Academic journal article Southern Cultures

Tara, the O'Haras, and the Irish Gone with the Wind

Academic journal article Southern Cultures

Tara, the O'Haras, and the Irish Gone with the Wind

Article excerpt

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Perhaps one of the most frustrating things for fans of Gone With the Wind is arriving in Atlanta, Georgia, only to discover that they have come to the wrong place. If they want to see the white columns and the wraparound porch of Tara, they need to go to Burbank, California, and take a tour of the MOM movie lot. Be cause Tara does not exist. Perhaps this is fortuitous, given the many anxieties about Mitchell's representation of plantation life in antebellum Georgia. Mitchell's attitudes towards slavery, and the book and film's nostalgia for the Lost Cause, have occasioned a repudiation of Gone With the Wind on both political and aesthetic grounds.

Tourists in Atlanta are directed instead to the Margaret Mitchell House at 990 Peachtree Street to view the apartment where Peggy Mitchell lived with her husband John Marsh until 1925. It was here, in the place she called "the Dump," that Mitchell wrote most of Gone With the Wind on the Remington typewriter that one fanciful reviewer has called "her harp." The Dump is itself problematic as a locus for the worshippers of Gone With the Wind, as Mitchell did not want "any place where she ate, slept, brushed her teeth or wrote her book stripped naked to sightseers." But for Mary Rose Taylor, its passionate preservationist, the house has become a symbol of Atlanta, a place where the old and new South can come together. The German motor company Daimler-Benz, seeking to advertise its presence in America, sponsored the restoration of the house in the 1990s. It was due to open in 1996, the year in which Atlanta hosted the Olympics; instead, it was attacked by arsonists--twice. (1)

What do these anecdotes tell us about the phenomenon that is Gone With the Wind? The book (1936), the film (i939), and the Margaret Mitchell House (1997) articulate the difficult relationship between blockbuster status and situational politics. It is impossible to read anything about Gone With the Wind without being bombarded by statistics--it sold over 1 million copies in its first year of publication, has been translated into twenty-five languages, and 90 percent of Americans claim to have seen the movie. Yet, despite its 1,000-page length and four-hour running time as a movie, Gone With the Wind is most often interpreted as shorthand--for moonlight and magnolias, plantation mythology, Confederate nationalism, or, to be very short, racism. Exhaustive examinations of race in the novel have focused primarily on the white-black binary, although there are also interesting discussions of its racial politics from other ethnic perspectives? However, into the debate about place, race, and the second-best-selling book of all time, we can also bring Irishness.

There are many ways to approach the Irish elements of Gone With the Wind-from Mitchell's Irish genealogy to the historical references to Irish history in the text to the representation of Irish characters in the novel and film. Here, we will focus on the way in which Irishness underwrites the history presented in the text. Is it the mere boutique Irishness that allowed Vivien Leigh to be promoted both as an Irish colleen and an English rose, or does it function in the text as a more flexible ethnicity? We will begin by examining the Irishness on display in Gone With the Wind through its references to place (Tara), family (the O'Haras), and race or ethnicity (Irishness). We will look at Mitchell's racial schema in order to ask if Irishness ever functions as a mediating ethnicity between blackness and whiteness in the novel. In other words, how do we locate the Irish in Gone With the Wind, and, building upon historian Noel Ignatiev's provocative study, are they always white? (3)

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Tara, the most famous location in Gone With the Wind, is named after the ancient seat of the High Kings of Ireland. By bestowing this name upon his house, Gerald O'Hara bequeaths to his daughter his own brand of faith and fatherland. …

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