Saturday, March 13, 2010

9. SCARLETT AND RHETT WERE OPPOSITES

Papa once said to Scarlett, "You’re just like me, and you never do anything without an ulterior motive.”  But, they were opposites in everything else, especially where it really mattered, how they treated us, the family. 
Scarlett never meant any harm to anyone, except to that Yankee thief who intruded into Tara.  She shot him dead without flinching.  Let it never be said that Scarlett scorned Bonnie, other than attempting to abort the child in the womb.  Scarlett simply did whatever she pleased, regardless whether it harmed anybody.  This is why gossips kept a critical eye on her, and she needed to constantly write letters to sweeten folks’ opinions of her.  Nevertheless, my point is that she seldom meant to do harm.
Papa gave no thought to folks’ opinions of him, since we all adored him, including Scarlett, and deservedly, since he never pulled any of Scarlett’s brand of treachery toward us or any of his kin.  But in Scarlett’s letters she left the impression that Papa was ruthlessness toward everyone, as she was. 
In turn, this false impression of him appeared in GONE WITH THE WIND in several places, such as the passage where he was quoted, “We are both scoundrels Scarlett,  and nothing is beyond us when we want something.”  It’s an accurate quote, but it was used falsely by the author,  since it suggests that Papa, like Scarlett, was in love with someone other than Scarlett.  On the contrary, falling in love with anyone else was the only thing that was beyond Rhett.   
On the very day he said they were both scoundrels, Scarlett had been caught in the act of passionately embracing Ashley Wilkes.  Needless to say, this was treachery toward Rhett as well as her best friend Melanie, because of the act itself, and more importantly for the wantonness it displayed.  The deed of a scoundrel. 
By contrast, Rhett never married any woman other than Scarlett, and he married her for love, rather than wealth or influence.  After hearing of Scarlett’s scandal, he showed his devotion to her by going straight to her side to comfort her and then escorting her out in public, rather than forsaking her.  His heart was steadfast for her and for his children.  His reputation as a scoundrel was earned by him in the public marketplace, not in the home.  He had been a war profiteer and was labeled “scalawag” as a result, which was an insult he never denied.  He admitted his treachery to Atlantans and to the cause of the South.  In fact, he reveled in the notoriety his profiteering brought to him.   
Alas, later the same day of the discovery of Scarlett’s wantonness with Ashley, Papa angrily accused her of neglecting to love Bonnie, Ella, and Wade.  She didn’t deny it.  She had hated the role of mother ever since it was first thrust upon her by her pregnancy with Wade.  She dreaded giving birth, and after discovering she was pregnant with Bonnie, she wished, in fact, that the child would somehow abort in her womb. 
The climax of their argument came when Papa said he was a better parent than she, and he proposed taking Bonnie away to visit her grandmother in Charleston.  Again, Scarlett made no defense of herself as a parent, nor did she deny that Papa had parented better than she, heretofore.  Instead, she suggested that Bonnie might be vulnerable to the “madam” Belle Watling while in Papa’s custody, which implied possible negligence on Papa’s part.  Papa was infuriated by the remark, but not on behalf of Belle. 
Belle Watling deserves mention here, since we’re discussing Papa’s reputation.  Needless to say, it was unkind of Scarlett to allege that Belle might do harm to a child.  Surely, Scarlett meant that she might harm Bonnie’s reputation - - a silly notion, since five-year-olds don’t have reputations.  In any case, Papa was smart to perceive that the brunt of Scarlett’s allegation was aimed at his own honor, rather than Belle’s.  Clearly, he knew that Scarlett had no quarrel with Belle, and she never had.  Not once, in the years they had been a couple had she accused Papa of unfaithfulness to her, despite full knowledge of his association with Belle.  She never felt threatened by Belle, since Belle was so far beneath her.  Belle resented Scarlett, but not simply for Scarlett’s snobbery.  She told me why, three years later when I was old enough to visit her establishment on my own.  Ironically, Belle also convinced me of Scarlett’s enduring love for Papa, at a time when Scarlett seemed estranged from him.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you Peter Brown for your blog. I would like to share a different perspective on Scarlett O'Hara--see my blog at http://scarlettohara-andio.blogspot.com/

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  2. I read a couple of your entries about Rhett and Scarlett this morning. I agree with many of your interpretations. I believe that Rhett had Scarlett's number from day one. They orbited each other like satellites for many years, yet always with that undeniable chemistry between them. I think he was a rogue and a businessman--not a man who was particularly interested in trying to fit in to Scarlett's rather pretentious world and belief system. Nor did he have a lot of patience with her relentless and misguided love for Ashley Wilkes. On the other hand, they had obvious, overpowering chemistry between them and he could never quite forget her, in spite of her antics. I've never seen him as a bad character--just a man who knew himself and knew what he would or wouldn't engage in.

    On the other hand, I think you and I see Scarlett differently. I first read the book when I was ten years old and fell in love with it. I immediately recognized, even then, that although I wanted to be good and sweet, like Melanie, I am much more like Scarlett. I was always intense, complicated, and passionate as a girl, yet always wishing to be sweet and docile, to posess the qualities that society reinforced in girls. I think Scarlett was the same way. She wanted to be better--wanted to be more like Melanie deep down--but knew that she simply wasn't ever going to be.

    Later in life, for Scarlett and for me, that innate strength and determination has been our salvation. She was a survivor, and I am as well. She protected her family and her people and was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen. That's why I have always related so well to her.

    I think you portrayed her a bit too harshly, to be honest. She always wanted to be seen as a lady but could just never quite pull it off. I think you got Rhett just right---but Scarlett was a product of her environment, thrown into survival mode. She did what she had to do and I respect that.
    Melissa

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  3. Even in my own life, I can relate to Rhett. You can only keep trying to make someone care for so long then you finally have to walk away and say I dont give a damn.

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  4. You weren't too harsh to Scarlett. Sometimes as Scarlett found out with Rhett(as in real life too)you cant play with peoples feelings-especially the people who actually do love and care for you...

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