Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Quotable Rhett Butler: The Giant Antaeus

Well, friends, long time no see, isn’t it? Come to think of it, I should have probably started this post with “How We Do Run On has the pleasure of featuring yet another guest blogger today, one you might remember from many months ago. Please welcome Bugsie, the girl who doesn’t really know fashion!” In my defense, it was not (only) laziness that kept me away from you and our favorite heroes. Moving to a country that values beer above all other things helped too.

But now that I am back, and now that everyone’s favorite series, Doppelganger Dresses, reached its end, I am afraid you will have to put up with my endless analyses of Mr. Butler’s every word again. For those of you who are not familiar with it, The Quotable Rhett Butler is a series that tries to highlight and explain some of Rhett Butler's lines with a focus on the references (historical, literary or mythological) he uses. You can have a taste of the quotes we covered so far here.

The quote I selected for this week belongs to chapter LVII and was a suggestion from our reader Bella:
"'Yes. Tara will do her good,' he said smiling. 'Sometimes I think she's like the giant Antaeus who became stronger each time he touched Mother Earth.'" 
--Gone with the Wind, Chapter LVII
This comes from Rhett's conversation with Melanie after Scarlett's departure to Tara after the miscarriage. Since Scarlett's leaving for Tara had already been described by Mitchell in  quite similar terms in a previous scene ("As she had once fled Atlanta before an invading army, so she was fleeing it again (...). It seemed that if she could only get back to the stillness and the green cotton fields of home, all her troubles would fall away and she would somehow be able to mold her shattered thoughts into something she could live by."), we could say this is a case of a character making its author's symbols transparent.

Antaeus - the character Rhett compares his wife with - was a mythological giant with a passion for wrestling (and killing) innocent passersby. His secret weapon? A privileged relationship with his mother, Gaia, aka Mother Earth. In other words, he drew his invincible strength from the soil. So when he had the imprudence of challenging Hercules to a wrestling match, all the famous hero had to do was keep him flailing above the soil for enough time to drain him of strength and then it was game over for Antaeus. 

It is easy to see how the reference to this legend functions as a good comparison for Scarlett's character. For, while she loses everything or almost everything on more than one occasion, as long as she still has Tara as a refuge, she can survive. But this also raises a question that I want to pose for discussion today. Antaeus'  dependence on one source of strength proved a disadvantage to him in the end. Similarly, while her relationship with Tara certainly had its advantages (both material and psychological), could Scarlett’s attachment to the plantation also prove a weakness in some ways?  What do you think? Consider the period after the war and the lengths she goes to to keep Tara. Wouldn’t it have been easier and perhaps more profitable for everyone if she let go? 

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