Gerald: “Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land, doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”
Though Scarlett is too brokenhearted to pay attention to the advice Gerald gives her during the opening scenes of the film, it is one of the few bits of shared wisdom that seems to actually have an impact on her over the course of the film. All of Scarlett’s actions prove she is motivated mainly by self-interest. From her image-soothing marriage to a man she barely knows to her lifelong quest to steal Ashley from Melanie, the only clear beneficiary of anything Scarlett does is Scarlett herself. Somehow, finding Tara as a looted shell changes something in her, and she becomes willing to fight for the plantation as she will for nothing else. Scarlett is willing to forego her previous fineries and make her hands raw, working like a slave in order to keep Tara going. She is even willing to debase herself in front of Rhett—the one man who has always been able to see beneath her carefully managed surface—in order to hold on to Tara. When she becomes wealthy, she makes sure to devote enough money to see that Tara is returned to its former glory.
Gerald’s words also offer an inherent hopefulness to the characters who don’t have their own land. The entire structure of the Old South has collapsed beyond repair, and everything that once made their homeland what it was has vanished, as the film’s title suggests. For some, like Ashley, this loss is enough to make them give up entirely, drifting along the rest of their days as they remember everything that once was. But as Gerald’s words remind them, the characters in the film have not been left entirely destitute. The South itself still remains, the land damaged but not destroyed by the fighting there. As long as the people pay proper homage to the land, they can’t be beaten.
Scarlett: “Sir, you are no gentleman.”
Rhett: “And you, Miss, are no lady.”
This exchange, which occurs just after Rhett reveals he has overheard Scarlett’s declaration of love for Ashley, neatly summarizes both the attraction and the fatal flaw in Rhett’s and Scarlett’s relationship. Scarlett is drawn to Rhett precisely because of how, in his daring and sexual magnetism, he is entirely different from the proper but utterly tame Southern gentlemen that surround her. His willingness to spontaneously sweep her into intense, dramatic kisses is scandalous in the eyes of society, but this is part of the passion and excitement Scarlett longs for from Ashley and from life itself. Rhett, for his part, is far more honest about the reasons behind his interest in Scarlett, often remarking on how different she is from other simpering Southern belles. Rhett, firmly rejected by everyone in his hometown of Charleston, has an outlook on life that has made him an outcast. He hopes that Scarlett, a woman who thinks the way he does and is unafraid to defy society, will break through his isolation.
This passion has its negative side as well. Even though Scarlett is attracted by what sets Rhett apart from more traditional gentlemen, she is at times repelled by it. Despite how boring they might be, the milder, more well-mannered men—Ashley in particular—represent the refinement and promise of Southern society before the war. These are the kind of men a proper Southern belle should want, and despite her actions Scarlett still thinks of herself as a proper Southern belle. A gentleman would allow her to maintain that she is a refined lady, while Rhett insists on disabusing her of the notion at every opportunity. For the first half of the film Rhett seems to enjoy this duty, but by the end of the film he is clearly disgusted by Scarlett. He discovers that the unladylike woman he put his hopes in rejects the qualities required of a good wife: compassion, understanding, and caring. No matter what Rhett does for her, Scarlett seems to care little for him.
Rhett: “Take a good look my dear. It’s a historic moment. You can tell your grandchildren about how you watched the Old South fall one night.”
Rhett makes this statement as he and Scarlett watch Atlanta burn. Though the destruction of Atlanta dealt a major blow to the Confederacy, Rhett isn’t making a comment on the North’s military success. Instead, Rhett is talking about the end of the ideals the Old South stood for, the way of life that Ashley clings to, a South that is “no more than a dream remembered.” As the characters discuss at the barbeque at the Twelve Oaks plantation, the chief advantages the South had during the war were independence and pride. It didn’t matter that it had fewer resources or less military strongholds than the North. The South had a far more civilized society, and as long as they were fighting for its more graceful, dignified way of life it was impossible for the South to lose. In fact, many were so convinced of the South’s security they thought the war would end in a few weeks, barely enough time for the season to change on the plantations or for the beautiful Southern belles to become lonely.
Rhett: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
These are Rhett’s last words in the movie and perhaps the most memorable line of Gone With the Wind. This line shows as much strength of character in Rhett as Scarlett’s earlier defiance does in her, and with these words Rhett himself becomes almost more heroic than Scarlett. Scarlett, despite all the hardships she faces, never fully accepts that other people are just as good and as worthy of respect and admiration as she is. Stormy and wild, she is completely convinced of her own beauty and seems to be completely irresistible to every man she meets. She shucks off her genteel upbringing with only minor hesitation, hardly ever feels guilty about what she does to others, and generally lives her life on a legendary scale. Though she does exhibit admirable determination and bravery, she remains aloof and distant, and these qualities prevent her from being a wholly accessible character.
Despite all his bravado, Rhett ultimately shows more true humanity than Scarlett does. Though he first appears in the film with a reputation and demeanor as daring and iconic as Scarlett’s, his affection for Scarlett quickly reveals that his heart is his Achilles’ heel. He is as powerless before Scarlett as are all the other men, but unlike Charles Hamilton and Frank Kennedy, Rhett hates his powerlessness and struggles hard against it. His struggle is long and difficult. Even as he swears he’ll free himself from Scarlett, his loneliness continues to draw him to her, and he sustains the hope that she’ll one day love and appreciate him as he does her. Rhett doubts, and even occasionally hates, himself for the cycle of affection and rejection he’s trapped in. Certain moments in the film, such as Scarlett’s scene on the staircase and Bonnie’s death, reveal the extent of Rhett’s sadness and pain. The film never explores Scarlett’s dark feelings as deeply. When Rhett finally breaks away from his poisonous relationship with Scarlett, his decision is courageous yet heartbreaking. Rhett has shown that he can feel true pain and anguish, and his feelings are evident even in his dismissive, biting words.
Scarlett: “After all, tomorrow is another day.”
Scarlett says this famous last line after Rhett summarily leaves her. Distraught, Scarlett tells herself she can’t think about his leaving just now, that she must go home to Tara and find a way to get him back. This line, which Scarlett says several times in the film, exemplifies Scarlett’s unwillingness to let outside influences interfere with her worldview. At times, this personality trait serves as a source of strength for Scarlett, eliminating all distractions that might keep her from achieving the goals she has set for herself. When she fights her way through the Yankee lines to get back to Tara, she succeeds by refusing to even entertain the possibility that she won’t be able to make it home. Had she listened to Rhett’s warnings, she wouldn’t have made the journey. When she builds Frank Kennedy’s small sideline into a mill of her own, she doesn’t bow to well-meaning advice or any of the gossip that spreads over her ambition. As a result, her business ends up being far more profitable than Frank’s ever had been.
There are times, though, when Scarlett’s single-mindedness also works to her detriment. Often it keeps her from being able to effectively grasp all the implications of a situation and thereby know how best to deal with them. When the Union soldiers appear after the Shantytown raid she is so concerned with her own interests that she is the last person to know where the men have gone and the amount of danger they are truly in. Even more damaging to Scarlett is her life-long obsession with Ashley. By insisting he is the only man who could ever make her happy, Scarlett is unable to see the good in her relationship with Rhett until it is too late. Similarly, she doesn’t realize how much she has relied on Melanie’s emotional support until Melanie is lying on her deathbed.
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