Sunday, September 6, 2015

Gone With the Wind Read-Along Check-In #3

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Chapters 21-30
In which the Civil War comes to Atlanta, Rhett declares his love while simultaneously abandoning Scarlett to travel through the Yankee and Confederate armies to get home to Tara...if there is anything left of Tara...for everywhere she looks there are only blackened foundations with chimneys still standing. This section begins with Melanie in labor and Scarlett, Prissy, and Wade the only four people left living in Missy Pittypat's house on the north side of Atlanta. Poor little Wade. He was a brave little soul, though he was petrified--and no wonder, it's not as if Scarlett ever tried to really talk with him or demonstrate love for him. He was definitely left to his own devices by his "biological mother," for that is really the only claim Scarlett had to him. After sending Prissy on fruitless missions to bring Mrs. Meade, Dr. Meade, etc., Scarlett finally leaves Melanie to search for Dr. Meade herself and upon finding him discovers there is no way he will abandon the thousands of wounded in Atlanta: 
  Scarlett began to shake and her eyes burned with tears of fright. The doctor wasn't coming with her. Melanie would die and she had wished that she would die. The doctor wasn't coming. 
..."Child, I'll try. I can't promise you. But I'll try. When we get these men tended to. The Yankees are coming and the troops are moving out of town. I don't know what they'll do with the wounded. There aren't any trains. The Macon line has been captured... But I'll try. Run along now. Don't bother me. There's nothing much to bringing a baby. Just tie up the cord...." (253)
When Melanie learns the Yankees are coming she tells Scarlett,
  "Oh, Scarlett, you mustn't stay here. You must go and take Wade."
  What Melanie said was no more than Scarlett had been thinking but hearing it put into words infuriated her, shamed her as if her secret cowardice was written plainly in her face.
  "Don't be a goose. I'm not afraid. You know I won't leave you." 
  "You might as well. I'm going to die." (257)
If you've never given birth this last statement of Melanie's might sound overly-dramatic, however, for someone predicted to have a difficult time of labor and delivery, I'm sure that could be exactly her belief at that moment! That first time can definitely be daunting! Under the best of circumstances... And let it be known that Scarlett's apparent devotion at this point in time stemmed strictly from her promise to Ashley--she was determined to keep Melanie and their baby alive if at all possible so she would not let him down. She still loved him. 

I have always loved Rhett, probably just as much for his onneriness in honesty than anything else! :) Once the baby is born, Prissy is finally able to track him down, asking him to bring a horse and wagon to transport them all to Tara...away from Atlanta that is now alit by the Confederates' own hands, to avoid the Yankees getting more ammunition, arms, and supplies when they rolled into town... Rhett finally arrives with a horse that looks to be taking it's last breath and steps and a very small old beat-up nearly broken down wagon with leaning wheels:
  "Good evening, he said," in his drawling voice, as he removed his hat with a sweeping gesture. "Fine weather we're having. I hear you're going to take a trip." 
  "If you make any jokes, I shall never speak to you again," she said with quivering voice.
  "Don't tell me you are frightened!" He pretended to be surprised and smiled in a way that made her long to push him backwards down the steep steps. 
  "Yes, I am! I'm frightened to death and if you had the sense God gave a goat, you'd be frightened too. But we haven't got time to talk. We must get out of here." (263-64)
Now is when Scarlett finally breaks down and admits she just wants to go home, to her mother, and she will, even if she must walk every step of the way. As she yells this and cries into Rhetts chest:
...His hands caressed her tumbled hair gently, soothingly, and his voice was gentle too. So gentle, so quiet, so devoid of mockery, it did not seem Rhett Butler's voice at all but the voice of some kind strong stranger she smelled of brandy and tobacco and horses, comforting smells because they reminded her of Gerald.
  "There, there, darling,' he said softly. "Don't cry. You shall go home, my brave little girl. You shall go home. Don't cry." (264)
Rhett finally gets them packed into the wagon (including Charles' sword and pistol, at Melanie's whispered request) and takes off, but not before laughing at Scarlett when she wants to rush back to "lock the door." :) They must either go through or circumvent Atlanta and out the south side--they literally make a dash through the fire at one point. Though I'm sure the special effects in this movie are amateurish compared to what is done now with the aid of computers, etc, I still remember this as one of the most suspenseful and frightening movie scenes ever...of course, I was only 13 when I watched this movie the first time, and on a large theater screen! Once they're beyond what was Atlanta, Rhett stops the wagon and discusses with her the various routes that are blocked:
  Good. Maybe you can get past Rough and Ready all right. General Steve Lee was there during the afternoon covering the retreat. Maybe the Yankees aren't there yet. Maybe you can get through there, if Steve Lee's men don't pick up your horse."
  "I-I can get through?"
  "Yes, you." His voice was rough. 
  "But Rhett-- You-- Aren't you going to take us?"
  "No. I'm leaving you here."
  She looked around wildly, at the livid sky behind them, at the dark trees on either hand hemming them in like a prison wall, at the frightened figures in the back of the wagon--and finally at him. Had she gone crazy? Was she not hearing right? 
  He was grinning now. She could just see his white teeth in the faint light and the old mockery was back in his eyes. 
  "Leaving us? Where--where are you going?"
  "I am going, dear girl, with the army." 
  "Rhett, you are joking?"
  She grabbed his arm and felt her tears of fright splash down on her wrist. He raised her hand and kissed it airily.
  "Selfish to the end, aren't you, my dear? Thinking only of your own precious hide and not of the gallant Confederacy. Think how our troops will be heartened by my eleventh-hour appearance." There was a malicious tenderness in his voice.
  "Oh, Rhett," she wailed, how can you do this to me? Why are you leaving me?"
  "Why?" he laughed jauntily. "Because, perhaps, of the betraying sentimentality that lurks in all of us Southerners. Perhaps--perhaps because I am ashamed. Who knows?" 
  "Ashamed? You should die of shame. To desert us here, alone, helpless--"
  "Dear Scarlett! You aren't helpless. Anyone as selfish and determined as you are is never helpless. God help the Yankees if they should get you."  
At which, he jumps from the wagon and lifts her out with him...
"'I could not love thee, Dear, so much, loved I not Honour more,' That's a pat speech, isn't it? Certainly better than anything I can think up myself, at the present moment. For I do love you, Scarlett, in spite of what I said that night on the porch last month."
  His drawl was caressing and his hands slid up her bare arms, warm strong hands. "I love you, Scarlett, because we are so much alike, renegades, both of us, dear, and selfish rascals. Neither of us cares a rap if the whole world goes to pot, so long as we are safe and comfortable."
  Then his arms went around her waist and shoulders and she felt the hard muscles of his thighs against her body and the buttons of his coat pressing into her breast. A warm tide of feeling, bewildering, frightening, swept over her, carrying out of her mind the time and place and circumstances. She felt as limp as a rag doll, warm, weak and helpless, and his supporting arms were so pleasant.
  "You don't want to change your mind about what I said last month?" (271-272)
As she is enjoying him kissing her, she hears
  "Muvver! Wade Fwightened!" (272)
And she sees the wagon and "cold sanity" returns to her in a flash--the realities of her situation and
  "Oh, you cad!" she cried....and drew back her arm and slapped him across the mouth with all the force she had left.
..."Go on! Go on now! I want you to hurry. I don't want to ever see you again. I hope a cannon ball lands right on you. I hope it  blows you to a million pieces. I hope--"
  "Never mind the rest. I follow your general idea. When I'm dead on the altar of my country. I hope your conscience hurts you."  (273)
For me, this summarizes the romance between Rhett and Scarlett completely. The first time I read this book, it was at this point that I assumed they would never end up together. Two people that selfish...that could never work, could it?

Then we complete the long arduous journey through the bleak countryside as Wade, Prissy, Melanie and her baby, and Scarlett travel back to Tara: 
  There was death in the air....They had not seen a living human being or animal since the night before. Dead men and dead horses, yes, and dead mules, lying by the road, swollen, covered with flies, but nothing alive. No far-off cattle lowed, no birds sang, no wind waves the trees. Only the tired plop-plop of the horse's feet and the weak wailing of Melanie's baby broke the stillness. (277)
If you've ever lived in the country or spent much time there, you know what she means, there is always noise--crickets, frogs, birds, fluttering leaves... Where Mitchell before described the lush green landscape with fields flush with billowing cotton plants, we now experience the destruction left behind by occupation. And when Scarlett finally makes it to Tara, she is overjoyed to see the homestead still standing. Her father is alive though non-responsive for the most part and unable to believe her mother is gone, still waiting for her to come to the supper table, etc. Her dear mother, Ellen, passed away just the day before, yelling her first and only true love's name. Both of her sisters are still extremely ill, but appear to be recovering. Mammy, Pork, and Dilcey are the only three slaves who didn't run away when the Yankees came to Tara. Fortunately, Dilcey has a young baby and is able to wet-nurse Beau, Melanie and Ashley's son. There is virtually no food anywhere for anyone. It is in discussion with Pork, the houseman, that Mitchell allows Scarlett to espouse the typical Southern prejudicial beliefs. As she quizzes Pork about the sweet potato hills and Gerald's buried corn whisky, he realizes he'd forgotten about both of these and she thinks,
  How stupid negroes were! They never thought of anything unless they were told. And the Yankees wanted to free them. (285) 
You can almost hear her Tsk! Tsk! at the end of that thought... This is historically correct, being the prevailing opinion amongst the overwhelming majority of 'Southern whites,' and among many of the 'Northern whites,' at the time. 

That first night at Tara Scarlett drinks corn whiskey:
  She did not know she was drunk, drunk with fatigue and whisky. She only knew she had left her tired body and floated somewhere above it where there was no pain and no weariness and her brain saw things with an inhuman clarity.
  She was seeing things with new eyes for, somewhere along the long road to Tara, she had left her girlhood behind her. She was no longer plastic clay, yielding imprint to each new experience. The clay had hardened, some time in this indeterminate day which had lasted a thousand years. Tonight was the last time she would ever be ministered to as a child. She was a woman now and youth was gone. (294)
And this is the turning point, when Scarlett uses her determined stubbornness to save them all from starvation. 

Scarlett walks miles that first day to Twelve Oaks to scavenge in the gardens where there are only slave cabins left standing and no people living. As she looks at the ashes of the grand house, 
  "I won't think of it now. I can't stand it now. I'll think of it later,"...turning her eyes away.  
  (298)
And it is in one of the gardens by the slave cabins that she finally finds a row of radishes and eats until she retches uncontrollably. Once she recovers enough to stand up, she fills her basket with vegetables and walks in the direction of Tara and stated those famous lines,
  As God is my witness, as God is my witness, the Yankees aren't going to lick me. I'm going to live through this, and when it's over, I'm never going to be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to steal or kill--as God is my witness, I'm never going to be hungry again." (300)
This was portrayed much more dramatically in the movie--it is a great scene!

  Scarlett reigned supreme at Tara now and, like others suddenly elevated to authority, all the bullying instinct in her nature rose to the surface. It was not that she was basiclaly unkind. It was because she was frightened and unsure of herself that she was harsh lest others learn her inadequacies and refuse her authority. (302)
I don't know who was more shocked, Carreen and Suellen or Mammy and Pork, by Scarlett's expectations that each and every person pitch in and do whatever needed to be done: splitting wood, making beds, hauling water buckets, picking cotton, scavenging for vegetables... She saves them all from certain starvation by killing a Yankee soldier with Charles' pistol and gains quite a bounty of cash and gold from his pockets. It is the first time that Scarlett sees any similarity between herself and Melanie. As Melanie stands on the stairway landing, taking in the scene of the dead soldier and Charles' smoking pistol in Scarlett's hand:
  In the silence her eyes met Scarlett's. There was a glow of grim pride in her usually gentle face, approbation and a fierce joy in her smile that equaled the fiery tumult in Scarlett's own bosom.
  "Why--why--she's like me! She understands how I feel!" thought Scarlett in that long moment. "She'd have done the same thing!" (308)

One of the neighbors rides up and warns them the Yankees are coming--again! They had used Tara as a base of operation the first time, hence, sparing it. At the last minute, with Beau in her arms and Wade clinging to her skirt, she decides to stay with the house, and inform them they will have to burn it down over her head, just as Gerald had done when they arrived the first time. And, although they ripped up the furniture and took whatever they could find, they didn't burn the house, nor did they discover any of the others who were hiding in the swamp with food, hogs, the horse and cattle. 

Uncle Peter arrives from Atlanta with a letter to Melanie informing her that he is coming home! However, he is most likely on foot, so they don't expect him for weeks or maybe months...and thus began the constant string of displaced soldiers arriving singly, in pairs, or small groups on their way through, asking for food and rest, and they accommodated all of them, with Mammy making sure they washed well with lye soap as their clothes soaked in a lye solution. She was determined that none of the lice would remain at Tara after these carriers were gone! Mammy is ever the practical one! One of these soldiers, Will, was particularly ill after a year in a Yankee prison; they nursed him to health and he stayed on to help, as repayment to them. Then one day a sole soldier is walking down the long lane toward the house and all of a sudden Melanie recognizes this one and 
  Down the graveled path she flew, skimming lightly as a bird, her faded skirts streaming behind her, her arms outstretched. As Scarlett prepares to launch herself forward to do the same,
...Will's hand closed upon her skirt. 
  "Don't spoil it," he said quietly.
  "Turn me loose, you fool! Turn me loose! It's Ashley!"
  He did not relax his grip.
  "After all, he's her husband, ain't he?" Will asked calmly, and looking down at him in a confusion of joy and impotent fury, Scarlett saw in the quiet depths of his eyes understanding and pity." (362)

I do believe this is my favorite part of this book. It establishes Rhett's love for Scarlett and her status as a true hero in many ways, though her heart hardens even more in most ways even as she toils ceaselessly to save them all, and Ashley and Beau both live. Scarlett realizes the value of the land and Tara itself as an entity that can shelter and feed them, as well as create a living for them...

What are your thoughts about Scarlett and the others in this part of the story? I was always baffled by Rhett's sudden "change of heart" regarding the army--it never quite made sense to me, except he was born and raised an elite Southerner... I think it took as long to compose this post as it did to read this section! I wanted to tell it all to you!! Mitchell's writing is absolutely enthralling, although she covers much territory with concise wordsmanship!

I am getting very anxious to finish the book and watch the movie! 

2 comments:

  1. I just finished the book last week and I'm watching the movie in parts. I also thought it was strange that Rhett changes his mind about the army, but I do believe it had a lot to do with shame and Southern pride. Also it may have been a plot device. I think making her way to Tara alone was another test of strength for Scarlett and character-building.

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    1. Oh, yes, I see your point! Yeah, without that solitary time for Scarlett to be totally responsible for everyone else, there would have been no prelude to the strength she had to develop once she arrived home! Good 'writerly' insight! :)

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