Our text today is an obscure novel you’ve probably never heard of called Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Kidding aside, if you’ve never read it, do so; it’s an amazing novel. Characterization, plotting, pacing, theme, exposition, setting… Mitchell was The Real Deal, a master novelist. So it’s impossible to resist discussing some of the novel’s excellent features as general fiction, along with the “red pill in fiction” stuff.
1) Here’s a SPOILER WARNING.
2) All page numbers (that I remember to mention, heh) are from the Warner Books paperback edition, 1993.
3) I’ll confine my editing to splicing out irrelevant material. I won’t use ellipses (…) to indicate splices because they’re distracting. I haven’t cut anything that matters; trust me.
Our setting is Georgia, early April 1861. That sound you hear in the background is, of course, the drums of war.
Let’s start with jerks vs. nice guys. Pages 98-9, our central character, 16-year-old Scarlett O’Hara, first sets eyes on a mysterious scoundrel at a party:
Her eyes fell on a stranger, standing alone in the hall, staring at her in a cool impertinent way that brought her up sharply with a mingled feeling of feminine pleasure that she had attracted a man and an embarrassed sensation that her dress was too low in the bosom. He looked quite old, at least thirty-five. [HEY! – N.] He was a tall man and powerfully built. When her eye caught his, he smiled, showing animal-white teeth below a close-clipped black mustache. He was dark of face, swarthy as a pirate, and his eyes were as bold and black as any pirate’s appraising a galleon to be scuttled or a maiden to be ravished. There was a cool recklessness in his face and a cynical humor in his mouth as he smiled at her, and Scarlett caught her breath. She felt that she should be insulted by such a look and was annoyed with herself because she did not feel insulted.
She dragged her eyes away from his without smiling back, and he turned as someone called: “Rhett! Rhett Butler!”
Rhett Butler? The name had a familiar sound, somehow connected with something pleasantly scandalous.
By coming across as a dangerous bad boy, Butler seizes Scarlett’s attention. She’s attracted, though she’d have to be put on the rack before she’d admit it.
On the other end of the jerk-vs.-nice-guy continuum, what kind of impression does a clingy beta make on Scarlett?
A shy voice behind her called her name and, turning, she saw Charles Hamilton. He was a nice-looking boy with a riot of soft brown curls on his white forehead and eyes as deep brown, as clean and as gentle as a collie dog’s.
Scarlett jerks him around with utterly effortless flirting:
“Why Charles Hamilton, you handsome old thing, you! I’ll bet you came all the way down here from Atlanta just to break my poor heart!”
By this point Scarlett has been established as an accomplished coquette, and you can just see her breezily tossing this line out on autopilot. But the effect it has on its inexperienced target is devastating:
Charles almost stuttered with excitement, holding her warm little hands in his and looking into the dancing green eyes. This was the way girls talked to other boys but never to him. He never knew why but girls always treated him like a younger brother and were very kind, but never bothered to tease him. He had always wanted girls to flirt and frolic with him.
Scarlett continues to toy with him:
“Now, you wait right here till I come back, for I want to eat barbecue with you. And don’t you go off philandering with those other girls, because I’m mighty jealous,” came the incredible words from red lips with a dimple on each side; and briskly black lashes swept demurely over green eyes.
“I won’t,” he finally managed to breathe, never dreaming that she was thinking he looked like a calf waiting for the butcher.
Which is, of course, exactly what he is. Practically in the same breath:
She turned to start up the stairs and her eyes again fell on the man called Rhett Butler who stood alone a few feet away from Charles. Evidently he had overheard the whole conversation, for he grinned up at her as maliciously as a tomcat, and again his eyes went over her, in a gaze totally devoid of the deference she was accustomed to.
“God’s nightgown!” said Scarlett to herself in indignation. “He looks as if–as if he knew what I looked like without my shimmy,” and, tossing her head, she went up the steps.
A moment later she asks another girl who “that nasty man” is and hears about a juicy scandal:
“My dear, don’t you know?” whispered Cathleen excitedly. “I can’t imagine how Mr. Wilkes must feel having him here, but he was visiting Mr. Kennedy in Jonesboro– something about buying cotton– and, of course, Mr. Kennedy had to bring him along with him. He couldn’t just go off and leave him.”
“What is the matter with him?”
“My dear, he isn’t received!”
Scarlett digested this in silence, for she had never before been under the same roof with anyone who was not received. It was very exciting.
“What did he do?”
“Oh, Scarlett, he has the most terrible reputation. His name is Rhett Butler and he’s from Charleston and his folks won’t even speak to him. He was expelled from West Point. Imagine! And then there was that business about the girl he didn’t marry.”
“Do tell me!”
“Darling, don’t you know anything? Mr. Butler took a Charleston girl out buggy riding. She couldn’t have been very nice or she wouldn’t have gone out with him in the late afternoon without a chaperon. And, my dear, they stayed out nearly all night and walked home finally, saying the horse had run away and smashed the buggy and they had gotten lost in the woods. And guess what–”
“I can’t guess. Tell me,” said Scarlett enthusiastically, hoping for the worst.
“He refused to marry her the next day!”
“Oh,” said Scarlett, her hopes dashed.
“He said he hadn’t–er–done anything to her and he didn’t see why he should marry her. And, of course, her brother called him out, and Mr. Butler said he’d rather be shot than marry a stupid fool. And so they fought a duel and Mr. Butler shot the girl’s brother and he died, and Mr. Butler had to leave Charleston and now nobody receives him,” finished Cathleen triumphantly.
“Did she have a baby?” whispered Scarlett in Cathleen’s ear.
Cathleen shook her head violently. “But she was ruined just the same,” she hissed back.
I wish I had gotten Ashley to compromise me, thought Scarlett suddenly [LOL. This is referring to Ashley Wilkes, the man Scarlett is in love with.] He’d be too much of a gentleman not to marry me. But somehow, unbidden, she had a feeling of respect for Rhett Butler for refusing to marry a girl who was a fool.
Examples of female contempt for men they perceive as clueless betas occur at several points. In particular, there are several of these concerning the hapless Charles Hamilton, both before and after Scarlett marries him. (Why does she do this? Keep reading.) Pages 108-110, Hamilton finds himself alone with Scarlett and speaks of the possibility of war:
“If I went–would–would you be sorry, Miss O’Hara?”
“I should cry into my pillow every night,” said Scarlett, meaning to be flippant, but he took the statement at face value and went red with pleasure. Her hand was concealed in the folds of her dress and he cautiously wormed his hand to it and squeezed it.
“Would you pray for me?”
“What a fool!” thought Scarlett bitterly, casting a surreptitious glance about her in the hope of being rescued from the conversation.
“Oh–yes, indeed, Mr. Hamilton. Three Rosaries a night, at least!”
Charles gave a swift look about him. They were practically alone and he might never get another such opportunity. And, even given another such Godsent occasion, his courage might fail him.
“Miss O’Hara–I must tell you something. I–I love you!”
“Um?” said Scarlett absently, trying to peer through the crowd of arguing men to where Ashley still sat talking at Melanie’s feet.
“Yes!” whispered Charles, in a rapture that she had neither laughed, screamed nor fainted. “I love you! You are the most–the most–” and he found his tongue for the first time in his life. “The most beautiful girl I’ve ever known and the sweetest and the kindest, and you have the dearest ways and I love you with all my heart. I cannot hope that you could love anyone like me but, my dear Miss O’Hara, if you can give me any encouragement, I will do anything in the world to make you love me. I will–”
Charles stopped, for he couldn’t think of anything difficult enough of accomplishment to really prove to Scarlett the depth of his feeling, so he said simply: “I want to marry you.”
Scarlett came back to earth with a jerk, at the sound of the word “marry.” [LOL.] She had been thinking of marriage and of Ashley, and she looked at Charles with poorly concealed irritation. Why must this calf-like fool intrude his feelings on this particular day? She looked into the pleading brown eyes and she saw none of the beauty of a shy boy’s first love or the wild happiness and tenderness that were sweeping through him like a flame. Scarlett was used to men asking her to marry them, men much more attractive than Charles Hamilton, and men who had more finesse than to propose at a barbecue. She only saw a boy of twenty, red as a beet and looking very silly. She wished that she could tell him how silly he looked.
The poor guy. He’s so far out of his depth. The passage continues,
But automatically, the words Ellen [her mother] had taught her to say in such emergencies rose to her lips and casting down her eyes, from force of long habit, she murmured: “Mr. Hamilton, I am not unaware of the honor you have bestowed on me in wanting me to become your wife, but this is all so sudden that I do not know what to say.”
That was a neat way of smoothing a man’s vanity and yet keeping him on the string, and Charles rose to it as though such bait were new and he the first to swallow it.
“I would wait forever! I wouldn’t want you unless you were quite sure. Please, Miss O’Hara, tell me that I may hope!”
“Um,” said Scarlett, her sharp eyes noting that Ashley, who had not risen to take part in the war talk, was smiling up at Melanie. If this fool who was grappling for her hand would only keep quiet for a moment, perhaps she could hear what they were saying.
Later the general talk at the party of course turns to the prospect of war. Butler illustrates the playah advice of showing no fear, not worrying about what other people think, and standing by your position without backing down. Holding frame, in other words:
Of all the group that milled about under the trees there was only one who seemed calm. Scarlett’s eyes turned to Rhett Butler, who leaned against a tree, his hands shoved deep in his trouser pockets. He stood alone, and had uttered no word as the conversation grew hotter. The red lips under the close-clipped black mustache curled down and there was a glint of amused contempt in his black eyes–contempt, as if he listened to the braggings of children. He listened quietly until Stuart Tarleton repeated: “Why, we could lick them in a month! Gentlemen always fight better than rabble. A month–why, one battle–”
“Gentlemen,” said Rhett Butler, in a flat drawl, not moving from his position against the tree or taking his hands from his pockets, “may I say a word?”
There was contempt in his manner as in his eyes, contempt overlaid with an air of courtesy that somehow burlesqued their own manners.
The group turned toward him and accorded him the politeness always due an outsider.
“Has any one of you gentlemen ever thought that there’s not a cannon factory south of the Mason-Dixon Line? Or how few iron foundries there are in the South? Have you thought that we would not have a single warship and that the Yankee fleet could bottle up our harbors in a week? But–of course–you gentlemen have thought of these things.”
“Why, he means the boys are a passel of fools!” thought Scarlett indignantly, the hot blood coming to her cheeks.
Evidently, she was not the only one to whom this idea occurred, for several of the boys were beginning to stick out their chins.
“The trouble with most of us Southerners,” continued Rhett Butler, “is that we either don’t travel enough or we don’t profit enough by our travels. I have spent the last few years in the North. I have seen the thousands of immigrants who’d be glad to fight for the Yankees for food and a few dollars, the factories, the foundries, the shipyards, the iron and coal mines–all the things we haven’t got. Why, all we have is cotton and slaves and arrogance. They’d lick us in a month.”
For a tense moment, there was silence. Rhett Butler removed a fine linen handkerchief from his coat pocket and idly flicked dust from his sleeve.
The fight that seems to be incipient is prevented only by the intervention of the host.
Pages 127-129: Scarlett has just thrown herself at Ashley Wilkes in a last-ditch attempt to make him break off his engagement to another woman and elope with her instead. It fails. As she stands stunned, trying to absorb this savage emotional blow, Charles Hamilton runs up to her and tells her that the war has started. Scarlett doesn’t give a damn about this, but he mistakes her stupefied shock at her failure with Ashley for a reaction to his news about the war.
“I’m so clumsy,” he said. “I should have told you more gently. I forgot how delicate ladies are. I’m sorry I’ve upset you so. You don’t feel faint, do you? Shall we go sit on the bench?”
She nodded and he carefully handed her down the front steps and led her across the grass to the iron bench beneath the largest oak in the front yard. How fragile and tender women are, he thought, the mere mention of war and harshness makes them faint.
And what is actually passing through Scarlett’s mind?
“He has a lot of money,” she was thinking swiftly, as a thought and a plan went through her brain. “And he hasn’t any parents to bother me and he lives in Atlanta. And if I married him right away, it would show Ashley that I didn’t care a rap–that I was only flirting with him. And they’d all be sorry when I came back here to visit in a fine carriage and with lots of pretty clothes and a house of my own.”
Coolness was beginning to come back to her and her mind was collecting itself. A frost lay over all her emotions and she thought that she would never feel anything warmly again. Why not take this pretty, flushed boy? He was as good as anyone else and she didn’t care. No, she could never care about anything again, not if she lived to be ninety.
Hamilton is still on the war:
“Will you wait for me, Miss Scarlett? It–it would be Heaven just knowing that you were waiting for me until after we licked them!” He hung breathless on her words.
“I wouldn’t want to wait,” she said and her eyes were veiled.
He sat clutching her hand, his mouth wide open. Watching him from under her lashes, Scarlett thought detachedly that he looked like a gigged frog. He stuttered several times, closed his mouth and opened it again, and again became geranium colored.
“Can you possibly love me?”
She said nothing but looked down into her lap, and Charles was thrown into new states of ecstasy and embarrassment. Perhaps a man should not ask a girl such a question. Perhaps it would be unmaidenly for her to answer it. [HUH? Why would that be “unmaidenly”? Whatevs.] But he only squeezed her hand until he drove her rings into the flesh.
“You will marry me soon, Miss Scarlett?”
“Um,” she said, fingering a fold of her dress.
“When may I speak to your father?”
“The sooner the better,” she said, hoping that perhaps he would release the crushing pressure on her rings before she had to ask him to do it.
He leaped up and for a moment she thought he was going to cut a caper, before dignity claimed him. He looked down at her radiantly, his whole clean simple heart in his eyes. She had never had anyone look at her thus before and would never have it from any other man, but in her queer detachment she only thought that he looked like a calf.
“I’ll go now and find your father,” he said, smiling all over his face. “I can’t wait. Will you excuse me–dear?” The endearment came hard but having said it once, he repeated it again with pleasure.
“Yes,” she said. “I’ll wait here. It’s so cool and nice here.”
He went off across the lawn and disappeared around the house, and she was alone under the rustling oak. The white house reared its tall columns before her, seeming to withdraw with dignified aloofness from her. It would never be her house now. Ashley would never carry her over the threshold as his bride. Oh, Ashley, Ashley! What have I done? Deep in her, under layers of hurt pride and cold practicality, something stirred hurtingly. An adult emotion was being born, stronger than her vanity or her willful selfishness. She loved Ashley and she knew she loved him and she had never cared so much as in that instant when she saw Charles disappearing around the curved graveled walk.
Wow. Margaret Mitchell does several things astoundingly well here (and the effect is stronger with dozens of pages of context I’ve excluded): What it’s like to be 16 and not in control of one’s emotions, and wildly in love… the pathos of Charles Hamilton, innocent victim of Scarlett and of his lack of knowledge of women… the utter indifference of women, especially attractive young women, to men they perceive as beta… and – moving away from the red pill stuff for a moment – the way that people at first fail to perceive wrenching changes in their world; Scarlett doesn’t give a damn about “Mr. Lincoln’s didoes,” as she thinks of the run-up to civil war (!), and Hamilton foolishly assumes that the Yankees will be licked in a month. (Other passages describe young southern men afraid that the war will be over before they get a chance to fight.) The pathos of this is amplified by the fact that we know that this is going to turn into a four-year firestorm that will devastate the country, and the South in particular. Scarlett and Charles Hamilton don’t know it yet. The phrase “normalcy bias” doesn’t begin to cover it.
Two comments on the art of fiction writing in general:
• The blending of the events of the individual characters’ lives and the events of the Civil War is done about as well as one can imagine. I’ve never seen it done better. I don’t think I can imagine it being done better.
• Scarlett is an unsympathetic character, yet she has virtues: Particularly her determination to get through the hurricane of crap that upends her life and indeed the entire society that was the context of her life. All that, it soon becomes clear, is gone, permanently gone… what’s the novel’s title, again? Through all this, while people like Ashley Wilkes get lost in the past (one understands the temptation, but it’s no use), Scarlett shrugs that off and soldiers on.
But I got off track. What I wanted to say was that even though Scarlett is not a sympathetic character, Mitchell makes us sympathize with her, or at least, to make her function as a synechdoche for every other 16-year-old, male or female. Earlier that day, when Scarlet awoke, we were shown her thinking of how to convince Ashley to elope with her. “Just think!” she ruminates as she’s getting dressed. “This time tomorrow I could be Mrs. Ashley Wilkes!” And we see, in later passages, that she really does love him, even if it is in a somewhat possessive, immature way. Now read again that last sentence quoted above:
She loved Ashley and she knew she loved him and she had never cared so much as in that instant when she saw Charles disappearing around the curved graveled walk.
God. By the time we get here, we really feel the emotional blow. This is the first real loss in Scarlett’s life, this moment in which she realizes she cannot have the man she loves, as a man she doesn’t love rushes away to discuss marrying her with her father.
Amazed admiration for what Mitchell did here. Most authors don’t make you experience anything like this. Mitchell not only makes us feel that emotional blow, she does it even though we’ve just read a hundred and thirty pages revealing how unlikeable Scarlett is.
Female game in GWTW: On pages 174-6 Scarlett ruminates on the ways to lead a man on. Gah, she’s obnoxious. The setting: For reasons I’ve forgotten, Scarlett is sent to live with some relatives in Atlanta. At a charity ball held to raise funds for the Confederate war effort, she’s stuck manning a booth. She can’t dance because she’s a war widow and her husband died less than a year before. It would be appallingly bad form for her to publicly enjoy herself, or indeed to wear a color other than black, under these circumstances.
She considered the unfairness of it all. How short was the time for fun, for pretty clothes, for dancing, for coquetting! Only a few, too few years! Then you married and wore dull-colored dresses and had babies that ruined your waist line and sat in corners at dances with other sober matrons and only emerged to dance with your husband. It seemed such a terrible waste to spend all your little girlhood learning how to be attractive and how to catch men and then only use the knowledge for a year or two. When she considered her training at the hands of Ellen and Mammy, she knew it had been thorough and good because it had always reaped results. There were set rules to be followed, and if you followed them success crowned your efforts.
With young bachelors– You could laugh softly at them and when they came flying to see why you laughed, you could refuse to tell them and laugh harder and keep them around indefinitely trying to find out. You could promise, with your eyes, any number of exciting things that would make a man maneuver to get you alone. And, having gotten you alone, you could be very, very hurt or very, very angry when he tried to kiss you. You could make him apologize for being a cur and forgive him so sweetly that he would hang around trying to kiss you a second time. Sometimes, but not often, you did let him kiss you. (Ellen and Mammy had not taught her that but she learned it was effective.) Then you cried and declared you didn’t know what had come over you and that he couldn’t ever respect you again. Then he had to dry your eyes and usually he proposed, to show just how much he did respect you. And then there were– Oh, there were so many things to do to bachelors and she knew them all, the nuance of the sidelong glance, the half-smile behind the fan, the swaying of the hips so that skirts swung like a bell, the tears, the laughter, the flattery, the sweet sympathy. Oh, all the tricks that never failed to work.
Rhett Butler shows up at this ball and tempts Scarlett into dancing. The entire character of Butler and his wooing of Scarlett – which takes up hundreds of pages, on and off, as he disappears for extended stretches due to war business – is pretty damn red pill. He shows no eagerness for Scarlett and no shame about his “scandalous” behavior. While he is a smuggler, a blockade runner, for the Confederacy, he is explicitly in it for the money. He straight-up tells Scarlett he doesn’t give a damn about her Confederacy. And note that part about disappearing for extended periods: This lets Scarlett know that she is not his first priority. Basic Game concept: “Your girl is not your mission.”
Later, Scarlett’s father Gerald O’Hara visits Atlanta on business. Having heard that Butler was dancing with Scarlett “under dishonorable circumstances” or whatever, he intends to call him out or something. Gerald to Scarlett: “I’m going to see this fine Captain Butler who makes so light of me daughter’s reputation.”
Watch how Rhett handles the situation. Hours later, after Scarlett has gone to bed:
She turned and tossed on the hot pillow until a noise far up the quiet street reached her ears. She slipped out of bed and went to the window. The noise came closer, the sound of wheels, the plod of a horse’s hooves and voices. And suddenly she grinned for, as a voice thick with brogue and whisky came to her, she knew. This might not be Jonesboro on Court Day, but Gerald was coming home in the same condition.
She saw the dark bulk of a buggy stop in front of the house and indistinct figures alight. Someone was with him. Two figures paused at the gate and she heard the click of the latch and Gerald’s voice came plain,
“Now I’ll be giving you the ‘Lament for Robert Emmet.’ ‘Tis a song you should be knowing, me lad.”
“I’d like to learn it,” replied his companion, a hint of buried laughter in his flat drawling voice. “But not now, Mr. O’Hara.”
“Oh, my God, it’s that hateful Butler man!” thought Scarlett, at first annoyed. Then she took heart. At least they hadn’t shot each other. And they must be on amicable terms to be coming home together at this hour and in this condition.
“Sing it I will and listen you will or I’ll be shooting you for the Orangeman you are.”
“‘Tis no better. ‘Tis worse.” With no further warning, Gerald, who was hanging on the gate, threw back his head and began the “Lament,” in a roaring bass.
When the song had finished, two forms merged into one, came up the walk and mounted the steps. A discreet knock sounded at the door.
“I suppose I must go down,” thought Scarlett. “After all he’s my father.” She unlocked the door and saw Rhett Butler, not a ruffle disarranged, supporting her father. The “Lament” had evidently been Gerald’s swan song for he was frankly hanging onto his companion’s arm. His hat was gone, his crisp long hair was tumbled in a white mane, his cravat was under one ear, and there were liquor stains down his shirt bosom.
“Your father, I believe?” said Captain Butler, his eyes amused in his swarthy face.
“Bring him in,” she said shortly, embarrassed at her attire, infuriated at Gerald for putting her in a position where this man could laugh at her.
The next day:
“It’s a fine way you’ve acted, Pa,” she began in a furious whisper. “Coming home at such an hour and waking all the neighbors with your singing.”
“Sang! You woke the echoes singing the ‘Lament.'”
“Mother of Sorrows,” moaned Gerald, moving a thickly furred tongue around parched lips. “‘Tis little I’m remembering after the game started.”
“That laddybuck Butler bragged that he was the best poker player in–”
“How much did you lose?”
“Why, I won, naturally. A drink or two helps me game.”
“Look in your wallet.”
Gerald removed his wallet from his coat and opened it. It was empty and he looked at it in forlorn bewilderment.
“Five hundred dollars,” he said. [In 1863? Yikes!] “And ’twas to buy things from the blockaders for Mrs. O’Hara, and now not even fare left to Tara.”
Notice how perfectly Butler handles this, from a Game perspective. He can’t knuckle under to Scarlett’s father or he’ll seem like a wuss to Scarlett, and he can’t have that if he wants to get up her skirt. But on the other hand, he can’t challenge Gerald to a duel and kill him, or something in that vein, because he’ll really ruin his chances with Scarlett. (Yeah, chicks like bad boys, but you should probably draw the line at capping off her Dad if you want to bang her.) So Butler handles this perfectly. He draws O’Hara into a card game and takes him for all he has on him. Then he considerately escorts him home. LOL. Pitch perfect.
Also, the fact that he is sober enough to stand, while Gerald is flat-out wasted and hanging on to his arm, makes Butler look relatively in control, and therefore relatively alpha.
By the way, the Butler character was apparently based on a real dude. Wish I could have met the bastard.
Weeks later, Butler gives Scarlett a bonnet. By then, this is a big deal because the Northern Navy’s blockade is starting to make such luxuries scarce.
His black eyes sought her face and traveled to her lips.
Scarlett cast down her eyes, excitement filling her. Now, he was going to try to take liberties, just as Ellen predicted. He was going to kiss her, or try to kiss her, and she couldn’t quite make up her flurried mind which it should be. If she refused, he might jerk the bonnet right off her head and give it to some other girl.
THAT’S what she’s thinking about? It’s astounding, isn’t it? In the middle of a freakin’ war, she’s still that much of a superficial asshole! We continue:
On the other hand, if she permitted one chaste peck, he might bring her other lovely presents in the hope of getting another kiss. Men set such a store by kisses, though Heaven alone knew why. And lots of times, after one kiss they fell completely in love with a girl and made most entertaining spectacles of themselves. It would be exciting to have Rhett Butler in love with her and admitting it and begging for a kiss or a smile. Yes, she would let him kiss her.
But he made no move to kiss her.
Ha! He totally wrong-foots her there. He may be the only man on the planet who knows how to handle her.
More weeks later, a scene between Scarlett and Butler on the porch of the house where Scarlett is staying in Atlanta:
“My dear girl, the Yankees aren’t fiends. They haven’t horns and hoofs, as you seem to think. They are pretty much like Southerners.”
“Why, the Yankees would–”
“Rape you? I think not. Though, of course, they’d want to.”
“If you are going to talk vilely I shall go into the house,” she cried, grateful that the shadows hid her crimson face.
“Be frank. Wasn’t that what you were thinking?”
“Oh, certainly not!”
“Oh, but it was! No use getting mad at me for reading your thoughts. That’s what all our delicately nurtured and pure-minded Southern ladies think. They have it on their minds constantly.”
Scarlett gulped in silence, remembering that wherever two or more matrons were gathered together, in these trying days, they whispered of such happenings.
She could hear him chuckling softly. Sometimes he was odious. In fact, most of the time he was odious. It was awful for a man to know what women really thought about and talked about. [Women hate Game because it penetrates valuable female secrets.] It made a girl feel positively undressed. And no man ever learned such things from good women either. She was indignant that he had read her mind. She liked to believe herself a thing of mystery to men, but she knew Rhett thought her as transparent as glass.
After this, Butler inquires where everyone else is. Scarlett responds that they’re off running errands or whatever. (By the way, she really should not be receiving him in this situation, according to the rules of that society. But people are starting to make some allowances for the war’s disruption – your relatives can’t chaperone you if they’re fighting on the front or serving as nurses in a hospital – and Scarlett is starting to care less what the neighbors say anyway.)
“What luck,” he said softly, “to find you alone.”
Something in his voice made her heart beat pleasantly faster and she felt her face flush. She had heard that note in men’s voices often enough to know that it presaged a declaration of love. Oh, what fun! If he would just say he loved her, how she would torment him and get even with him for all the sarcastic remarks he had flung at her these past three years. She would lead him a chase that would make up for even that awful humiliation of the day he witnessed her slapping Ashley. And then she’d tell him sweetly she could only be a sister to him and retire with the full honors of war. She laughed nervously in pleasant anticipation.
“Don’t giggle,” he said, and taking her hand, he turned it over and pressed his lips into the palm. Something vital, electric, leaped from him to her at the touch of his warm mouth, something that caressed her whole body thrillingly. She had not bargained on this–this treacherous warm tide of feeling that made her want to feel his lips upon her mouth.
She wasn’t in love with him, she told herself confusedly. She was in love with Ashley. But how to explain this feeling that made her hands shake and the pit of her stomach grow cold?
He laughed softly. “Don’t pull away! I won’t hurt you!”
“Hurt me? I’m not afraid of you, Rhett Butler, or of any man in shoe leather!” she cried, furious that her voice shook as well as her hands.
“An admirable sentiment, but do lower your voice. Mrs. Wilkes might hear you. And pray compose yourself.” He sounded as though delighted at her flurry. “Scarlett, you do like me, don’t you?”
That was more like what she was expecting.
“Well, sometimes,” she answered cautiously. “When you aren’t acting like a varmint.”
He laughed again. “I think you like me because I am a varmint. You’ve known so few dyed-in-the-wool varmints in your sheltered life that my very difference holds a quaint charm for you.”
At this point C-3PO enters and announces that the hyperdrive has been fixed.
This was not the turn she had anticipated. “That’s not true! I like nice men–men you can depend on to always be gentlemanly.”
“You mean men you can always bully. It’s merely a matter of definition.”
Nice guys, read that again and take notes.
“But you do like me. Could you ever love me, Scarlett?”
“Ah!” she thought, triumphantly. “Now I’ve got him!” And she answered with studied coolness: “Indeed, no. That is–not unless you mended your manners considerably.”
“And I have no intention of mending them. So you could not love me? That is as I hoped. For while I like you immensely, I do not love you and it would be tragic indeed for you to suffer twice from unrequited love, wouldn’t it?”
“You don’t love me?”
“No, indeed. Did you hope that I did?”
“Don’t be so presumptuous!”
“You hoped! Alas, to blight your hopes! I should love you, for you are charming and talented at many useless accomplishments. But many ladies have charm and accomplishments and are just as useless as you are. No, I don’t love you. But I do like you tremendously– for the elasticity of your conscience, for the selfishness which you seldom trouble to hide, and for the shrewd practicality in you which, I fear, you get from some not too remote Irish-peasant ancestor.”
This is a clinic in negging. Note IT WOULD BE TOO MUCH except for that “I do like you tremendously.” Even with that, it’s on the edge; negs as direct as “useless” and “selfish” are dynamite. Butler pulls it off, natch. Backhanded compliment… or is it a backhanded insult? Hard to tell, thus: PLAYAH!
Peasant! Why, he was insulting her! She began to splutter wordlessly.
“Don’t interrupt,” he begged, squeezing her hand.
I don’t buy the verb “begged” here. It’s out of character. This may be a rare occasion on which Margaret Mitchell’s estrogen temporarily overwhelmed her generally excellent sense of character. That is, she may have temporarily indulged herself in a female fantasy of humbling an alpha male. NB: Women don’t actually want this; but some think they do. I’ve mentioned this before; see my post on the Alpha Trio series.
“I like you because I have those same qualities in me and like begets liking. I realize you still cherish the memory of the godlike and wooden-headed Mr. Wilkes, who’s probably been in his grave these six months. But there must be room in your heart for me too. Scarlett, do stop wriggling! I am making you a declaration. I have wanted you since the first time I laid eyes on you, in the hall of Twelve Oaks, when you were bewitching poor Charlie Hamilton. I want you more than I have ever wanted any woman–and I’ve waited longer for you than I’ve ever waited for any woman.”
God, this is good. Notice the subtle threat in that last sentence, delivered under the guise of a compliment: He’s saying he has waited longer for her than anyone else, but that ipso facto asserts that she’s testing the limits of his patience. Yet he does it in such a smoothly deniable way. Also, it is of course an assertion of preselection: He is saying “Other women have banged me by this point.” But again, in a smoothly deniable way. Some of the scenes between Butler and Scarlett are so spot-on, Game-wise, that it’s hard to believe they were written by Margaret Mitchell and not, say, The Chateau.
She was breathless with surprise at his last words. In spite of all his insults, he did love her and he was just so contrary he didn’t want to come out frankly and put it into words, for fear she’d laugh. Well, she’d show him and right quickly.
“Are you asking me to marry you?”
He dropped her hand and laughed so loudly she shrank back in her chair.
“Good Lord, no! Didn’t I tell you I wasn’t a marrying man?”
He rose to his feet and, hand on heart, made her a burlesque bow. “Dear,” he said quietly, “I am complimenting your intelligence by asking you to be my mistress without having first seduced you.”
Her mind shouted the word, shouted that she had been vilely insulted. But in that first startled moment she did not feel insulted. She only felt a furious surge of indignation that he should think her such a fool. He must think her a fool if he offered her a proposition like that. Rage, punctured vanity and disappointment threw her mind into a turmoil and, before she even thought of the high moral grounds on which she should upbraid him, she blurted out the first words which came to her lips–
“Mistress! What would I get out of that except a passel of brats?”
And then her jaw dropped in horror as she realized what she had said. He laughed until he choked, peering at her in the shadows as she sat, stricken dumb, pressing her handkerchief to her mouth.
“That’s why I like you! You are the only frank woman I know, the only woman who looks on the practical side of matters without beclouding the issue with mouthings about sin and morality. Any other woman would have swooned first and then shown me the door.”
Scarlett leaped to her feet. “I will show you the door,” she shouted. “Get out! How dare you say such things to me! Get out and don’t ever come back here. I’ll–I’ll tell my father and he’ll kill you!”
He picked up his hat and bowed and she saw in the light of the lamp that his teeth were showing in a smile.
Oh, he was detestable! She swung round on her heel and marched into the house.
Scarlett licks her lips, thinking she’s going to get the upper hand…. and then Rhett merely proposes making her his mistress, outraging her and sharply bringing her ego to heel. Ladies and gentlemen, majah playah on the scene!
Later, when Atlanta is aflame, he is escorting her out of the city (circa page 384). But on Atlanta’s outskirts, this man, who has mocked Confederate soldiers as fools who are dying for no reason, experiences a resurgence of old southern sentiments he’d thought he’d excised from himself. He tells Scarlett he is going to abandon her so he can join the Confederate Army.
Livid, she says, “They were right! Everybody was right! You aren’t a gentleman!”
“My dear girl,” says an amused Butler, “how inadequate.”
Amused mastery AND agree-and-amplify.
Whew! There’s more red pill stuff in Gone with the Wind. But this post is pretty long as it is, and I think I’ve conveyed some of the Game-aware interactions. By the way, for deniers who doubt that Game is reality: This was written in the 1930s. By a woman. Incidentally, Butler loses his cool with Scarlett eventually, and Mitchell, whether by perceptiveness or luck, portrays the result correctly: their relationship falls apart. (This also has to do with a big shock that hits them and the fact that Scarlett’s an asshole.) And whether you’re interested in the red pill stuff or not, this is an amazing novel that everyone should read.
Index page for my Red Pill in Fiction posts: