Gone with the Wind | Study Guide

Margaret Mitchell

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Gone with the Wind | Part 5, Chapter 54 | Summary

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Summary

Melanie prevents scandal by keeping Scarlett at her side throughout the party. When she gets home, Scarlett is shaking from the strain. When she decides to get a drink, Rhett confronts her; he is drunker than she has ever seen him. He says he knows exactly what happened. He blames her for wanting Ashley, who could never make her happy, instead of appreciating what she could have with him. Rhett tells Scarlett he loves her, but he also physically threatens her. As Scarlett tries to run away, he grabs her and kisses her passionately, and then he carries her upstairs to the bedroom.

The next morning Scarlett is embarrassed but pleased by what happened. She is eager to see Rhett again, in part because she plans to use his love to manipulate him. But Rhett is gone, and he does not come home for a couple of days. When he returns he makes it plain he was at Belle Watling's. Scarlett is furious. Rhett offers to divorce her if he gets custody of Bonnie, but she refuses. Then he announces he is taking a trip to Charleston and New Orleans—a long trip—and he wants to take Bonnie with him. When Scarlett suggests he might take Bonnie to places like Belle's, Rhett threatens to whip her. Then he goes to see Bonnie, treating her with great tenderness.

Analysis

The scene between Scarlett and Rhett may be one of the most uncomfortable in the novel, at least for modern readers. In effect, Rhett rapes Scarlett, and the next morning she is happy about it.

Based on the customs of that time, Rhett, as a man and a husband, has the right to treat his wife any way he chooses. He warned her earlier he could insist upon his marital rights. Mitchell seems to indicate Scarlett needs a man to take charge of her and get her under control, including sexually. Scarlett may indeed be relieved to let Rhett take charge of things for a change, even if it means being threatened and roughly handled. She almost always has the upper hand, after all. No doubt she also sees Rhett's actions as a sign of his passion for her, and this sexist pattern of behavior in fact pleases and flatters her.

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