Monday, September 6, 2010

The Quotable Rhett Butler: Good Phrases From "That Book"

As one of our readers aptly observed in a comment for the very first edition of our Quotable Rhett Butler (aww, I am getting nostalgic), for a man who professes not to be a believer, Rhett does use a solid number of biblical references. In fact, the Bible and Shakespeare are probably the top two sources for the allusions one can find in his speech. And it's always a pleasure to see that our talented Mr. Butler is aware of that fact as well: 
"'Lusting in your heart.' That's a good phrase, isn't it? There are a number of good phrases in that Book, aren't there?" --Gone with the Wind, Chapter LIV
You probably recognize the setting for this conversation: the dining room of the Butler mansion, after Ashley's infamous birthday party, with a drunken Rhett  just getting started on the central theme of the night: mental infidelity. Well aware of the fact that his wife was never physically unfaithful to him, he nonetheless knows that her love for Ashley is what triggered both that day's scandal and Scarlett's decision to ask for separate bedrooms. And what better phrase could he find to illustrate that than one picked from a collection of warnings against adultery (Proverbs 6: 20-36, that is)? 
"Do not lust in your heart after her beauty
   or let her captivate you with her eyes,
for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, 
  and the adulteress preys upon your very life. "
But what's more interesting about his line is that, though the phrase is clearly lifted from the Old Testament, its meaning there is quite different from the one in which Rhett uses it. It's obvious that the message was one of precaution: lusting in one's heart and allowing one to be tempted by a woman opened the door to actual adultery, and that was the sin, not the lusting itself. Rhett, however, implies that mental infidelity qualifies as adultery in itself, ergo Scarlett is guilty, though she was never physically unfaithful.

But we can find another passage in the Bible (and if we can't, Google sure can), a little different in wording perhaps, but that captures the essence of that idea better, by going further than the Old Testament had gone. And what's more interesting is that we know for sure Rhett was familiar with it. Here it is, the entire fragment from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 27 ), with the relevant sentence highlighted:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell."
And if we convert a small fragment of this to King James' English--"And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee"--it starts to sound awfully familiar, doesn't it?


  1. Gotta love Mr. Butler's verve :)


  2. Hello, V. and welcome.

    My age shows here, but that comment about lusting in your heart reminds me of something from my teen years: Jimmy Carter in his Playboy magazine interview.

    Come to think of it, Jimmy Carter kinda reminds me of Ashley Wilkes, honorable but pusillanimous.

  3. @ V. Sure, though after reading this, some people that won't mind me speaking in their name here accused Mr. Butler of being an hypocrite. Thanks for dropping by!

    @ Iris. So Ashley Wilkes was right in his rail-splitting scene, he really was meant to go far :P Thanks for the link, Iris, hadn't read that before.

  4. Scarlett probably would have understood Rhett a whole lot more if he had stuck to the more mundane part of the quote such as

    "for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread"


  5. LOL. The adulteress preys upon his life. How true :P

  6. So Rhett was a loaf of bread, then? How convenient his own infidelity is okay in his eyes. But why not? Scarlett stopped providing the service for which he paid for.

    I think Rhett's quotes from the Bibles and Shakespeare demonstrate his upbringing and the quality education he would have received.


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