Monday, October 18, 2010

The Quotable Rhett Butler: A Mouthful of Dead Sea Fruit

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. 


  1. I think she realized that Ashley was not for her when Melanie died. She then realized what she really needed and wanted was Rhett, but it was too late...

  2. The fruit turned to "ashes", sounds too much like Ashley!

    Probably the surest way for Scarlett to realize he wasn't for her was to get him. Nothing anyone else said seemed to dent her enthusiasm for him. It seemed like Scarlett was slowly realizing how different she and Ashley were, and had Melanie lived, she might have fully come to that conclusion in another five years or so.

    I don't think she would ever come to realize his real worth as a person. Before the war, the man Scarlett "loved" was the perfect gentleman and possessed all the right attributes for his class and social standing. He was not the type of person Scarlett could respect after the war. Grandma Fontaine called it at Gerald's funeral, but Scarlett was still too besotted to see. When she condemns him at the end for being helpless and poor-spirited, Rhett enjoins her to see him as he really is, a gentleman caught in a world he doesn't belong in, trying to live by the rules of the old days.

  3. What a fine dinner it would be for Scarlett to eat Dead Sea Fruit and for Rhett to eat crow when he realizes how he can't live without our darling girl.

  4. Yes, very sad. Thanks for commenting, Beth.

  5. Haute cuisine at the Butler mansion!

  6. I agree pretty much. Perhaps if the mill incident was not actually an incident (i.e. no one caught them) and her relationship with Rhett went for the better somehow, she might have slowly realized she didn't really want/need/have any conceivably use for Ashley.

  7. The ironic part of it, of course, is that Scarlett is Rhett's Dead Sea fruit.

  8. I disagree. I think a Scarlett knowingly in love with Rhett would have been true ambrosia, chased down with some nectar of the gods.

  9. I am going to say yes to the question. I think Scarlett would've realised eventually.
    I am going to make a big call and say that if Scarlett hadn't fallen down the stairs they would have all lived happily ever after - reasonably. The mill incident, however, had to happen. I'm going to use a couple of quotes from chapter 56 (all thoughts of Scarlett's during Rhett's absence) to make my point.

    His (Ashley's) helplessness in the face of the present situation irked her. She did not know what he could do to better matters but she felt that he should do something. Rhett would have done something. Rhett always did something, even if it was the wrong thing, and she unwillingly respected him for it.

    Out of the welter of rapture and anger and heartbreak and hurt pride that he had left, depression emerged to sit upon her shoulder like a carrion crow. She missed him, missed his light flippant touch in anecdotes that made her shout with laughter, his sardonic grin that reduced troubles to their proper proportions, missed even his jeers that stung her to angry retort.

    So a child was coming from those moments of high rapture--even if the memory of the rapture was dimmed by what followed. And for the first time she was glad that she was going to have a child. If it were only a boy! A fine boy, not a spiritless little creature like Wade. How she would care for him! Now that she had the leisure to devote to a baby and the money to smooth his path, how happy she would be!

    So much of the keen zest had gone out of life recently. If only she could recapture the thrill and the glow of Ashley--if only Rhett would come home and make her laugh.

    Okay, I'm back. The first quote implies that she disrespects Ashley and admires Rhett in the same thought. The implication of the second is quite clear, she misses Rhett, and to the point she becomes quite depressed. The third quote shows how happy she is to be having Rhett's baby - Scarlett who's about as anti-mother as they come. She is changing. The fourth shows that Ashley has already been tarnished in her eyes. She doesn't want him, she wants Rhett.
    Now, for my theory as to why everything would've went well if Scarlett hadn't fallen down the stairs.
    If the mill incident hadn't occurred, Rhett wouldn't have felt the need to molest her and she would never have become pregnant. Scarlett was desperate for Rhett to come home and she was thrilled to be having his baby. By this time Scarlett was starting to get over Ashley and his incompetence in business matters drove her mad.
    Someone around here said in a comment to an earlier post that in the later days of the marriage Rhett stopped being able to read Scarlett's thoughts. This is true, and we know he still loved her and thought her love for Ashley hadn't changed, and that's why he said such a cruel thing.
    If he hadn't, Scarlett would've had the baby, loved it along with Rhett and I think they would've all been happy together and they would be less indulgent with Bonnie - Scarlett was a much stricter parent then Rhett and it was only Rhett's obsession with Bonnie that made him so indulgent. With a baby boy (potentially) to obsess over, I think that Scarlett would've had a bit more control over Bonnie's behaviour and her punishments. I think as part of a happy family unit, Scarlett wouldn't have felt the need to long for Ashley. And I think Rhett could've still got her, or tricked her, to sell the mills.
    So basically, if Rhett hadn't been such an arsehole, everything would've turned out fine for the Butlers.
    There, I've said my piece!

  10. I like this. Then again, I was accused of being a romantic before :D

  11. Nice comment. Now tell me, aren't you happy we switched to this new commenting system? ;-)

  12. Mais oui, certainement!

  13. Ooo! I love that imagery.


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