By the following April, the war is over. Pork returns from a trip to Macon with food, seed and supplies. While Melanie, Suellen and Carreen sob over the Confederate surrender, Scarlett is only relieved that Tara will be safe. She plans to plant cotton and to sell it for high prices due to its scarcity. She looks forward to Ashley coming home, but they hear no word from him.
Most of their neighbors are in a desperate situation, though the Fontaines have fared better than most. Scarlett obtains seed corn from the Fontaines, and insists on paying them even though they try to give it to her as a gift.
Suellen and Carreen beg the unwilling Scarlett to be allowed to visit the Tarletons. All of Mrs. Tarletons beloved horses are dead. While there, Carreen and Mrs. Tarleton go to the burying-ground to visit Brents grave.
Cade Calvert is sick and close to death. His sister Cathleen rides up to Tara one day on a mule and grimly tells Scarlett and Melanie that she is marrying her familys overseer, the Yankee Mr. Hilton, the next day. She is doing this only so that Cade can die knowing that she will be taken care of. After Cathleen rides off, Melanie, appalled that Cathleen should marry a man she does not love, suggests to Scarlett that they invite her to live at Tara. Scarlett protests that Cathleen would never live off charity, but she inwardly thinks that the last thing she wants is another mouth to feed, and she bitterly reflects that Melanie too is living off her charity.
Confederate soldiers returning from the war pass through Tara, and Scarlett feeds and houses them grudgingly. Most are suffering from dysentery. One day, Aunt Pittypats slave, Uncle Peter, rides up to Tara. On Pittypats orders, he demands why Scarlett and Melanie have not returned to Pittypats to look after her, as she is frightened of the Yankee soldiers and “free issue niggers” (freed slaves). Scarlett and Melanie collapse in helpless laughter before pointing out that they cannot leave Tara. Uncle Peter then remembers the main purpose of his visit, which is to give them a letter from Ashley. Ashley is walking home from Illinois.?
One of the visiting soldiers is called Will Benteen. He is a poor white (a “Cracker”) from Georgia who has lost a leg in the war and is now suffering from pneumonia. As Scarlett and the others nurse him, Carreen spends much time in his room praying for him. When Scarlett expresses impatience at her devotions, Will defends Carreen, pointing out that she is grieving for Ellen and Brent Tarleton, her dead beau. Scarlett protests that Brent was her beau and not Carreens, but Will tells her that after Scarlett rejected him, he got engaged to Carreen – a fact that Scarlett did not know.
Will turns out to be a good listener and becomes a friend to Scarlett. As he recovers, he begins to help around the house. He asks Scarlett if he can stay on and work on the land to pay her back for saving his life, and she agrees. He quickly becomes indispensable due to his skills at farming and trading. He falls in love with Carreen, but she is so taken up with religion and her dead beau that she is oblivious to Wills attentions.
Melanie does her share of the work without complaining, but she is too thin and pale. Dr Fontaine diagnoses her problem as a female complaint. He says that she should never have had Beau and that another baby would kill her.
At last, Ashley returns. As he walks up the avenue, Melanie flies out to meet him and throws herself into his arms. Scarlett, ecstatic, runs forward to meet him, but Will pulls her back, gently reminding her that Ashley is Melanies husband.
Analysis of Chapters 29-30
Scarlett and Melanies response to Uncle Peters demand that they return to Atlanta just to look after the nervous Pittypat shows how much they have grown in strength during the war. After all they have endured and overcome, Pittypats fears of Yankees and freed slaves seem absurdly trivial. In the huge contrast between Scarlett and Melanie and their aunt, we see the opposite poles of womanhood that the war has emphasized: the helpless Southern belle and the war-toughened women.
Another consequence of the war – its tendency to break down class and cultural barriers – is made clear in Cathleen Calverts decision to marry her familys overseer. This match is shocking on three counts and would have been impossible before the war: first, Hilton is a Yankee and Cathleen a staunch Southerner; second, he is considered to be far beneath Cathleens aristocratic class; and third, she does not love him, but is marrying him because most of the young aristocratic men have been killed in the war and there is a shortage of suitable bridegrooms. She feels that she must marry to reassure her dying brother that she will be looked after. Scarlett, in contrast, defies convention and sees no reason why she should ever marry again. The war has made her more independent.
The breakdown of class barriers by the war is also apparent in the ease with which Will is able to walk into a position of power at Tara. The girls, brought up to observe the niceties of class, quickly realize that he is a “Cracker,” a poor white. But this is irrelevant because he is both congenial company and an indispensable worker. Scarlett even sees him as a perfect match for her sister, Carreen. Will, who is a good listener, quickly gains more insight into Scarletts family than the self-absorbed Scarlett has. He gleans the truth about Scarletts feelings for Ashley without being told, and is able to prevent her from embarrassing herself and ruining Melanie and Ashleys reunion by a carefully judged intervention.