Thoughts On: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, the First Four

Everyone wants to see the pictures, and yet nobody wants to see them.

The Illustrated Man is a collection of eighteen short stories published by Ray Bradbury in 1951. The stories are all connected through the man on the cover above, a wanderer and part-time circus worker whose body of deep, illustrious tattoos move and come alive at night, predicting the future and revealing the past. And, while I’m not completely done with the collection at this point, I’m starting to seem some major themes of religion, spirituality, technology, and the value of both life and death beginning to develop! It’s impossible for me to discuss short stories without spoilers, however, so beware now!

“Prologue: The Illustrated Man”

It’s in the prologue that we meet both our narrator and the Illustrated Man. Our narrator is a traveler just completing a hiking trip, and the Illustrated Man describes himself as a part-time carnival worker who occasionally finds work, but inevitably ends up losing it do to the tattoos he bears all over his body. He shows the man his tattoos and explains that at night they come alive, begin to move, and tell the stories of both the past and the future. On his shoulder, however, there remains a jumbled part section of skin that will begin to predict the future of whomever the Illustrated Man is around, given enough time. Night begins to fall, and as the Illustrated Man settles in to sleep, he warns the narrator to not spend too much time staring at the tattoos, or he may get lost in them and learn things he doesn’t want to know.

He was a riot of rockets and fountains and people, in such intricate detail and color that you could hear the voices murmuring small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body…There were yellow meadows and blue rivers and mountains and stars and suns and planets spread in a Milky Way across his chest…The colors burned in three dimensions. They were windows looking in upon fiery reality. Here, gathered on one wall, were all the finest scenes in the universe; the man was a walking treasure gallery.

I LOVED the prologue that Bradbury provides us with! I immediately envied our narrator the chance to look at all the beautiful tattoos, and cursed the lack of detail on the cover of my copy, lol. I also liked the kind of sadness and almost-terror that the Illustrated Man seems to embody, a feeling that I think takes over a lot of the work, making each story a gut-twisting turn towards the least expected, or the most saddening. On the whole, I also enjoy the use of the mans body and his physical tattoos as a semi-psychological bond between the stories being told. Because while each tattoo and story are different, there is a basic commonality they do seem to share.

The sun was gone. Now the first stars were shining and the moon had brightened the fields of grass and wheat. Still the Illustrated Man’s pictures glowed like charcoals in the half light, like scattered rubies and emeralds, with Rouault colors and Picasso colors and the long, pressed-out El Greco bodies.

“The Veldt”

This story is TERRIFYING. We meet the Hadleys, George and Lydia, and their full-on technological smart house. Including a nursery that belongs to their children, where the walls turn in to whatever lands and characters and realms occupy the imagination of their two kids. When the story starts, the nursery has begin displaying a real, scorching, life-like savannah complete with hungry lions, where before it had displayed Wonderland and Aladdin’s cave of wonders. For many days in nights in a row, George and Lydia go to sleep and wake up to the lions, and occasionally hear screams that sound awfully familiar. Afraid of what this could indicate for the children’s imaginations, the parents decide to board up the nursery and shut down the house and take a “vacation” from technology for a few days. The children pitch a fit, and George consents to one last night in the nursery before the shut down begins. But when the parents hear the screams yet again, but louder, the rush in to the nursery hoping to help. What the find, however, is the door locked behind them and the lions prowling closer and closer. The two believe that it’s only an image on the wall until they realize why the screams always sounded so familiar.

How often had he seen Pegasus flying the sky ceiling, or seen fountains of red fireworks, or heard angel voices singing. But now, this yellow hot Africa, this bake oven with murder in the heat.

Like I said, I thought this story was truly, chillingly terrifying. Not in a, like, serial killer or GOTCHA! movie kind of way. In a Poe or H.P. Lovecraft kind of way. The coldness behind these two children, who clearly spent weeks imagining their parents death by lion eating, only to orchestrate in the end. And then! AND THEN! At the end, when a friend of the parents drop by, the daughter just offers him tea like nothing happened! Freaky Damien Demon Child! Plus the whole idea of your “smart house” somehow turning on you has always been something that kind of freaked me out about technology. I think that Bradbury does such a good job drawing the reader in to stories only to turn the tables and pull something gut-punching. Some people find it emotionally manipulative or schmarmy. I find it totally. addicting.

Long before you knew what death was you were wishing on someone else.

“Kaleidoscope”

This is so far my absolute favorite story in this collection. This is the only story that, so far, has kept me coming back to it, thinking about it day after day. It’s haunted me because the idea of just floating through space to your end is just…haunting. Daunting. It gives me the chills on a deep level, and one that I think will be with me for quite some time. It’s got a fairly simple plot: the story begins with the explosion of a rocket, and the crew members don’t have time to attach their gravity packs, so they all go floating off in to endless space. We follow one of them, Hollis, as he floats to his death, the only of the astronauts on a path for Earth. The astronauts communicate by radio, going through phases of regret, remembrance, apologies, and cruelty as they float further away. As Hollis hits the atmosphere, he burns, and on Earth a young boy makes a wish on what he thinks is a shooting star.

When life is over it is like a flicker of bright film, an instant on the screen, all of its prejudices and passions condensed and illumined for an instant on space, and before you could cry out, “There was a happy day, there a bad one, there an evil face, there a good one,” the film burned to a cinder, the screen went dark.

I’ve already explained some of the reason that I love this story so much. If this were to happen, I think that the emotional overload is nicely portrayed by Bradley. So many different phases, from anger to bargaining and finally to acceptance, when you know what is coming and there is nothing to do but wait and…well, make peace. I think that the writing speaks for itself. It most definitely speaks to me.

There were differences between memories and dreams.

The quality of death, like that of life, must be of an infinite variety, and if one has already died once, then what was there to look for in dying for good and all, as he was now?

Hollis looked to see, but saw nothing. There was only the great diamonds and sapphires and emerald mists and velvet inks of space, with God’s voice mingling among the crystal fires.

If only I could do one good thing to make up for the meanness I collected all these years and didn’t even know was in me! But there’s no one here but myself, and how can you do good all alone? You can’t.

“The Other Foot”

Of these first four, this was actually the story that I liked the least. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like it. Of course. Lol. This story again takes place in the future, in space, on the planet Mars. In the alternate history of this story, the African Americans left Earth for Mars shortly after the Civil Rights movement, and have been living there sense. On the day the story opens, white people are landing his rocket ship on Mars for the first time in history. Hattie and Willie and their neighbors are going to see the landing, and Willie puts in to action a hateful plan to remind the white people just how horrible they were once treated: he paints WHITES ONLY on the back seats of buses, and has the town begin designating sections for white eaters. He essentially establishes the Jim Crow south. And then the rocket lands. And it’s just one white man, an emissary from an Earth that is destroyed by nuclear war. As the man continues to talk, Willie learns that all the places he ever knew – his home town, the house where his mother was shot, the tree his father was lynched from – were all destroyed in the war. And, he realizes, with Hattie’s help, if the places that held his memories of hate are gone, perhaps he can let go of his hate. Willie tells the men to dismantle his racist plan, and Willie claims to have finally, for the first time that day, to have truly seen the white man.

She wanted to get at the hate of them all, to pry at it and work at it until she found a little chink, and then pull out a pebble or a stone or a brick and then a part of the wall, and, once started, the whole edifice might roar down and be done away with.

This story was nice! It was nice to see Willie realize how silly has plan of revenge racism had been, and I was glad that Hattie was basically vindicated, since she’d been trying to make him see that all along. I also thought that the story made an interesting point on hate and memory – if the peoples, places, or things that remind or embody what we hate the most are gone, destroyed, don’t we essentially punish ourselves by keeping that hate alive in memory only. I’m reminded of that scene in Forrest Gump where he takes Jenny back to the house where she was abused as a child and she just keeps throwing rocks at it until she’s emotionally broken, and then later in the film he has it torn down for her. That example has always been a great example of how we, as people, tie our memories up in things, in objects and places and even people.

Nothing, nothing of it left to hate – not an empty brass gun shell, or a twisted hemp, or a tree, or even a hill of it to hate.

I’m sorry all of that was so long! I won’t make it any longer by apologizing more, but needless to say I’m having a GREAT time really digging in to these Ray Bradbury stories, and am excited for what I’ve officially decided will be my summer of Neil Gaiman!

Advertisements

Gone with the Wind: A Surprising DNF

To be honest, guys, I have no idea what happened with this book. I felt like I was in love with it from the beginning – the sweeping settings and the emotionalism that Mitchell gave to the land and her characters and the nature of the pre- Civil War south. And I was undecided about Scarlett, but was having fun making up my mind. But then I got busy for a weekend, didn’t pick the book up for a few days, and when I came back, something had changed. The book and I just weren’t clicking. Now it feels like every time I open the book it gets closed in exactly the same spot. And I’m not sure what happened.

After Sherman burns Atlanta and Scarlett makes her way back to Tara, suddenly she’s this different woman, and if I didn’t like her before hand I sure hated her now. Gone was what I felt was the fear and uncertainty of the Scarlett in the early parts of the book, and here was this woman who was nothing but shrewd and calculating and, to be honest, mean. And the more I got in to this character’s head, the easier it was to make up my mind that I didn’t necessarily want to be there anymore. But it wasn’t just that. I mean, I still love Mitchell’s writing and many of the other characters she creates – I still adore Melanie and Rhett, and am heartbroken every time the broken Mr. O’Hara makes his reappearance on the page. But that’s not enough. I kind of wonder if perhaps my adoration of the movie doomed my ability to love the book from the beginning. Not that the movie is better than the book or visa versa, but I think in this case my familiarity with one (and by familiarity, I of course mean obsessive knowledge of) kind of preempted any ability to create this world or these characters in my own way. As much as I love Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, they are the Scarlett and the Rhett that I know, and I can’t seem to be able to separate them in my mind.

I’m not saying that this is a book that I won’t return to. I’m hoping to. But I think that this is one of those times and books that, for whatever reason, I just don’t think that right now is the time that I should be reading this book. I kind of believe in the kismet nature of reading, and that if a book really isn’t working, it isn’t necessarily the book as much as the environment surrounding me as I’m reading the book. And right now, with summer and graduation and moving are all looming on the horizon (as well as the fact that I’ve got summer classes approaching), it’s just not the time for this book. I feel like I need something lighter, something thinner, something that I can dig in to and be in, but that won’t require weeks and weeks on end of me doing that. I’ve got some Ray Bradbury short story books on the list, as well as some more Fitzgerald, and there really is nothing like F. Scott to pull me out of a bit of a reading funk and remind me why I love reading and why I’m undertaking this whole process in the first place! I also recently downloaded some non-fiction books on sustainable farming and eating (none of which are new reads, but books that I adore and have checked out from the library umpteenth times) which I’m looking forward to talking about more this Friday!

I’m kind of sad and disappointed that I wasn’t able to get through all of Gone with the Wind. It’s only the second or third book I’ve taken on for this project, and it’s a little disheartening that the whole experience is ending this way. But c’est la vie! Such is life, and I’m one of those readers who tries to never dwell on the DNF for long – there is still a whole universe of plots, characters, and experiences out there waiting to be absorbed! How about you? Do you let yourself DNF, or do you have to finish whatever you pick up? Are you a sprint-reader, or down for the marathon haul, regardless?

Persuasion: Part One (By an Austen Convert)

Does anyone else just hate this book cover? This is the cover to the edition I’m actually reading (as opposed to sometimes when I just post whichever cover I think the prettiest), and I think it makes Anne look so…dowdy! And that nose?! I know Anne is supposed to be somewhat on the plain side, and I’m assuming this rather unfortunate looking female is supposed to be Anne, but I never thought she was supposed to be that, well, plain! Most of this might be because I absolutely adore Anne, and think better of her than do of many other of Austen’s heroines!

Let me just begin by saying that my love for Jane Austen has never ran particularly deep. I’ve always loved Pride and Prejudice, of course, and because of this enrolled in a class my sophomore year of college that was completely devoted to her works. This was, of course, also the semester I enrolled in my Shakespeare class, my British Literature survey course, and a course on magical realism. These classes were FANTASTIC. But coupled with the attention that I’ve found Jane Austen required, and the demands of all of those other courses at the same time, but I found myself just not reading the books, hating the discussions, and getting by in the class by my charm and the skin of my ‘writes essays well under pressure’ teeth. Since then, I’ve just always had trouble with Lady Jane, and I knew taking on this section of my master list might take some deeper persuasion *PUN!! PUNNY PUN PUNS!!*. Anyway, my first plan of attack was to pick a work I knew (or remembered) relatively little about, as this would give me the chance to read it with a clean slate. After reading some other reviews around the blogoverse, I decided that Persuasion was what I needed for my springy mood and this place in my life! I picked up the book and, with a pen in hand (a habit I reserve for me “serious” reading!), found that when I give it the dedication it deserves, I’m loving Austen’s work more and more!

It’s so tragic that the intervening of meddling but well meaning adults has such tragic consequences from the beginning of the couple’s relationship onward! It’s a great example of the dichotomies that Austen develops throughout the work, trade offs of things like influence versus feelings, wisdom versus judgement, money versus passion, and ultimately self versus others. It’s taken me some time to tease it out (as I’m only half way through the book, and I like to take my time to really absorb and comment on what I’m reading, including the wonderful notes in the back of my Penguin edition) and I’m not entirely sure I’ve gotten it all hammered out, but they are opposing themes I’ve having fun looking for underneath it all. SIDE NOTE: having taken the class on Jane Austen has left me with REALLY lovely annotated editions of all her novels and her juvenile works.

Now that I’ve gotten my one “analysis” attempt over with, it’s time to tell you that, up to the second half, I’m really not liking this new Wentworth! I mean, I know he’s been jilted, and it sucks that right after that happened he made is fortune and that Anne totally missed out on that. But still! She’s able to see the good in him, and yet he’s all “make Anne do it” and “wouldn’t it be great if Anne stayed behind with the sick whiny boy” and “Oh, Louisa, let me bounce you down the steps like a toddler”. It’s a little gross and I want back the dashing, romantic, well spoken and perfectly hero-esque Austen man that was with Anne the first time around! This also brings me to the point where Louisa takes her tumble and EVERYONE is just like

And it just perfectly reminds me of how much I always love Austen’s swooning ninny females and the frantic ‘chicken-sans-head’ mothers that she seems to give us in every novel! I’m not sure what that says about what Austen thought of women in general (and women without money in particular, as this is what seems to be the case for a majority for her characters) but it sure does make for some pretty epic comic relief!

Before finishing, I want to mention that I’m absolutely adoring Anne. I think it’s so sad and tragic (and totally par for the course where Austen’s heroines are concerned) that she is so misused and disliked by her family when, really, she is such an example of loyalty and devotion to those around her. I hate that she hates her life, and I wish that Wentworth could just get over it so that the two of them could be happy and together and she could finally be with someone who loves and deserves her. So far, the only promising solution other than that is this Mr. Benwick fellow, and from what I know of Austen, I’m sure there is something we don’t know about him yet. I’m looking forward to the second half immensely, and really crossing my fingers for a romantic Austen ending!

Gone With the Wind…Still

You guys. Seriously. You guys. I’m still reading this book. And I feel like no matter how many pages I turn, how many times I tap the digital Kindle page, how many times I pick it up, Sherman is still shelling Atlanta and there is still SO MUCH MORE TO GO! I mean, for goodness sakes, Melanie hasn’t even had her baby yet, and then they still have to get to Tara, and then Scarlett will never go hungry again, and then…well, then the entire second half of the movie starts. But, to be honest, I can’t say I’m disliking all of these facts.

I mean, I feel bad, but because I don’t want things here to seem like I’m dragging or things are lacking. I start to feel bad when I come back week after week talking about the same book (and it’s definitely looking like that final intended deadline I set might have to be revised, but that’s a different topic for a different day) and that’s part of the reason that I think maybe things have quieted down the past week or so – because I’ve just been chugging along, reading the same books as the last time I was here! But other than that? I don’t feel bad about how slow I’m getting through Peg’s classic. I mean, the banter between Scarlett and Rhett is delicious, the portrait of the south that Mitchell creates, and the language she uses to create it – I’m, like, basking in it. It’s just too much to take in a whole bunch of in one setting.

I like to think that I’d get along with the Wilkes, if I’m being honest. And while I know that pretty much everyone has their druthers with Miss O’Hara, I’ll say that the thing that I probably like about her the least is how much she despises Melanie (but, then again, I kind of find it cloying how much Melanie defends Scarlett anyway. Like, there’s gracious and then there’s being a doormat. Like, CLEARLY this woman doesn’t really care for you, and after a while I feel like it stops becoming empathy and starts becoming a lack of self worth). I love the Wilkes family, and there is something about the thought of a family who adheres to philosophy, book learning, and art in a land of whiskey and dogs and hunting and joviality. It’s like in creating these two families (the Wilkeses and the O’Haras) Mitchell has found a way to mirror some of the dichotomies I feel/see in my own life – I too love art and music and literature and discussing all those things. But I also love beer from the can and laying in the mud and just being…well, undignified!

The last 100 or so pages that I’ve read have been largely about the battle to, and in, Atlanta. And while I’ve never been in a state of war, and am never planning on being in one, I can imagine that Mitchell only scratches the surface of what it must be like to see your friends, lovers, family, and neighbors marching off bravely and gallantly only to return broken, dirty, and defeated – or to not return at all. And for what? One of the most touching parts so far was Ashley’s letter to Melanie explaining how futile it all seems, how silly the war is and how even those in it could see that dying for a Cause is so seldom actually worth dying for. I loved it. And it made me sad. All at the same time. That’s what a lot of this Gone with the Wind experience has done so far, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s a great thing, actually, and one that reaffirms the boundary-pushing reasons I’m undertaking this project. I’m not even finished yet!

Finished: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

(Believe it or not, I had the hardest time finding this cover, which is the cover of my actual book!)

So, in addition to STILL plugging my way through Gone with the Wind (I’m loving it! That’s what’s making it so hard to read – I don’t want to leave Scarlett and Rhett behind!), I’m also working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia as a kind of “light” alternative so that my brain doesn’t start feeling too muddly! After getting through The Magician’s Nephew a week or so ago (has it been that long? longer? being unemployed has this weird effect of making time pass weirdly) I was SUPER EXCITED to start reading this book because, while I’ve read it a bunch of times, it still has some of my favorite scenes from possibly the entire series.

Okay. Lets start this off with a little character de-briefing. Now that there is a movie out, and given how popular this volume of the series is, I’m going to skip the summary part. So the Pevensie children – I love two of them. I don’t really care for the other two. Peter and Lucy? Duh-obvs, these two are adorable. I feel like Peter does such a good job of being a big brother and trying to be the High King Peter that Aslan inevitably turns him in to. And Lucy? Well, her pure heart is the one that discovers Narnia and starts us all on the adventure, and she’s really treated so horribly in the beginning, that even from a young age she’s always been one of my favorite characters. But then there are Edmund and Susan. Obviously, Edmund is totally priggish and spoiled and rotten, but I feel like he gets his by the end of the book. And then there is Susan. Susan is just such a stick in the mud (I admit that this reaction may have something to do with knowing how much worse this gets in later books) and she’s just always so willing to give up and turn back, and she just doesn’t seem to have any gumption. Edmund may be horrible in the beginning of the book (I hesitate to say “evil”, because I really don’t think he has a bad heart) but at least he’s got gumption!

And we can’t talk about the characters without talking about all the animals. Mr and Mrs Beaver are just the most adorable couple, and exactly how I picture a cozy little English couple to be. I kind of found something creepy about Mr. Tumnus, something I don’t remember feeling as a kid, but maybe it has something to do with more mature ‘cynicism’ than with the way Lewis meant him to be written. And then there is Aslan. I can’t help but to read him as a Christ figure (I blame confirmation and intro to literary criticism when I was in high school), but I just love him none the less. The fact that even his name brings up different feelings inside people – feelings that help to set thematic themes throughout the novel, serves to illustrate the fact that some part of his power lies within each of us. I love that, while he can be a playful big cat, the scene where he is sacrificed to the White Witch still brings tears to my eyes.

And that’s probably the strongest testament to why I added these books to my list, despite the fact that I’ve already read them. There are some books that you read entirely for one or two scenes. Scenes that make you wish at that moment, more than anything, that you could actually jump in to literature and be there, too, even if just for a moment. And the final scenes of this novel – where the four children are crowned at Cair Paravel, and all of the good animals and creatures of the world, the spirits of the water and earth, the mermaids and giants, all gathered in music and food and color…I’d jump in to that scene in a heartbeat. What about you? What scene would you jump in to? Are there any books you read solely for one scene that gives you chills?

Finished: The Magician’s Nephew

While I was hammering my way through Middlemarch this past week, I knew I needed a break, and when I really need a break from big heavy reading, nothing quite does it as well as children’s literature! And, looking at my original list of 250 titles, there aren’t very many children’s literature selections. With those perameters in mind, I’m excited to be reading my with through the Narnia books in the background of all the other reading I’ve got going on!

According to the ever-trusty Wikipedia, The Magician’s Nephew was originally published as the sixth book out of the seven that make up the series, although it’s essentially a prequel, as it tells the story of how Narnia came to be. One wet summer in London, Polly Plummer meets her next door neighbor Diggory Kirke and, through a series of adventures, the two end up using magic rings invented by Diggory’s uncle to make their way to the Wood Between the Worlds. From here, they venture through a pool of water in to the destroyed land of Charn, where an evil witch queen named Jadis once destroyed everything while preserving herself in a kind of coma-like state. And, you guessed it, Diggory and Polly wake her from this state and inadvertently bring her back with them to London. All kinds of hijinks ensue, until, in their efforts to return her to her own world, Polly, Diggory, Jadis, Diggory’s uncle Andrew, and an unfortunate horse and cab driver make their way in to a world that is at that moment being created and turned in Narnia by Aslan. As you can probably guess, Jadis goes on to become the White Witch of Narnia in the next book, and we see Aslan again in almost all the books. So this is, truly, the beginning of the story.

So…I don’t really like this book. There. I’ll say it. I mean, yeah, it’s cute. And it’s the first book in a series that, other than this first volume, I absolutely love! But this book is just, well, boring. Most of it is, anyway. Even as a child I can remember not exactly enjoying this book, but I always made myself read it when I was reading the series because, well, I’m Type-A and we’re rules followers, and not reading the first book was basically cheating and meant I couldn’t really say that I’d “re-read the series”. Yep. I was one of those kids.

Anyway, as you probably already know, C.S. Lewis was also a theologian who emphasized work in Christianity. And those of you who have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (or had to read it as a part of a church youth program like this blogger did) can see that there is quite a bit of Biblical allusion going on here. And let me tell you – boy do you see it in this book too! I mean, come one, the “world” of Narnia has just been born, and already there is an evil “born” in to it by Diggory leading the witch in to the land, where she then escapes her captors. And yes, Aslan goes on to give a speech pretty much exactly like this. As a child, I didn’t necessarily notice, but this time it basically smacked me in the face. And while I’m a Christian and don’t mind allusive or theological-bent literature, BUT DEAR SWEET JESUS (no offense or pun intended). This is ridiculous! It’s basically Genesis told in London, with God played by a giant friendly Lion.

It wasn’t a bad reading experience, I’ll say that at least. I sped through it, and I knew through the reading that I was reading about the creation of one of my favorite fictional/mythical locations. It was fun to see the tie-ins with other works (not just like how the White Queen came to be, but in smaller details that show Lewis’ true skill: for example, when Diggory takes a piece of magic, healing fruit back with him, he plants the seeds and it grows in to a tree, a tree which is then cut down and turned in to a certain well-known wardrobe) as well as to think about why Lewis decided to write this book before finishing the seventh volume, especially when it serves to start the plot rather than further it along. Definitely not my favorite work, but now that it’s out of the way, I’m enjoying it a lot more!

A Classics Challenge: March

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:

        
Level 3: If this particular setting was changed how would it affect the course of the story?

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!