Not accidentally, the "Tara Theme" is the film's musical leitmotif. Among Gone With the Wind's most memorable scenes are those linking Scarlett to her antebellum, agrarian home: Scarlett, receiving the above lines from her father, after which both are framed by the symbolic Tara tree; Scarlett, standing in the garden of the devastated Tara as Part I ends, declaring her intention to "never be hungry again!"; and Scarlett, sobbing at the end over Rhett's departure and asking, "What is there that matters?" to which the (all male) voices of Gerald, Ashley, and Rhett respond, "Tara! Tara! Tara!" These are more than references to "Home, Sweet, Home." They express the agrarian myth, ideally set in the very period which rendered it a myth once and for all, and in the very region which exemplifies not just the American transition from a rural to an urban economy, but also the lingering American ambivalence involved in that transition.NOTE 16 Because Scarlett once again dominates the action, she once again embodies conflicts as gendered as those at the root of her interpersonal relations.

Gerald O'Hara delivers the Tara speech to his daughter as an expression of Irish Catholic heritage. However, the "land" to which he refers is an ideal symbol encompassing anything from Tara to a specific region or nation to a vague set of ideals widely applicable (home, country, virtue, independence). The primary message is a combination thereof: that of "republican virtue" rooted in land ownership and referring specifically neither to the South nor to Ireland but to the United States. Like the Scarlett-Rhett romance, this theme of land allows the story to transcend its central Southernness, while introducing another violation of the gender roles understood as part of the romantic myth. That is, Scarlett's relation to Tara, and to economics generally, merely highlights the elements that render her such a problematic character throughout: her quest for and achievement of both independence and security. Why should these be problematic? They shouldn't be, unless these values are gendered and Scarlett is the wrong one.

In Gone With the Wind both Scarlett and Rhett are rugged individuals, exhibiting self-reliance at every turn. This may be appropriate in a Rhett Butler, but is the antithesis of archetypical femininity, to which any claim of self is anathema. Thus when Scarlett becomes head of Tara by default; when she vows to "lie, steal, cheat, or kill" to "never be hungry again"; when she tries to sell her body to Rhett for tax money, and does sell her body to Frank and then Rhett in marriage, she displays not only critical elements of her own personality but also reflects essentially masculine roles and values (though at times through feminine means). As disturbing as the roles and values may be in their extreme, they are doubly so when represented by a female in this culture.

As if all this weren't bad enough, Scarlett willingly stoops to "Yankee" practices to fulfill her economic vows. As a cash-and-carry merchant, she becomes the emblem of a New Southern order and typifies qualities often revered among "captains of industry." (Significantly, the business she runs is the epitome of literal "reconstruction"--a lumber mill.) Added to the Old/New South conflict are continuing tensions between North and South, and those between gender roles, all of which render Scarlett scandalous to the Old Southern gentry. As she deals hardheadedly with customers and exploits convict labor in her campaign for personal security, Scarlett clearly evokes the view that she is unfeminine and is overstepping the boundaries of her gender.NOTE 17

The transition to a New South that Scarlett represents serves as signifier of the ongoing development of American industrialization and urbanization.NOTE 18 That she always has one foot in Tara is important here, revealing that postbellum development to be fraught with conflict and ambivalence. While Scarlett adopts business practices to achieve her financial independence, she will not relinquish Tara or the agrarian confidence in land ownership. In so doing, she serves as a metaphor for the American inability to abandon the concept that a land-based economy is somehow more secure and more virtuous than one based on money.

In every crisis, Scarlett returns to Tara, regardless of the risks involved (after the Battle of Atlanta, for example). As the film ends, her final realization is that she must return to her home, her agrarian roots. That Scarlett views Rhett's departure as a tragedy encapsulates the conflicts within her feminine identity previously discussed; that to her Tara promises relief, comfort, and a chance to think (even if it's about the dubious cause of getting Rhett back) reverberates in audiences well trained in the agrarian myth; that a woman personifies characteristics and events consciously or unconsciously considered male, though, creates disorder within potential harmony.

page 3 of 5

Page One: Introduction  |  Page Two: Scarlett, the Feminine and the Masculine
Page Three: Scarlett and Tara  |  Page Four: Scarlett and the War
Page Five: Scarlett and Another Day

Photo credit: © 1939 Turner Entertainment Co., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.