GWTW Chapters 31 – 40: The Green Gown

I wanted a painting of a woman in an emerald green dress & am quite satisfied with this one. Her face isn't exactly Scarlett, but then there is a sly look in her eyes which disturbs her whole demure posture. I like it!

The Green Gown – Thomas Edwin Mostyn (detail, 19th century). I wanted a painting of a woman in an emerald green dress & am quite satisfied with this one. Her face isn’t exactly Scarlett, but then there is a sly look in her eyes which disturbs her whole demure posture. I like it!

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.

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6 responses to “GWTW Chapters 31 – 40: The Green Gown

  1. Great post! I remember very little from watching the movie many years ago, but I remember the scene with the green dress vividly. It was spectacular! And like you, I am glad that I have gone into the book with very little outside knowledge. (I do plan to watch the movie soon, since I am done reading the book.)
    The interplay between Rhett and Scarlett is fascinating. I do believe he *wanted* to believe Scarlett when she came to see him in prison. Considering how he admires Melly, I’m sure he would have loved to see some of her traits in Scarlett. But then he knows her almost better than she knows herself, and it is no surprise that he sees through her deception. But that doesn’t mean he’s not disappointed in the fact that she’s lying. I believe that as much as he admires Scarlett’s independence and strength, he’d like to have her respect and admiration as well… and lying does not really show respect.
    As to the portrayal of reconstruction, I think the plain facts are presented pretty faithfully. But I did find it problematic that we have so many stereotypes… the former white plantation owners who always had everyone’s best interest at heart, the loyal house slaves who are still devoted to their former owners, the freed slaves who have left and who are now freeloaders who attack helpless white women, and then the racist Yankee wives. I don’t think there’s one “bad white Southerner” in this book, other than the ones who were considered white trash to begin with. And now that I am thinking about it… is there a “good white Northerner” in this book? I don’t think so… maybe that’s a topic for the next post. 🙂

    • Rhett knows Scarlett all too well, even better than she knows herself, as you said, because they are very alike. 🙂 I think she hates him so much because she unconsciously sees some of her qualities reflected in him! And, as we know, Scarlett wants the reputation of Ellen but knows she can never let go of Gerald’s temperament.

      I agree with you that there are a lot of stereotypes in the novel, but also some characters who go against them (Will Benteen the genteel farmer; Ashley the frightened gentleman; Scarlett the businesswoman; Grandma Fontaine the feisty old lady).

      Interesting remark about the “bad Southerner” vs “good Northerner”. I don’t think we were properly acquainted with any Northerners, and those mentioned briefly were described in a negative light… But Scarlett was pleasantly surprised that the Yankee soldier addressed her with respect when she went to visit Rhett. 🙂

  2. Scarlett dickeys herself up when hoping to borrow money from Rhett as she knows he appreciates well dressed ladies as he’s a bit of a dandy. Their friendship is strange as he’s always challenging and often taunting her which does seem to drive her crazy. However I did wonder when he takes her and the others from Atlanta and heads towards Tara would it have killed him to see them safely home and then join the army?! I know it wouldn’t make for the same drama but nevertheless Scarlett had a lot on her plate.

    • Yeah, I do think it strange that he just left them in the middle of the road. And it is *kind of* explained that he believed Scarlett could make it by herself, etc. But he could have seen them to safety first. HOWEVER, I also like what the text does here because it kind of stops the damsel-in-distress & male saviour tropes in their tracks. Rhett helps Scarlett but then abandons her, meaning the survival of their company is pretty much to Scarlett’s credit. And I like that. 🙂

      • So true Scarlett does get them to safety and is not a helpless damsel. Now on re-reading GWTW I think it’s an epic sweeping tale of survival etc more than a love story.

      • Yes, yes! 🙂 Margaret Mitchell herself said so. 😀 (See the last page if you’ve got the purple and gold edition)

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