Scarlett goes home to Tara to convalesce, leaving Rhett in Atlanta. Rhett calls on Melanie and tells her that he wants Ashley to buy out Scarletts interest in the mills, so that Scarlett can rest and recuperate fully. Rhett knows that Ashley has no money, so Rhett wants to lend it to him. Ashley would not accept a loan or gift from Rhett, so Rhett proposes to send him the money anonymously through the mail. He asks Melanie to keep quiet about where the money came from and to ensure that Ashley spends it on the mills. The income from the mills will ensure that Beau can go to university. Though Melanie does not know it, Rhetts true motive is to cut the link between Scarlett and Ashley. Melanie gratefully accepts Rhetts offer.
Scarlett returns to Atlanta in good health and full of gossip about her old friends. Suellen is pregnant with her second child, and a group of freed slaves has bought the Calverts old house. Will and Scarlett have converted Tara from a plantation to a successful farm, but most of the owners of the old plantations are struggling.
Rhett behaves with bland politeness towards Scarlett. He tells her that Ashley has been left money by someone he nursed through smallpox while a prisoner of war, and that he wants to buy out her interest in the mills. He goads Scarlett by claiming that he told Ashley that she would never sell because she cannot resist telling Ashley how to run his own business. Scarlett falls for Rhetts bait and resolves to sell Ashley the mills to prove that she is not as Rhett has painted her.
Ashley buys the mills from Scarlett. His first action is to turn away the convicts and employ freed slaves, as he could not be happy if he was making money out of the sufferings of others. Scarlett protests that she could never have made all her money if she had been so scrupulous. Rhett asks sarcastically if her money has made her happy, but Scarlett cannot reply.
Rhett treats Scarlett with impersonal courtesy. He no longer stings her with his barbed comments and she wonders if it is because he no longer cares what she says and does. All the attention he used to give her is channeled into Bonnie.
Rhett socializes exclusively with his Old Southern acquaintances, and never invites his former carpetbagger, Republican or Scalawag associates to his house. He reveals to Scarlett that he and Ashley disbanded the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan because it was counterproductive, causing the Yankees to interfere too much in the South. Rhett is now a respectable Democrat and is playing a part in convicting some of his former Republican friends for fraudulent practices. Even Governor Bullock is under investigation. Rhett is working hard to get a Democrat installed as governor and is contributing financially to the Democratic party. He explains that for him, this is “not a change of heart” but “a change of hide” which will help smooth Bonnies path in the future.
In October, Governor Bullock resigns and flees from Georgia under a cloud of accusations of corruption. An election is held in December and a Democratic governor is voted in. Reconstruction is over. Scarletts Yankee friends leave town. In spite of Rhetts predictions that this would happen, Scarlett is bewildered by the turnabout in events. Rhett has become one of the most popular men in Atlanta, whereas she, who has neglected the Old Southerners and cultivated the Yankees, is without her new friends and cut off from her old ones.
Bonnie grows into a headstrong and spoiled, if sweet and charming, child. Scarlett feels jealous of her closeness to Rhett and her ability to understand and manage him. Rhett indulges her, buying her a Shetland pony. Bonnie learns to jump the pony over small hurdles and begs her father to set the bar higher. Rhett reluctantly agrees. Bonnie cries, “Mother, watch me take this one!” As Bonnie gallops the pony towards the jump, Scarlett notices that her eyes look exactly like Geralds. Then she remembers that Gerald died after uttering these exact same words. She shouts for Bonnie to stop, but it is too late. The pony crashes into the jump and throws Bonnie to her death.
Three days later, Mammy goes to beg Melanie for help. She reports that Rhett is so grief-stricken that he is keeping Bonnies body in his room with him, refusing to let her be buried because of her fear of the dark. Scarlett has accused Rhett of killing Bonnie, and Rhett has replied that Scarlett does not care for any of her children. Scarlett has insisted that the funeral will be held tomorrow, but Rhett has threatened to kill Scarlett rather than let her bury the child. Mammy asks Melanie to persuade Rhett to allow Bonnie to be buried.
Melanie visits Rhett in his room and succeeds in persuading him to let the funeral go ahead. She sits up all night with Bonnies body while Rhett sleeps.
Analysis of Chapters 57-59
Rhett makes a final attempt to save his relationship with Scarlett when he secretly enables Ashley to buy her out of the mills, thus severing a link between Scarlett and Ashley. His action does not appear to restore his marriage, however, and he continues to pour all his energy into Bonnie and into reinventing himself as a respectable Democrat, for the sake of Bonnies future.
Bonnie, as the only child of Rhett and Scarlett, symbolizes the bond between them. When Bonnie dies, Rhett and Scarletts marriage dies with her. As when Scarlett was ill, she and Rhett do not communicate properly: Rhett shuts himself in his room with his whiskey, and when Scarlett visits him, it is only to accuse him of murdering their child. Once again, Melanie provides the strength that Rhett draws upon. She persuades him to allow Bonnie to be buried and sits up with the body all night while Rhett sleeps. Her action mirrors Scarletts in delivering Melanies baby in Atlanta, but the important difference is that Melanie acts from genuinely altruistic motives, whereas Scarlett acted out of a selfish love for Ashley.
Bonnies death recalls Geralds. Both die attempting to jump a fence with the same words on their lips – “Watch me take this one!” Scarlett even notices in the moment leading up to the fateful jump that Bonnies eyes resemble Geralds.
This likeness between the two has many resonances. Gerald and Bonnie both die because of their hotheaded willfulness and stubborn refusal to listen to the voices of caution. Scarlett also has these OHara traits in abundance; they have been largely responsible for her success as well as her mistakes. The similarity between Gerald, Bonnie, and Scarlett (the middle-generation link that joins the two), suggests that as Gerald symbolized Scarletts past, Bonnie symbolized Scarletts future. The fact that both have died in the same way – crashing into a fence – raises an unanswered question: is Scarlett, too, heading for a fatal crash? Will her stubbornness and hotheaded recklessness prove her undoing, too? Already, we see her having lost, or at risk of losing, much that she has built up: her marriage, her social position, her mills, the trust of her children, and her illusory relationship with Ashley.