Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Follow the Great Gone with the Wind Readalong at The Heroine’s Bookshelf. Today we discuss part 4. [Edit: tomorrow the discussion will continue at the HB blog. Please check back!]
Part 4 of Gone With the Wind brings more troubles Scarlett’s way. Good old Will – whom we couldn’t have lived without – brings her the latest bad news: the new powers of the South are trying to take Tara from the O’Haras by taxing them beyond their means. That is, former overseers, Yankees, carpetbaggers, and the social class that Scarlett used to turn her nose up at. Scarlett is visited by the Slattery girl who she feels killed her mother (Emmie Slattery had typhoid, and Ellen went to nurse her, caught it, and died); her new (former overseer) husband intends to buy Tara. This is one of the greater threats that Scarlett has encountered to date. As Gerald, her Irish father, predicted, Scarlett is finally learning to value the land as much he did.
In her distress, Scarlett runs to Ashley’s side, and begs him to run away with her. She again forces a confession of love from him, and a passionate kiss, but again he balks at leaving Melanie and baby Beau. He’s not brave enough to go with her, and/or, he’s too honorable. My personal reaction is impatience with the concept of honor and bravery over practicality; but this is not conceptual honor we’re talking about here. Ashley has a very real wife and baby who very truly need him, and his love for Scarlett is irrelevant. If he didn’t have the desire (or courage) to marry her in the first place, well, it’s too late now. I think he’s right about that, even though he is sort of pathetically spineless. Sorry, all of you who think Ashley is dreamy; I have trouble respecting his wishy-washiness. At least he knows it, though…
Scarlett’s next move, in desperation, is to dress herself up and throw herself at Rhett Butler’s feet. It’s a ploy that almost works, even though she has to play it in the jailhouse, as Rhett has been arrested for stealing the Confederate treasury. But he rejects her, and she grasps at a straw: her younger sister’s lifelong suitor, Frank Kennedy, is powerless under her charms and marries her when she bats an eye. He turns out to have less money than she expected, though (I’m reminded of Moll Flanders…), and she turns an entrepreneurial hand.
If you’ve been following along at all, it won’t surprise you that Scarlett turns out to be a damn fine businesswoman. She can be ruthless with her competition, dishonest, manipulative, and not shy to use her “charms” to attract business; she has a good head for numbers, and coldly acts in the best interests of those numbers. She’s cleaning up, but also struggling with labor issues. Freed slaves? Irishmen? Prison convicts? All the while, Frank is steaming at home over his wife’s headstrong behavior, which brings disrespect upon him in those oh-so-respectable circles Atlanta society is struggling to rebuild. Scarlett has another baby. Her father dies. She is sending money to Tara, now that she’s doing well, and she has succeeded in saving the farm… Will marries Suellen, even though it was Carreen that he loved, all to save the farm. But oh, the irony, that she’s saved Tara only to be kept away from it by her work in Atlanta.
After Gerald’s death, Scarlett connives to bring Ashley to Atlanta, to work for her. Melanie enters Scarlett’s social circle again, and they live in tense harmony in two houses back-to-back. Rhett Butler turns back up, and he and Scarlett play their usual game: Butler lent Scarlett money after he got out of jail (not even requiring that she prostitute herself, how generous) and now points out that she has broken the conditions of the loan by employing and therefore “helping” Ashley. There is some question about where Frank goes late at night.
And now comes the crescendo. Part 4 builds to one horrifying sequence of events. Scarlett has taken to traveling alone, at night, through the bad part of town, and one night is attacked by two men (one black, one white) who try to rape her. Big Sam (remember him? the head field hand from Tara) rescues her. The men back home, meaning Ashley and Frank, take off and leave Scarlett with Melanie, which she takes as an affront. But it turns out the truth is worse: they are secretly members of the Ku Klux Klan, and have set out to kill her attackers. The Yankee soldiers interrogate the women looking for the Klansmen, and Rhett is the hero of the day: he constructs an elaborate scene of fiction in which the men have been out at a whorehouse all night long. They have killed Scarlett’s attackers, and they get away with it (although at the price of publicly declaring the whoring, which is disrespectful to the wives, Melanie included). But Frank has been killed.
This is where I begin to be really conflicted. On the one hand: Scarlett has been attacked. Two men try to rape her. Her tribal menfolk set out to avenge this attack. I’m emotionally behind them at this point, even though it’s outside the realm of law-and-justice which I do believe in. This part doesn’t read as particularly racist; the two attackers represent both races and apparently receive an equal fate, based on being rapists, not being black or white. But, this is the KKK doing the work. Emotionally, as a reader who’s come to love and cheer for (even in my moments of exasperation) Melanie, Ashley, Scarlett, and Rhett, I’m pleased when they get away with murder, literally. But wait! The Ku Klux Klan killing people in the middle of the night, without benefit of trial, and getting away with it? This is most certainly NOT something that I stand behind.
I think I see what Mitchell is doing here. She has painted these upstanding, moral, white Southern gentlemen, who feel the need to go out and protect their women from rape and abuse. Again, this is easy to get behind. But then she sort of gently blurs these positive portrayals in with the Klan. And I know very different things about the Klan, and I don’t get behind them. This is some kind of propaganda. Shame on you, MM, for making me sympathize. Midnight lynchings = bad.
Here’s another difficult concept from the same passage: Scarlett blames herself, and the town mostly seems to blame Scarlett, for Frank’s death. She was out late at night, alone, in the bad part of town, and she was the victim of an attempted rape, thereby forcing him to go out shooting strangers in the dark, which not surprisingly got him killed. She killed him! She asked for it, and she got what she asked for! And then he died! Her fault!
UGH! The concept of a women ever “asking for” rape or attack is disgusting, and I hope no intelligent person subscribes to it (although I fear that some people still do). And no less, Atlanta’s theory supposes that not only did Scarlett bring rape upon herself, but that she left Frank no choice but to go out on midnight rides for justice, thereby putting himself in harm’s way. I don’t think this follows any better than the asking-for-it theory. Scarlett didn’t want Frank out running after rapists in the dark; we can see very clearly that what she wants most is for him to stay home and comfort her, and make her feel safe with his presence.
So, I had some difficulties with this sequence. I look forward to your responses, too.
But, okay, to get back to the story: the newly widowed Scarlett finally receives the proposition that I, for one, have been waiting for for oh, almost 800 pages. Rhett Butler is in the right position to catch her between husbands (as he says), and they come to an agreement: love is not necessarily present, but they can live happily together, and Scarlett will keep Tara and want for nothing. She will have as big a diamond ring as she pleases. All of this does come true; but, what’s this? Rhett seems to regret his ruling against love as part of the equation. I am holding out hope for some real honest-to-goodness romance at some point in this book…
But as part 4 closes, there’s another question hanging in the air, too. We’ve met Belle Watling a few times, and she’s a decidedly sympathetic character. The madam whose house cleared Ashley et al of murder, and who donated money anonymously to help the Confederate soldiers during the war, and who apparently is supported in part by Rhett Butler, has a child away at school somewhere: a son. And Rhett tells Scarlett he has a child away at school in New Orleans: his ward. Now, I see the foreshadowing. These two children are one, but who is the father of Rhett’s ward in New Orleans?
Part 4 ends with Rhett and Scarlett honeymooning in that very place, so I expect to find out soon. I hope for happiness, prosperity, a quiet settling down. I hope for love and romance, and an answer to my questions about the boy. I feel pretty certain I won’t get them all, though; this book is far too much about heartache and reality to give me all these happy endings. What’s next for Scarlett?
And how did YOU react to the Klan? And come on, y’all, a woman never “asks for” rape.
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