Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shakespeare in Gone with the Wind: A Place Called Philippi

You know when I said that the only things that get to be compared to Caesar in GWTW are Rhett Butler and the Confederacy? Well, turns out I was wrong. There is at least one other character that is mentioned somehow in connection with dead Roman emperors, and it's quite an unlikely one at that too. It's Mammy in Gone with the Wind, Chapter XLVII, when she opposes "her lamb" marrying Rhett:
"Without waiting for a reply, Mammy turned and left Scarlett and if she had said: 'Thou shalt see me at Philippi!' her tones would not have been more ominous."
The line quoted above is from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and one of the two direct references to Shakespeare's plays in Gone with the Wind that don't come from Rhett himself. (Or at least one of the two direct references that I am aware of.) The famous "Thou shalt see me at Philippi" line is uttered in Act 4, Scene 3 by Caesar's ghost. You all know the story: Brutus participates in the plot to kill Caesar who couldn't be bothered to beware the damn Ides of March. Caesar dramatically shouts "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!" and then promptly follows his own advice and falls dead. Later on, he returns as a ghost to tell Brutus that they will meet again, at Philippi. Very appropriate and very ominous, since it is at Philippi that Brutus will lose the battle against Octavian and Mark Antony--and his life.

So it's with a face speaking of great misfortunes to come that Mammy accepts Scarlett's decision to marry a third time. Now, we know she changed her mind on that, like she changed her mind on Captain Butler being a gentleman, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this. For most of the Butler marriage, she must have considered him to be a good husband. But what about when things started to seriously deteriorate, after the mill incident? Rhett is clearly not without his share of blame, but do you think Mammy saw it that way?


  1. Mammy was a keen observer of people and their behavior. I don't think anything got by her. Her lengthy conversation with Melanie in chapter 59, after Bonnie's death, reveals much about the emotionally abusive nature of the Butler marriage. She was aware of Rhett's shortcomings, just as she was aware of Scarlett's.

  2. Rita in St. LouisJuly 31, 2010 at 12:20 AM

    My heart sank when I read that line, because I knew that dreadful things were going to happen and I so wanted Scarlett and Rhett to be happy together. They married after the relatively peaceful, affectionate time in their relationship - the years she was married to Frank Kennedy.

    Things started to go downhill in the Butler marriage during the honeymoon in New Orleans. As she's laying in bed with Rhett, Scarlett silently longs for Ashley. Rhett reads her mind and abruptly leaves the room. Things got worse when she built her house of horrors, and made dubious friendships. While Rhett ridiculed her choices, he remained faithful to her and to his obligations in the marriage. Mammy realized all of this and admitted so by finally wearing the red petticoat immediately after Bonnie's birth.

    While is was never directly stated that Mammy knew of the separate bedrooms after Bonnie's birth, she had to have known about them since she had intimate knowledge of the Butler marriage. She also knew that Rhett drank and that he had a relationship with Belle. Even so she respected him enough and worried about him enough to send for Melanie during his time of greatest need.

    After Melanie goes into Rhett's room and convinces him to have Bonnie's funeral the next morning, she summons Mammy. Melanie tells her to bring coffee because she was going to spend the night so she can watch over Bonnie while Rhett sleeps. Melanie tells Mammy to inform Scarlett of this. Mammy decides not to because she knows Scarlett wouldn't like that at all. It's the last sentence of the chapter and it gives a different perspective to the whole Rhett-Scarlett-Ashley-Melanie relationship. The ironic part, of course, is that while Scarlett dreams of having Ashley in her bedroom, Rhett and Melanie actually spent a night together in the same bedroom - right under Scarlett's nose.
    Mammy understood the whole complexity of the relationships between the four of them and wisely remained silent.

    I love how MM brought Mammy into the closing sentences of the novel. If you follow the pattern of how Mammy is weaved in and out of the
    storyline, you know that she is really Scarlett's lifeline, just as Melanie is Rhett's lifeline. As Melanie led Scarlett to Rhett,
    the only person who could bring Rhett back to Scarlett is Mammy.

    Once Scarlett goes home to Tara, she will try to think of a way to get him back. If she can't do that on her own, Mammy will surely spell it all out for her. Yes, Mammy saw and heard the abusive elements in the Butler marriage, but she also saw the passion too - just as Melanie did. When Scarlett goes home to Tara and pours her heart out to Mammy (as she surely will) she'd better be prepared to hear an earful in return.

  3. @ Iris. I do love that conversation between Mammy and Melanie. I think it's a great literary achievement, how MM shows what happened through Mammy's eyes. It makes it more heartbreaking, but at the same time it prevents it from becoming melodramatic or too crude (as it could have easily been, considering the subject). That is the one part of the book I can hardly stand to reread.

    @ Rita. Wow, great analysis.

    What intrigued me lately is that sentence where MM says that Mammy was silently watching Scarlett after that night. I always assumed she was on Rhett's side and waiting for Scarlett to put 2 and 2 together. But then I also could see how someone protective of Scarlett might disapprove of Rhett's actions that night.

    I guess that sums up my problem: whether Mammy's protectiveness of her mistress would put her on Scarlett's side each time or her being the voice of very traditional 19th century, Old South values would make her think that a wife's duty is ultimately to obey her husband and that Scarlett simply doesn't know what's good for her. Because if she took the latter view, then the fault for all that went wrong in the Butler marriage would be largely placed on Scarlett.

    "You know that she is really Scarlett's lifeline, just as Melanie is Rhett's lifeline. As Melanie led Scarlett to Rhett, the only person who could bring Rhett back to Scarlett is Mammy."--I very much like this take on things.

  4. Apologies for coming to this one late in the game.

    Rita, I love your idea that Mammy is Scarlett's lifeline. I think that's very true. Of the many, many reasons that I hated Ripley's Scarlett, one of the central ones was that she killed off Mammy pretty much within the opening pages. Not only would Mammy have been such a comfort to Scarlett at that time, I think Mammy was perhaps one of the most powerful assets Scarlett could have had in her campaign to get Rhett back, especially since, as Iris says, Mammy was well acquainted with the turbulence of the Butler marriage and the shortcomings of each partner. Ripley really took out a vital character at the onset with that one, but oh well.

    Changing gears somewhat, I have to say I have a different perspective of Mammy's reticence on 'the morning after' than my lovely co-blogger. I don't think she necessarily took Rhett side in it (although I think she had to be highly disapproving of the separate bedrooms situation). To me, it's always read more as that she knew ominous storm clouds were on the horizon. I think she knew precisely where Rhett was during those missing two days and what had transpired on the night of Ashley's party. The whole situation probably just gave her misgivings (in terms of both Scarlett and Rhett's actions) and so she responded with a kind of watchful, disapproving silence.


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