GWTW Chapters 11-20: Characters

It’s only the second check-in, and I already have a tome of things to share! I’m going to try and be as brief as possible and use Corinne’s discussion topic for this week to compartmentalize my thoughts. The topic is “character”, and so I shall list off some remarks about Scarlett, Rhett, and Melanie, as well as the characters’ relationship with one another. I find them all immensely interesting.


SCARLETT

In this section, Scarlett develops as a character and as a person. We get more glimpses into her direct thoughts (and some of them are hilarious — like mocking old ladies), and we also get to see her become a little bit stronger, a little bit more thoughtful, a little bit tougher and kinder. Although, she’s still a silly vapid creature at heart.

One of her thoughts stuck with me particularly and has become a kind of mantra for whenever negative thoughts spring upon me. “I won’t think of this or that bothersome thought now. I’ll think about it tomorrow” (Ch. 11). Isn’t that such a good personal philosophy to live by! I like it very much.

Throughout this section, I kept wondering whether Scarlett truly loves Ashley, and whether that is real love… This quote is particularly beautiful:

“She was done with marriage but not with love, for her love for Ashley was something different, having nothing to do with passion or marriage, something sacred and breath-takingly beautiful, an emotion that grew stealthily through the long days of her enforced silence, feeding on oft-thumbed memories and hopes.”

AH! My heart! But as gorgeous as the abovementioned words are, I was still concerned: is this Mitchell telling us this is Scarlett’s love for Ashley, or is this how Scarlett feels and describes her own feeling? I don’t know what I think. It seems like there is a very strong feeling guiding her behaviour, almost an infatuation but a little less superficial. The scene where she and Ashley are saying goodbye, and then they kiss and Ashley’s ashamed expression that still betrays his love for her is another of my favourites. And the obligation Scarlett feels after promising him to care for Melanie suggests that she truly cares, albeit she fulfills the promise somewhat begrudgingly towards the end (though you can forgive her — her mother and sisters are ill!). Some moments suggest that yes, she does love him, but there is no certainty — otherwise I wouldn’t feel so unsure about her feelings. After all, Scarlett isn’t as suitable for Ashley, not as attuned to his thoughts and personality as Melanie.

MELANIE

At first I didn’t think much of her character. Melanie seems to be like the typical nineteenth century female character, the angel in the home, the caring selfless creature with no individuality, bla-di-bla… However, as Mitchell continues to show her readers, appearances don’t always align with reality, and in this section Melanie too emerges from her shell to expose a real, complex character. And keep in mind that this is all from Scarlett’s perspective. I suspect if we had access to Melanie’s POV she would be even better.

Especially as chapter twenty came to a close, I was left with many questions about Melanie, some of which Scarlett herself posed to the readers. Does Melanie really believe Ashley loves her in that way? Or is she an even better person, and, knowing that Ashley loves Scarlett, she still loves him and also Scarlett? Finally, will Melanie die? The foreshadowing is strong.

RHETT

Oh golly. At this point I am 85% certain that Rhett is my favourite character. ALL OF HIS SCENES AND INTERACTIONS WITH SCARLETT ARE JUST SO HILARIOUS! I loved the bit about Thermopylae, that historical burn, that cheek, Scarlett’s [usual] cluelessness — everything. The bit when Rhett sits aside with Scarlett’s baby on his shoulder is also very touching. So touching indeed, that I had to reread the scene and make sure I understood correctly. What? Rhett with Wade? The cynic rocking a baby? Oh, my stars. 🙂

Some serious questions about Rhett concern his symbolic value. I’m not sure why, but halfway through I paused and wondered What does Rhett represent? Somehow, the first thing that popped up was “capitalism”. Only now upon rereading my notes earlier on in the section I found the excerpt where Rhett [rightfully] claims that there is one reason for war. “And that is money. All wars are in reality money squabbles” (Ch 12). Add to that his profiteering, pragmatism, unashamed materialism, etc. Obviously, Rhett isn’t just capitalism, that would be stupid, but I feel like that economic+social commentary is part of the reasoning behind his character.

Ultimately, Rhett is like that villain everybody loves. He’s a git, and there is something dark and scary about him at times, but Scarlett (and I!) remain fascinated.

SCARLETT AND RHETT

These two are very alike, as Rhett himself confirms, and it is part of the reason why they are drawn to each other. Scarlett gains power from her vanity, I believe the reason she needs to have so many beaux swooning about her is because it empowers her, allows her to control them without herself becoming vulnerable (she loves Ashley, remember?). Similarly, Rhett enjoys contradicting everything the Southerners believe about the war. He is also elevated by this ability to stick daggers into every one and, twisting ever so slightly, achieve maximum sting. Just as Scarlett isn’t vulnerable before her beaux because she doesn’t really love any of them, Rhett isn’t afraid of being the black sheep and the jerk — because he knows he is, admits he is, and kind of likes it.

Another thing that struck me is that Scarlett has some prominent “male traits” like her straightforwardness and opinionated nature, while Rhett possesses the feminine attention for dresses, nuanced emotions, and ribbons. That’s very funny, especially since the rest of him is very … macho.

RHETT AND MELANIE

One of the most fascinating character relationships in this section, wouldn’t you agree? If you own the purple and gold edition, check out page 222 which contains a lovely description of Rhett’s behaviour towards Melanie. This brings me back to my thoughts on Melanie. If even Rhett recognizes her as the only true lady he knows, a truly kind person, well, that means a lot. There is something very beautiful and touching about the reverent way in which he treats her. I adore it!!

SCARLETT AND MELANIE

AHHHHHHHHHHH. I actually have so much to write about this, but now I think I will leave most of it for another post, as this one is getting too long. Let me say for now that this is a very interesting relationship because of the love triangle situation, because Scarlett has been conditioned to regard all women as enemies, and because what we have here is an instance of female friendship. This is like the Bechdel test reversed. What connects them is their shared feeling about Ashley, despite being something that would normally set them against each other. This is super interesting to explore, and I am going to devote an entire post to it.

————————————————————

Did I say I was going to be brief? I lied.

I am still loving the book very much. Some things I would love to discuss with others: What do you think about Rhett? What does he represent? What about Scarlett and Melanie’s relationship? Does Scarlett love Ashley, and what does she feel towards Rhett?

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4 responses to “GWTW Chapters 11-20: Characters

  1. I love what you have to say about Rhett & Melanie!! Yes, I just love watching the way Rhett behaves around her. It’s as if she is a stand-in perhaps for his mother. I don’t mean that as awkwardly as it sounds — I just mean he is as reverent around her as a little boy with his mother. Naughty unless in her presence, as Scarlett is with Ellen. Hey! I just noticed that! The similarity between he and Melanie, and Scarlett and Ellen. & yes, I do love that Wade loves him, & he appears to like Wade.

    I also love your thoughts on Rhett as representative somehow of capitalism. Maybe he represents the realities of capitalism intruding on the ideal idea that the South could simply fool themselves into believing that their economy was based on chivalry rather than greed? (Ahem, slavery and the oppression of women in the name of chilvalry.)

    I have felt for a while that Mitchell is debating the idea of the angelic Victorian woman on her pedestal who wants all that a proper Victorian woman should want — motherhood and a husband (Melanie), and the “madwoman” — the outspoken female who defies convention and doesn’t much care to be a mother or a wife (Scarlett) — and conversing between them in Gone with the Wind, like Austen converses between Sense & Sensibility. Are all women either one or the other, she might be asking? Is the woman who speaks her mind and doesn’t want to be a mother all bad? Is the angel one-dimensional and flat, as depicted so often in Victorian novels? Perhaps she is more. Which is better? Is one better? Are they diametrically opposed? Might they actually represent two sides of a single woman? Could the two extremes ever find common round? Are they fated to be rivals in literature?

    Only an idea! 🙂

    You might check out Deborah’s first check in post. She touched on the idea of capitalism as a topic in Gone with the Wind: http://atelierdeborah.blogspot.com/2015/05/gone-with-wind-underbelly-of-capitalism.html

    I am SO EXCITED you are so loving this book!! 🙂

    • I love your thoughts on everything! It does seem that Rhett treats Melanie like a mother — I completely understand what you mean. And the similarity with Scarlett’s behaviour towards Ellen makes sense, since both Melanie and Ellen are pillars of propriety for the wild Rhett and Scarlett. I only wish my thoughts were less muddled towards the end of the entry.. And I’ll check out the post (thanks for linking!)
      Yes! Your analysis of “woman-types” fits perfectly! I want to keep paying attention to that. It reminds me of the way Bertha Rochester is said to be the “double” for Jane Eyre, the mad side of her. Definitely fits into the Victorian notion that a woman is either an angel or a fallen woman. I hope Mitchell is establishing a gray area (e.g. when Melanie stands up to Mrs. Merriwether about Rhett, and even Scarlett is shocked that she herself could not do that).

      • YES!! On all of this!! I couldn’t think of the phrase “fallen woman” when I wrote the above. That’s exactly what I was getting at! & Yes — Bertha & Jane Eyre. I had read that they were perhaps twins — or that the book can be read that way! Mitchell had also read Jane Eyre, by the way. 🙂

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