Scarlett and Tara

A photograph of the opening scene of Gone With the Wind, sold as part of a color set around the time of the film’s premier, shows Scarlett as the archetypal Southern belle. For generations of Americans who grew up with Gone With the Wind, the idea of the Southern belle is inextricable from this and other images of Scarlett’s big dresses, verdant plantation, and coquettish charm. In the image, Scarlett stands against the classic background of rolling green hills and the beautiful plantation Tara. That Tara appears in the background and that Scarlett appears small in the wide landscape increases the impression of the plantation’s vastness. Furthermore, Scarlett’s dress, its many layers spread over an enormous hoop skirt, displays her wealth, a staple of the Southern belle. The many acres of Tara and homes like it are Scarlett’s whole world. In this image one might imagine that she could run and run, but never reach the boundary. A belle’s charm always draws lots of suitors and we see two brothers on the porch, each begging for Scarlett’s attention. The Mammy figure is also an integral part of the Southern belle and in the film; we see her calling out after Scarlett. Mammy assumes most motherly duties and raises the belle, a common practice among Southern families. It is apparent that Scarlett is under Mammy’s careful watch, which often confines her to the plantation. Scarlett is the keystone of plantation life and consequently holds the culture together; she is a culmination of their anxieties and ideals, an embodiment of their values and morals. The iconic image of Scarlett and Tara embodies what it means to be a Southern belle.

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