A bloody war, the fight for survival in a new society, and an epic romance that makes everything else pale in comparison; Scarlett and Rhett’s unlikely love in Gone with the Wind matches the scale and grandeur of the antebellum South. Heartbreakingly, though, at the end of the classic book, Scarlett is left high and dry. Anyone who has read the book might have seen it coming. From Scarlett’s selfishness, need for control, and love of Ashley Wilkes to her daughter Bonnie’s death, there were many issues that contributed to the failure of Scarlett’s third marriage.
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At the heart of the problem was Scarlett’s selfishness. As a spoiled daughter of a rich plantation owner, Scarlett was never told no. Her hardest decisions were which of her many admirers she should focus on. Then the war struck, and the girl was forced to become a woman and deny herself to preserve Tara, the plantation and home that she loved more than anything. She struggled through hardship and learned to be tough and ruthless. Once she was with Rhett, she had the luxury to be spoiled once again. She took and took; she used Rhett’s money to build an ostentatious house in the midst of the hardships of Reconstruction. Even worse, she denied her husband the ability to have another child, simply to preserve her slim waistline. Her vanity and greed slowly chipped away at the love that tied Rhett to her. While he admired her strength, he eventually grew weary of the immaturity that was under the surface.
Scarlett also refused to truly admit her love for Rhett, fearing that it would give him leverage over her. This too had been instilled in her during the years of Reconstruction. In addition to making Scarlett grow up overnight, the war had given Scarlett a lack of trust that made it difficult for her to be vulnerable. So day after day, she and Rhett struggled through a marriage where each one was competing for the upper hand instead of submitting to the other. Scarlett would not relinquish her fears and selfish goals, and Rhett was afraid to put himself at the mercy of such a ruthless woman. They were never able to let go and trust each other despite their mutual love; instead, they were constantly bidding for power. What they had at that point was hardly a marriage at all.
In addition to these deep problems that she and Rhett faced, Bonnie’s death put incredible strain on their marriage. Their daughter was perhaps the one thing that kept Rhett tied to Scarlett once the magic was gone. Rhett had gone into things thinking he could charm Scarlett, but he soon realized that it was easier said than done. So when his first daughter came along, she became the light of his life. He could spoil her and love her unconditionally. There were none of the games he had to play with Scarlett. Then, Bonnie fell one day and broke her neck while learning to ride sidesaddle. With no one to offer him unconditional love, Rhett could no longer endure the strains of his marriage. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back; Rhett had used his love, and without any in return, he was just too tired to continue playing their little game.
Perhaps the greatest plague of all in Scarlett’s marriage was her “love” for Ashley Wilkes. She pined for him from the time she was sixteen until his wife’s death. They were two different people who never would have worked together, but she always longed for what she could not have. Only once he was finally available and needed her could she see that she did not really want him. She had already done plenty of damage by then, however. Her emotional affair with Ashley was practically common knowledge, and she hurt many people in the pursuit of his love. Stolen kisses and improper declarations kept the dream alive even when she finally married Rhett. Then Melanie, Ashley’s saint of a wife, died. She had made Scarlett promise to take care of her husband and son. While Scarlett fulfilled this promise, she finally realized that Rhett was the one she truly loved. Her epiphany came too late. He was done with their marriage, exhausted by his wife’s constant dedication to another man. She capitulated, finally able to give him the upper hand and admit her feelings, but Scarlett could not mend the chasm her actions had created. He left with cold parting words as she begged for forgiveness and another chance.
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Many things contributed to the failure of Scarlett and Rhett’s marriage. The war had left deep scars across the South, as well as in Scarlett’s heart. Because of this and her feelings for Ashley, she was not able to express her love for Rhett. Their daughter’s death was the beginning of the end. If Scarlett had opened her eyes to look beyond her own needs, though, she might have saved the marriage; they endured so many things together because they were right for each other. The odds were just stacked against them. And so, like the glory of the South, their love was gone like the wind.
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