In May 1862, Scarlett, Wade and Prissy arrive in Atlanta to stay with Melanie and her Aunt Pittypat. Scarlett feels excited by the bustling, energetic town, which Gerald has told her is the same age as herself. Atlanta has grown up around the railroad, which has linked it to all the regions of the United States, and is growing fast. The town is a mixture of the old and the new, with the old coming off “second best in its conflicts with the self-willed and vigorous new.” Factories and hospitals have sprouted since the beginning of the war. With the Yankees blockading the Souths ports, the South is now trying to manufacture her own war materials. The town is full of soldiers and relatives who have come to be near the wounded.
Scarletts party is met from the train by Peter, Aunt Pittypats black slave coachman. After Charles and Melanies parents died, Aunt Pittypat had proven to be as helpless as a child, so Peter had taken the role of a parent, practically raising them. Peter had even made the arrangements for Charles financial allowance and education. Peter advises Scarlett to take Wade from the incompetent Prissy, for his safetys sake. Scarlett, impatient at Wades crying, ignores Peters advice.
As Scarletts party passes down Peachtree Street, where Aunt Pittypat lives, she is greeted by Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Elsing, friends of Aunt Pittypat. Mrs. Merriwether insists that Scarlett come to work in the hospital that she has responsibility for, and Scarlett agrees. Scarlett also passes Belle Watling, a handsome woman and a prostitute.
Aunt Pittypat and Melanie are overjoyed to see Scarlett. They are afraid to be alone in the house at night, and Scarlett is so brave that they feel safer with her there. Pittypat is the sister of Charles Uncle Henry Hamilton, but Henry is barely on speaking terms with her, as he is impatient at her babyish character and financial naivet?. He is a trustee of Pittypats estate, as well as of Melanies and Scarletts. Henry tells Scarlett that she is now a wealthy woman, as Charles has left her half of Pittys house and other property.
Melanie has her aunts shyness and modesty, but she also has common sense. She has “never looked upon harshness or evil and would not recognize them if she saw them.” She only sees the good in everyone.
Scarlett settles in at Pittypats home. Pittypat and Melanie admire and pet Scarlett, and pity her for the grief, which they believe her to be suffering as a result of Charles death. Scarlett joins both Mrs. Meades (the doctors wife) and Mrs. Merriwethers hospital committees and nurses the soldiers wounded in the war, not out of any sense of duty but because she does not know how to get out of it. She hates nursing because of the filth and smell of gangrene. She cannot even flirt with the men because of her widowed state. Everyone thinks she is grieving for Charles, when in fact she still only loves Ashley.
From her bedroom window, Scarlett miserably watches girls and soldiers prepare for that evenings charity bazaar, to be held in aid of the hospital. She feels it is unfair that she has worked hard at organizing everything for the bazaar but is not allowed to go because she supposed to be in mourning. She bursts into tears and Pittypat comforts her in the belief that she is weeping for Charles.
Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Elsing call, saying that two of the girls who were going to man a booth at the bazaar have had to leave town. They ask Pittypat and Melanie to take their places, mentioning that Rhett (now Captain Butler) is a blockade-runner, bringing in hospital supplies as well as fine materials to make dresses. Scarlett sees her chance to go to the bazaar and volunteers herself and Melanie to man the booth. Pittypat reluctantly agrees, hoping that people will understand that the girls are doing it for the (Confederate) Cause.
Though Scarlett is excited to be at the bazaar, she does not feel the same patriotic fervor expressed by all the other women there during the speeches and songs about the Cause: “. the Cause meant nothing at all to her.” To Scarlett, “The war didnt seem to be a holy affair, but a nuisance that killed men senselessly and cost money and made luxuries hard to get.”
The dancing begins and Scarlett is so desperate to join in that she cannot help but tap her feet to the music. Rhett Butler arrives and reads her desire. Melanie greets him warmly as the blockade-runner who has helped the women to dress so beautifully by bringing in fine fabrics. Rhett teases Scarlett about her widowhood, revealing that he knows she is there not because of her devotion to the Cause but her devotion to enjoyment. He tells Scarlett that he believes the custom of forbidding widows to enjoy themselves is as barbarous as the Indian custom of suttee, in which a widow was expected to commit suicide by throwing herself upon her husbands funeral pyre. Scarlett insists that she was only able to come to the bazaar because the Cause was so important, and says that otherwise it would have been disrespectful to her husband, but Rhett does not believe her pretense of wifely devotion. Scarlett eventually meets Rhetts eyes and joins in his laughter, in recognition that both know the truth about her marriage.
Dr Meade announces that in order to raise money for the Cause, he is passing around baskets so that the women can contribute their jewelry. Scarlett throws her hated wedding ring into a basket. Melanie, moved by what she believes to be Scarletts courage, gives up her own wedding ring. Rhett makes a sarcastic remark about Scarletts patriotism, and adds that it is a pity that she lacks the courage to say what she really thinks. She says he has no right to mock people who are sacrificing everything to the Cause. He says he knows she does not care about the Cause any more than he does. Scarlett accuses him of conceit about being the “great blockader,” but he admits that he only runs blockades because he makes money from it. Plenty of Northern companies are eager to sell goods and even ammunition to the Confederacy, and he acts as the middleman.
Dr Meade causes a stir by announcing that he is auctioning the right to dance with the ladies, to raise funds. Rhett bids a hundred and fifty dollars in gold for Scarlett. Dr Meade protests that Scarlett cannot dance because she is in mourning and asks him to change his bid to another lady, but Rhett refuses. To everyones shock, Scarlett accepts and rushes onto the dance floor.
As they dance, Scarlett claims to be worried about her reputation, but Rhett draws an admission from her that she does not care about what others think of her. He also says that he has lost his reputation, but that such a loss does not matter provided one has enough courage and money. He praises Scarletts beauty and says he means to bid for her for all the remaining dances.
The next day, Scarlett is in disgrace with her Aunt Pittypat. Scarlett defends herself by saying that she made more money for the hospital than anyone else there. Melanie defends Rhett against Pittypats disapproval by saying how brave he is, but Scarlett corrects her, saying he only runs blockades for money. She declares that she does not intend to sit at home any longer and does not care about her reputation. Pittypat asks what her mother will say, and Scarlett feels a little guilty. Melanie supports Scarlett, praising her bravery in supporting the hospital.
Prissy enters with a letter to Melanie. It is from Rhett, who is returning Melanies wedding ring. He tells Melanie that he respects her courage and that her sacrifice has not been in vain, as he has given ten times the value of the ring to the Cause. Melanie praises Rhett as a “gentleman.” She asks Aunt Pittypat to invite him to Sunday dinner so that she can thank him. Scarlett is irritated that Rhett does not mention her own sacrifice, and muses that the whole thing is a ruse on his part to gain an invitation to Pittypats house.
Scarlett receives a shocked letter from Ellen, who has heard of her daughters conduct at the bazaar. Ellen calls Rhett “a thoroughly bad character” who has taken advantage of Scarlett to disgrace her whole family. Ellen is sending Gerald to Atlanta the next day to speak with Rhett and take Scarlett home in disgrace. Scarlett asks Melanie and Pittypat to back her up in front of Gerald. Melanie agrees, but Pittypat says she feels ill and intends to lie down all the next day.
Gerald arrives and reports all the gossip from home. Stuart Tarleton has resumed his courtship of India Wilkes, and Brent Tarleton is courting Carreen. Scarlett is annoyed that her past beaux should pay attention to anyone else but her.
Gerald leaves to confront Rhett. He returns in the middle of the night, drunk, singing Irish songs and having lost a large sum of money to Rhett at poker. Scarlett sees her chance and accuses Gerald of disgracing her. She asks him what Ellen would say. Gerald begs Scarlett not to tell Ellen, and Scarlett agrees on condition that he lets her stay in Atlanta and tells Ellen that the stories of Scarletts disgrace were nothing but malicious gossip. Gerald agrees.
Analysis of Chapters 8-10
A symbolic link between Scarlett and Atlanta is created through Geralds story that they are the same age. Unlike Charleston and Savannah, Atlanta is a rapidly industrializing and growing town, and excites Scarlett as much as the older towns bore her.
The device of the omniscient narrator allows us to know Scarletts true feelings in spite of her mastery of dissimulation. After Charles death, Melanie and Aunt Pittypat believe that Scarletts depression is due to grief, whereas we know that it is due to her desperate boredom with keeping up the appearance of a grieving widow when she only wants to enjoy herself.
The portrayal of Aunt Pittypat relates to the theme of female strength and intelligence, in that Pittypat embodies the opposite state, of childlike helplessness.
The narrator comments ironically on the role of women in Southern society in the description of Melanies skill at making other people “feel at ease and pleased with themselves” (Chapter 8). The narrator points out both the advantages and the severe limitations of this unspoken social contract: “.from the cradle to the grave, women strove to make men pleased with themselves and the satisfied men repaid lavishly with gallantry and adoration. In fact, men willingly gave the ladies everything in the world except credit for having intelligence.” The problem with this arrangement is that it is unsustainable in the face of more modern women like Scarlett, who is later to prove that she is as capable as any man.
Scarletts response to Rhetts irreverent lack of respect for Southern customs lets him – and us – measure just how far she is prepared to go in rebellion. At the bazaar, Rhett asks Scarlett if she would have had the courage to come if she had not been able to use the Cause as an excuse. Scarlett blusters that she would not have come, as it would have been disrespectful to her husband. Rhett knows that she never loved her husband and is desperate to cast off her widows weeds and enjoy herself, but Scarlett will not admit this, clinging instead to the veneer of respectability that has been defined and imposed upon her by society. Despite her bluster, however, Scarlett eventually meets Rhetts eyes and they both laugh, as they know that she is lying. For the first time, Scarlett has allowed Rhett to penetrate her affectation.
Rhett and Scarletts discussions reveal how the Old Southern values are breaking down, to be replaced by the economic opportunism pioneered by the North. While Scarlett accuses Rhett of running the blockades for glory, he responds that he does it to make money. Furthermore, he is only able to do this because firms based in the North are cynically eager to make money out of the South by selling it goods and even ammunition.
Rhett successfully encourages Scarlett to act as rebelliously as she thinks when he bids for the right to dance for her, and she accepts in spite of the disapproval of the rest of the company. Finally, her outward actions and inward thoughts are the same; Rhett has penetrated her mask of hypocrisy. On the dance floor, Rhett continues to chip away at Scarletts pretense to traditional Southern values such as those espoused by her mother. For example, he challenges her claim to be concerned about her reputation, drawing from her an admission that she does not care what others think. He adds that his reputation is ruined but that it does not matter. “Always providing you have enough courage – or money – you can do without a reputation,” he says, once again championing the Northern values of entrepreneurship, opportunism and economic success.
Emboldened by Rhetts words, which mirror what she really thinks, Scarlett is exhilaratingly honest in the face of Pittypats disapproval of her behavior at the bazaar. Deflating Melanies image of Rhett as hero, Scarlett points out that he only runs blockades for money. She further declares that she does not intend to sit at home any longer and does not care about her reputation. In our liberal and individualistic age, we cannot help but applaud Scarlett for beginning to think and act for herself. But we see that she has a vulnerability that prevents her being true to herself: her devotion to her mother, whose saintliness inspires Scarlett to compare her with the Virgin Mary. Despite her initial spirited defense of her actions at the bazaar, Scarlett feels guilty at Ellens stern reproof. Can Scarlett ever break free of her mothers influence and expectations? A conflict is set up which we expect to be resolved later in the novel.
Scarletts opportunism is shown in the incident where she blackmails Gerald into letting her stay in Atlanta and into telling Ellen that the stories of her disgrace were only malicious gossip. The incident confirms the similarity between Gerald and Scarlett; she is only able to get away with her own scandalous behavior because he has acted as scandalously as she. It also serves to puncture the hypocrisy of genteel society, in which adults expect higher standards of their offspring than they themselves uphold. In refusing to be shamed into returning to Tara, Scarlett is indirectly challenging her parents right to govern her as a child and defending her right as a young woman to make her own choices.
These chapters mark the end of Scarletts life as a pampered Southern belle and the beginning of the series of challenges she will face as the Old South starts to crumble under the onslaught of the war. So far, those challenges are relatively minor, such as her obligation to work among the wounded in the filthy and foul-smelling hospital, and Rhetts jibes at her hypocritical behavior. But we know – not least because of Rhetts repeated statements that the South will be “licked” – that things will get far worse for Scarlett and the privileged society she represents. Already, the war is beginning to break down the traditions and values so prized in the South: hurried marriages, previously thought indecorous, are commonplace as men go off to fight; refined women work in filthy hospitals; and the scene in which men bid for the right to dance with ladies would have been unthinkable if it had not been wartime. The war has understandably changed peoples priorities, so that survival of the Confederacy is seen as more important than maintaining customs and traditions.