Scarlett realizes that Gerald is not going to recover from Ellens death and that Tara is wholly her responsibility. One day, a Yankee cavalryman arrives at the house and walks in, looking for loot. Furious that he is picking over Ellens belongings and that he could steal their hard-earned food, Scarlett shoots him dead at point-blank range. Melanie, who has got up from her sickbed, appears at the top of the stairs dragging Charles heavy sword. Her look of pride and approval makes Scarlett momentarily forget her contempt for Melanie, as she knows that Melanie would have done the same thing. Scarlett feels a grudging respect for Melanies courage.
Melanie takes control, telling Scarlett that they must tell nobody and bury the body immediately. They go through the Yankees pockets and find a wallet full of money and some jewelry that he has looted from other families. Scarlett drags the body into the garden and buries it in a shallow grave. Scarlett tells herself that she will not think about the fact that she has killed a man; the shell of hardness that is forming in her heart thickens.
Scarlett now has a horse – the Yankees. She rides to the Fontaines to consult Dr Fontaine about Melanies health. She finds the house still standing, but Dr Fontaine is away with the cavalry, and two of the three Fontaine womens husbands have died in the war. At the house are Grandma Fontaine, Young Miss Fontaine and Sally Fontaine. Grandma Fontaine tells Scarlett that the Yankee General Sherman has taken Atlanta. Scarlett says that the Yankees have burned a hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of Taras cotton, leaving only three bales, which will be no use since only field hands and “white trash” pick cotton. Grandma Fontaine is unsympathetic, pointing out that when she was young her father lost all his money; she picked cotton and would do so again.
Grandma Fontaine says that the Calverts house escaped being burned because the Yankee Mrs. Calvert and her Yankee overseer, Hilton, told the Yankees that they were staunch Unionists.
Scarlett asks Grandma Fontaine if she can lend them something to eat, and Grandma readily agrees to send half of their provisions to Tara. Scarlett tells Grandma the hardships that she and her family have suffered, particularly the death of Ellen. Grandma comments that it is a bad thing for a woman to face the worst that can happen to her, because afterwards she can never fear anything again: “And its very bad for a woman not to be afraid of something,” since it makes her hard-hearted. She describes how, when she was young, she saw her family scalped by Indians and her house burned. The experience made her unafraid of anything, which in turn caused her much unhappiness. She recommends always saving something to fear and something to love. She also warns Scarlett that she will never be able to lay down the load.
Scarlett feels encouraged by the fact that she has neighbors and that they have been so generous with their food. She now has food, a horse, and the Yankees money and jewelry. She feels that the worst is over.
Pork, Mammy and Prissy refuse to pick the remaining cotton as “they were house niggers, not field hands,” and Melanie, though willing, is too weak. In the end, the job falls to Scarlett, Dilcey and the inefficient Prissy. Scarlett plans to sell the cotton and replant next spring.
In mid-November, Sally Fontaine gallops through Tara shouting the terrible news that the Yankees are coming once more. Scarlett knows that they will take everything. She sends the entire household into the swamp and the woods with the food, horse and livestock, and has Mammy put the silver down the well. Melanie leaps on the horse and drives the cow and calf into the swamp. Once again, Scarlett feels respect for Melanies courage. Scarlett takes Melanies baby, Beau, hides the Yankees wallet in his diaper, and meets the Yankees on the front steps. The Yankees swarm through the house, seizing what they can and ripping open upholstery to look for hidden valuables. Scarlett hears a shot and knows that the Yankees have killed the sow, which Prissy must have abandoned. One of the soldiers takes Charles fathers sword, which is now Wades. Scarlett asks the Yankee sergeant to make the soldier give the sword back, which he does, but then he rushes off to the back of the house, shouting that he will give “these damn Rebels” something to remember him by. One of the soldiers comes in and reports that they have set fire to the few bales of cotton that Scarlett and Dilcey so laboriously picked.
The soldiers leave, taking with them anything they can carry. Scarlett smells smoke coming from the kitchen and realizes that the Yankee soldier who tried to take the sword has set fire to the house. Scarlett and Melanie, with great difficulty, manage to put the fire out by beating it with wet rugs. At one point, Melanie hits Scarlett across her shoulders with her rug. Scarlett faints. When she comes around, Melanie tells her that she had to hit her with the rug because her back was on fire. Melanie discovers the wallet that Scarlett hid in Beaus diaper and laughingly embraces Scarlett, saying no one else would have thought of it. Scarlett permits the embrace partly because she feels a greater respect for Melanies courage and comradeship.
As winter sets in, Scarlett bitterly reflects that what she described to Grandma Fontaine as the worst that could happen to her, was not: things are now much worse. The Yankees have burned the cotton, taken their food and the sow, and left her neighbors with nothing, thereby taking away one of her remaining supports. She only has the cow and calf, some piglets, and the horse. The Tarletons, the Munroes, and a wing of the Fontaines houses have all been burned. Everyone is now short of food and has to live off yams, peanuts and what game they can catch. Pork goes out foraging for food, and when he returns with some, nobody asks where he got it, suspecting he has stolen it. Scarlett remembers Ellens teaching that she is responsible for the moral welfare of the slaves, who are “like children,” but pushes it aside, being simply grateful for Porks loyalty. She promises him that one day, she will have lots of money, and will reward him with a gold watch.
At Christmas-time, Suellens beau, Frank Kennedy, and some Confederate soldiers arrive at Tara, looking for food for the army. During their stay, Scarlett begrudges them every bit of food they eat, and forbids her household to mention the slaughtered piglet hanging in the pantry. Frank tells them that General Sherman has burned Atlanta. Scarlett believes that the warehouse that Charles left her is burnt, but Frank says Aunt Pittypats house is still standing. The Atlanta citizens who survived Shermans visit have come back and are living in tents, shacks and log cabins.
Frank asks to speak to Scarlett alone. He asks her, as head of the household, for Suellens hand in marriage. He has been courting her for years. He is no longer rich, having put all his money into Confederate bonds, which are now worthless. He tells her that the war will soon be over, as the Confederate army cannot fight without food, and there is none. Scarlett happily gives her consent, reflecting that having Suellen married off will mean one less mouth to feed.
Analysis of Chapters 26-28
In spite of her contempt for the past, Scarlett twice draws strength from ancestors and elders: once in Chapter 25, when she remembers how her ancestors overcame adversity and prospered, and decides that she will never be poor again; and again in Chapter 26, when she listens to Grandma Fontaines story. Scarlett goes to the Fontaines with the attitude that, being neither a slave nor “white trash,” she cannot pick cotton; but Grandma Fontaine points out that she has picked cotton in the past and would do so again. When Scarlett returns to Tara, she cannot persuade Mammy or Pork to pick cotton, since they are even more bound by status than she is. She ends up doing it herself, helped by Dilcey, another flexible pragmatist who is able to see what needs to be done and to do it with minimum fuss. The episode shows that the war has enabled Scarlett to learn what her ancestors and elders knew: that survival is more important than status and convention.
Melanie matches Scarletts courage in these chapters, though she lacks Scarletts physical strength. When the Yankee cavalryman invades the house, Melanie appears, dragging Charles sword and prepared to use it, though she can hardly lift it. After Scarlett shoots him, it is Melanie who coolly directs the looting of his possessions and the burying of his body. When the Yankees return to Tara for the second time, Melanie fearlessly leaps onto the horse and drives the cow and calf into the swamp; she exercises as much bravery as Scarlett in putting out the fire that the soldier starts. In addition, she saves Scarletts life by putting out the flames engulfing her back. In spite of Scarletts resentment and dislike of Melanie, she begins to feel a grudging respect for her.
Both households portrayed in these chapters, the OHara and Fontaine households, are now run by women, the men being either dead or away fighting (the Fontaines), or debilitated (Gerald). Historically, wars have played a major part in the emancipation of women, as with the dearth of men, who are away fighting, the women have to take over jobs and roles previously confined to the men. The American Civil War was no exception and put an end to the role of decorative “Southern belle.” Its influence can be traced in Scarletts story: at the beginning of the novel, her only aim is to attract rich men who can keep her in the pampered lifestyle to which she is accustomed. But the depredations of the war have forced her to become self-sufficient, laboring, killing and stealing food in order to protect herself and her household.
There is a price to be paid for Scarletts strength, however, and it is described by Grandma Fontaine. Grandma says that it is a bad thing for a woman to live through the worst that can happen to her, since she fears nothing, and a woman who fears nothing becomes hard-hearted and unhappy. Scarletts heart became more hardened in the vegetable garden at Twelve Oaks, when she decides she will never be poor again, and the process is accelerated by her killing of the Yankee. However, while her hardships undoubtedly have contributed to her hard-heartedness, they do not fundamentally change her. Scarlett is selfish and hard from the start, but tries to cover up this less acceptable side of her character with her “Southern belle” act. The trials she is put through by the war simply develop her existing hard-heartedness and embolden her not to pretend to be a “lady” any longer.
Mitchell makes those trials seem particularly terrible by lulling us into a false sense of security when Scarlett manages to begin to rebuild life at Tara after the Yankees first visit and her terrible journey home on the rickety wagon. Scarlett and Grandma Fontaine both assume that she has been though the “worst” that can happen to her, and we accept their view. But then, after Scarlett has with great difficulty acquired some food, livestock and a horse and gathered some cotton, the Yankees return for a second time – and much of what Scarlett had achieved is destroyed at a stroke. Many would succumb to despair, but Scarlett does not, drawing inspiration partly from Frank Kennedys account of Atlantas rebirth after its burning by the Yankees. The parallel drawn between Scarlett and Atlanta (earlier in the novel, Gerald liked to point out that they are the same age) is developed. As Atlantans begin to move back into the town, living in shacks and log cabins, Scarlett reflects that she is like Atlanta in that “It takes more than Yankees or a burning to keep me down.”