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Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler

Quick Facts

Him: Rhett Butler, a distrusted drifter

Her: Scarlett O’Hara, a Southern belle looking to save her family’s plantation home

Setting: Atlanta, Georgia and the surrounding area, during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras

 


Background

Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara meets the dashing Rhett Butler at a barbecue after slapping the then-love of her life – Ashley Wilkes – for brushing aside her love for him. The chance encounter turns into a complex relationship that results in marriage and a child, as well as devastating heartbreak, just as the South begins to turn the corner after the destruction of the Civil War.


Story

This romantic connection begins in the most unlikely of circumstances, with Rhett Butler witnessing Scarlett O’Hara admonish the object of her heart’s desire, Ashley Wilkes, for choosing to marry another woman despite the mutual affection they share. Rhett, considered a scoundrel by many, praises her unconventional behavior – she slaps Ashley across the face – and is immediately dismissed by Scarlett for his unseemly behavior.

Over the next several years, Scarlett and Rhett’s lives take many twists and turns on account of the war. She is married twice (ending up a widow both times) and conceives a child. Rhett spends several years in prison and as a soldier, yet manages to amass a fortune through food speculation and illegal trade. Shortly after Scarlett’s second husband, Frank, is killed as part of a Ku Klux Klan raiding party, Rhett asks her to marry him. Reluctant at first, she eventually agrees.

Marriage for the two of them is an up-and-down affair. They fight often, cutting each other apart with angry declarations. Eventually, after she is wrongly accused of an adulterous relationship with Ashley, Scarlett and Rhett sleep in separate bedrooms, their young daughter by his side. Happiness is elusive, yet he drunkenly declares his love for her the night before taking the child with him on a three-month trip.

When he returns, Scarlett informs Rhett she is pregnant again and, after he replies with a pointed bit of sarcasm, lunges at him. He steps out of the way, which causes her to fall down the stairs. Though he is remorseful, she leaves for her home plantation to get well after miscarrying the child. When she returns, she finds him a different man – immersed in the life of their daughter and rather uninterested in Scarlett.

After learning to ride her horse some, the four-year-old attempts to leap a bar too high and is thrown from the saddle. Her death is the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Rhett and Scarlett, as he no longer wishes to carry on the appearance of a marriage despite her protestations that she really does love him. Determined to recover a life like he had before the war, he turns and coldly replies, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”


Reputation

The popularity of the novel Gone with the Wind exploded when it was turned into a feature film starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in 1939, three years after it was published. Known for Gable’s classic delivery of Rhett Butler’s telling line, the famous love story won a Pullitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937. The author, Margaret Mitchell, is renowned for the intricacy displayed throughout the development of Scarlett O’Hara over the course of the novel, as well as her depiction of the romance’s many twists and turns – and ultimate dissolution.



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