Day Four: Chapters 8-9

Chapter 8

The chapter opens with Scarlett arriving (or well on her way to arriving) in Atlanta. The text spends a bit of time comparing the two. And you can tell that this is a theme of the novel. Scarlett = Atlanta. “But Atlanta was of her own generation, crude with the crudities of youth and as headstrong and impetuous as herself.” And a bit further down, “Scarlett had always liked Atlanta for the very same reasons that made Savannah, Augusta and Macon condemn it. Like herself, the town was a mixture of the old and new in Georgia, in which the old often came off second best in its conflicts with the self-willed and vigorous new.” And even further on, “There was something exciting about this town with its narrow muddy streets, lying among rolling red hills, something raw and crude that appealed to the rawness and crudeness underlying the fine veneer that Ellen and Mammy had given her. She suddenly felt that this was where she belonged, not in serene and quiet old cities, flat beside yellow waters.”

The first person Scarlett meets is Peter, Aunt Pittypats’s coachman. Scarlett remembers that Charles said that Peter owned the three (Pitty, Melanie, Charles) “body and soul and he knows it.” And from what we see that is perfectly true. (I think that is due to the dependency and incompetency of Pitty.)

What we see in this chapter is Scarlett’s lack of mothering and motherly affection. It is very sad when you think about it.

“Maybe I’ll learn about babies sometime,” she thought irritably, as the carriage jolted and swayed out of the morass surrounding the station, “but I’m never going to like fooling with them.”

Also, as I mentioned, we get to see Atlanta through Scarlett’s eyes.

“The little town was gone and the face of the rapidly growing city was animated with never ceasing energy and bustle. The sight of so much hurrying made Scarlett, fresh from rural leisure and quiet, almost breathless, but she liked it. There was an exciting atmosphere about the place that uplifted her. It was as if she could actually feel the accelerated steady pulse of the town’s heart beating in time with her own.”

And a vital part of Atlanta were the matrons.

Mrs. Merriwether was a tall, stout woman and so tightly corseted that her bust jutted forward like the prow of a ship. Her iron-gray hair was eked out by a curled false fringe that was proudly brown and disdained to match the rest of her hair. She had a round, highly colored face in which was combined good natured shrewdness and the habit of command. Mrs. Elsing was younger, a thin frail woman, who had been a beauty, and about her there still clung a faded freshness, a dainty imperious air.
These two ladies with a third, Mrs. Whiting, were the pillars of Atlanta. They ran the three churches to which they belonged, the clergy, the choirs and the parishioners. They organized bazaars and presided over sewing circles, they chaperoned balls and picnics, they knew who made good matches and who did not, who drank secretly, who were to have babies and when. They were authorities on the genealogies of everyone who was anyone in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia and did not bother their heads about the other states, because they believed that no one who was anybody ever came from states other than these three. They knew what was decorous behavior and what was not and they never failed to make their opinions known–Mrs. Merriwether at the top of her voice, Mrs. Elsing in an elegant dieaway drawl and Mrs. Whiting in a distressed whisper which showed how much she hated to speak of such things. These three ladies disliked and distrusted one another as heartily as the First Triumvirate of Rome, and their close alliance was probably for the same reason.

But along with meeting three of the town’s most important matrons, she also catches her first glimpse of Belle–one of the town’s whores.

At the same moment, Scarlett’s eye was caught by a figure on the sidewalk in a brightly colored dress–too bright for street wear– covered by a Paisley shawl with fringes to the heels. Turning she saw a tall handsome woman with a bold face and a mass of red hair, too red to be true. It was the first time she had ever seen any woman who she knew for certain had “done something to her hair” and she watched her, fascinated.

We also catch a first glimpse of Mr. Meade. “He was tall and gaunt and wore a pointed beard of iron gray, and his clothes hung on his spare figure as though blown there by a hurricane. Atlanta considered him the root of all strength and all wisdom and it was not strange that he had absorbed something of their belief. But for all his habit of making oracular statements and his slightly pompous manner, he was as kindly a man as the town possessed.”

Thrown in amongst all the descriptions of the town and the town’s folks…is this commentary on Southern hospitality:

When a Southerner took the trouble to pack a trunk and travel twenty miles for a visit, the visit was seldom of shorter duration than a month, usually much longer. Southerners were as enthusiastic visitors as they were hosts, and there was nothing unusual in relatives coming to spend the Christmas holidays and remaining until July. Often when newly married couples went on the usual round of honeymoon visits, they lingered in some pleasant home until the birth of their second child. Frequently elderly aunts and uncles came to Sunday dinner and remained until they were buried years later. Visitors presented no problem, for houses were large, servants numerous and the feeding of several extra mouths a minor matter in that land of plenty. All ages and sexes went visiting, honeymooners, young mothers showing off new babies, convalescents, the bereaved, girls whose parents were anxious to remove them from the dangers of unwise matches, girls who had reached the danger age without becoming engaged and who, it was hoped, would make suitable matches under the guidance of relatives in other places. Visitors added excitement and variety to the slow-moving Southern life and they were always welcome.

So Scarlett is in Atlanta and no one–least of all Scarlett herself–knows how long that visit will be. We get more descriptions of the family–Charles, Henry, Pittypat, Melanie, etc.

More social commentary:

What Melanie did was no more than all Southern girls were taught to do–to make those about them feel at ease and pleased with themselves. It was this happy feminine conspiracy which made Southern society so pleasant. Women knew that a land where men were contented, uncontradicted and safe in possession of unpunctured vanity was likely to be a very pleasant place for women to live. So, from the cradle to the grave, women strove to make men pleased with themselves, and the satisfied men repaid lavishly with gallantry and adoration. In fact, men willingly gave the ladies everything in the world except credit for having intelligence. Scarlett exercised the same charms as Melanie but with a studied artistry and consummate skill. The difference between the two girls lay in the fact that Melanie spoke kind and flattering words from a desire to make people happy, if only temporarily, and Scarlett never did it except to further her own aims.

Scarlett finds herself as happy as she possibly can be since Ashley is gone away to war and not hers to begin with.

We also see Scarlett taking up nursing duties, and attend sewing circles, and bandage-rolling committees.

Chapter 9…The Bazaar

This is another one of those great scenes captured so well in the movie. But of course, the book has so much more to offer.

At first the day starts out glum, Scarlett is wanting to go and have fun all the time knowing she’ll not be allowed out of the house. But then the unexpected…Melanie and Pittypat are asked to go and help out. And even though no one thought of asking Scarlett to join them–still too shocking–she invites herself along anyway. A good example of how Scarlett can manipulate things her way in a seemingly passive way.

Then the descriptions. The decorations. The people. The music. She sees the men–the soldiers–and the women getting all emotional and patriotic and she has a burst of self-revelation:

When first she looked at the crowd, Scarlett’s heart had thump- thumped with the unaccustomed excitement of being at a party, but as she half-comprehendingly saw the highhearted look on the faces about her, her joy began to evaporate. Every woman present was blazing with an emotion she did not feel. It bewildered and depressed her. Somehow, the ball did not seem so pretty nor the girls so dashing, and the white heat of devotion to the Cause that was still shining on every face seemed–why, it just seemed silly! In a sudden flash of self-knowledge that made her mouth pop open with astonishment, she realized that she did not share with these women their fierce pride, their desire to sacrifice themselves and everything they had for the Cause. Before horror made her think: “No–no! I mustn’t think such things! They’re wrong–sinful,” she knew the Cause meant nothing at all to her and that she was bored with hearing other people talk about it with that fanatic look in their eyes. The Cause didn’t seem sacred to her. The war didn’t seem to be a holy affair, but a nuisance that killed men senselessly and cost money and made luxuries hard to get. She saw that she was tired of the endless knitting and the endless bandage rolling and lint picking that roughened the cuticle of her nails. And oh, she was so tired of the hospital! Tired and bored and nauseated with the sickening gangrene smells and the endless moaning, frightened by the look that coming death gave to sunken faces.

And another rare moment of honesty, “Oh, why was she different, apart from these loving women? She could never love anything or anyone so selflessly as they did. What a lonely feeling it was–and she had never been lonely either in body or spirit before. At first she tried to stifle the thoughts, but the hard self-honesty that lay at the base of her nature would not permit it. And so, while the bazaar went on, while she and Melanie waited on the customers who came to their booth, her mind was busily working, trying to justify herself to herself–a task which she seldom found difficult.”

Scarlett who once thought being there would be enough to make her happy, realized that it wasn’t. She wanted more. She always always wanted more. She wanted to be the belle again. She wanted to be the center of attention. She laments society’s conventions that put such restrictions on having fun. (It’s much too long to quote, but I love that passage.)

Enter Rhett:

She wanted to dance. She wanted to dance. She looked across the floor and tapped her foot to the music and her green eyes blazed so eagerly that they fairly snapped. All the way across the floor, a man, newly come and standing in the doorway, saw them, started in recognition and watched closely the slanting eyes in the sulky, rebellious face. Then he grinned to himself as he recognized the invitation that any male could read.
He was dressed in black broadcloth, a tall man, towering over the officers who stood near him, bulky in the shoulders but tapering to a small waist and absurdly small feet in varnished boots. His severe black suit, with fine ruffled shirt and trousers smartly strapped beneath high insteps, was oddly at variance with his physique and face, for he was foppishly groomed, the clothes of a dandy on a body that was powerful and latently dangerous in its lazy grace. His hair was jet black, and his black mustache was small and closely clipped, almost foreign looking compared with the dashing, swooping mustaches of the cavalrymen near by. He looked, and was, a man of lusty and unashamed appetites. He had an air of utter assurance, of displeasing insolence about him, and there was a twinkle of malice in his bold eyes as he stared at Scarlett, until finally, feeling his gaze, she looked toward him. Somewhere in her mind, the bell of recognition rang, but for the moment she could not recall who he was. But he was the first man in months who had displayed an interest in her, and she threw him a gay smile. She made a little curtsy as he bowed, and then, as he straightened and started toward her with a peculiarly lithe Indian-like gait, her hand went to her mouth in horror, for she knew who he was.

Their interaction–their conversation–is more than a little frustrating for Scarlett.

“What a terrible, terrible thing it was to have to do with a man who wasn’t a gentleman. A gentleman always appeared to believe a lady even when he knew she was lying. That was Southern chivalry. A gentleman always obeyed the rules and said the correct things and made life easier for a lady. But this man seemed not to care for rules and evidently enjoyed talking of things no one ever talked about.”

“But there was something stimulating about him, something warm and vital and electric. All that was Irish in her rose to the challenge of his black eyes. She decided she was going to take this man down a notch or two. His knowledge of her secret gave him an advantage over her that was exasperating, so she would have to change that by putting him at a disadvantage somehow. She stifled her impulse to tell him exactly what she thought of him. Sugar always caught more flies than vinegar, as Mammy often said, and she was going to catch and subdue this fly, so he could never again have her at his mercy.”

She starts to flirt, but is halted by his honesty. A great conversation follows. And then Dr. Meade’s announcement.

“Gentlemen, if you wish to lead a reel with the lady of your choice, you must bargain for her. I will be auctioneer and the proceeds will go to the hospital.”

Now, they would all dance–except her and the old ladies. Now everyone would have a good time, except her. She saw Rhett Butler standing just below the doctor and, before she could change the expression of her face, he saw her and one corner of his mouth went down and one eyebrow went up. She jerked her chin up and turned away from him and suddenly she heard her own name called– called in an unmistakable Charleston voice that rang out above the hubbub of other names.
“Mrs. Charles Hamilton–one hundred and fifty dollars–in gold.”
A sudden hush fell on the crowd both at the mention of the sum and at the name. Scarlett was so startled she could not even move. She remained sitting with her chin in her hands, her eyes wide with astonishment. Everybody turned to look at her. She saw the doctor lean down from the platform and whisper something to Rhett Butler. Probably telling him she was in mourning and it was impossible for her to appear on the floor. She saw Rhett’s
shoulders shrug lazily.
“Another one of our belles, perhaps?” questioned the doctor.
“No,” said Rhett clearly, his eyes sweeping the crowd carelessly. “Mrs. Hamilton.”
“I tell you it is impossible,” said the doctor testily. “Mrs. Hamilton will not–”
Scarlett heard a voice which, at first, she did not recognize as her own.
“Yes, I will!”
She leaped to her feet, her heart hammering so wildly she feared she could not stand, hammering with the thrill of being the center of attention again, of being the most highly desired girl present and oh, best of all, at the prospect of dancing again.
“Oh, I don’t care! I don’t care what they say!” she whispered, as a sweet madness swept over her. She tossed her head and sped out of the booth, tapping her heels like castanets, snapping open her black silk fan to its widest.

This is one of the biggest turning points in Scarlett’s life. The minute she crosses the line between keeping up appearances and caring tremendously what people think of her–and of being herself, of doing exactly what she wants no matter what the consequences.

The conversation between Rhett and Scarlett is fabulous. One of my favorite parts? When Rhett tells her that “you are beginning to think for yourself instead of letting others think for you. That’s the beginning of wisdom.”

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