Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
Rhett is from Charleston, South Carolina. He is totally independent because he had an un-detailed disagreement with his father and was disowned. There is a rumor that he ruined the reputation of a girl, and for that he is not "received" in his own home. Actually, he did nothing more than take the girl for a buggy ride. There was an accident in which the buggy was smashed and the horse ran away. Thus the two had to walk home and arrived late at night. The next day, he refused to marry her. According to his opinion, the girl was a silly, foolish sort who threw herself at him. He had no interest in her, had not harmed her in any way, and couldn't see any reason why he should marry her. Nevertheless, the girl was supposedly "ruined"; Rhett was challenged to a duel by her brother and won. Thereafter he was barred from Charleston society.
The typical rumor mill has exaggerated Rhett's reputation. He is said to be "loose" with women, although none of the women can say exactly what that means. He first sees Scarlett at the barbecue at Twelve Oaks and instantly falls in love with her. He admires her spirit and her candor in saying exactly what she thinks. He also has a very practical mind and has refused to blind himself in the name of tradition or abstractions such as the "cause." He predicts the Confederate loss before the war even starts, sighting the southern lack of equipment and preparation. The south has been wholly agricultural and does not have the first ammunition plant or weapons factory. The leaders have apparently not given much thought to the practical needs of an army. Rhett points this out, immediately antagonizing the people at Twelve Oaks. He repeats his blunt comments in Atlanta, always at the moment when people are busy fantasizing about the glorious cause, and makes enemies for himself wherever he goes. In spite of that, by selling his cotton in England and running Yankee blockades with needed goods, he does more for the south than any of the slogan spouting leaders of Atlanta. Although he has the reputation of a rogue and an opportunist, he is honest with himself. If the south is going to fight a losing battle, he is not going to sit by and share the coming days of poverty and hardship. As he says, there is as much money to be made in destroying a civilization as there is in building one.
In spite of his reputation, Rhett is a noble and decent character who sees below the surface of things. Melanie is the first to recognize the innate goodness in him; her recognition restores his own lost faith in human nature. He desires her good will because he knows it is sincere. Later on, when he courts the good opinion of the town on behalf of his daughter, he does so, not because he cares for their artificial manners, but because he knows that the attitudes of his society have not changed. As a man, it doesn't bother him if he isn't "received," but if the other women do not accept his daughter, she will be forced into the same life style as Belle Watling.
That Rhett is in love with Scarlett early in the story is easy to see. He is waiting for her to grow up, to get over Ashley and to fall in love with him. However, he has a sarcastic manner himself that he uses at all the wrong times. At the very moment when Scarlett would be serious, he jests and criticizes and points out her flaws. The fact that he is there whenever she needs him is utterly lost on Scarlett.