If No One Were Looking…

One of my New Year’s goals is almost complete. I’m on page 1191 of Gone with the Wind (only 257 pages to go–the full length of many a smaller book).

Anyway, it’s wonderful. For all that it’s satirized or pegged as a “Civil War novel,” it’s about much more than hoop skirts and Confederate uniforms. It’s about a land, a people, and a way of life that passed away forever with the first shots of the Civil War. It’s about people sinking and swimming, learning to survive when their world turns upside-down. Also, it’s about Rhett Butler.

Not just the highly attractive love interest of the story, Rhett Butler also tells the truth to the spoiled, self-deceived Scarlett O’Hara. Both of them have the hearts of rascals–looking for personal profit and success, even if it means stepping on other people to get it. The only difference between them is that Scarlett tries to hide her inner pragmatist behind the wide skirts and courtly manners of a genteel Georgian lady, while Rhett lives his life openly, no matter who is watching.

At one point, Rhett and Scarlett end up dancing together in a candlelit ballroom. Rhett is doing just what he feels like doing, while Scarlett is acutely aware of the many watching eyes, all judging her by their complex labyrinth of Southern manners. She calculates her actions based on their approval or censure, while Rhett lives the same way before every audience–a form of integrity, wholeness, in spite of his other moral failings.

They have this brief conversation in Chapter 9:

Scarlett: “Captain Butler, you must not hold me so tightly. Everybody is looking.”

Rhett: “If no one were looking, would you care?” 

Which, I think, is an interesting jumping-off point for a conversation:

What do you and I do in our lives to please the audience? Where does that exhausting performance for approval stop? What would you do differently if nobody were looking? Can we start living now as if no one were looking? 

I’d love to hear your opinion! Happy Monday!

6 thoughts on “If No One Were Looking…

  1. Good questions to ponder!! At this point in my life, the question has become more one of WHOSE approval I am wanting. Let me rephrase: What would I do differently if I completely believed Someone IS watching me, lovingly watching, all the time? The very Someone I desire to please? Doing “just what we feel like doing,”, as Rhett is doing in the ballroom scene, I would call self-centeredness, rather than integrity, because its purpose is to please one’s self. However, I think I understand what you mean about not living our lives to get the approval of others; in a way, that too is narcissism, because its purpose is also to please one’s self (by seeking to get others’ approval of US). Yet we don’t live in a vacuum, and everything we do, and everything everyone else does, affects us all…

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    1. Hm, so perhaps there’s a third option–besides living for social approval and living completely for one’s own pleasure? Living as if only one Person were watching…a good point!

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  2. Oh, good heavens. I just discovered that you’re blogging now, which is a terrible reminder to me of just how old I’m getting. :-)I suppose one could say that Rhett has a form integrity–in that he refuses to put on an act to hide his baser nature. But I’m not so sure in the end that it’s such a good thing. True integrity does not consist in one’s honesty about being a scoundrel; true integrity consists in one’s not being a scoundrel in the first place.In a way, the person who recognizes that his vices are, in fact, vices–and seeks to conceal them from society–is doing everyone else a favor. Suppose for example that I’ve become extremely angry about something trivial. I may be inclined to take my anger out on my fellow man by, say, cutting him off on the freeway. In doing so, I might be “true to myself”; by controlling my impulse and refraining, I may be “putting on a mask”. And yet, it’s clearly better for everyone that I do the latter.There are worse things than hypocrisy. 😉

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    1. Tim! How lovely to see you in the blogosphere. Isn’t it crazy how time flies? 🙂 Thanks for your thoughtful analysis of Rhett’s character. How succinct: “There are worse things than hypocrisy.” What most interests me about this GWW quotation, however, is the question posed to all of us: if no one were looking, would you care? Certainly, we put on masks–but do we wear them because we’re truly ashamed of our faults, or do we do it simply to flaunt a faultless exterior before other people? Christianity sets forth an absolute standard of right and wrong, but how often do we adhere to that standard simply to win good merit in the eyes of others? An interesting conundrum 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Oh my, what a treasure! Secretly, I just finished it the other night, and I shooed everyone out of the room while I sat there and devoured the last 10 pages. It’s a thick book, but SO powerful and beautiful. Go read it again for sure!

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