Melanie continues to stand by Scarlett, such as when she emerges from her sickbed with Charles' sword, ready to defend Scarlett and Tara from the Yankee looter. In spite of herself, Scarlett begins to feel a grudging respect for Melanie's courage. This line of moral growth in Scarlett culminates in the episode where Scarlett and Ashley are discovered embracing. Once again, Melanie courageously supports Scarlett, and even Scarlett is shamed into realizing that "she owed Melanie a debt for her championship." Scarlett knows that she cannot unburden her own heart and confess all to Melanie, as it would destroy all that Melanie holds dear. So Scarlett keeps silent, and must carry the burden of her guilt alone; Rhett refers to this as her "cross." This is the first time that Scarlett has sacrificed her own desires for the sake of another. She is forced to do so by the power and strength of Melanie's quiet goodness and courage. Thus Melanie is a moral force in the novel.
Critics and historians regard the book as having a strong commitment to the cause of the Confederacy and a romanticized view of the culture of the South. This is apparent from the book's opening pages, which describe how Scarlett's suitors, the Tarleton twins, have been expelled from university and are accompanied home by their elder brothers out of a sense of honor. Nevertheless, the book includes a vivid description of the fall of Atlanta in 1864 and the devastation of war, and shows a considerable amount of historical research. The novel's major themes, other than war, are, love of money, attitudes towards slavery, fantasy versus