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PLOT SYNOPSIS AND ANALYSIS
Chapter three is the background of Ellen and Gerald O’Hara. Ellen had been a Savannah girl who had not been permitted to marry the boy she loved. He had later been killed in a barroom brawl. Ellen was angry and desperate to get away from the people she blamed for Philippe Robillard’s death. When Gerald appeared in Savannah and asked to marry her, she quietly agreed to go with him.
As for Gerald, he was a hot-tempered Irishman forced to leave his homeland after killing his landlord’s rent agent. He followed the way of his brother James and Andrew and worked in their store in Savannah for a while. One night he wins the Tara homestead in a gambling match. The original house had burned and the fields are untended, but Gerald is happy to get it nonetheless. He clears the fields and plants cotton, and the house is built by slave labor. At the age of 43, after building and developing Tara for ten years, he decides he needs a wife. With his slave Pork, he goes to Savannah, intending to propose to Ellen Robillard. He never finds out that the only reason Ellen’s father gives in to her is because she swears that she will either marry Gerald O’Hara or go into a convent.
The following year, Scarlett is born. A year later, Susan Elinor - called Suellen -comes along, and finally Carreen, whose name is short for "Caroline Irene." Ellen gives birth to three little boys as well, but none of them live. Because of her graciousness, Ellen is soon the best-loved neighbor in the county. She tries to teach her own manners and breeding to Scarlett, but although Scarlett behaves appropriately in sight of her mother, she teaching has little impact.
Scarlett adores her mother and hopes to be like her someday, but believes that she will miss out on too much of life if she tries to practice the same gentility, tenderness and justice while she is young.
In spite of her desire to be like her mother, Scarlett could not be more unlike her. Ellen is almost a saint, self-sacrificing, uncomplaining, a model of decorum, and resigned to the cards life has dealt her. She does have strong opinions as we see in her quiet rule of the household and in the way Gerald obeys her commands. The narrator implies some depth to Ellen, but we see her primarily from Scarlett's viewpoint, so we get little of her life beyond some biographical information explaining how she arrived at Tara.
Gerald himself is the troublemaker for his own family in Ireland. However, he doesn't let that knowledge, or an awareness of his "class" stand in the way of getting what he wants. Still, he is clearly a hard worker and is not humiliated by building and plowing along with his slaves. He isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, and Scarlett will follow in his footsteps in her own way.
During supper, Pork arrives with the new slave Dilcey and her daughter Prissy who will be given to Scarlett for her personal maid. Then Ellen arrives home with the news that the Slattery baby is dead. The family undertakes their usual ritual of evening prayers, directed by Ellen who is a devout Catholic. During the prayers, Scarlett’s mind wanders to Ashley. It occurs to her that the only reason Ashley has proposed to Melanie is because he doesn’t know that she is in love with him herself. She plots for some way to tell him during the upcoming barbecue. In her imagination, she convinces herself that if Ashley only knows of her love, he will abandon Melanie and beg her to run away with him.
After prayers, Scarlett overhears her mother tell Gerald that he must fire Jonas Wilkerson, his overseer, as Jonas is the father of the dead Slattery baby. Jonas is a "Yankee man."
Although religion has an important place in the O'Hara family, Scarlett basically goes through the motions. Nor does the irony of thinking about stealing someone else's beau while the family is engaged in prayers occur to her.
Scarlett begins the day of the party by searching for a dress. Her best dress has a stain on it which she fears Melanie may notice even if she pins a brooch over it. Thus she chooses a sleeveless dress with a low-cut neckline; this and her refusal to eat a tray of food brings about a confrontation with Mammy. It is inappropriate to show one’s arms and bosom before 3:00, and according to Mammy, girls are supposed to stuff themselves with food prior to going to a party so they will be unable to eat more than a mouthful or two at the party. The sentiment of the day is that only girls who eat like a bird will catch a husband.
On the way to the party we are introduced to Mrs. Tarleton and her daughters as their carriage meets up with the O’Hara carriage. They engage in friendly informal banter, the girls teasing their mother for flirting with Mr. O’Hara. Scarlett is shocked at the freedom with which the Tarletons act; yet it is obvious that they adore each other. She envies the assuredness with which the Tarleton girls conduct themselves. Gerald and Mrs. Tarleton discuss horses for a bit, then the conversations shifts to Ashley’s engagement to Melanie. Mrs. Tarleton disapproves of marriage among cousins, as she believes it "weakens the strain." Gerald begins to get embarrassed as such frank conversation would be considered most improper if Ellen were to hear about it. Finally Hetty Tarleton urges them to move on to the party. Gerald manages to detain them long enough to ask Mrs. Tarleton if she has reconsidered her unwillingness to sell her horses to the Troop when they go to war. She says she will do no such thing, but then suggests that perhaps there will be no war anyway.
The Tarletons are typical of southerners who conform to the expected traditions but are much more relaxed in their attitudes. As Mrs. Tarleton is involved with horses, she has no inhibitions in discussing such things as breeding whether it be animals or humans. She is also on more of a par with her own daughters. They treat her respectfully but she is not as aloof or saint like as Ellen. They are able to joke and have a good time with each other.