Back at Tara, Scarletts heart swells with gratitude for Will, who has put everything in good order. Will tells her that after the cotton harvest in the fall, she need not send any more money. Tara will be self-sufficient and he will be married to Suellen, and no longer be in the position of hired hand.
Geralds funeral takes place amid much hostility towards Suellen for betraying the Confederate cause and Gerald. Ashley reads the funeral service. Will makes a speech announcing his engagement to Suellen. He asks that no one speak after him, in order to prevent outspoken people like Grandma Fontaine and Mrs. Tarleton calling Suellen a murderess and a traitor. Will goes on to say that nothing from the outside could “lick” Gerald, but he was finally “licked from the inside” when Ellen died, and “folks whose mainsprings are busted are better dead.” Peoples respect for Will, and for the truth of what he says, prevents them from criticizing Suellen.
Grandma Fontaine asks Scarlett if she approves of Will, of poor “Cracker” stock, marrying her sister. When Scarlett says she does, Grandma Fontaine warms to Scarlett for her pragmatism even though Grandma disapproves of Suellen marrying out of her class. Grandma says the secret of survival is to change with changing times, accept the inevitable, and use people and then discard them. Those who do not adapt, who have no more to them than “money and darkies,” “will be Cracker in another generation.” She cites Cathleen Calvert, now a poor white. Grandma predicts that if the Wilkes family pulls through, it will be thanks to Melanie, not Ashley, who is “as helpless as a turtle on his back.”
Grandmas words mean little to Scarlett, who has no talent for reflective thought, except the insult to Ashley, which angers her. Grandma warns Scarlett that she is smart about money but not about people.
Scarlett gives Geralds gold watch to Pork as a token of thanks for his loyalty. Then she summons Ashley and offers him a half-interest in her mill. She explains that she cannot run the mills herself because of her pregnancy. Ashley listens without looking at her. Then he launches into a speech full of bitterness and self-hatred for allowing her to leave Tara and marry Frank. He feels ashamed that he was not able to raise the tax money and that she had to sell herself to shelter him and his family.
Ashley refuses Scarletts offer because it would mean continuing to live off her charity. He intends to go North and work in the bank. He says this is his last chance to stand on his own feet, and that if he goes to Atlanta and works for Scarlett, he is “lost forever.” This is a reference to his continuing love for her.
Scarlett collapses in a fit of tears. Melanie bursts in and comforts Scarlett. Scarlett explains about her offer to Ashley and says that now that he has refused to work for her, she will have to sell the mill and they will all starve. Melanie is indignant that anyone should upset Scarlett, and Scarlett silently realizes that she has an ally in Melanie. Melanie demands of Ashley how he can possibly hesitate after all Scarlett has done for them. If he accepts her offer, they can move to Atlanta and live among friends, and perhaps get their own house. Filled with desperate bitterness, Ashley agrees, saying, “I cannot fight you both.”
Suellen and Will marry, Carreen enters the convent, and Ashley, Melanie and Beau go to live in Atlanta in a house adjacent to Aunt Pittypats. Because of her kindness, hospitality and adherence to the old traditions, Melanie soon becomes the much-loved center of Old Atlanta society. The gatherings at Aunt Pittypats depress Scarlett as they always follow the same pattern: the ladies complain about hard times and ask if the good times will return, and the gentlemen say that they will. But everyone knows the gentlemen are lying. Scarlett wishes that everyone would look forward, not back.
Now that Scarlett is no longer actively supervising her mills, both are losing money. Hugh is incompetent and a poor trader, and the freed slaves he employs often do not turn up for work. She decides to lease convicts to work the mills. Convicts lack the usual workers rights, and any means can be employed to make them work without having the Freedmens Bureau interfere. Frank is shocked by her decision, feeling that convict labor is more inhumane than slave labor because of the way convicts could be treated. Scarlett also intends to replace Hugh with Johnnie Gallegher, who is known to be a ruthless supervisor of workers.
Though Scarlett makes excuses for Ashley, he is as incompetent as Hugh. He is also unhappy, with a “queer dead look in his eyes.”
Scarlett decides that she will not have any more children.
Scarlett gives birth to an ugly girl, whom she names Ella Lorena. In the same week, a black man who boasted of rape is arrested, but before he can be brought to trial, the Ku Klux Klan hangs him. Yankee soldiers make many arrests and rumors abound of mass hangings by the Yankees and an uprising by blacks against whites. Scarlett gives thanks that Ashley is too sensible to belong to the Klan and Frank too timid.
Frank forbids Scarlett to leave the house while conditions are so dangerous. Both her mills are standing idle because Hugh and Ashley will not leave their families alone all day. Scarlett goes to Melanie and vents her fury over Franks edict, saying she will walk to the mills. Melanie begs Scarlett not to take risks and promises that she will think of a solution. Later, a one-eyed and one-legged man called Archie arrives and tells Scarlett that Melanie has sent him to drive her around. He announces that he hates black people and Yankees and does not think much of women, either, but Melanie has been good to him by letting him sleep in her cellar, so he is doing as she asked. Archie becomes Scarletts driver and bodyguard and an Atlanta institution, being hired by other ladies, when Scarlett does not need him, to escort them around town.
Scarlett mentions to Archie that she is planning to take on convict labor in the mills. He threatens to quit if she does. He says leased-out convicts are treated badly by their employers, being frequently beaten, starved and killed. He tells Scarlett that he was a convict himself for forty years, imprisoned for killing his wife after she committed adultery with his brother. The Confederates released him on condition that he fought in the war. He lost his leg and eye in the fighting.
Scarlett hears that the Georgia legislature has refused to ratify an amendment to the Constitution that would give the vote to black people. Ashley predicts that the Yankees will wreak a terrible punishment on the South, perhaps imposing a black legislator or governor on the state, or harsh military rule. Both Ashley and Scarlett think that Georgia should go along with what the Yankees want.
Scarlett leases five convicts for each of her mills. Archie, in line with his threat, quits, and her family and friends think he is right. She replaces High with Johnnie Gallegher, giving him a free hand to treat the convicts as he sees fit. The first week, Johnnie makes more money with five convicts than Hugh did with ten freed slaves. Ashley does little better with convicts than he did with freed slaves, and seems to be gnawed by some internal pain.
Analysis of Chapters 40-42
Scarlett reaches new heights of ruthlessness in her decision to employ convict labor, and the episode shows how the hardships of the post-war period have given license to this aspect of her character. She would not have countenanced any involvement with convicts before the war, when she was more concerned with honorable behavior, or at least the appearance of honor. Convicts had no rights and no laws to protect them, and were treated far worse than slaves, being beaten, starved or even murdered by employers or overseers. Everyone (apart from Scarletts mill manager, Johnnie Gallegher) thinks that Scarletts decision is unacceptable: Ashley, Frank, Uncle Peter and Mammy, friends and neighbors. Even Archie, a convict and murderer, refuses to drive Scarlett or be in the same carriage with her. In her prioritizing of profit above all other considerations, Scarlett has placed herself far beyond the values that society finds acceptable. She compounds an already cruel decision by giving Johnnie Gallegher free rein to treat the convicts as he likes. Scarlett and Johnnie are ruthless people made positively brutal by the collapse of social refinements and the rise of harsh conditions.
Scarlett takes another morally dubious decision in emotionally blackmailing Ashley into accepting the managership of the mill, so that she can keep him near her. Ashley is already bitter and ashamed at living off Scarletts charity, and tortured by his frustrated love for her. His humiliation is complete when he reluctantly accepts her offer. He is, he says, “lost forever” and set to bury “my masculine pride, my self-respect and, if you choose to call it, my immortal soul.” Thereafter, he grows ever more pained, grim, and tired in demeanor. Ashleys disintegration parallels Scarletts rise in the business world: in a sense, he pays for her success with his soul.
The unexpected power of Melanies unassuming personality is evident when, as usual seeing the good in everyone, she attributes worthy motives to Scarletts job offer to Ashley. In reality, Scarlett is being entirely selfish. But, faced with Melanies grateful joy, Scarlett has enough vestiges of conscience to feel shame – a rare occurrence with her.
Melanies quiet courage again surfaces in her insistence to the genteel yet vindictive ladies of her social circle that she will tend the graves of dead Yankees in the South, just as she would hope that some kind Yankee woman would tend the graves of Southerners who died in the North. Melanie recognizes that some values – such as the Christian principle of “as you sow, so shall you reap,” and respect for the dead, irrespective of who they are – transcend patriotism. Her character is proof that there are different kinds of strength and heroism than Scarletts. Even after Melanie has confronted the ladies with her dangerous views, they reaffirm their love for her, in contrast to Scarlett, whose confrontations leave resentment and disapproval in their wake. This is because Melanies words and actions spring from a generous heart, whereas Scarletts often spring from self-interest.