Thursday, August 16, 2007

Little Tara

The American Civil War is the seminal event in Southern history. It created, defined and fertilized the history of the South as we now know or believe it today. The academic factual study of that war is the work of many scholars. What lives in our Southern hearts is the unequal blend of fact and legend. The way the nation looks at this period is the work of one movie: "GONE WITH THE WIND".

The 1939 release of "GWTW" was met by a review in "The New Yorker" magazine with, "Margaret Mitchell's bomb of a book has been made into a bomb of a film ." It did not, of course, bomb, but became the most popular movie of all time. It has endured every bump in the rocky road of race relations in the South from that moment forward. It uses expressions and honors emotions which are no longer allowed in popular entertainment. And it is popular throughout the length and breadth of the United States. We can't get enough of it.

Central to the movie is the character of Scarlet O'Hara and central to her character is Tara, the family plantation. She draws her strength from the red earth of Tara as we are told by Ashley Wilkes. Her father holds that land is the only thing which endures and that Tara must never fall from the family's grasp. It is to Tara that Scarlet returns to rebuild her life. Tara is all that separates her from the landless hordes. Tara is not about the oppression of Reconstruction nor the villainy of Carpetbaggers nor does it come to celebrate the grace and beauty of the old South nor does it excuse slavery. Tara is about land, the holding and working of one's land, the sense land having something akin to a soul. It suggests that land may define a person's point and purpose in living. To that end it is one of the film's few concepts which still has a place in American life.

On the sign which proclaims the grounds with to be " Little Tara " there are the unmistakable trappings of Johnny Reb, but the implied message is more like "this is our property." If asked in we would not expect to find a suburban mansion or the garish appointments of faux plantation decor, but a house of normal proportions, a home to landed folks who may themselves draw strength and purpose from their piece of Johns Island earth.


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