Tara Plantation

Tara Plantation

Tara, the fictional plantation found in Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel "Gone with the Wind", was located near Jonesborough (now Jonesboro), Georgia. As the locale of the final, decisive defeat of the Confederate defenders in the Battle of Jonesborough, Jonesboro, with its surrounding farmland, is a location of historical significance.

Mitchell modeled Tara after local plantations and antebellum establishments, particularly the Clayton County plantation on which her maternal grandmother, Annie Fitzgerald Stephens, the daughter of an Irish immigrant and his American bride, was born and raised. Twelve Oaks, a neighboring plantation in the novel, is now the name of many businesses and a high school stadium in nearby Lovejoy.

In "Gone with the Wind"

In "Gone with the Wind", Tara was founded by Irish immigrant Gerald O'Hara after he won 640 acres of land from its absentee owner during an all-night poker game. Very much an Irish peasant farmer rather than the merchant his elder brothers (whose emigrations to Savannah had brought him to Georgia) wanted him to be, Gerald relished the thought of becoming a planter and gave his mostly wilderness and uncultivated new lands the grandiose name of Tara after the hill of Tara, once the capitol of the High King of ancient Ireland. He borrowed money from his brothers and bankers to buy slaves and turned the farm into a very successful cotton plantation.

At 43, Gerald married the 15-year-old Ellen Robillard, an aristocratic, Savannah-born girl of French descent, receiving as dowry twenty slaves (including Mammy, Ellen's nurse, who became nurse to Ellen's daughters and grandchildren as well). His young bride took a very real interest in the management of the plantation, being in some ways a more hands-on manager than her husband. With the injection of her dowry money and the rise of cotton prices, Tara grew to a plantation of more than convert|1000|acre|km2 and more than 100 slaves by the dawn of the Civil War.

In the first quarter of the novel, the O'Haras are enthusiastically partisan in support of the Confederacy. Nevertheless, even before the tide has turned irreversibly against the Confederacy following Gettysburg and Vicksburg, the plantation (along with the other great land-holdings in the county) has already suffered major deprivation because of the war and has descended into disrepair. Shortages caused by the Union blockade and the Confederate requisitioning of supplies and slaves have turned the home from a house of plenty to one of mere subsistence; while the inability to sell their cotton to England has also greatly diminished the family's once-lavish income and lifestyle. The arrival of Sherman's troops in Clayton County terrifies those slaves who have not already departed or been conscripted into the labor force by the Confederacy. By the time Union troops arrive at Tara, only the house slaves remain.

Unlike the homes of most of the O'Haras' neighbors, Tara is spared the torch during the Union's scorched-earth policy. The life-threatening illness, from typhoid, of Ellen O'Hara and her younger daughters, Suellen and Carreen, causes Gerald to stand firm in the doorway of his house, "as if he had an army behind him rather than before him", and earns the sympathy of a Union officer who orders his surgeon to treat the O'Hara women with laudanum and quinine. (Georgians are unable to obtain such medications.) The officer commandeers the house for use as a Union field headquarters, but as a courtesy, it is spared. However, movable items of value (including Ellen's rosary, pictures, and china) are confiscated (or stolen), and larger items are vandalized by the withdrawing Union troops. Mammy hides the family silver in the well.

The army also chops down the trees surrounding the home, destroys the outbuildings, uses much of the fencing for firewood, slaughters the livestock, and pillages the vegetable gardens and fruit orchards for its own use. Soldiers even destroy what is not yet ripe and unearth graves in the family and slave cemeteries to search for valuables buried under false headstones. The most expensive blow comes when the troops torch more than $100,000 worth of baled cotton. (The O'Haras had been unable to sell the cotton to English merchants, owing to the blockade, and thus it was still awaiting transport.) Upon the army's withdrawal, the family and their loyal remaining slaves are left with a looted and dilapidated house, a ruined farm with no stock, work animals, or farm equipment, no food and no means to produce food. They are indigent and soon starving.

Ellen O'Hara dies soon after the Union evacuation, and her widowed oldest daughter Scarlett returns a day later, initial delight at finding the house still standing soon turning to despair at its ruination. The loss of his wife, combined with hopelessness, poverty, age, and an increasing reliance on whiskey (when it is available) is destroying Gerald O'Hara's sanity, leaving him a demented echo of his former self. The plantation and house continue to be visited by both rebel and Union troops throughout the war, both sides taking any remnants of food and items of value left to the family.

Scarlett, however, leads her complaining sisters and house slaves, all unaccustomed to hard manual labor, in harvesting the remaining cotton plants. She manages to salvage a few hundred pounds of the crop (enough to trade for food, perhaps) but sees her labor rendered useless when a small detachment of Union troops finds the cotton in a slave cabin and sets it ablaze. When the soldiers are prevented, by their commanding officer, from taking a gilded sword that once belonged to Scarlett's long-dead father-in-law and intended for her little boy (the officer is himself a veteran of the same campaigns as the sword's former owner), they express their indignation by secretly setting a wing of the house on fire as they are leaving. The family extinguishes the flames before they can spread, but the mansion is further damaged.

When a Union deserter attempts to rob and rape Scarlett, she kills him in self-defense and vengeance. With the tiny windfall of money he was carrying, and with his horse and the aid of Will Benteen, a Confederate private and amputee nursed through a near-fatal fever by the O'Haras, the land is planted once again, on a subsistence scale. The family is able to eke out a very meager living, leaving them constantly hungry but at least not homeless or starving.

Peace returns after the war, but not prosperity. Scarlett manages to save Tara from being seized and the family from dispossession only by deceitfully marrying her sister's fiance and using his savings to pay the $300 in taxes levied on the place. Though Scarlett returns to Atlanta where her fortunes rise as she takes over and expands her second husband's business interests, she shares her new wealth with Tara. Tara never achieves anything like its antebellum grandeur, but it does become self supporting as a "two horse" farm. While far from rich, the O'Haras are at least in better condition than most of their neighbors.

While Scarlett is in Atlanta, Suellen, the sister whom Scarlett's husband truly loved, conspires with the hated carpetbaggers and scalawags to defraud the victorious United States government of $150,000 by having her senile father swear an oath that his family was pro-Union during the war; therefore, the cotton burned and the damages done to the place were not justified. The plan backfires and leads to the accidental death of Gerald. It also leads to the social ostracism of Suellen by her neighbors and even some of her relatives, though ironically it increases her worth in the eyes of her pragmatic sister Scarlett, who privately believes the plan was brilliant.

Suellen remains at Tara and accepts the marriage proposal of its new manager, Will Benteen. Though Will is respected as a kind, intelligent, and hard-working farmer, whose industry is as responsible as Scarlett's money for saving Tara, and though Suellen is despised for her attempt to profit from betraying the South, the marriage is scorned by the O'Hara's neighbors because Suellen is the daughter of a once-rich planter while Will is the son of poor whites. This contempt illustrates much about the refusal of all, save the people of Tara, to accept the new realities of the Reconstruction era. Tara survives by adapting. Suellen and Will Benteen and their family are the occupants of the house, but though Scarlett resides in Atlanta, she considers Tara her true home. After her marriage to Rhett Butler, who has become a multimillionaire from blockade-running and speculation, her new husband pays to return Tara to its pre-war condition. The house is restored and refurnished, the outbuildings are rebuilt, the fields are again stocked with cattle, turkeys,and horses, the land is again planted with cotton (raised now by poor white and free black sharecroppers). By the end of the novel, Tara has come to resemble, as closely as it can, the beautiful red- earthed plantation it was before the war. Scarlett, however, is unable to find peace or happiness. Though she has come back from defeat and starvation to become one of the wealthiest women in the south and is even far richer and more spoiled than she ever expected to be, she feels miserable and empty.

Many critics state that Tara ultimately symbolizes Scarlett's spirit or character. Initially, it is a thing of pompous but shallow beauty, then a place of desolation but nevertheless still standing when the neighboring homes are not, and finally as beautiful as ever but bereft of life and happiness.

In "Rhett Butler's People"

In the recent novel, "Rhett Butler's People," Tara stays virtually the same as in "Gone With the Wind." However, at the end of the novel, the crazed Isaiah Watling sets fire to the main staircase of the mansion, which burns to the ground.

The house

When Gerald first takes possession of the property, he and his slave valet Pork (also acquired by Gerald in a poker game) inhabit the small, four-room wooden house built when the land was settled. As Gerald's wealth grows, he builds minor additions to the structure, but after his marriage, and as his family grows, the house undergoes major enlargements and renovations. Nevertheless, it is not a pretty building but rather a large, rambling affair of whitewashed brick and timber "built according to no architectural plan whatever, with extra rooms added where and when it seemed convenient". Its charm comes from Ellen's grace and sophistication. According to the description in the novel, the house has at least two hallways, a full basement, front and back stairs, and an attic.

Movie set

In the legendary 1939 motion picture, the home is transformed by art director Lyle Wheeler into a pillared, asymmetrical mansion quite inconsistent with the description in the novel in all save size and white-washed brick exterior. (The film set does, however, have a rambling quality, corresponding to the description). Nevertheless, it is the movie's depiction of Tara that entered the popular imagination. However much at odds with the book's conception, the work of set designer Joseph B. Platt and interior decorator Edward G. Boyle (among others) was nothing short of outstanding.

After filming concluded, the façade of Tara sat on the "Forty Acres" backlot of the former Selznick Studios as it changed ownership to RKO Pictures and then Desilu Productions. In 1959, Southern Attractions, Inc. purchased the façade, which was dismantled and shipped to Georgia with plans to relocate it to the Atlanta area as a tourist attraction. ["Los Angeles Times", May 17, 1959, p. G10.] [Jennifer W. Dickey, [http://etd.gsu.edu/theses/available/etd-07252007-104218/unrestricted/dickey_jennifer_w_200708_phd.pdf "A Tough Little Patch of History": Atlanta's Marketplace for Gone With the Wind Memory"] , Ph.D. dissertation, Georgia State University, 2007, pp. 85–89.] Producer David O. Selznick commented at the time,

Nothing in Hollywood is permanent. Once photographed, life here is ended. It is almost symbolic of Hollywood. Tara had no rooms inside. It was just a façade. So much of Hollywood is a façade. [Murray Schumach, "Hollywood Gives Tara to Atlanta," "New York Times", May 25, 1959, p. 33.]

However, the Margaret Mitchell estate refused to license the novel's commercial use in connection with the façade, citing Mitchell's dismay at how little it resembled her description. In 1979, the dismantled plywood and papier-mâché set, reportedly in "terrible" condition, was purchased for $5,000 by Betty Talmadge, the ex-wife of former Georgia governor and U.S. senator Herman Talmadge. [Margalit Fox, " [http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/12/politics/12talmadge.html Betty Talmadge, Ex-Wife of Georgia Senator, Dies at 81] ," "New York Times", May 12, 2005.] She lent the front door of Tara's set to the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum in downtown Atlanta, Georgia where it is on permanent display. [ [http://www.gwtw.org/tour.html Tour Information] , Margaret Mitchell House & Museum.] The Tara set was bought from Mrs. Talmadge, and sold to K. C. Bassham, an inn owner in Concord, Georgia. She set up her inn to be in period with the timeframe of the story and decorated it with reproduction mementos from the film. Due to the fact that the plywood and papier-mâché Tara was so deteriorated, she determined that it could never be resurrected again. She then decided to cut up the set and sell 1 by convert|3|in|mm|sing=on rectangular sections. These include a picture of Tara and a certificate of authenticity. [Jennifer W. Dickey, "A Tough Little Patch of History": Atlanta's Marketplace for Gone With the Wind Memory, Ph.D. dissertation, Georgia State University, 2007, pp. 120–121.]

Namesake

The section of U.S. 41 and U.S. 19 from I-75 south through Jonesboro to the Clayton County, GA - Henry County, GA line is called Tara Boulevard, in honor of the book and movie, and the placement of the fictitious plantation near the town.

Movie Set Gallery

References

External links

* [http://www.historicaljonesboro.org/ Jonesboro History Site]
* [http://www.1966batfan.com/40acres.htm/ Gone with the Wind Set history]
* [http://www.retroweb.com/40acres.html/ Tara Set History]


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