Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler Love Story

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According to Margaret Mitchell, the central theme in Gone With the Wind is survival. "If the novel has a theme it is that of survival. What makes some people able to come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong and brave, go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don't. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those who go under...? I only know that the survivors used to call that quality 'gumption.' So I wrote about the people who had gumption and the people who didn't." Macmillan 1936.
Survival is summed up most succinctly in the character of Scarlett. Despite Scarlett’s lack of depth, or perhaps because of it, she realizes that the only way to survive successfully is to move forward and never look back. She sums up this thought several times in the novel when she pushes aside despair by thinking, "Tomorrow is another day."
Throughout the novel, we are introduced to numerous Southerners who were unable to shift from the lifestyle they live in the antebellum South. After the war, they continue to look back and claim the lifestyle and courtesy that they were accustomed to. They were unwilling to move foreword and reject what was once theirs and chose instead to live in genteel poverty.
The character that most obviously portrays Mitchell’s idea of those who lack gumption is Ashley Wilkes. Ashley is from the upper-echelon of Southern antebellum ‘nobility.’ Courageous, well-educated, and wealthy he had everything he needed to succeed even after the War. However, he allowed himself to slip into genteel poverty and obscurity because he is unwilling/unable to move into the present.
The Same Man
Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes provide the thematic two sides of the coin representing gumption in this novel. One cannot jump to the conclusion that Rhett and Ashley are completely different men. The are, in fact, the same man. The only difference between them is Mitchell’s idea of gumption.
Ashley explains it to Scarlett when he says "Did you ever stop to think, Scarlett, that Rhett and I are fundamentally alike?…We came of the same kind of people, we were raised in the same pattern, brought up to think of the same things. And somewhere along the road we took different turnings. We still think alike but react differently" (922).
While Rhett spends most of the novel rejecting Ashley, even he admits that they had the same opportunities and that the only thing that separates them is the decisions that they make. "I only know what other men have done. We saw opportunity in the ruin of a civilization and we made the most of our opportunity…the Ashleys of this world have the same chances and don’t take them" (773).
Two-Headed Coin
By the end of the novel, however, Rhett decides he no longer likes being on the obverse of the coin. Rhett feels his age and is beginning to look back rather than look ahead. He tells Scarlett "I’m going to hunt in the old towns and old countries where some of the old times must still linger. I’m that sentimental. Atlanta’s too raw for me, too new" (1035).

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