Free Study Guide - Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell|
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GONE WITH THE WIND STUDY GUIDE
Rhett is from Charleston, South Carolina. He is totally independent because he had an un-detailed disagreement with his father and was disowned. There is a rumor that he ruined the reputation of a girl, and for that he is not "received" in his own home. Actually, he did nothing more than take the girl for a buggy ride. There was an accident in which the buggy was smashed and the horse ran away. Thus the two had to walk home and arrived late at night. The next day, he refused to marry her. According to his opinion, the girl was a silly, foolish sort who threw herself at him. He had no interest in her, had not harmed her in any way, and couldn't see any reason why he should marry her. Nevertheless, the girl was supposedly "ruined"; Rhett was challenged to a duel by her brother and won. Thereafter he was barred from Charleston society.
The typical rumor mill has exaggerated Rhett's reputation. He is said to be "loose" with women, although none of the women can say exactly what that means. He first sees Scarlett at the barbecue at Twelve Oaks and instantly falls in love with her. He admires her spirit and her candor in saying exactly what she thinks. He also has a very practical mind and has refused to blind himself in the name of tradition or abstractions such as the "cause." He predicts the Confederate loss before the war even starts, sighting the southern lack of equipment and preparation. The south has been wholly agricultural and does not have the first ammunition plant or weapons factory. The leaders have apparently not given much thought to the practical needs of an army. Rhett points this out, immediately antagonizing the people at Twelve Oaks. He repeats his blunt comments in Atlanta, always at the moment when people are busy fantasizing about the glorious cause, and makes enemies for himself wherever he goes. In spite of that, by selling his cotton in England and running Yankee blockades with needed goods, he does more for the south than any of the slogan spouting leaders of Atlanta. Although he has the reputation of a rogue and an opportunist, he is honest with himself. If the south is going to fight a losing battle, he is not going to sit by and share the coming days of poverty and hardship. As he says, there is as much money to be made in destroying a civilization as there is in building one.
In spite of his reputation, Rhett is a noble and decent character who sees below the surface of things. Melanie is the first to recognize the innate goodness in him; her recognition restores his own lost faith in human nature. He desires her good will because he knows it is sincere. Later on, when he courts the good opinion of the town on behalf of his daughter, he does so, not because he cares for their artificial manners, but because he knows that the attitudes of his society have not changed. As a man, it doesn't bother him if he isn't "received," but if the other women do not accept his daughter, she will be forced into the same life style as Belle Watling.
That Rhett is in love with Scarlett early in the story is easy to see.
He is waiting for her to grow up, to get over Ashley and to fall in love
with him. However, he has a sarcastic manner himself that he uses at all
the wrong times. At the very moment when Scarlett would be serious, he
jests and criticizes and points out her flaws. The fact that he is there
whenever she needs him is utterly lost on Scarlett.
Melanie is, as Rhett says, the one truly kind person in the book. She
is unable to say anything cruel about a person even if she knows it to
be true, and she defends those she loves with the fury of a tigress. She
seems a flat character at first, too willing to believe in Scarlett, too
much a part of the old world to be quite real. Yet she shows depth by
standing up to the other women in the issue of flowers on the graves and
in her defense of both Rhett and Scarlett. She is gentle and tender toward
children, but would have killed the Yankee soldier herself if she could
have. She is able to think quickly, thus helping Rhett protect the men
who return from the KKK rendezvous. Because her graciousness is a characteristic
from within and not merely part of formalized manners, she inspires and
encourages those around her. While she hates those who caused the misery
for Atlanta, she is also able to suspend judgment on an individual basis.
Except for the fact that she is frail and considered rather plain in appearance,
she would be too perfect to be realistic.
Ashley Wilkes is the symbol of a dying culture. Although he is an unchanging character himself, he is a pivotal figure about which Scarlett moves and who does a great deal to motivate the changes in her. He is also dishonest with himself and thus unfair to Scarlett. On at least three separate occasions, he admits to Scarlett that he loves her, but backs away under the guise of honor and dignity. Finally, he acknowledges that he adores his wife; if Scarlett had ever for a moment thought that he was in love with Melanie and not her, she would have given up her fantasy.
The one thing Ashley is honest about is his own weakness and fear. He
sees his own world fading away and knows that he is pitifully ill equipped
to function in the world that is being born before his eyes. He continuously
looks backward to days that, to him, held a grace and a charm along with
a slow paced life style. He admits to Melanie that he fights in the war
because it is his duty to do so along with the rest of the able-bodied
men, but he never believes they have a chance of winning from the very
start. Ashley is a man who ultimately lacks the courage to take on the
unknown, and so he is in limbo, always looking backward to what he has
Mammy is at least one other truly decent person in the novel. She judges according
to what she sees and hears, but is quick to forgive when her first impression
is proven wrong. Her one fault is that she is so fiercely devoted to Scarlett
that she actually helps her steal Frank Kennedy. Rhett says that she is
the true head of the household, for she manages all the physical details
of running a house but also speaks her mind regarding manners and appropriate
behavior. She and Melanie are the two people whose good opinion Scarlett
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Ruff, Dr. KSC. "TheBestNotes on Gone With the Wind".
. 09 May 2017