Rhett Butler, as he appeared in Gone With the Wind.
|Appears in||Gone With the Wind (book),|
Gone With the Wind (film)
|Family||Scarlett O'Hara (wife)|
Bonnie Butler (daughter)
|Age||older than Scarlett|
|“||My dear, don't you know? That's Rhett Butler. He's from Charleston. He has the most terrible reputation.||”|
Rhett Butler is a fictional character, and one of the main protagonists of Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.
The novel introduces Rhett Kershaw Butler as the problem-solving pragmatist who is sure that the South cannot win a protracted war with the North. His opinions, expressed in the parlor of a Southern gentleman's household, provoke the ire of many of his fellow Southerners and as a result, he is even challenged to a duel. Rhett gracefully takes a bow with the famous lines "I seem to have ruined everybody's brandy and cigars and dreams of victory."
In the beginning of the novel, we first meet Rhett at the Twelve Oaks Plantation, the home of Ashley and India Wilkes. The novel describes Rhett as "a visitor from Charleston;" a black sheep, he was kicked out of West Point and he is not accepted by any family with repute in the whole of Charleston, and perhaps all of South Carolina. When Scarlett O'Hara, who was at the Twelve Oaks party where Rhett was introduced, hears of this, she is shocked and intrigued at the same time. Rhett's enthrallment with Scarlett begins when he overhears her declaration of love for Ashley in the library while the rest of the "proper" girls are taking a nap in the late afternoon to prepare for the dance that would take place later that evening. He recognizes that she's willful and spirited, and also that they're alike in many ways, including their disgust with the impending, and later ongoing, war with the Yankees.
They meet again when Scarlett has already lost her first husband, Charles Hamilton, while she's staying with Charles' sister Melanie and their Aunt Pittypat in Atlanta during the war. Rhett, the dashing blockade runner, shocks the entire charity ball that was being thrown to raise money for the confederate troops, by asking to dance with Scarlett, who is now a widow, something that was heresy in the Antebellum South.
Rhett seemingly ruins Scarlett's reputation after this very public display of frivolity and Scarlett's father, Gerald O'Hara, comes to speak to Rhett and to take Scarlett back to Tara. However, Rhett, blackguard that he is, gets Gerald intoxicated and he and Rhett come to terms, so to speak. Gerald returns to Tara and Scarlett remains in Atlanta.
As the Yankees advance towards Atlanta, Scarlett stays behind to help deliver Melanie's baby and then must depend on Rhett to get them out of the city. Once they have fled Atlanta, Rhett joins the Confederate soldiers for their one last stand against General Sherman. Scarlett couldn't understand why Rhett chose to ally himself at the moment when the Confederate cause had failed.
After a great many months, Scarlett returns to Atlanta, this time to solicit money from Rhett to save Tara from being stolen out from under her, only to learn from Aunt Pitty that he was in military jail, imprisoned by the Yankees for stealing the Confederate gold. Scarlett comes waltzing in, supposedly horrified that Rhett's life was in danger, all the while maneuvering him to give her money for the plantation. When Rhett sees through her ploy, he laughs in her face, in which case Scarlett flees, only to be confronted by Belle, a prostitute who enjoyed keeping company with Rhett. Disgusted with how low she's sunk, she's on her way back to Aunt Pittypat's when she meets Frank Kennedy, her sister Sue Ellen's beau. Learning that Frank has done very well for himself, she plies him with affection and finally secures a marriage proposal, to which she accepts, thereby securing Tara's future indefinitely.
Two weeks later, Scarlett is shocked when she sees Rhett Butler while she's running Frank's store, free from the Yankees and amused that she has rushed into yet another marriage with a man that she doesn't love, much less the fact that she stole him right out from under her sister's nose.
After Frank Kennedy is killed during a Ku Klux Klan raid on the shanty town after Scarlett is attacked, Rhett saves the lives of Ashley Wilkes and several others by alibiing them to the Yankee captain, a man with whom Rhett has played cards on several occasions.
While Scarlett is torn with guilt of causing the death of her second husband, Rhett appears and offers a marriage proposal, promising to give her everything. Scarlett accepts for the money while Rhett secretly hopes that Scarlett will eventually return the love he's had since the day he saw her at Twelve Oaks. Her continuing affection for Ashley Wilkes becomes a problem for the couple, however. When their daughter, Bonnie, falls off a pony and dies, the tragedy causes a rift between the two which is impossible to bridge.
Rhett eventually leaves because he knows he has to get away from Scarlett. Her confession of love is something that Rhett seems to have expected from the moment he first saw her breathless face when she rushes to him. He knows that Scarlett could never be happy with Ashley and when she discovers that, he does not want to be around when she throws her obsession onto him. When he finally gets Scarlett's love, he is not happy and leaves with his famous Parthian shot that has since been immortalized: " Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."
At the begining of the novel, Rhett is thirty-three years old, so at the end he was forty-five.
In the course of the novel, Rhett becomes increasingly enamored with Scarlett's sheer will to survive in the chaos surrounding the war. The novel contains several pieces of information about him that do not appear in the film. After being disowned by his family (mainly by his father), he became a professional gambler, and at one point was involved in the California Gold Rush, where he ended up getting a scar on his stomach in a knife fight. He seems to love his mother and his sister Rosemary, but has an adversarial relationship with his father which is never resolved. He also has a younger brother who is never named, and a sister-in-law (both of which he has little respect or regard for), who own a rice plantation. Rhett is the guardian of a little boy who attends boarding school in New Orleans; it is speculated among readers that this boy is Belle Watling's son (whom Belle mentions briefly to Melanie), and perhaps Rhett's illegitimate son as well.
Despite being thrown out of West Point, the Rhett of the novel is obviously very well-educated, referencing everything from Shakespeare to classical history to German philosophy. He has an understanding of human nature that the obtuse Scarlett never does, and at several points provides insightful perspectives on other characters. He also has an extensive knowledge of women, both physically and psychologically, which Scarlett does not consider to be "decent". Rhett's understanding of human nature extends to children, and he is a much better parent to Scarlett's children from her previous marriages than she is herself; he has a particular affinity with her son Wade, even before Wade is his stepson. When Bonnie is born Rhett showers her with the attention that Scarlett will no longer allow him to give to her and is a devoted father.
Like Thomas Sutpen from Absalom, Absalom!, Rhett decides to join in the Southern cause, but unlike his fellow Confederate, Ashley Wilkes, Rhett is not spiritually paralyzed by the South's loss.
In a sequel, Scarlett, written by Alexandra Ripley, Scarlett finally succeeds in getting Rhett back.
|Scarlett O'Hara · Melanie Hamilton · Rhett Butler · Ashley Wilkes · Aunt Pittypat · Gerald O'Hara · Will Benteen|
|Georgia · Tara · Twelve Oaks · Atlanta · Five Points · Rough and Ready · Macon|
|Introduction · Picnic of Twelve Oaks · Off to War · Move to Atlanta · The Confederate Ball · Messages of Death · Home on Furlough · Siege of Atlanta · Journey Back to Tara · The Neighborhood in Ruins · Death of a Yankee · A Fresh Start · Home from the War · The Return of Jonas · Rhett's Imprisonment · Fanny Elsing's Wedding|