||This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (February 2008)|
|Gone with the Wind character|
|Created by||Margaret Mitchell|
|Portrayed by||Clark Gable (Gone with the Wind)
Timothy Dalton (Scarlett)
|Occupation||Professional gambler, Blockade runner, Speculator|
|Family||Named in Gone with the Wind
Rosemary Butler (younger sister)
Named in Scarlett
Steven Butler (father)
Eleanor Butler (mother)
Ross Butler (younger brother)
Named in Rhett Butler's People
Langston Butler (father)
Elizabeth Butler (mother)
Julian Butler (younger brother)
Anne Hampton (in Scarlett; deceased)
|Children||Wade Hampton Hamilton
(stepson via Scarlett)
Ella Lorena Kennedy
(stepdaughter via Scarlett)
Eugenie Victoria "Bonnie Blue" Butler
(daughter with Scarlett; deceased)
Katie Colum "Cat" Butler
(daughter with Scarlett in Scarlett)
Mr. Butler (son not with Scarlett)
In the beginning of the novel, we first meet Rhett at the Twelve Oaks Plantation barbecue, the home of John Wilkes and his son Ashley and daughters Honey and India Wilkes. The novel describes Rhett as "a visitor from Charleston"; a black sheep, who was expelled from West Point and is not received by any family with reputation in the whole of Charleston, and perhaps all of South Carolina. He angers many of the Wilkes guests by warning against the coming war, saying that the North's industrial capacity, shipyards, larger population, and other factors will eventually lead to the South's defeat. Rhett's enthrallment with Scarlett O'Hara begins when he overhears her declaration of love for Ashley in the library while the rest of the "proper" girls take a nap. He recognizes that she is willful and spirited and that they are alike in many ways, including their disgust for the impending, and later ongoing, war with the Yankees.
They meet again when Scarlett has already lost her first husband, Charles Hamilton, while she is staying with Charles' sister Melanie and their Aunt Pittypat in Atlanta during the war. Rhett, the daring and infamous blockade runner, creates a stir when he outbids (with $150 in gold) ($3,937 as of 2014) the other gentlemen in order to dance with Scarlett, who is in mourning. Rhett seemingly ruins Scarlett's reputation after this very public display of frivolity and Scarlett's father, Gerald O'Hara, comes to speak to Rhett and to take Scarlett back to Tara. However, Rhett gets Gerald drunk and they come to terms. Gerald returns to Tara and Scarlett remains in Atlanta.
As the Yankees advance towards Atlanta, Scarlett stays behind to help deliver Melanie's baby and then must depend on Rhett to get them out of the city. Scarlett sends her maid Prissy to find Rhett, and when he comes to Aunt Pitty's, he has stolen a horse and buggy in order to "rescue" them. Once they have fled Atlanta, Rhett—in a single moment of perverse idealism—joins the withdrawing Confederate soldiers for their last stand against General Sherman. Before he leaves, Rhett asks that Scarlett kiss him. She refuses, but he hauls her in—she slaps him and tells him that she hopes he gets killed while in battle. He laughs, and turns into the dark, leaving Scarlett alone with Melanie, Beau, her own young son Wade, and Prissy.
Several months later, Scarlett returns to Atlanta, this time to solicit money from Rhett to save Tara from foreclosure, only to learn from Aunt Pitty that he is in military jail, imprisoned by the Yankees for stealing the Confederate gold. Scarlett waltzes in, supposedly horrified that Rhett's life is in danger, all the while maneuvering him to give her money for the plantation. When Rhett sees through her ploy, he laughs in her face and Scarlett attacks him, causing her to faint. After regaining consciousness, she storms out.
On her way back to Aunt Pittypat's she meets Frank Kennedy, her sister Suellen's beau. Learning that Frank has done very well for himself, she plies him with affection, falsely tells him that Suellen is tired of waiting and plans to marry someone else, and finally secures a marriage proposal from him, which she accepts. Once Frank is married to her, he could not possibly allow his wife's kinfolk to be evicted from Tara, so he provides her with the $300 ($4,832 as of 2014) which she needs to pay the taxes on Tara.
Two weeks later, Scarlett is shocked when she sees Rhett while she is running Frank's store, free from the Yankees and amused that she has rushed into yet another marriage with a man she does not love, much less the fact that she stole him right out from under her sister's nose.
Frank Kennedy is killed during a Ku Klux Klan raid on the shanty town after Scarlett is attacked. Rhett saves Ashley Wilkes and several others by alibiing them to the Yankee captain, a man with whom he has played cards on several occasions.
While Scarlett is in mourning following Frank's death, Rhett appears and offers a marriage proposal promising to give her everything. Scarlett accepts only for Rhett's money. In the novel, Rhett's fortune is estimated at $500,000 ($8,053,409 as of 2014) Rhett secretly hopes that Scarlett will eventually return the love he's had since the day he saw her at Twelve Oaks. Her continuing affection for Ashley Wilkes becomes a problem for the couple, however.
When their daughter, Bonnie, falls off a pony and dies, the tragedy causes a rift between the two which is impossible to bridge. Rhett eventually leaves because he knows he has to get away from Scarlett. Her confession of love is something that Rhett seems to have expected from the moment he first saw her breathless face when she rushes to him. He knows that Scarlett could never be happy with Ashley and when she discovers that, he does not want to be around when she throws her obsession onto him.
When he finally receives Scarlett's love, it is too late to salvage the love he once had for her, so he leaves her with his famous parting shot: "My dear, I don't give a damn." It has since been immortalized in film in an altered version: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
In the course of the novel, Rhett becomes increasingly enamored of Scarlett's sheer will to survive in the chaos surrounding the war. The novel contains several pieces of information about him that do not appear in the film. After being disowned by his family (mainly by his father), he became a professional gambler, and at one point was involved in the California Gold Rush, where he ended up getting a scar on his stomach in a knife fight. He seems to love his mother and his sister Rosemary, but has an adversarial relationship with his father which is never resolved. He also has a younger brother who is never named, and a sister-in-law (both of whom he has little respect or regard for), who own a rice plantation. Rhett is the guardian of a little boy who attends boarding school in New Orleans; it is speculated among readers that this boy is Belle Watling's son (whom Belle mentions briefly to Melanie), and perhaps Rhett's illegitimate son as well.
Despite being thrown out of West Point, the Rhett of the novel is obviously very well-educated, referencing everything from Shakespeare to classical history to German philosophy. He has an understanding of human nature (save for a realistic understanding of his beloved Scarlett) that the obtuse Scarlett never does, and at several points provides insightful perspectives on other characters. He also has an extensive knowledge of women (again except for Scarlett), both physically and psychologically, which Scarlett does not consider to be "decent" (but nonetheless considers fascinating). Rhett has tremendous respect and (gradually) affection for Melanie as a friend, but very little for Ashley. Rhett's understanding of human nature extends to children as well, and he is a much better parent to Scarlett's children from her previous marriages than she is herself; he has a particular affinity with her son Wade, even before Wade is his stepson. When Bonnie is born Rhett showers her with the attention that Scarlett will no longer allow him to give to her and is a devoted, even doting and overindulgent, father.
Rhett also decides to join in the Confederate Army; but only after its defeat at Atlanta, and when the "cause" as it were, was clearly understood by a man of his perception, to be truly lost. This facet of the character is completely at odds with worldly and wise predictor of Southern defeat on the eve of hostilities. Rhett has known and believed (and has said so publicly) the South is doomed to lose. And he has risked neither his life, nor his fortune for the cause of the South, when to have done so at the beginning of the war, might have been worth the risk, to establish a new nation.
In the sequels − both in official sequels (Scarlett, written by Alexandra Ripley, and Rhett Butler's People, written by Donald McCaig) and in the unofficial Winds of Tara by Kate Pinotti − Scarlett finally succeeds in getting Rhett back.
Searching for Rhett
In the 1939 film version of Gone with the Wind, for the role of Rhett Butler, Clark Gable was an almost immediate favorite for both the public and producer David O. Selznick (except for Gable himself). But as Selznick had no male stars under long-term contract, he needed to go through the process of negotiating to borrow an actor from another studio. Gary Cooper was thus Selznick's first choice, because Cooper's contract with Samuel Goldwyn involved a common distribution company, United Artists, with which Selznick had an eight-picture deal. However, Goldwyn remained noncommittal in negotiations. Warner Bros. offered a package of Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Olivia de Havilland for the lead roles in return for the distribution rights. When Gary Cooper turned down the role of Rhett Butler, he was passionately against it. He is quoted saying, "Gone With The Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his nose, not Gary Cooper". But by then Selznick was determined to get Clark Gable, and eventually found a way to borrow him from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Selznick's father-in-law, MGM chief Louis B. Mayer, offered in May 1938 to fund half of the movie's budget in return for a powerful package: 50% of the profits would go to MGM, the movie's distribution would be credited to MGM's parent company, Loew's, Inc., and Loew's would receive 15 percent of the movie's gross income. Selznick accepted this offer in August, and Gable was cast. But the arrangement to release through MGM meant delaying the start of production until Selznick International completed its eight-picture contract with United Artists. Gable was reluctant to play the role. At the time, he was wary of potentially disappointing a public who had formed a clear impression of the character that he might not necessarily convey in his performance.
Adaptations and sequels
In the musical production by Takarazuka Revue, Rhett had been played by several top stars of the group, including Yuki Amami (currently a film/TV actress), Yu Todoroki (currently one of the directors of the group) and Youka Wao (former leading male role of the Cosmo Troup that retired from the group in July 2006).
Rhett is the eldest child. In Gone with the Wind only his younger sister Rosemary is named; his brother and sister-in-law are mentioned very briefly, but not by name. In the sequel Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, the Butler parents are called Steven and Eleanor, the younger brother is Ross. In this sequel Rhett marries Anne Hampton after divorcing Scarlett and he reunites with Scarlett only after Anne dies. He and Scarlett have a second daughter called Katie "Cat".
In the authorized prequel and sequel Rhett Butler's People his parents are called Langston and Elizabeth, his brother is Julian. In this novel Belle Watling's son plays an important role; in the end he is revealed to be another man's son even though he believed Rhett was his father.
Michael Sragow of Entertainment Weekly compared Butler to James Bond, arguing that both characters share an analytical sense, are good at seducing "ambivalent" women, and are "masters of maneuvering behind enemy lines". He also stated that "007's erotic quips follow straight from Rhett's verbal jousts with Scarlett."
- Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
- Selznick, David O. (2000). Memo from David O. Selznick. New York: Modern Library. pp. 172–173. ISBN 0-375-75531-4.
- GoneMovie -> Biography Gary Cooper
- Paul Donnelley (June 1, 2003). Fade To Black: A Book Of Movie Obituaries, 2nd Edition. Omnibus Press.
- Patterson, Troy, Ty Burr, and Stephen Whitty. "Gone With the Wind." (video review) Entertainment Weekly. October 23, 1998. Retrieved on December 23, 2013. This document has three separate reviews of the film, one per author.