This week's quote was submitted by our reader Bella. It's one of the lines from Rhett's final speech:
"Something, someone has made you realize that the unfortunate Mr. Wilkes is too large a mouthful of Dead Sea fruit for even you to chew."--Gone with the Wind, Chapter LXIII
The Dead Sea fruit, or the apple of Sodom as it was often called, had been a topic of fascination for the Western culture for centuries and by the 19th century it had become a popular trope. It was used to describe a thing whose attractive appearance was deceiving, for one who got hold of the apple of Sodom either tasted it only to find it bitter or, in some takes, was surprised to see it turn to ash before his eyes.
Both of these versions have a ground in reality, for the fruit actually exists. It has, as you can see in the wikipedia picture, the appearance of an edible fruit, perhaps even an apple, but the interior is empty and its flesh bitter. One can imagine many a traveler had a nasty surprise trying out this "apple." As for the other version, in which the fruit turns to ashes, it is probably related to the way this plant spreads its seeds. When the fruits are ripe, they burst, sending off their fibrous contents. Apparently, this also happens if one exerts the slightest pressure on a ripe fruit - they are left with only the remains of the fruit (the "ashes") in their hands.
The apple of Sodom was first mentioned in ancient sources. It appears in Tacitus' fifth book of the History and in Josephus Jewish War. Both these sources stress the fact that the fruit dissolves into smoke and ashes, not that it is bitter to the taste. Mentioned in the Bible as well, the Dead Sea fruit became a famous motif and elicited a great deal of curiosity in the Western world. Authentic reports from travelers were greatly valued, because there was an important current of suspicion regarding its actual existence. Some authors claimed that the apple of Sodom had never been the fruit of a real plant growing in the Dead Sea region, but just a cleverly-found metaphor to signify the vain pleasures of the world.
Rhett obviously uses this expression in the sense in which it was most often used in modern times - to indicate the bitterness of a fruit which had been pleasing to the eye. It is the sense in which it appears in Paradise Lost for example (via wiki):
"(...) greedily they plucked
The fruitage fair to sight, like that which grew
Near that bituminous lake where Sodom flamed;
This more delusive, not the touch, but taste
Deceived; they, fondly thinking to allay
Their appetite with gust, instead of fruit
Chewed bitter ashes, which the offended taste
With spattering noise rejected: oft they assayed,
Hunger and thirst constraining; (...)"
(book X, 560-568)
And now to close this post, let me ask you this. It's clear that once Scarlett got Ashley (no matter under what circumstances), she would have been disappointed and probably found him "a mouthful of Dead Sea fruit." But do you think that it was possible for her to realize that he wasn't good for her without getting him? Could anything other than actually getting him open her eyes to his real worth (or lack thereof)?
And, of course, a thank you to Bella for emailing us about this particular quote.