Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Quotable Rhett Butler: Gain the World, Lose Your Soul

So I figured we should continue our incursion into biblical territory with a quote whose origin eluded me until very recently (read: last week). Of course, if on a scale from Bugsie to Bible scholar, you lean towards the latter, it probably won't be a new reference for you as well, but I thought it would still be fun to share. Here it is:  
"That's not a vast age. It's a young age to have gained the whole world and lost your soul, isn't it?"--Gone with the Wind, Chapter LXIII
This comes from Rhett's final speech. I've always had a vague intuition that it had to be a quote by the sound of it, but was never curious enough to actually look it up. And when I did, I found that we had another candidate for our list of biblical references. The phrase appears more than once in the New Testament, but we'll go with Mark :36. Words - Jesus, emphasis - Bugsie (translation - whoever King James paid):
"Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
And now, contrary to the popular belief, I won't go into an elaborate rambling tying this reference to the rest of Rhett's speech. Not only because I rather enjoy writing short posts, but also because his meaning is pretty much obvious. Instead I will say that my favorite thing about it is, for once, Scarlett reaction ("But Rhett is my soul and I'm losing him. And if I lose him, nothing else matters!") and invite you to answer a question. Do you think this phrase (to have gained the world and lost his soul) can apply to Rhett as well, at the end of the book?

PS: Don't forget to tune in on TCM for Gone with the Wind tonight!


  1. To make it short - Yes!

    Or perhaps the Danish translation of the sentence is more appropriate.

    "Det er en ung alder at have erobret verden, men taget skade på sjælen" (not a direct quote since the book is currently packed in a box somewhere...

    But if you translate the above back to English the meaning is more lige

    "It's a young age in which to have conquered the world, but taken damage to the soul"

    And I think that Rhett at the end of the book is more soulfully damaged rather than without soul...

    Just my four cents

  2. I agree with M's 4 cents, which gives you a total of 5 cents...

  3. Ohhh wow.... Thanks!

    Almost enough to open a bank account... or somethin *LOL*

  4. Well, I'm sure Rhett would say the opposite, that he lost the world and was about to gain his soul, but I detest him at the end of the book, so I'm going to agree.

  5. Bugsie, my friend, I think you and I will disagree on this, however, here's my two cents which may or may not add to the five cents already on the table. But anyway here goes...

    At the end of the story, Rhett and Scarlett have been physically, emotionally, and mentally estranged for over two years. For the first time in their relationship Rhett doesn't really know what Scarlett is thinking and ironically she is thinking a great deal about him. She begins to get insight into his character and mind. That is, she suspects/realizes he set her up to sell the mills to Ashley, she correctly guesses that he's involved in the breaking up of the Klan, and she understands his enormous grief after Bonnie's death.

    He, on the other hand, has no insight into the growth of her mental processes. Look back at the number times he's described as giving Scarlett a "quizzical" look in the final chapters. The term has three meanings: quaint or charming, teasing or mocking, puzzlement or curiosity/disbelief. All three apply to Rhett's reactions to Scarlett. Her revelation about having loved him "for years" is news to him. While he believes her, this is the first time he has heard her say the words...after years of hoping and waiting to hear them.

    Remember this is the first real conversation between them since Bonnie's death. When they spoke then it was an argument where he threatened to kill Scarlett if she had the funeral the next day as she intended. For her part, Scarlett called Rhett a murderer and accused him of killing Bonnie.

    He is more heartbroken at the end than anything else and he "leaves" her (although he really "goes" nowhere except upstairs) because he believes he would lose his soul if he allows himself to "love" her again (although he calls her "my darling" in one of the final passages where he speaks to her).

    This is the level where I believe the two of them are the most "star-crossed". He loves her-despite everything-and can't stand himself for loving her. He sees her as his ultimate destruction, because he thinks his love for her is a negative force rather than a postive force.

    On the contrary, Scarlett now sees him as her ultimate salvation "my soul" (yes I know she still has Tara, but she's going "home to Tara" to think of some way to get Rhett back) and she fears that by losing him she'll lose herself. After all, what would she be without the love of the people who love her most? This is true for any of us.

    In the end, Rhett and Scarlett are two people very much at opposite ends of the spectrum and while they both love each other madly (emphasis on the "mad" - however you wish to interpret it)they cannot (will not) allow themselves to madly love one another at the same time. So, rather than saying they each lost their souls, perhaps a more precise way to say it is that they each lost a better part of themselves.

    Is that the final end result for these two very strong-willed and passionate characters? Well, that's for each one of us to decide for ourselves.

  6. @Rita-Another outstanding post and beautiful analysis, as usual. However, I must disagree with you.

    The passage in Rhett's final speech preceding the "gained the world, lost your soul" part, is the one in which he calls Scarlett his darling, and also calls her a child for her feeble attempt at an apology. He then treats her like a child (giving her the handkerchief to blow her nose). The realization dawns on Scarlett that "all his talk about loving her meant nothing. It was a tale of a time long past, and he was looking at it as though it had never happened to him. And that was frightening." If we accept that Scarlett is finally starting to gain some insight into the people she loves, her analysis of the situation has merit. I agree with your conclusion that they are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, but only in the sense that Rhett's love has withered, and Scarlett's is coming into flower.

    I believe Rhett reached the point of seeing his love for Scarlett as something negative and a destructive force in the summer of 1871, after he nearly killed her. In the final speech he tells Scarlett that after her accident he knew it was all over. He then contrives the sale of the mills to keep Scarlett away from Ashley, and their marriage becomes a barren arrangement, a respectable facade to preserve Bonnie's social standing.

    As for the original question, yes.

  7. @Rita- "they each lost a better part of themselves" - this is so sad and so true. How beautifully expressed.

    Moreover, can I say that in addition your thoughtful commentary which I very much enjoyed, your post also made me smile? Because you are right- any post maintaining that Rhett had even an inkling of love left for Scarlett at the end is most certainly "Bugsie bait." :)

    @iris- I'd actually go further and say Rhett always considered his love for Scarlett to be a negative force in his life--or, at best, to be a very reluctant and uneasy brand of love. Rhett at his heart is someone who thrives on control and emotional distance and I think from the very beginning of their relationship it galled him that he had such deep feelings for Scarlett, knowing her flaws as he did--and the risk he was taking.

    MM sums this up nicely in the last chapter with the mention: "the barbed drawling words that she now realized had covered a bitter love." Now, there's no doubt that Rhett's perception of his love got increasingly bitter as the marriage broke down more and more, culminating in the events of summer 1871. But to me at least, it was a strand that was there, in some form, from the very beginning.

  8. First of all, Bugsie, I doff my cyber cap to you--what a marvelous, thought-provoking question!

    I also agree with M's "soulfully damaged" rather than "without soul" analysis. And perhaps even more soulfully damaged than Scarlett, for unlike her, he is without regret.

    That is my opinion for the moment, but like most everything else connected to GWTW, is subject to change. :)

  9. For all his profound knowledge of the Bible, Mr. B sure could have been a priest ;)

    As for the question - yes, IMO, Rhett is an utterly broken man at the end of the book. Broken in heart, body and soul. He had gained everything he had ever wanted (the woman he craved, a wealth so immense that allowed him to sneer at society) but ends up a mere shell of the man he once was. And if he didn't lose his soul completely, at least it's severely damaged...


  10. Morning to all and thank you for your cents!

    @ M. I love your idea of "soulfully damaged." And this is the second cool Danish work I learn from you after tudekiks(?).

    @ Jillian. Thanks for commenting!

    @ Andrew. I agree that Rhett would probably say he was about to keep what's left of his soul. Cool observation.

    @ Rita. I pretty much agree with Iris. You know the points in which my opinion differs from yours, but I still find your analysis very insightful. And yes, Rhett does seem to become blind to his wife's thoughts at some point. It kind of intrigues me.

    @ Iris. I agree and I love the quote you pulled from that chapter.

    @ Iso. I should not dignify your comment with an answer, but just wanted to say that I agree with your analysis of control-freak Rhett :P

    @ Shaninalux. Thanks for commenting. Glad you liked the question.

    @ Last but not least V. I agree. I think that if Bonnie hadn't died, things would have worked out. But like this, there will always be sth missing for both of them.

    To sum up, Bugsie um, agrees and thanks you for the discussion!

  11. Nothing ever comes close in coolness to "Tudekiks"

    And I think you would definitely need a bunch of those is you were soulfully damaged ;)


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