speculator.
While riding home in Aunt Pittypats carriage, Mrs. Merriwether demands that Pittypat ban Rhett from her house, adding, “Any man who does not think our Cause is just and holy should be hanged!” Mrs. Merriwether orders Scarlett and Melanie not to speak to him again. Melanie refuses, and reveals that Rhett has only said the same things that Ashley thinks. Melanie says that though Ashley thinks the war is wrong, he is willing to fight and die anyway, which takes more courage than fighting for something you think is right.
Scarlett silently wonders how the perfect Ashley could possibly think the same as the reprobate Rhett. She reflects that both see the truth of the war, but Ashley is prepared to die for it, whereas Rhett is not: “I think that shows Rhetts good sense.” She also notes that Rhett confronts the truth by talking about it, whereas Ashley can hardly bear to face it.
Urged on by Mrs. Merriwether, Dr Meade writes a letter to the newspaper, railing against speculators, profiteers and holders of government contracts. Though the letter does not mention Rhett by name, it is obvious that he is the target. Speculators are swarming in Wilmington, buying up boatloads of goods and holding them for a rise in prices. With the rise in prices, Confederate money sinks in value. Blockade-runners fill their boats with luxuries to sell at high prices, to the exclusion of necessities. Speculators are using the railroad for transporting their luxuries, leaving essential food rotting in stations. Rumors say that Rhett is buying up the cargoes of other boats and holding them for a rise in prices.
Aunt Pittypats is one of the few homes that still receive Rhett. Scarlett wishes that Rhett would keep his “heresies” to himself, so that she would not have to suffer the embarrassment of seeing him snubbed when she walks down the street with him, but Rhett only calls her a hypocrite. She says that if she admitted her true thoughts, nobody would dance with her.
Rhett explains that he is the black sheep of the Butler family because he could not conform to Southern values. He cannot understand why he should marry a “boring fool” of a girl just because an accident prevented him from getting her home before dark. He believes that the Southern way of life is as outdated as the feudal system of the Middle Ages, and that it has to go.
Rhett reveals that at the start of the war, before the blockades were in place, he bought up cotton cheaply and stored it in warehouses in Liverpool, England, where it still lies. He plans to hold out until the English mills are desperate for cotton and sell it at a high price.
Rhett grows impatient that Scarlett continues to wear black mourning clothes even though she is taking part in all social activities. To tempt her to discard her black veil, he buys her a fashionable green bonnet in Paris. Although Ellen has advised her never to accept expensive presents from men, Scarlett cannot resist the bonnet. She warns him that she will not marry him in return, but he replies that he is not the marrying type – though he kisses her on the cheek.
Melanie rushes in and reveals that she has been given a large sum of money for the hospital by Belle Watling, the town prostitute. Melanie shows Scarlett the money, which Belle has wrapped in a mans handkerchief. Scarlett notices Rhetts initials on the corner of the handkerchief. Scarlett is shocked and angry that Rhett consorts with Belle, and burns the handkerchief.
Analysis of Chapter 11-13
These chapters compare Rhett, as a representative of the New South, with Ashley, as a representative of the Old South. Though superficially the two men are different, they think the same way about the war. Ashley is gentlemanly, chivalrous and polite, and would not dream of upsetting people by publicly stating his view that the world of the Old South is doomed, that the Confederacy has been betrayed into war by leaders spouting rhetoric, that there is no glory in war, and that the Cause for which the Confederates fight (cotton and slavery) is not worth the suffering and waste of life. He adds that Rhetts predictions at the Wilkes barbecue about the Souths vulnerability due to its lack of self-sufficiency in manufacturing, though they upset people greatly, were accurate.
Ashleys views exactly reflect those of Rhett. At Mrs. Elsings musical evening, the occasion that marks Rhetts ostracism from Atlanta society, he delivers a famously withering speech about the methods leaders use to lead the people into wars, and the real reasons for the war that lie behind the rhetoric: “All wars are sacred, he said. To those who have to fight them. If the people who started wars didnt make them sacred, who would be foolish enough to fight? But, no matter what rallying cries the orators give to the idiots who fight, no matter what noble purposes they assign to wars, there is never but one reason for a war. And that is money.” (Chapter 12).
Though Ashley and Rhett have the same views, Ashley keeps his views to himself, only confiding them in his wife, whereas Rhett speaks his mind openly and without fear of the social consequences. In addition, Ashley does not act on his views, continuing to fight in a war that he does not believe in but which serves the Souths vanity. Hence he is popularly viewed as a hero. Rhett, on the other hand, will not fight in a war he does not believe in, and only exploits it to make money. Increasingly, he is viewed as a scoundrel; before long, he is ostracized from society.
Melanie, as much a representative of the Old South as Ashley, believes that Ashley is noble for being prepared to die for a cause that he does not believe in, because it is harder than dying for a cause he does believe in. Scarlett, whose pragmatism looks forward to the New South even while another part of her still hankers for the Old South, thinks that Rhetts refusal to die for a cause he does not believe in shows his “good sense.” Scarlett also notes that Rhett confronts the truth by talking about it, whereas Ashley can hardly bear to face it.
Though it is not stated, it is implied that Scarlett believes that Rhett is the braver of the two. Certainly, many modern readers will hold similar views, saying that Ashley is the weak hypocrite whereas Rhett is the strong and honest man who acts in accordance with his principles. But another possible interpretation is that Ashley is acting to uphold certain Old Southern principles – duty, honor, chivalry and gentlemanly behavior – that he believes are more important than truth to himself as an individual. In the modern world, most of us value our individual truth more highly, but this reflects our rejection as a society of the Old Southern values and our embrace of the new values exemplified by Rhett and (in a more gradual process) Scarlett. To some extent, this novel suggests, the modern American sensibility was ushered in by the upheaval of the Civil War and its accompanying social changes.
One measure of the change that is already being forced on the South is that Melanie, a well-bred lady from a good and wealthy family, puts aside her shame and gratefully accepts money from the town prostitute, Belle Watling, for the hospital. All major wars from the nineteenth through to the twentieth century acted as social levelers: the aristocratic were forced to mix with the humbly-born, and old assumptions about some people being “better” than others simply through accident of birth broke down.
A theme of these chapters is the fall in status of the blockade-runner during the war years. At the beginning of the war, they were viewed as heroes who risked their lives to supply basic necessities and a few luxuries to the Southern people. But as Mitchell explains, blockade-runners begin to act as speculators, buying up cargoes of goods and holding them until scarcity makes the prices rise, at which point they sell. They effectively control the markets, exploiting the suffering of the population. Rumors circulate that Rhett has become a speculator, which contributes to his ostracism from society.
At this point, however, the main reason Rhett is ostracized is that he voices uncomfortable truths that others only think. One of these truths is that the South is economically vulnerable, since it lacks a manufacturing base. Another truth is that holders of government contracts to supply the Confederate army with basics like flour, harness and ammunition are cheating the system by supplying poor quality and adulterated goods. These profiteers include members of “good” Georgia families. Before long, these facts will become accepted and common knowledge, and the Souths fury will rise against the profiteers. But that time has not yet come, and the South is still trying to uphold an unquestioning patriotism. Rhetts words are taken as evidence of his “bad breeding,” though if the veil of prejudice were lifted, they would perhaps be seen as clear-sighted or even prophetic.