Howdy, folks! For those of you playing along at home, you’ll know that I finished Middlemarch this week and started in on Gone with the Wind, which left me in a bit of a tizzy as far as which book to feature for March for the 2012 Classics Challenge over at November’s Autumn. The prompt for March focuses on the setting of the book and its importance to the rest of the story. And while location certainly features prominently in both books (after all, Middlemarch takes place in, you guessed it, the town of Middlemarch), I just think it would be more fun to spend this time talking about Gone with the Wind. I should go ahead and be fair and say that I’m only about three chapters in to the book, and may be basing more of these answers than I should on the movie, but it’s in the second chapter that Gerald O’Hara and Scarlett have their famous conversation about “land being the most important thing”, and with words like that straight out of the horse’s mouth, it seems like the decision was made for me! As per usual, Katherine has provided three different “levels” of questions, so without further ado, here’s my contribution to March’s Classic Challenge topic: a discussion of the Tara Plantation in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.
Level 1: How has the author introduced the setting? What does it tell you about the character? about the time period? What is the mood of the setting?
Oh, goodness! Be still my beating heart, Margaret Mitchell, you’ve created a place that from the first minute I’ve been longing to step in to! I mean, I may be being slightly unfair in this because, although I’ve spent my entire life in a Midwestern state, I’ve always felt like a displaced southern girl at heart, so there is something appealing to me on almost, like, a genetic level; there’s this admittedly weird but still very strong desire to pick up my budding family and put us smack in the middle of southern breezes, Georgia’s red dirt, the briny smell of southern Louisiana – any and all trappings of the south. But I’m talking to much. You need to hear it from the woman of the hour herself:
“The plantation clearings and miles of cotton fields smiled up to a warm sun, placid, complacent. At their edges rose the virgin forests, dark and cool even in the hottest noons, mysterious, a little sinister, the soughing pines seeming to wait with an age-old patience, to threaten with soft sighs: ‘Be careful! Be careful! We had you once. We can take you back again.'” (p.7)
“The sun was now below the horizon and the red glow at the rim of the world faded into pink. The sky above turned slowly from azure to the delicate blue-green of a robin’s egg, and the unearthly stillness of rural twilight came stealthily down about her. Shadowy dimness crept over the countryside. The red furrows and the gashed red road lost their magical blood color and became plain brown earth.” (p.22)
“The warm damp balminess of spring encompassed her sweetly with the moist smells of new-plowed earth and all the fresh green things pushing up to the air.” (p.23)
So, needless to say, the mood there is evident. In terms of the character and time period, the land of Tara is very much so a representation of the wealth of the O’Hara family, a wealth which firmly entrenches them in the landed gentry of the Old South – a position that, history tells us, will put them firmly on the losing side of the Civil War. Also, knowing the kind of tenacity and strength and survival of the character of Scarlett, it’s too easy to see this in the same plantation that ends up surviving Sherman’s burning, destructive march to the sea.
Level 2: How do you envision it? Find a few images or describe it. Do you feel the setting is right? or was it a weak point of the author?
Oh my goodness yes the author got it right! My half brother lives in South Carolina, my grandparents live in Arkansas, my cousins live in Georgia, and the best vacation I’ve ever taken was to New Orleans, and I’m not a native, but I do know what it feels like to be in the south, and I think Mitchell hits it right on the head. As far as how I picture Tara – I don’t really have to! The movie actually does a rather fabulous job, I think, of capturing the feel of those Old South plantations. See for yourself:
How wouldn’t it?! I mean, yeah, a lot of Gone with the Wind takes place far away from Tara (namely Atlanta), but Tara is basically a character in and of itself, the way it motivates the actions of the other characters. It’s the place that Scarlett longs to return to once she leaves it. It’s the place that provides her the money and strength she needs to survive. At the end of the day, its the place she returns to when she’s lost everything else. If this setting were different, I feel it’s safe to say that Scarlett wouldn’t be the woman that she is, and if that were the case – well, Gone with the Wind without Scarlett isn’t a story I’d like to imagine!