Butler, Rhett

As much as I racked my brains for a character starting with ‘B’, I couldn’t get one. 

Everyone who knows me knows my love for ‘Gone with the Wind‘. Scarlett O’Hara is the more famous character of the book and movie. Rhett Butler is a very close second for me. And one that I have loved so much growing up. So there was no chance I was letting this go.

If you have read the book, you’d know it’s a big book, over 1000 pages and lots of characters. So there is no way you can form an opinion about each one of them during the first go. Infact during my first reading of the book, Rhett Butler’s name was mentioned in the book  many times before he actually made an appearance. And I thought he was one of the many side characters until the story panned out and he became one of the most important. And that’s why precisely, it’s not strange that my feelings for him changed as I re-read the book many times over.

The first time that Rhett is ever mentioned in the book is at a party and it is whispered around that he is a man of “reputation” and is not received in “decent circles”. That made me think of him as a negative character. And then just a few hours later, Scarlett catches him napping behind a couch where she had been trying to coax Ashley Wilkes into marrying her. When Scarlett confronts Rhett that it was not a respectable thing to do. Rhett,very tongue-in-cheek reminds her that what she was doing wasn’t very respectable either. I still thought of Rhett as an abominable character.

GONE WITH THE WIND, Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh in a still from the movie

Rhett keeps going in and out of Scarlett’s life as she marries once and then twice and eventually loses both her husbands. He finds her will and stubbornness a very attractive quality and even provokes her many times. Scarlett hates him to the core. But Rhett is a man of “reputation” and openly confesses to have earned his wealth and many a affairs by unfair means. Rhett’s hard exterior is made a little vulnerable only when he sees Scarlett so hopelessly in love with Ashley and knows that it may never be returned with as much fervor. And that’s where he says one of his many iconic dialogues, “You need to be kissed, and by someone who knows how“. 

One of my most favorite scenes from the book is when Scarlett needs money and goes visiting Rhett in the jail. She doesn’t care a damn that he is going to be hanged soon. She just goes there to lure him, to make him believe that she has always liked him so that he loans her some money that she needs. Rhett can read Scarlett from a mile away. She is in all her finery, that famous green satin dress. He knew she didn’t love him. He knew he didn’t have access to his own money. Yet he let her go on and on. And when he wouldn’t budge, Scarlett being Scarlett offered to be his mistress to repay him. That’s when Rhett tells Scarlett the truth. Scarlett couldn’t be any more angrier or humiliated. And Rhett?! Well, that’s the thing he has always loved about Scarlett. Her naivety about relationships but her utter will to live and flourish at any cost. He finds her charming beyond his control.

Finally, there’s the time when Rhett manages to marry Scarlett hoping to get her to love him as he has with all his might. But Scarlett is a grown woman still trapped in that little girl’s body who cannot get over her first love Ashley, even though she knows that he is married. And even when Ashley pointedly tells her that he would never ever betray his wife. There finally comes a point when one gets to see Rhett’s vulnerability and sadness at not being able to get Scarlett’s attention and love. Personally, it broke my heart to see the ever reckless and hard hearted Rhett dissolve into sadness and gloom. 

The depth of feeling Rhett has for Scarlett can easily be gauged from this one dialogue:
You’re so brutal to those who love you, Scarlett. You take their love and hold it over their heads like a whip.

Rhett’s character is so real that you or I may actually know someone like him. He has the hardest exterior. He takes all the slights and insults hurled at him with utmost grace. And wit, if needed. And yet, he has the kindest heart for a genuine person. He has a way with kids as he understands them well. And beneath all of that is a heart that longs for love. A love that is full, complete, passionate and only his. A love that is freeing and all encompassing.

His oft repeated dialogue to Scarlett is “Frankly dear, I don’t give a damn“. And that I think is a lie.