Friday, August 26, 2011

Gone with the Wind - Rhett

Again, I will be typing all sentences containing spoilers in this green color.  Enjoy! 

Everybody loves Rhett Butler, despite his being such a scoundrel.  For my part, I feel quite sorry for him.  He had a lot of potential, but he never lived up to it.

Everyone knows that Scarlett has a lot of bad qualities, and many dislike her for them.  But everyone seems to ignore Rhett's numerous bad qualities.  He was not a good person, my dear!  True, he had some nobility (which I'll discuss in a minute), unlike Scarlett, but he was still very immoral.

There would have been some hope for Scarlett if it weren't for Rhett.  True, her selfishness and her pettiness would still be there, but I doubt she would have been so wild without Mr. Butler's influence.  The Scarlett-Rhett relationship shows that "little things" really can lead us to worse things.  Rhett encourages Scarlett's skepticism, bad temper, and flouting of rules.  At the ball Scarlett goes to after Charles Hamilton's death, Rhett dances with her even though she's supposed to be in mourning.  He then gets her out of mourning.  In his conversation with her, he sneers at the Confederacy and agrees with her selfish views.  Making Scarlett even more of a monster isn't his only fault, either.  I could almost forgive him that if it weren't for his complete lack of contrition for his immoral life!  He is openly a speculator, a drunkard, and an adulterer.  And he doesn't care.  

All that shows Rhett's bad side.  But what keeps us (most of us, anyway) rooting for him is his oft-hidden and repressed nobility.  Yes, you read it right.  This profligate, immoral, irreverent man is noble, too.   Under his crust of evil, he has many truly good qualities.

One of Rhett's best qualities is his generosity.  Though he's unbelievably rich (according to Wikipedia his fortune would equal $7,475,000 in today's currency), Rhett is very generous with his money.  When Scarlett, in desperate need of money for Tara, marries Frank, he tells her that he would have given her all she needed, without payment, as soon as he got out of jail.  He gives Scarlett expensive presents, and after they're married lets her spend money like a queen.  He builds her a huge, elaborate house and lets her give lavish parties.  Rhett is also generous in the sense of sacrificing something for one he loves.  He wants his daughter Bonnie to grow up in the well-bred, moral society of the "Old Guard", so he temporarily reforms his entire life, becoming a perfect gentleman in order to win the approbation of the staunch Confederate nobility so that his daughter can one day be well-respected.  

Rhett's generosity is also shown in his rescuing the gentlemen of Atlanta during the Ku Klux raid.  He could have gotten into a lot of trouble doing that!

 Another of Rhett's better qualities, (thought not really a virtue), is that he truly loves Scarlett.  One of the hardest things for me in the novel was to see Rhett's true (though hidden) love for Scarlett and her blindness to it and continual wounding of it.  This really isn't a good quality at all though, now that I think of it, because - Scarlett being such a brat - she was not worthy to be loved, and Rhett's love for her actually shows an unfortunate weakness on his part.  His love for his stepson Wade and his daughter Bonnie, as well as his friendship with the gentle Melanie Wilkes, are much better examples of love.

Rhett understands people, almost too well. He knows that he is a scoundrel, and he can recognize a person who is not.  He is painfully aware of the fact that Scarlett's Carpetbagger friends are morally and intellectually inferior to the "Old Guard" Southern families, for example.  He's extremely intelligent, and his education is shown in his references to history and literature.

Rhett's friendship with Melanie is, to me, one of the sweetest things in the book.  Other than Ashely, he is the only one who recognizes her worth.  He knows that she is truly good, gentle, and kind, and he treats her accordingly.  When he is with her we see what he could have been. 

Another paradox in Rhett Butler's character is shown by his last-minute joining of the Confederate Army.  After all his sneering and disgust at the Confederacy, he finally breaks down and joins when he sees how much they need help.  Of course it's too late fore the Confederacy, but it was a good - and puzzing - act all the same.

Rhett Butler is truly a tragic character: he had a noble heart hidden by his cynicism and immorality.

Sorry Scarlett's in that picture.  I had a hard time finding photos of Rhett that I liked, and anyway, Scarlett got rather entwined in my post, so it's only fitting that she gets entwined in the photo as well. :p

So what do you think of Rhett Butler?

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