This will be a much briefer update to the post from last night: three comments about the positives I’ve gotten from the novel’s next hundred pages (yes, I’m trying to get some momentum, and no, I’m not going to revisit the criticisms from last night, as promised).
The quotation which serves as this post’s title is Mammy’s arrival in the novel, as far as I’m concerned—the first moment I really see the person hidden there beneath the cloak of blind loyalty to Ellen (which is certainly noble, but really doesn’t humanize Mammy at all). I’m not going to make more of this moment than there is—it doesn’t lead to a real exploration of what it means to Mammy (or to Scarlett) that she is technically free, and for all intents and purposes she continues to act as though she belongs to Scarlett. But it shows me a glimpse of a real woman with real feelings, and I’m grateful to Mitchell for that. I hope she can put more into the character in the last third of the novel, since I know Mitchell can write a great character, and I’d love it if she could put that vivid humanity into any of the novel’s black characters.
Rhett Butler is the novel’s life blood, as far as I’m concerned, and his return brings with it the vitality I’d missed. There’s something dangerous about him, something unexpected, and yet something unassailably firm and good—not “good” in the sense that Miss Pittypat would use the word, but good in the sense that he never loses sight of that integrity I praised him for initially. I don’t agree with Rhett, or necessarily like him, in every single moment, but I can’t take my eyes off of him, and his jailhouse conversations with Scarlett (and then their conversation at Frank’s store) are masterful. I wish Scarlett affected me the same way—or, failing that, I wish Mitchell had written the novel with Rhett as a more consistent presence. But I’ll take what I can get, which is great.
And I want more out of Ashley—I suggested a couple of weeks ago that I think Ashley (the noble knight) may be a worse man than Rhett (the scoundrel) in all the ways that count, and I’m starting to think I was right. It may help that Rhett, who’s a persuasive devil, thinks so too. Anyway, I find Ashley’s position regarding Scarlett fascinating because of how complex it is—I think his conversations with her are less exciting than Rhett’s, but still feel like great reading as they go. I only half-understand him, but I like what I understand, and I like what’s not understood beneath. Strange, that I like Ashley (and don’t always like Rhett) on a personal level, and yet I think Rhett’s a better man. I may try and sort out those feelings in a later post, if I can work them out. I can’t quite work out what either of them see in Scarlett beyond her physical beauty—maybe that’s Mitchell’s point, but if it’s not, I wish I could see it. They both praise things about her that I think are A) obviously not true, even from their perspective, and B) not particularly praiseworthy, as far as I can tell. So I’m a bit baffled about this triangle, as much as I am fixated on it whenever it surfaces. Obviously it runs through the whole novel, so presumably I’ll have some more opportunities to reflect on it, and maybe learn something. We’ll see.