In the antebellum South, a family’s plantation “symbolizes the family’s authority and status,” (Edwards 17). The Irish O’Hara’s see land as something to take great pride in. It was a form of great honor in the South to have a successful and beautifully adorned plantation home and surrounding grounds (Roberts 3). Tara Plantation is supposed to be seen as a sort of an “ambiguous role somewhere between a character and a symbol” in the film (Clinton 210). It is a piece of setting that can be seen as part of Scarlett. As Tara changes from extravagant plantation, to abandoned wasteland, then to all Scarlett has left to hold on to, Scarlett changes from an immature girl to a hardworking ‘man of the house’ and businesswoman to a rich yet heartbroken Southern elite. The South during the Civil War goes through the same stages: the Old South is full of arrogance and wealth, during Reconstruction everything must be rebuilt due to the destruction that came along with the defeat of the Confederates in the South, and then the New South is even more wealthy and extravagant than the Old South (Roberts). The various shots of Tara can be seen to illustrate her feelings/personality at the time of the shot, or foreshadow future events of the film.
The first shot is a flustered Scarlett running away from Tara’s front porch. She has just found out the man she loves, Ashley Wilkes, is getting married to someone other than her. This long shot shows Tara in all its grandeur.
The luscious landscape mirrors Scarlett’s excessive and charming exterior. She seems angelic running through the yard of Tara. There is an overall bushy, over exaggeration sort of theme—from her dress, to the bushes to the trees. However, the two tall oak trees on either side of the frame are very ominous in nature. They seem to take prevalence in the shot and be almost daunting in nature in relation to Scarlett. This foreshadows the disappointment she will have when seeing Ashley at Twelve Oaks, as well as foreshadowing the future destruction of Tara. Yet, Scarlett is seen running away from these negative trees in this shot. This is a metaphor for her fleeing to Atlanta during the war, as well as a different metaphor, indicating that she will pull out of the destruction Tara will face, and she will renew Tara to what it once was.
Another shot that foreshadows the demise of Tara is that of her and her father as shadows in the foreground of an extreme long shot of Tara.
The tree in this shot serves as a symbol for the destruction that comes with war in the Old South. It is looming over not only Tara, but Scarlett, as well. Both Tara and Scarlett have the rug ripped out from beneath them during the war. Both of them need to be recovered and taken care of after suffering all the loss and devastation after the War. The tree looks as though it is about to engulf Tara, but the plantation home is the only highlight in the shot. It is the great white hope. The last thing Scarlett remarks about Tara is that “Tara is hope. Hope is Tara.” The shadow of Scarlett and her father together is almost morphing together into one entity. This can be seen as foreshadowing the fact that Scarlett will become head of the house during Reconstruction times, due to her mother being dead and her dad going senile. In this shot, the clouds are coming in, reinforcing the negative, dark associations of tree. The clouds can be seen as the young Southern men of Scarlett’s society rushing toward the onset of the Civil War, which at this point in the film, has not started yet. The tree and clouds could also be representing the trials of love involving Ashley and Rhett she will soon encounter and constantly have to battle throughout the film.
This next shot is Scarlett and her slaves heading back to Tara from Atlanta, set in the middle of the rebuilding of Tara and Reconstruction period. A barren field that once housed bushels and bushels of thriving cotton sits in front of Tara, which seems like a speck of disappointment and shame compared to how it once was before the War. The rainbow is a hint of hope and promise that Tara, and Scarlett, will rise again to the standard they were once held; however, the rainbow only being half there is saying how Tara may be complete but Scarlett never will. In the end, she loses everything but Tara, because she finds that her land is the “only thing that lasts,” not men, whether being Ashley or Rhett, not family, because they are almost all killed off or not mentioned, and not even love, which she seems to only have for Tara in the end (Howard 25).
Tara seems to be the one solid motivator Scarlett has in order to change herself from a flimsy Southern Belle to a hard working and stout Southern woman. Throughout the film, she never lets Tara die. It is the only thing that seems real to her. Ashley toys with her heart, she loses two husbands, Rhett is thrown into the mix and no one ever seems to really like her or her strong personality. So, she makes it a goal to show them how worthy she is of their approval. She uses Tara to do this. Tara is her ticket to be respected and of high status in the New South.
In the final shot, the dark clouds have abandoned their shadowy state and rays of the sun’s light seem to be emitting from Tara. Scarlett looks on with a hand on her heart and her initial sun hat she wears in the other hand. This shot shows her acknowledgment of her immaturity in the past, but also her realization of what she loves most in life; her true love: Tara Plantation. The tree that was once daunting and a negative foreshadowing of the film, but now seems to be a lot less intimidating and almost a new symbol for the South. Tara goes from being an image of the elaborate Old South, to an image of the South during Reconstruction, to a hope to what splendor may come with the formation of a New South. The first shadow shot of Tara was seen as negative, while this shadow shot can be seen as a moment of looking back at all the trials and tribulations of the war years. Scarlett is looking to the light, to Tara, to new beginnings. The past, the shadow, is behind her. Although Scarlett ends up alone, she knows Tara is all she needs and all she ever needed.
by Jessica Billings