The guiding theme of this post is the interplay of outward appearance versus the inner character that takes place throughout the whole novel and is very visible in throughout these ten chapters. Hence, my emphasis on Scarlett’s green dress which is one of the focal points of this interplay.
Scarlett knows that she has to rely on her appearance to achieve her means. She uses what she can as a woman at that time to gain “manly” results. She knows she has to look a certain way (rich) to make Rhett believe her, but alas, he seems to be the only character who never fails to see her true self despite the layers of falsity Scarlett wraps around herself.
I love-love-love that once Frank is on her hook, Scarlett goes to town, literally, buys a sawmill & starts a business way more successful than Frank’s. And her husband’s astonishment at the realization that women have brains is funny and almost adorable, if it weren’t for his misogyny.
Ashley too comes out of his shell in chapter thirty-one. He is always composed and gentlemanly, but when Scarlett praises him for such an appearance, he comes out with the truth. He is afraid and anxious, stressed that his role of the supporter & breadwinner is too heavy for his unearthly shoulders. Ashley admits he doesn’t know how to live in this new social order when he had been so comfortable in his previous sheltered life. I want to applause Mitchell till my palms ache for including that monologue & giving us a male character who has real human emotions, admits to fear & anxiety, and is real all the same (not painted as “vulnerable” or “weak” as modern society tends to label men who aren’t robots).
Love this line: “They were always like two people talking to each other in different languages” (499).
Again & again we see that Scarlett does not perceive marriage as an affair of love (this came up in the previous section, as well). She is willing to marry Rhett and Frank for comfort, money. I think this interestingly corresponds to Rhett’s statement that he is not a “marrying man”. They should just go and become pre-Raphaelites and Romantics & worship Byron (only both are too pragmatic). I also appreciate that Mitchell is revolting against the Victorian Angel in the Home virtuous woman trope when Scarlett is willing to become Rhett’s mistress.
Speaking of Rhett, his appearance undergoes an unusual change at one point. When Scarlett visits him in jail, he is no longer the debonair Rhett Butler. He is “dirty and unshaven and without a cravat”. This is the first time we see Rhett without his usual flamboyantly fashionable attire & also the first time he is presented to us at his most vulnerable. When his faux appearance is removed, we see a little bit more Rhett. Did he really believe Scarlett, I wonder? I am inclined to think that he really wanted to believe her & when he saw her blistered palms, he was all the angrier for being proven wrong in his hopes. Maybe.
Also, a silly question, but why is Rhett so against Scarlett lying to him? He knows that people lie and cheat, he is one of them, yet Scarlett’s falsehood (only when directed against him) is offensive. Sentimental reasons? 🙂
On a different note, there is some really uncomfortable stuff in this section. I should mention I am only like 5% informed about the American Civil War and its aftermath, so maybe I am the only one surprised to find out about the Reconstruction. The slaves are freed but they are given no structure whatsoever to support their freedom. Most don’t know how to handle it & are poisoned by some of the Yankees’ ideas (but is this just the Southern perspective or the “truth” whatever truth in history means?). Lots of uncomfortable racial slurs & stereotypes thrown around in these chapters. There is also a class issue within the racial issue: the house-servants are higher on the social ladder than the field hands & look down on their actions (and freedom!) with indignation. I was always under the impression that the abolition of slavery was welcomed by all former slaves. Though I need to stress this again: the new government provided no structure for integrating the freemen into society, instead used them to seek political victory and get back at the Southerners.
And here, another instance of appearance vs reality comes up – one that I didn’t expect myself. When the Yankee women ask Scarlett for recommendations for a nurse, they reveal themselves to be more racist than most characters we’ve met so far. Their comments about poor Uncle Peter are disgusting. We also see how Scarlett feels about it:
“Uncle Peter is one of our family,” she said, her voice shaking. “Good afternoon. Drive on, Peter.”
Although I find a lot of what Scarlett says problematic (like diminishing the status of the whole race by suggesting they are like children – this is a frequent comparison that comes up & bothers me so much), judging from the text we can tell that she feels deeply, loves & genuinely cares for Mammy, Peter and the others, AND, more importantly, understands that they have feelings too. I’d like to see more of that.
For other appearance vs true character dichotomies in the book I look to Melanie, Rhett, Ellen, Gerald, Prissy, even the way Southerners thought it would be a Confederate victory because they could not see inside the ranks.
Also, Readers, did you notice that Scarlett kisses her own reflection because she is so beautiful? I giggled at that. 🙂 Such a vain girl.
Overall, the more I read the happier I am that I had practically no exposure to Gone With the Wind before this, not the movie, not the book. I am delighting in the story as it progresses and surprises me with every chapter.