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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #62: Rhett Butler

This man believes he's the one to kiss you, and often. Because he knows how.

My attachment to Gone With The Wind stems largely (though not entirely) from a 1989 viewing in the balcony of the late, lamented Ioka Theater in Exeter, NH. It's a long story (as befits a long movie). Needless to say, the seductive skills of my 14-year old self paled next to those of Rhett Butler. To be honest, I'm quite certain they still do.

Rhett Butler, infused with the charm and understated swagger of Clark Gable, is a fast-talking rogue with a twinkle in both eyes, ready with a quip or a fist or a cigar. A shrewd observer of the world, Butler is a smart, nouveau-riche Yankee in a South full of brave, insipid landed cavaliers. He can drink, fight, or play cards with the best of them. The world is Rhett Butler's oyster.

His downfall comes in the exquisite form of Scarlett O'Hara and the instant, electric chemistry between them. She's a fiendish woman, inconstant, scheming, selfish, but Butler is entranced, and it ruins him. A great judge of character, he overlooks O'Hara's deep flaws and pursues her through too many years and too many false starts. He admires her strength and resolve, despite how she uses it to manipulate and destroy. He is a man lovesick and obsessed. He knows it, knows it will be his downfall, and yet he can't escape it. Ensnared in his own lost cause, he joins the Confederate Army when their own glorious cause is equally lost. It's a fall from grace, a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of following your heart when it leads you into perdition.

All of this is what makes his famous final onscreen moment so perfect. After all he sacrifices, all he endures, he reaches his breaking point. I think I enjoy Rhett Butler so much because there are times I feel, frankly, like I don't give a damn either.

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