Day Two: Chapters 3-5

“Ellen O’Hara was thirty-two years old, and, according to the standards of her day, she was a middle-aged woman, one who had borne six children and buried three.”

It might be true to the time, but ouch! Thirty-two and over the hill, past her prime.

Chapter three is a great chapter for noticing all the “qualities” of what makes a woman (old or young) a proper “lady.” For example, the “quiet grace” and “attracted no attention to herself” kind of lines.

In this chapter we get the back story for Ellen. She is one VERY interesting woman. I have often thought–okay not often but the idea has occurred to me on more than one occasion–that someone should try to tackle the task of writing a prequel to GWTW. The story of Ellen. It would make for one fascinating but ultimately tragic read. There is much foreshadowing here that leads the reader to suspect that the Ellen we see is only the tip of the iceberg. Such a small, teeny tiny fraction of the person she is or was.

“She would have been a strikingly beautiful woman had there been any glow in her eyes, any responsive warmth in her smile or any spontaneity in her voice that fell with gentle melody on the ears of her family and her servants.”

This passage says it all:

“Sometimes when Scarlett tiptoed at night to kiss her tall mother’s cheek, she looked up at the mouth with its too short, too tender upper lip, a mouth too easily hurt by the world, and wondered if it had ever curved in silly girlish giggling or whispered secrets through long nights to intimate girl friends. But no, that wasn’t possible. Mother had always been just as she was, a pillar of strength, a fount of wisdom, the one person who knew the answers to everything.

But Scarlett was wrong, for, years before, Ellen Robillard of Savannah had giggled as inexplicably as any fifteen-year-old in that charming coastal city and whispered the long nights through with friends, exchanging confidences, telling all secrets but one. That was the year when Gerald O’Hara, twenty-eight years older than she, came into her life–the year, too, when youth and her black-eyed cousin, Philippe Robillard, went out of it. For when Philippe, with his snapping eyes and his wild ways, left Savannah forever, he took with him the glow that was in Ellen’s heart and left for the bandy-legged little Irishman who married her only a gentle shell.”

In chapter two, Scarlett likened her relationship (imaginary relationship) with Ashley with that of her parents’ relationship. Two very different, very opposite personalities, joined together. In some ways that holds true. Scarlett did not understand Ashley, not even a tiny fraction. Likewise, Gerald really did not understand the woman he married. He loved her. He was thankful. He worshiped her. (Like Scarlett worships Ashley and the ground he walks on.) But he didn’t know her. He didn’t understand her. Her inner self, her inner thoughts, her inner world, he was not a part of at all. They may have been existing side by side. And there very well might have been love and respect. But he didn’t know her because the part of her who would welcome love, welcome passion, welcome intimacy had died long long before. She had very little of her soul, her heart to give.

Think about it. She had spent a little over half of her life (fifteen to thirty-two) as “a gentle shell” of her former self. If she allowed herself time to feel at all (which is doubtful) she must have been very sad and very lonely. I think she threw herself into her work–her family, her community, acts of charity and hospitality and goodwill–to forget what might have been, what could have been if things had been differently.

We also get a glimpse into Gerald’s life. If I’m being honest, I must admit that his back story doesn’t interest me nearly as much as Ellen’s story does. Why? Well, Gerald is like an open book. What you see is what you get. There isn’t much depth to him. Let me clarify, he is a fleshed out character. But he is a more fully exposed character. He doesn’t hold anything back. He doesn’t have secrets.

But we also get a glimpse of how Tara came to be. How Gerald went from being an immigrant, an Irish immigrant, to being a land-owning, slave-owning plantation master. How did he do it? Drinking, gambling, and a bit of chance.

There was plenty of talk about slavery in chapters one and two. And I didn’t highlight it although I could have. It’s inescapable really if you’re going to look at the novel. But it’s not pretty. What we have to remember–without making too many excuses–is that it is a product of two different times. Contextually speaking, it has to be explored through the eyes of the 1860s and 1870s–the time in which our characters lived–and the 1920s and 1930s–the time in which the author, Margaret Mitchell, wrote the novel. (And this context is important for analyzing more than just race. It’s good for understanding women’s roles, society, economics, etc.) So very much has changed and it is easy to make harsh judgments about the book, about the author. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t question and analyze. It’s always good to use higher critical thinking skills. (Throwing in a term from academic days.) But going back to the race issue, in both contexts, the novel would have been acceptable. The occasional use of the n-word as jolting and distasteful and abrasive as it is to modern readers, was used both in real life and in fiction. We may not “like” reading it. We may find it uncomfortable. We may find it offensive. But the truth is it was a real part of life. Some could argue that it still is a part of life because I’ve certainly heard conversations on tv and radio about it. Who can say it. Who should say it. Is it okay for anyone to say it. etc.

About GWTW though, in the first three chapters at least, the majority of time (98% at least), the n-word is used by slaves to refer to other slaves. It’s harsh in some ways to read about house slaves or house servants or house workers to voice such hatred, dislike, disrespect to fellow slaves, those slaves less fortunate that are forced to work in the fields. And here I’ve got no answers. Is it possible that this is true? Maybe. Is it possible that this feeling, this sentiment, this outlook is pure fiction created by the mind of a white woman? Maybe. As I said, I’ve got no answers.

Similarly, there are a few scenes in Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. The passage where Janie is talking with a Mrs. Turner. Both are biracial. Both have very white features. Mrs. Turner, as written by Hurston, despises her own race. She dislikes blacks. She is very prejudiced and cruel. She’s bought into the racist thinking that whites are better than blacks. That the color of your skin, the features on your face, somehow make you either superior or inferior. Hurston hints at racial politics where shades of black take on much meaning. Again, I’m clueless. I’m more apt to trust Hurston than Mitchell. (Janie does NOT share Mrs. Turner’s sentiments.)

The issue of trust. I think Margaret Mitchell is a good storyteller. I think there are parts of GWTW that truly shine. But when it comes to Mitchell “getting inside” the mindset of a slave, I’m not willing to trust her narrative. She may get a few of the outside details right, but the intentions and motivations and thoughts and emotions of what it really felt like to be owned by someone else, to call someone master, I have to think that she was absolutely clueless and just writing what she wanted to believe, what felt comfortable for her to believe, to write what she had been told, been raised to believe. She was writing what she knew. And what she knew were that her grandparents had been alive during the Civil War. Her grandparents who had seen this great change in the South. This great loss of life, of wealth, of privilege, of class. She heard the stories about life in the South, heard the stories about the War, heard stories about Reconstruction.

But enough of that.

One more quick note about chapter three. The Hollywood vision of Tara is so far removed from Mitchell’s vision of Tara that it’s laughable to compare the two. I think in some ways Hollywood did the book a great injustice by making everything about the O’Hara’s, Tara, life in North Georgia countryside so glamorous, so grand, so over-the-top.

One of our glimpses of Tara: “It was built by slave labor, a clumsy sprawling building that crowned the rise of ground overlooking the green incline of pasture land running down to the river”

and this more descriptive passage,

“The house had been built according to no architectural plan whatever, with extra rooms added where and when it seemed convenient, but, with Ellen’s care and attention, it gained a charm that made up for its lack of design. The avenue of cedars leading from the main road to the house–that avenue of cedars without which no Georgia planter’s home could be complete–had a cool dark shadiness that gave a brighter tinge, by contrast, to the green of the other trees. The wistaria tumbling over the verandas showed bright against the whitewashed brick, and it joined with the pink crepe myrtle bushes by the door and the white-blossomed magnolias in the yard to disguise some of the awkward lines of the house.”

One of the more telling passages about marriage and womanhood: “Before marriage, young girls must be, above all other things, sweet, gentle, beautiful and ornamental, but, after marriage, they were expected to manage households that numbered a hundred people or more, white and black, and they were trained with that in view.”

“Ellen’s life was not easy, nor was it happy, but she did not expect life to be easy, and, if it was not happy, that was woman’s lot. It was a man’s world, and she accepted it as such. The man owned the property, and the woman managed it. The man took the credit for the management, and the woman praised his cleverness. The man roared like a bull when a splinter was in his finger, and the woman muffled the moans of childbirth, lest she disturb
him. Men were rough of speech and often drunk. Women ignored the lapses of speech and put the drunkards to bed without bitter words. Men were rude and outspoken, women were always kind, gracious and forgiving.
She had been reared in the tradition of great ladies, which had taught her how to carry her burden and still retain her charm, and she intended that her three daughters should be great ladies also.”

Additional things we learn about Scarlett:

“But Scarlett, child of Gerald, found the road to ladyhood hard.”

“Appearances were enough, for the appearances of ladyhood won her popularity and that was all she wanted.”

“Most of all she learned how to conceal from men a sharp intelligence beneath a face as sweet and bland as a baby’s”

“At sixteen, thanks to Mammy and Ellen, she looked sweet, charming and giddy, but she was, in reality, self-willed, vain and obstinate.”

“she knew nothing of the inner workings of any human being’s mind, not even her own.”

“If she knew little about men’s minds, she knew even less about the minds of women, for they interested her less. She had never had a girl friend, and she never felt any lack on that account. To her, all women, including her two sisters, were natural enemies in pursuit of the same prey–man.”

Scarlett can be summed up very much by this telling passage:

“Scarlett wanted very much to be like her mother. The only difficulty was that by being just and truthful and tender and unselfish, one missed most of the joys of life, and certainly many beaux. And life was too short to miss such pleasant things. Some day when she was married to Ashley and old, some day when she had time for it, she intended to be like Ellen. But, until then . . .”

Chapter Four….

The chapter opens with Scarlett and the rest of the family (minus Ellen) sitting down and eating supper. Pa is rambling on and on and on and on about war. Scarlett is bored and restless and obsessing over Ashley. Their meal is interrupted only by the arrival of Pork’s wife and stepdaughter, Dilcey and Prissy.

“How could Pa talk on and on about Fort Sumter and the Yankees when he knew her heart was breaking? As usual in the very young, she marveled that people could be so selfishly oblivious to her pain and the world rock along just the same, in spite of her heartbreak.”

Then later, Ellen arrives home. Everyone rushes her, crowds her, and fights over who should get her attention first.

Ellen sat down in the chair which Gerald pulled out for her and four voices attacked her.
“Mother, the lace is loose on my new ball dress and I want to wear it tomorrow night at Twelve Oaks. Won’t you please fix it?”
“Mother, Scarlett’s new dress is prettier than mine and I look like a fright in pink. Why can’t she wear my pink and let me wear her green? She looks all right in pink.”
“Mother, can I stay up for the ball tomorrow night? I’m thirteen now–”
“Mrs. O’Hara, would you believe it– Hush, you girls, before I take me crop to you! Cade Calvert was in Atlanta this morning and he says–will you be quiet and let me be hearing me own voice?– and he says it’s all upset they are there and talking nothing but war, militia drilling, troops forming. And he says the news from Charleston is that they will be putting up with no more Yankee insults.”
Ellen’s tired mouth smiled into the tumult as she addressed herself first to her husband, as a wife should.

After Ellen eats, the family stays together and does their nightly prayers. Very ritualistic for the most part. It certainly isn’t real for Scarlett. She doesn’t have a reverent bone in her body. The others might be praying and meaning it, but Scarlett it’s all show. Her prayer time is all me-me-me. And as proof of her selfishness, this is when THE PLAN (soon to be infamous plan) comes to her. The plan to get Ashley for herself.

One other thing, and granted this is probably a silly point, but I’m wondering if the narrator can be trusted. Obviously, Scarlett makes for an unreliable narrator whenever we’re in her head. At least some of the times we’re in her head. But this statement struck me:

“Scarlett knew her mother cared nothing at all about war and politics and thought them masculine matters about which no lady could intelligently concern herself. But it gave Gerald pleasure to air his views, and Ellen was unfailingly thoughtful of her husband’s pleasure.”

I just have a hard time believing (though I could be wrong) that a woman would really not be concerned about the coming war. Or the potential for war. War means danger. War means loss of life. War means change. War means pain and hardship and suffering. Scarlett might not care, but I think Ellen would. Of course that could be the difference between thirty-two and sixteen. But I think the statement that “no lady could intelligently concern herself” about war and politics to be unfair even for the times. I think Melanie–whom we haven’t officially met yet–and plenty of other Southern women cared about both.

The chapter closes with her in bed,

“She raised her chin and her pale, black-fringed eyes sparkled in the moonlight. Ellen had never told her that desire and attainment were two different matters; life had not taught her that the race was not to the swift. She lay in the silvery shadows with courage rising and made the plans that a sixteen- year-old makes when life has been so pleasant that defeat is an impossibility and a pretty dress and a clear complexion are weapons to vanquish fate.”

Chapter Five….

It’s hard to read chapter five without picturing the movie in your head. This is one of the most memorable (at least to me) scenes of the movie. Scarlett in her underwear getting laced up into her corset trying to decide what dress to wear.

Several things I noticed,

*Scarlett imagines Melanie to be really mean, really catty. In other words, she expects Melanie to think and say what Scarlett would think and say in a given situation if they were reversed.

The rose organdie with long pink sash was becoming, but she had worn it last summer when Melanie visited Twelve Oaks and she’d be sure to remember it. And might be catty enough to mention it. The black bombazine, with its puffed sleeves and princess lace collar, set off her white skin superbly, but it did make her look a trifle elderly. Scarlett peered anxiously in the mirror at her sixteen-year-old face as if expecting to see wrinkles and sagging chin muscles. It would never do to appear sedate and elderly before Melanie’s sweet youthfulness. The lavender barred muslin was beautiful with those wide insets of lace and net about the hem, but it had never suited her type. It would suit Carreen’s delicate profile and wishy-washy expression perfectly, but Scarlett felt that it made her look like a schoolgirl. It would never do to appear schoolgirlish beside Melanie’s poised self. The green plaid taffeta, frothing with flounces and each flounce edged in green velvet ribbon, was most becoming, in fact her favorite dress, for it darkened her eyes to emerald. But there was unmistakably a grease spot on the front of the basque. Of course, her brooch could be pinned over the spot, but perhaps Melanie had sharp eyes. There remained varicolored cotton dresses which Scarlett felt were not festive enough for the occasion, ball dresses and the green sprigged muslin she had worn yesterday. But it was an afternoon dress. It was not suitable for a barbecue, for it had only tiny puffed sleeves and the neck was low enough for a dancing dress. But there was nothing else to do but wear it. After all she was not ashamed of her neck and arms and bosom, even if it was not correct to show them in the morning.

This chapter is all about appearances, all about conventions, all about what is and isn’t proper, all about conformity. One of the big arguments between Mammy and Scarlett is whether or not she’s going to eat breakfast before going to the barbecue. Convention says ladies should not eat in public. They wouldn’t want the men to know that they have normal, healthy appetites. The conversation then leads to how ladies–proper ladies–FAINT now and then. Fainting is proof of their femininity.

Scarlett does end up eating. And while she does she talks about how silly it is that women have to pretend so much around men.

“I’m tired of everlastingly being unnatural and never doing anything I want to do. I’m tired of acting like I don’t eat more than a bird, and walking when I want to run and saying I feel faint after a waltz, when I could dance for two days and never get tired. I’m tired of saying, ‘How wonderful you are!’ to fool men who haven’t got one-half the sense I’ve got, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t know anything, so men can tell me things and feel important while they’re doing it. . . .”

“Why is it a girl has to be so silly to catch a husband?”
“Ah specs it’s kase gempmums doan know whut dey wants. Dey jes’ knows whut dey thinks dey wants. An’ givin’ dem whut dey thinks dey wants saves a pile of mizry an’ bein’ a ole maid. An’ dey thinks dey wants mousy lil gals wid bird’s tastes an’ no sense at all. It doan make a gempmum feel lak mahyin’ a lady ef he suspicions she got mo’ sense dan he has.”
“Don’t you suppose men get surprised after they’re married to find that their wives do have sense?”
“Well, it’s too late den. Dey’s already mahied. ‘Sides, gempmums specs dey wives ter have sense.”

“Some day I’m going to do and say everything I want to do and say, and if people don’t like it I don’t care.”

This is one of my favorite, favorite conversations between the two. I think it is one of the (perhaps rare) times when Scarlett is being completely honest and forthcoming.

This is the narrator’s commentary on the matter:

“There was no one to tell Scarlett that her own personality, frighteningly vital though it was, was more attractive than any masquerade she might adopt. Had she been told, she would have been pleased but unbelieving. And the civilization of which she was a part would have been unbelieving too, for at no time, before or since, had so low a premium been placed on feminine naturalness.”

The rest of the chapter concerns their trip to Twelve Oaks and the barbecue. Ellen and Mammy are staying home, for which Scarlett is much relieved, and it’s just the three girls and their unruly but happy father.

On their way they run into the Tarleton family. And Pa and Mrs. Tarleton have quite the conversation. I wish that the Hollywood movie would have given more attention (or some attention) to how wonderfully spunky this woman is. The movie really does lack some of the great side characters.

We also get a glimpse of the analytical Scarlett who is comparing her own relationship with her mother and her sisters to that the Tarleton sisters have with their mother.

“Scarlett wanted to respect and adore her mother like an idol and to rumple her hair and tease her too. And she knew she should be altogether one way or the other. It was the same conflicting emotion that made her desire to appear a delicate and high-bred lady with boys and to be, as well, a hoyden who was not above a few kisses.”

The conversation isn’t exactly appropriate as it is about breeding–both in regards to people (humans) and animals (horses).

The chapter ends with them still not at their destination. We’ll have to wait til next time to see Scarlett’s big entrance.

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