Although Mammy is a prominent figure throughout the film, one of the most important
scenes to develop her character doesn't even feature her. When Rhett Butler and Scarlett
O'Hara are in their honeymoon suite, a brief conversation comes up:
Rhett: Don't you think it would be nice if you bought something for Mammy too? Scarlett: Why should I buy her a present when she called us both mules? Rhett: Mules? Why mules? Scarlett: Yes. She said we could give ourselves airs and get ourselves all rigged up and we were like race horses and we were just mules in horse harness and we didn't fool anybody. Rhett: [laughing] I never heard anything more true. Mammy's a smart old soul. And one of the few people who's respect I'd like to have. Scarlett: Well, I won't give a thing. She doesn't deserve it.
Rhett: Then I'll take her a petticoat. I remember my mammy always said that when she went to heaven she wanted a red tabita petticoat so stiff that it would stand by itself and so rustly that the Lord would think it was made of angels' wings. Scarlett: Well, she won't take it from you. She'd rather die than wear it. Rhett: That may be but I'm making the gesture just the same.Less than a minute long, this scene is part of Rhett and Scarlett's honeymoon sequence but it serves a number of interesting purposes. First of all, it explains that Rhett Butler had a mammy that he loved when he was a child too. This reinforces the mythification of the mammy by making it seem as though every Southern family had a similar black female caretaker looking after the children. It also sets up a subsequent scene when Rhett is waiting with Mammy before he is allowed to go in and see his newborn daughter for the first time. With this in mind, this short bit of dialogue scene contrasts Rhett's ability to value Mammy with Scarlett's stubborn failure (or unwillingness) to see that Mammy always speaks the truth--again it as if Mammy were a mother figure and Scarlett her child. These sentiments might be enough to understand the dynamic between Rhett, Scarlett, and Mammy but when this short scene is examined in terms of Lillian Smith's Killers of the Dream, a new understanding of Rhett Butler can be gained. As we noted in the section on fictional and real mammies, Lillian Smith argued that young white males were confused about their relationship with their mammies as they entered adolescence. Again, here is the quote:
In the old days, a white child who had loved his colored nurse, his "mammy" with that passionate devotion which only small children feel, who had grown used to dark velvety skin, warm deep breast, rich soothing voice and the ease of a mind is tender the touch of a spirit almost free of sex anxiety, found it natural to seek in adolescence and adulthood a return of this profoundly pleasing experience.... Sometimes he found what he sought and formed a tender and passionate and deeply satisfying relation which he was often faithful to, despite cultural barriers. But always it was a relationship without honor in his own mind and his personality. Yet with it was always the old longing, the old desire for something that he could not find in his white life.(1)
|Although this part of the mythification of the mammy figure wasn't articulated by Smith until 1948, this quote might be one way to understand Rhett Butler's constant need for sexual conquests. In the past, he was a regular at a brothel and even when he is married, he is not truly content with one woman. One possible explanation might be his infatuation for his old mammy. The fact that he buys Mammy a red petticoat even though it is his old deceased caretaker who expressed an interest in such things demonstrates both the fact that mammies are essentially interchangeable and that he is still interested in satisfying her. While this might seem far-fetched, one need only look at the next time Rhett and Mammy are seen interacting for more material that seems to help make this case.|
|Before the scene where Rhett and Mammy are waiting for Rhett to go see his baby, a short scene of Pork, Mammy, and Prissy arriving at Rhett's plantation occurs. "Great Je-ho-sa-phat," Pork repeats twice as the trio walks through the main gate. As the camera focuses on the three of them, Prissy says, "Darkies, we sure is rich now." Mammy makes an approving noise. This brief scene reinforces the sense of investment these three servants have in Scarlett. Her gain (upon her marriage to Rhett) is their gain too. With this understanding, they certainly are rich--almost as if they were Rhett's in-laws moving in to get what was rightfully theirs by marriage instead of their actual role as servants. The scene switches to Rhett pacing back and forth in the study saying that it is ridiculous that he can't see his baby daughter yet. Mammy tells him to control himself because he's going to be seeing her for a long time. Then she apologizes to him for it not being a boy:|
Rhett: [walking to table to pour both of them drinks] Oh, hush up now, Mammy. Who wants a boy? Boys aren't any use to anybody. Don't you think I'm proof of that? Have a drink of sherry, Mammy. Mammy, she is beautiful, isn't she? Mammy: [emphatically] She sho' is. Rhett: Did you ever see a prettier one? Mammy: Well, sir, Miss Scarlett was a might lot that pretty when she come. But not quite. Rhett: [pouring her another drink] Have another glass. [Mammy starts walking away] Rhett: Mammy, what's that rustling noise I hear. Mammy: Lord, Mr. Rhett. That ain't nothin' but my red silk petticoat you done give me. Rhett: Nothin' but your petticoat. I don't believe it. Let me see. Pull up your skirt. Mammy: Mr. Rhett. You is bad. [backing up] You, lordy. [pulling up her skirt to reveal the petticoat] Rhett: You sure took a long enough time about wearing it. Mammy: Yes sir, too long. Rhett: No more mule in horse's harness? Mammy: Mr. Rhett, Miss Scarlett was bad telling you about that. You ain't hold that against old Mammy, is you? Rhett: [laughing] No I ain't holding it against you. I just wanted to know [pouring another drink for her]. Have another glass. Here, take the whole bottle. Melanie arrives to tell Rhett he can go in and see his baby and the scene ends with Mammy and Melanie talking about how it is a joyful day for the family and how Mammy has diapered three generations of the family.When this scene is read in terms of Lillian Smith's argument, it appears to be a seduction scene. Rhett Butler, explaining how useless boys like him are while continually pouring Mammy glass after glass of alcohol, is interested in getting Mammy to raise up her skirt and show him her petticoat. There is no mention of his old Mammy. Rhett is only concerned with the present. And, as strange as it may seem at first, just as Mammy has served as a surrogate mother for Scarlett, she seems to serve as a surrogate Mammy for Rhett. This identity changes one final time when the Butler's daughter falls off of her horse and dies. At that point, Mammy is the emotional backbone of the family as Rhett and Scarlett's marriage falls apart.