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"Gone With The Wind" by Margaret Mitchell is undoubtedly one of the best novels ever written. It is not just the story of a spoiled southern belle, but it is also the tale of the long and hard path that changed so much over only ten years. From the wealth and gaiety of the ante-bellum South to the destruction of war to the humiliation and poverty of Reconstruction, it describes the radical changes of the way of life for many southerners as seen through the eyes of Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler.
Cleverly interwoven with the ten crucial years of the Old South is Scarlett's passionate love for Ashley Wilkes, her utter hate for Melanie, his wife, and pretended contempt for that rascal from Charleston, Rhett Butler. We first see a display of Scarlett's love for Ashley, which quickly turns to "hate", at the barbeque at Twelve Oaks. While the other girls are upstairs taking naps and the men are smoking cigars, drinking brandy, and bragging about the southerners' courage and strength, Scarlett creeps downstairs and tells Ashley that she needs to talk with him. They go to the library, where Scarlett professes her love for him. He rejects her in the gentlest way he knows how, but Scarlett doesn't buy it. Scarlett slaps him, and Ashley abruptly leaves, saying that he is still going to marry Melanie and that is that.
At that point Scarlett defines her hate of Melanie, because she has the man Scarlett wants. Then the silence is so deafening that Scarlett picks up a vase and hurls it at the mantel. A figure pops up from behind the couch; it is Rhett Butler, "the man who is not recieved in any respectable parlor in Charleston". He has heard everything, and laughs at her. Scarlett furiously shouts, "You aren't fit to wipe his boots!", and storms out. Rhett, amused by this little show, calls after her, "And you were going to hate him for the rest of your life!"
Thereafter, every time Rhett sees Scarlett, he reminds her of this incident, subtly or not, depending if Melanie is there. If she is, he only reminds her of where they met (Twelve Oaks) and not how, because he has great respect and admiration for Melanie, whom Rhett calls "a very great lady" and "the only completely kind person I ever knew". If Melanie is not there, he very bluntly (and amusedly) brings up the subject.
Melanie Hamilton Wilkes is personally my favorite character in the novel. She is not pretty, but it is easy to forget this when reading about her actions and words. Her beauty shines from within, through the love and kindness she demonstrates. Melanie upholds Scarlett in every way possible because she believes in her. She is also incredibly brave, both physically and pyschologically. Such examples of this bravery are like when Scarlett shoots the Yankee deserter and when she dances at the bazaar for the Cause. When Scarlett shoots the Yankee, Melanie staggers down the stairs wielding Charles' saber. This shows that if Scarlett had not shot him, Melanie would have tried to kill the deserter herself, even though she hasn't even recovered from Beau's birth. When Scarlett, clad in widow's weeds, dances with Rhett Butler during a bazaar, Melanie even approves of this sin against society. She approves because she believes that Scarlett honestly wants to help raise money for the Confederate soldiers. (What Scarlett is really after is to dance, for she hasn't been allowed at social functions for a long time.) Melanie sincerely believes in the Cause, but she also feels sorry for the Northern soldiers who are buried in Atlanta. "After all," she says at a meeting with two opposing circles, "they could be Charles. They could be your sons, who are buried in a place where their mothers do not know." (That particular meeting ended with everyone crying and making Melanie the head of both orginizations, as Grandpa Merriweather, who was banished to the kitchen, reported this to Uncle Henry Hamilton.) She believes that nothing is too unscrupulous to help the Cause. Scarlett is bored by the Cause, as she thinks that it is silly and wants to know how anyone could be that devoted. She sees these women as foolish and blind, but this can go two ways. One way is to see it as Scarlett does, as an obsession with something that was a lost cause before it started. Another way is to see it as a way of life that the women of Atlanta are trying to hold onto with all their might, because it is slowly slipping through their fingers.