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Past Reads > A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley - Chapters 24 to end

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George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
Please comment here on chapters 24 to the end of A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley.


Irene | 422 comments Here are some discussion questions I found that will hopefully spark some conversation.

1. How does the symbiotic relationship between person and place addressed in Ms. Smiley's choice of epigraph play itself out in the novel? How does setting shape character and vice versa? Which seems to have the upper hand? How is Zebulon County itself a major character in A Thousand Acres?

2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Ginny's narration? Is she able to maintain clarity and candor throughout her chronicling of events? What gets in the way? Is she as forthcoming in portraying herself as she is in discussing others? Why or why not? How would the novel differ if told from the perspective of Rose, Caroline, Jess, or Larry?

3. At the outset of the novel, Ginny confesses that retrospection has not revealed too much about the drama that unfolded when her father decided to hand over the farm to Rose and her and leave out Caroline: "I've thought over every moment of that party time and time again, sifting for pointers, signals, ways of knowing how to do things differently from the way they got done. There were no clues" [p. 13]. To what extent does the story that she then tells undermine this claim? What remains a mystery despite her scrutiny?

4. What are the most tragic elements of A Thousand Acres? Whichof these elements are rooted in the exercise of an individual's will, and which seem attributable to something beyond the scope of human volition? Where does the novel ultimately situate itself in the enduring fate v. free will debate?

5. What do you see as Smiley's debt to Shakespeare's King Lear? Where do the two works part ways? What provides A Thousand Acres with its autonomy despite its borrowed plot and characters?

6. Which of the issues explored in A Thousand Acres are unique to rural life in America? Which resonate regardless of geography? What does the novel reveal about variations and consistencies in the so-called American character?

7. What are a few of the guises in which passion appears in A Thousand Acres? What seems to lie at the root of each guise? Which do the most damage? Why do some characters yield to a desire for authority, acreage, etc., while others resist such temptations? Is there greater freedom in following passion or in checking it? What does the novel teach us about the nature of passion, restraint, and indulgence?

8. The interior lives of Caroline as well as Larry remain relatively unexamined compared to those of Rose and Ginny, their spouses, and Jess. What is the dramatic and thematic significance of keeping these characters in the shadows?

9. Contemplating her father's momentous decision, Ginny marvels at its apparent rashness. "He decided to change his whole life on Wednesday!" she exclaims. "Objectively, this is an absurdity" [p. 34]. Her remark points to the struggle against the whims of chance that appears throughout A Thousand Acres. How does the deliberate adherence to daily routine help the characters to weather the vicissitudes of the natural world and the inconsistency of human nature? What kind of solace and safety, if any, do seasonal chores and rituals provide?

10. Discuss the myriad ways that motherhood—and fatherhood—are weighed in the novel. How does Ginny's ineluctable desire to give birth shape her view of her present and past? What meaning does she derive from the many surrogate-maternal roles she plays? In what ways is her mother's long absence a constant presence?

11. "Our bond had a peculiar fertility that I was wise enough to appreciate, and also, perhaps, wise enough to appreciate in silence," Ginny says. "Rose wouldn't have stood for any sentimentality" [p. 62]. Reticence seems the norm among these characters, yet they express themselves in other ways. What nonverbal forms of communication do they use? What are the reach and limits of each? What are the perils and possibilities?

12. Is there a particular political view or ideology at work in A Thousand Acres? If so, what is it? Does viewing the novel through the lens of feminism, for example, limit or enlarge it? What do you see as the novelist's responsibility vis-a-vis politics? Does this work fall closer to agenda or inquiry?

13. "The first novel I ever knew was my family," writes Ms. Smiley in the afterword to Family: American Writers Remember Their Own (David McKay Co., 1997). "We had every necessary element, from the wealth of incident both domestic and historical, to the large cast of characters. We had geographical sweep and the requisite, for an American novel, adventure in the West." How can A Thousand Acres be interpreted as a meditation on family? How does the novel shed light on the dark corners of family life? How are the Cooks both anomalous to and representative of the average American family? What explains their tragic dissolution? What could have prevented it?

14. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a story that is told almost entirely in the past tense? How does this affect your interpretation of the novel?

15. Ginny is stilled by the disturbing thought that her own "endurance might be a pleasant fiction allowed [her] by others who've really faced facts" [p. 90]. Is it? Do you construe her story, i.e., the novel, as flight from a difficult reality or a means of confronting it? Why?

16. During a game of Monopoly, Jess describes Harold as someone who is "cannier and smarter than he lets on," then suggests that real freedom exists in "the slippage between what he looks like and what he is" [p. 109]. How does the relationship between appearance and reality drive the novel's action in terms of the meaning and direction of its characters' lives? What kind of importance does Jane Smiley assign to this relationship?

17. In what reads like a muted epiphany, Ginny considers the constant weight and exhaustion she felt in the months after her mother's death and then realizes that one reaches a point where "relief is good enough" [p. 198]. Is this remark an expression of resignation or true acceptance?

18. In a candid conversation with Rose, Ginny voices her inability to understand her father's abuse despite Rose's insistence that the matter is a simple case of "I want, I take, I do." Ginny says, "I can't believe it's that simple," to which Rose responds: "If you probe and probe and try to understand, it just holds you back" [p. 212]. What does this exchange reveal about the limitations of reason? About the possibility or impossibility of true catharsis? What options exist when the rational is exhausted?
(Questions issued by publisher.)


message 3: by George (last edited Oct 08, 2017 10:06PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
Thanks Irene. I will certainly try to answer some of these questions in the next 2 - 3 days.

A couple of weeks ago I read and listened to Shakespeare's play King Lear. It is not necessary to have any knowledge of King Lear to enjoy A Thousand Acres. However I am glad I have some understanding of King Lear as it has allowed me to have a greater appreciation of the play and the novel.


George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
I found the second half of the novel to be a quick read. The plot momentum certainly increases with the number of events that occur in the second half of the book.
I enjoyed this novel. Jane Smiley ‘s story of family relationships and the impact of farming on people comments on some thought provoking issues such as sibling rivalry, marriage tensions and children’s psychological burdens.

Below are my responses to the first three questions listed above.
1. Zebulon County is unique farming country. Draining the land improved it for farming purposes. The land improvements lead to the increased wealth of the Cook family. The family’s increased wealth occurred due to hard work and astutely managing the farming operation, particularly by Larry Cook. All three daughters are hard workers.

2. The reader gains a good insight of how Ginny views the world and the events that occur. She seems in many respects to be a loner. We gain little about how Caroline and Larry think or feel about the events that take place. Ginny’s view seems fairly narrow. She rarely empathises with Larry, Caroline or Jess.

3. Ginny’s reflection highlights her underlying conviction that her father owed Ginny and Rose for what he did to them. She doesn’t seem to consider the option of rejecting her father’s decision to gift his farm prior to his death. Her lack of empathy for how Caroline feels is hard to understand. Also Rose and Ginny’s willingness to accept the gift of the farm, with Caroline getting nothing is difficult to comprehend. Especially given that Ginny and Rose do not seem to have a great deal of animosity towards Caroline.


Mary (MaryinGilbert) | 55 comments I don't recall reading "King Lear" in high school, so used Google to gain some familiarity with the themes. I will confess that I was semi-interested in the first half of the novel and even thought of abandoning it. At about the halfway point Smiley dropped the first bombshell​ and the remainder of the novel was a page-turner, I couldn't put it down. It was like watching a train wreck. A tragic tale for many, many reasons. I would rate this ***** ; for the author's finely crafted storytelling and the well developed characters.


Irene | 422 comments A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

This is the story of a farming family in the second half of the 20th century, a domineering, abusive patriarch and his three adult daughters. When the father unexpectedly decides to sign over the farm to his daughters and son-in-laws, he kicks over the first domino in a chain of events which will shatter the daughters’ coping mechanisms and topple the precarious family structure. This is brilliantly written, each character so finely painted, the interactions so nuanced, individual motivations revealed in all their complexities. Smiley has a magnificent ability to understand frail people and broken families and to convey their pain with unflinching realism and sensitivity.


Irene | 422 comments I answered all those questions and my entire post disappeared. GRRRRRR!


George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
What a sad state of affairs!!! My sympathies. The Goodreads program seems to be a little unforgiving. I know the feeling. Remember when there was no 'automatic save' on the earlier word programs?


Irene | 422 comments 1. How does the symbiotic relationship between person and place addressed in Ms. Smiley's choice of epigraph play itself out in the novel? How does setting shape character and vice versa? Which seems to have the upper hand? How is Zebulon County itself a major character in A Thousand Acres?

It is obvious that European settlers has tamed/cultivated the land of Zebulon County. They have drained the water that covered the land, Diverted future rain fall. Uncovered the rich top soil. Changed prairie to farm land. But the land and the weather has changed the people. It spawned roots onto people that had traveled from far distant lands. It connected future generations by invisible chains. The unpredictable weather made the inhabitants so risk adverse that they took refuge in routine and ritual. And it made a community so afraid of the unknown that they were willing to ignore any manner of evil to protect the status quo.


Irene | 422 comments 2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Ginny's narration? Is she able to maintain clarity and candor throughout her chronicling of events? What gets in the way? Is she as forthcoming in portraying herself as she is in discussing others? Why or why not? How would the novel differ if told from the perspective of Rose, Caroline, Jess, or Larry?
We all have blind spots, both in our perception of ourselves and our perceptions of others. Smiley did a great job incorporating these blind spots into Ginny’s narration. Yet at the same time she does not turn Ginny into an omnipotent narrator, she gives glimpses at other ways people might be perceiving the situation. I really wish we could have seen things from Caroline’s perspective. Her behavior was the least explicable to me.


message 11: by Irene (last edited Oct 18, 2017 10:03AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Irene | 422 comments 3. At the outset of the novel, Ginny confesses that retrospection has not revealed too much about the drama that unfolded when her father decided to hand over the farm to Rose and her and leave out Caroline: "I've thought over every moment of that party time and time again, sifting for pointers, signals, ways of knowing how to do things differently from the way they got done. There were no clues" [p. 13]. To what extent does the story that she then tells undermine this claim? What remains a mystery despite her scrutiny?
Maybe it was me, but I found much inexplicable in how events unfolded. What was behind Larry’s decision to turn over the farm? He seems to regret it as soon as it is done. Was his subsequent erratic behavior, his increased alcoholism, a result of losing control of the farm and his sense of purpose or did he see himself slipping and therefore wanted to turn over the farm before he lost his grip on reality? If the later, his decline was too fast. And, why did Caroline turn on the sisters who sacrificed so much to raise her after their mother’s death. She is an intelligent young woman; she must recognize that she had opportunities that Ginny and Rose did not have since they had to assume adult responsibilities at such a young age? Why would Caroline believe that her sisters forced their father into a terrible night time storm after watching them feed and care for him for so many years? Did Ty really tell Caroline that Ginny and Rose kicked their father into the storm? If he did, did I miss something about that awful night? These are just a few of the questions I had.


Irene | 422 comments 4. What are the most tragic elements of A Thousand Acres? Which of these elements are rooted in the exercise of an individual's will, and which seem attributable to something beyond the scope of human volition? Where does the novel ultimately situate itself in the enduring fate v. free will debate?
I found the most tragic elements those that were chosen. Certainly there was much tragedy that was outside of human control: the young death of the mother, Rose’s cancer, infertility, market forces, etc. But the more tragic elements were the suffering inflicted by characters on each other. I was sickened by Larry’s abuse of his daughters. It was unnecessary and not a result of any strain he endured or values he accepted. It was one thing to be a dictator, but his abuse went beyond that. And, maybe the community turned a blind eye, not wanting to look beyond the nice façade to find out what was going on behind closed doors, but even if the ladies of the community had come around to support the girls, they still would not have revealed their secret, no one would have known. Unfortunately, it happens in every community. The tragedy was that, even after surviving Larry’s abuse, the pain was so crippling, the wounds so infected, that it brought decay to those relationships that might have provided healing and happiness over the long term. The tragedy is that abuse, when untreated, continues to hurt the abused long after the event.


Irene | 422 comments 6. Which of the issues explored in A Thousand Acres are unique to rural life in America? Which resonate regardless of geography? What does the novel reveal about variations and consistencies in the so-called American character?

I saw the themes in this novel as universal, not specific to rural America. Certainly the setting shaped the way some of these themes played out, but they were all universal themes.


Irene | 422 comments 8. The interior lives of Caroline as well as Larry remain relatively unexamined compared to those of Rose and Ginny, their spouses, and Jess. What is the dramatic and thematic significance of keeping these characters in the shadows?
I am not sure what the thematic elements are. But, in keeping them in the shadows, we are drawn into Ginny’s confusion about the events she is narrating. Not knowing, not understanding what is behind Larry’s and Caroline’s behaviors forces Ginny to function in the dark. She only has the past patterns to guide her steps and they are not sufficient for the current reality.


Irene | 422 comments 9. Contemplating her father's momentous decision, Ginny marvels at its apparent rashness. "He decided to change his whole life on Wednesday!" she exclaims. "Objectively, this is an absurdity" [p. 34]. Her remark points to the struggle against the whims of chance that appears throughout A Thousand Acres. How does the deliberate adherence to daily routine help the characters to weather the vicissitudes of the natural world and the inconsistency of human nature? What kind of solace and safety, if any, do seasonal chores and rituals provide?

When life presents a person with constant inconsistency and danger, we usually retreat to routine. We may not be able to control the weather, to keep those we love alive, to protect ourselves from monsters, but we can control a tiny little bit of our reality. The little things become increasingly important when the grand things are beyond us. Larry can’t control the success of his crops from year to year, the life of his wife, nor keep his youngest daughter at home, but he can eat breakfast at 6:00 every morning, damn it! And this little bit of control has to be enough because it is all we are given.


Irene | 422 comments 11. "Our bond had a peculiar fertility that I was wise enough to appreciate, and also, perhaps, wise enough to appreciate in silence," Ginny says. "Rose wouldn't have stood for any sentimentality" [p. 62]. Reticence seems the norm among these characters, yet they express themselves in other ways. What nonverbal forms of communication do they use? What are the reach and limits of each? What are the perils and possibilities?

They communicate as much as what they do not say as what they do say. They communicate by look and by touch. They communicate by what they do and by what they leave undone. In not saying or asking, they provide privacy in a fish bowl community and a respect for one another’s interior lives. They also recognize that words are as truthful as they are dishonest, they can wound as well as they can rescue. And often the look or touch, the act or absence can say far more than words can. Of course, the silence can also deceive. It can be a way to hide or avoid. And, what the other fails to say can be filled with what one wants to hear.


Irene | 422 comments 12. Is there a particular political view or ideology at work in A Thousand Acres? If so, what is it? Does viewing the novel through the lens of feminism, for example, limit or enlarge it? What do you see as the novelist's responsibility vis-a-vis politics? Does this work fall closer to agenda or inquiry?

I would love to hear other's thoughts on this question. I did not see this as a novel with a political agenda. Did I miss something?


Irene | 422 comments 13. "The first novel I ever knew was my family," writes Ms. Smiley in the afterword to Family: American Writers Remember Their Own (David McKay Co., 1997). "We had every necessary element, from the wealth of incident both domestic and historical, to the large cast of characters. We had geographical sweep and the requisite, for an American novel, adventure in the West." How can A Thousand Acres be interpreted as a meditation on family? How does the novel shed light on the dark corners of family life? How are the Cooks both anomalous to and representative of the average American family? What explains their tragic dissolution? What could have prevented it?

Hopefully, the average family is not characterized by such sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse. But, every family is characterized by questions of loyalty, of shifting alliances, of individual needs and wants, of misunderstandings, power-plays, suspicions, by the story of the past and the hope and fear of the future, by the desire for roots and for wings.


Irene | 422 comments 14. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a story that is told almost entirely in the past tense? How does this affect your interpretation of the novel?

The future is already written; there is a sense of inevitability. Yet between what was and what is we may find the answer to the mystery of life. This story explores that mysterious middle ground.


Irene | 422 comments 15. Ginny is stilled by the disturbing thought that her own "endurance might be a pleasant fiction allowed [her] by others who've really faced facts" [p. 90]. Is it? Do you construe her story, i.e., the novel, as flight from a difficult reality or a means of confronting it? Why?

I saw Ginny’s story as one possible way of coping with an abusive history and its aftermath. I don’t think there is one way of handling a life story.


Irene | 422 comments 16. During a game of Monopoly, Jess describes Harold as someone who is "cannier and smarter than he lets on," then suggests that real freedom exists in "the slippage between what he looks like and what he is" [p. 109]. How does the relationship between appearance and reality drive the novel's action in terms of the meaning and direction of its characters' lives? What kind of importance does Jane Smiley assign to this relationship?

In this community, people realize that there are limitations to what we can know about our neighbor. We can either throw up our hands or declare every other household to be a mystery or we can accept what we see as what is. The community decides to accept appearances as reality, not to try to pry behind the front doors of other families. To this end, appearances become critical. A clean house means that we have the farm under control. A painted barn and clean clothes mean that we are not in desperation. Visible hard work means that we did not bring misfortune on ourselves by laziness. Of course, behind such a façade, people can find themselves trapped, prisoners who can not cry for help. Or, they can find a place of safety and freedom where they can be themselves, in all their virtue or vice, unseen and criticized by others.


Irene | 422 comments 17. In what reads like a muted epiphany, Ginny considers the constant weight and exhaustion she felt in the months after her mother's death and then realizes that one reaches a point where "relief is good
enough" [p. 198]. Is this remark an expression of resignation or true acceptance?

Is it resignation or acceptance? Or is it a middle ground? I am not sure that resignation and acceptance are binary choices but ends of a pool whose water is constantly flowing back and forth.


Irene | 422 comments 18. In a candid conversation with Rose, Ginny voices her inability to understand her father's abuse despite Rose's insistence that the matter is a simple case of "I want, I take, I do." Ginny says, "I can't believe it's that simple," to which Rose responds: "If you probe and probe and try to understand, it just holds you back" [p. 212]. What does this exchange reveal about the limitations of reason? About the possibility or impossibility of true catharsis? What options exist when the rational is exhausted?

There are some things so evil, so horrid that there is no rational explanation. To try to give a rational explanation for it can seem like validating the evil. At the same time, there are some for whom a rational explanation can make it bearable. If Rose's explanation is correct, than Ginny and Rose were reduced to the hogs on the farm, and maybe even less. But, if there is some explanation, some mental health illness, some grave moral defect, then we can blame that inpersonal force. Is it easier to live with the knowledge that one is the daughter of a monster or the daughter of a man severely broken. If I look for an explanation beyond the simple fact that the man perpetrated evil, am I excusing the inexcusable?

I was surprised that Rose told Ginny that Larry did not rape her but seduced her. For a character that can summarize the father's abuse as I wanted and I took, I was surprised that she named herself as a free participant in the abuse. I wonder why.


George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
Irene wrote: "3. At the outset of the novel, Ginny confesses that retrospection has not revealed too much about the drama that unfolded when her father decided to hand over the farm to Rose and her and leave out..."

The first half of the novel seems to closely follow Shakespeare's play. King Lear, (Larry), behaves irrationally and as the play progresses, gradually descends into madness. With the novel we don't know much from Larry's perspective, though what we do learn suggests Larry is going mad, as is evident at the trial.

I think the decision on the spur of the moment to gift the farm to only two daughters indicates a lack of thought by Larry. It is a decision that probably indicates that Larry is unwell and Caroline's response at the time is a fair one. Ginny and Rose are too opportunistic at that time.

The night of the storm is a little unclear. In Shakespeare's play, the two sisters, (Ginny and Rose), are actually feed up of looking after King Lear and his private army. They tell King Lear to get rid of his army and they will look after him alone. He refuses, going out into the storm, aided by a couple of his followers. In the novel, neither Ginny nor Rose actively seek their father to bring him to shelter. From an outsider their lack of protective action is reprehensible. Ginny's reporting of the event seems a little uncaring, no matter how she justifies her lack of action.


George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
Irene wrote: "4. What are the most tragic elements of A Thousand Acres? Which of these elements are rooted in the exercise of an individual's will, and which seem attributable to something beyond the scope of hu..."

Larry's abuse of Rose and Ginny is something Smiley has introduced as part of the reason for why Rose and Ginny behave the way they do to their father. It's interesting how this issue plays out. In the end Caroline and the Zebulon community do not seem to believe Ginny and Rose's accusations of their father raping them. For Ginny and Rose, by not speaking up at the time of the abuse or in the following years before they were married has inadvertently hidden Larry's criminal behaviour. What I found sad was that Rose told Peter early on in their marriage about Larry raping her and Peter kept quiet. Smiley does a good job in highlighting how such things can remain hidden in the community.


George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
Irene wrote: "12. Is there a particular political view or ideology at work in A Thousand Acres? If so, what is it? Does viewing the novel through the lens of feminism, for example, limit or enlarge it? What do y..."

Smiley provides a voice for Rose and Ginny, explaining why they behave the way they do. In Shakespeare's play Goneril and Regan are so angry and Shakespeare attributes their anger to their evil natures. Smiley shows how social structure maintains and preserves patriarchy. Patriarchy controls the household and provides an excuse for Larry's physical and mental abuse of his daughters. Larry's desire for control and possession are reflected in his actions - the rape of the land, making it his own, and the rape of his daughters. Ginny and Rose are passive women who try to fit in with the men in their lives who make life changing decisions for the future of their farm.


George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
Irene wrote: "16. During a game of Monopoly, Jess describes Harold as someone who is "cannier and smarter than he lets on," then suggests that real freedom exists in "the slippage between what he looks like and ..."

I agree with your comments. Appearances are important, however actions do count for something. What aided people respecting Larry is that over a 50 years Larry had built up a substantial farm in the Zebulon community. He did it by hard work, improving the land and making a profit from his produce. Peter and Ty had Larry's successful farming operation in liquidation in a very short period of time.


Irene | 422 comments George wrote: "Irene wrote: "3. At the outset of the novel, Ginny confesses that retrospection has not revealed too much about the drama that unfolded when her father decided to hand over the farm to Rose and her..."


George, thank you for the Lear summary and comparison. It has been somewhere around 35 years since I read that play and forgot most of it.

I see what you are saying about Ginny and Rose appearing uncaring the night of the storm. It did not strike me that way when I was reading it. Larry had just spewed venum on Ginny. It is possible that it was not Larry talking, but some "madness". But, Rose and Ginny know that it was far too familiar. Maybe he had been more venimous than usual, but it was a matter of degree, not of a completely new interaction. The fact that they continued to feed and clean for the man who raped them as teens was more generous than I think I could have been. He rapes his daughters, then calls his oldest girl a hoar. Talk about ironic. Further, Ginny did know that her husband was out looking for him. Tell you what a witch I am, I was angry with Ty for not backing his wife in the face of such verbal abuse. Maybe Ty attributed this outburst to madness, but I still saw it as indicative of how he treated Ginny all her life. If you see an old man compremised by some form of dementia, than not pulling out all the stops for a full scale man hunt that night is cruel and irresponsible. If you see a stubborn, manipulative, controlling abuser who is on one more tyraid, than going out after him is only enabling.


Irene | 422 comments George wrote: "Irene wrote: "16. During a game of Monopoly, Jess describes Harold as someone who is "cannier and smarter than he lets on," then suggests that real freedom exists in "the slippage between what he l..."

Yes, the farm goes under in a short period of time, but it was in large part tdue to the lawsuit that forced them to abort the hog plans mid way. Had they been able to finish the hog pens on schedule and started breeding, would they have failed? And we know that Larry is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. He gets a growing farm and destroys how many in the process. Ty loses the farm but does no harm. Who is successful?


Irene | 422 comments George wrote: "Irene wrote: "12. Is there a particular political view or ideology at work in A Thousand Acres? If so, what is it? Does viewing the novel through the lens of feminism, for example, limit or enlarge..."

Really appreciated this answer. Knowing Lear gives this book an extra layor of meaning, so much more depth.


Irene | 422 comments George wrote: "Irene wrote: "4. What are the most tragic elements of A Thousand Acres? Which of these elements are rooted in the exercise of an individual's will, and which seem attributable to something beyond t..."

Yes, and of course, in this community at this time, people did not talk about sexual abuse. For Ginny or Rose to have said something as 15 year olds would have brought shame on themselves. There is no mother. And, we all know how many times a child reported sexual abuse to a mother only to have the mother deny the child's claims. So, had mom lived, there is no guarantee that things would have played out much differently. So the girls know that they can't say anything, and they are condemned for not saying anything. They were in a no win situation. Plus, Rose does tell Peter, as you point out. And she is the one physically abused by her husband. The two might not be linked, but in the mind of an abused person, the connection would have been there. Why does Caroline and Zebulon not believe Rose and Ginny? Of course, we don't actually know, but it is as if by calling Rose and Ginny liars, they can avoid responsibility for allowing such horror to take place unchallenged in their close-knit community. And, Caroline? she was left home with the father during her teen years. Ginny married at 19 and moved out; Rose went to college. So, is Caroline repressing her own abuse or is she fighting to keep in tact her perception of her father, willing to sacrifice her sisters to that relationship?


message 32: by George (last edited Oct 20, 2017 02:38PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
Thanks Irene. Your comments have certainly helped me appreciate the novel even more. I hadn't thought about it before, but Ginny's perspective, whilst narrow, is very realistic. She is caught up in her own world and fighting to cope with the lot she has been dealt with. It is understandable that she cannot/will not see the world from Larry or Caroline's viewpoint.
I hadn't thought about it, but reading King Lear a couple of weeks prior to reading A Thousand Acres did influence how I read the novel. Ginny's version of the night of the storm initially seems reasonable, but that's from her perspective only. Shakespeare's play made me more sceptical of how Ginny reported the night of the storm. As I started reading the novel I thought Smiley had only fleetingly followed the play. The storm made me think at the time of reading, that there is a strong correlation between the novel and the play.


George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
Irene wrote: "George wrote: "Irene wrote: "3. At the outset of the novel, Ginny confesses that retrospection has not revealed too much about the drama that unfolded when her father decided to hand over the farm ..."

This is where Shakespeare and Smiley differ markedly. With the play, the night of the storm shows the sisters as plain nasty individuals. With the novel, it isn't the same. Smiley provides a much deeper character in Ginny and as you point out, there is a greater basis/logic as to why Ginny acted the way she did.

I too thought Ty was very unsupportive. Ty and Peter seem fairly weak men, particularly in comparison to what we know Larry must have been like prior to his decision to gift the farm to only two of his daughters.


Irene | 422 comments What do you really think happened the night of the storm?

Why does Caroline have such a different opinion of her father? There is a time in her teen years when she was the only one at home. Do you think Larry did not sexually abuse Caroline after abusing both Ginny and Rose? If so, why? If he did, then why is Caroline so sympathetic to Larry? As an attorney, she has more exposure to social and legal frames of reference that would condemn Larry. She has the geographical distance to confront the abuse. But, she appears not to recognize her father's abuse. Why?

Peter's suicide took me completely off guard. What did you make of it?


message 35: by George (last edited Oct 21, 2017 06:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
Here is a summary of the night of the storm: Peter finds out his truck is missing and thinks Larry has driven off with it. Peter and Ty find Larry, bring him home (in the middle of the storm), Larry calls Rose and Ginny whores and accuses them of stealing his property and not taking care of him. Larry then walks away from them out into the stormy night. Late that night Rose tells Ginny that when she was a teenager, after their mother died, Larry repeatedly raped her. Ginny can't remember Larry raping her.

The two sisters and their husbands let Larry walk off into the rain. Rose later justifies her inaction to Ginny by talking to Ginny about Larry raping Rose. What's Peter and Ty's justification for allowing Larry to just walk off?

Smiley is faithful to Shakespeare's Cordelia in Caroline being the good sister. We do not gain an idea of Caroline's view but given her supportive behaviour and not believing her sister's accusations, it seems likely that Caroline was not abused. Maybe the introduction of boyfriends to the elder two sisters curbed Larry's abusive physical behaviour. Being the only man around the house after his wife's death, he was a law unto himself, but that changed with Peter and Ty coming onto the scene. Caroline was a number of years younger that Ginny and Rose.

Peter in Shakespeare's play is represented by the Duke of Cornwall. He is a evil man who blinds the Earl of Gloucester. After committing this act the Duke is killed by one of his servants.

Peter's dies after learning Rose is having and affair with Jess. He begins drinking excessively. I was initially surprised by Peter's death. However his death fits in with the King Lear plot.

Ty in Shakespeare's play is represented by Albany. Albany leads his armies into battle against the King and French soldiers even though he thinks the French are in the right. It is Edgar who kills his brother, Edmund. (Edmund have been sleeping with Albany's wife). The play ends with Albany possibly left ruling the kingdom with Edgar's help, given everyone else has died!


Irene | 422 comments Thanks for that summary.

I thought Ty went out looking for Larry in the storm.

So, do you think Larry raped his daughters? Only Rose genuinely has a memory of it. She plants the idea in Ginny's mind. It could be argued that it was an idea that fit Ginny's animosity to her father, so she accepts it and makes it her own. An abuser generally does not believe that what s/he is doing is wrong. Peter and Ty are not in the house at night. If Larry was molesting his daughters and if he had gotten away with it twice, it seems unlikely that he would suddenly leave Caroline alone. Or, did Rose's revelation rip the blinders off of Ginny's emotional repressed memories. Did it give her permission to remember what had been so traumatic that she had pushed it down so far that it was out of her consciousness? If Ginny had repressed the memory and Rose had convinced herself that Larry seduced her because he loved her the most, it would explain why they would leave their baby sister in the house to be raped.


George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
Yes, Ty did go out looking for Larry and couldn't find him. Peter and Jess also went looking for him.

I think Larry raped Rose and maybe Ginny, but not Caroline.

Rose states that Larry didn't rape her, he seduced her, claiming that it was her duty as a daughter to pleasure him. Rose states that in high school she felt it her responsibility to distract Larry from Caroline. Rose seems to have told no one about her father's sexual abuse, only telling Peter after Peter broke her arm. She even sent her daughters away to boarding school so that they would see as little of Larry as possible.
I can believe Ginny's memory was repressed and that she too was abused by Larry.

Rose despises her father and takes the opportunity to extract revenge. She wants the revenge to be total, taking away Larry's farm, leaving him powerless and to erase his memory. I expect Rose didn't tell anyone of Larry raping her as it is unlikely that anyone would believe Rose, even if she made the charges official.

Jane Smiley has stated that A Thousand Acres is the retelling of King Lear from a feminist view. What if Ginny and Rose had a reason to behave they way they did? That they weren't just plain 'evil'.


Irene | 422 comments Thanks, my memory was right that Ginny was not totally callace, letting her father alone in a terrible storm. There were three men out looking for him.

I believed Larry raped the girls, but then began to question my assumption.


message 39: by George (last edited Oct 21, 2017 11:41PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
To those present at the time of Larry walking off, I can understand why they didn't immediately go to Larry's aid. After all, Larry had just abused his daughters and punched Peter in the face. At that time, Ginny and Rose were inside. It was only after Larry started walking off that it began to rain heavily and the electricity went out. Ty stated that he had lost sight of Larry.

What I don't understand is why Peter and Ty didn't support their wives behaviour in relation to this event. Surely they are just as to blame for Larry being allowed to wander off, yet they lay the blame at Ginny and Rose.

Allowing an unreasonable, mad, old man to walk off alone into the storm is not good behaviour. He could get lost. That no one went with Larry to persuade him to come home or to help him find shelter is probably why Caroline and the local community viewed Ginny and Rose as callous towards their father. Peter and Ty were present when Larry called his daughters whores and walked off. That the men went searching for Larry afterwards mitigates their callousness but doesn't fully excuse it to people who were not present at the event.

Thanks for your comments and questions Irene. It has certainly helped me gain a greater appreciation of the novel.


Irene | 422 comments I understand why the local town people were condemning of Ginny and Rose because they had a skewed understanding of the events that night. As a reader, I wanted Larry to get lost and could not have cared more what happened to him after the way he treated his daughters. Of course, we have the ahistory that the towns people don't know. We see Larry insisting that Ginny sit in a hot car while he goes to his appointment, forbidding her from walking into one of the local stores to cool off because he does not want to be inconvenienced It was such a perfect example of his total selfishness and inability to see his daughter as a human being with needs and wants and feelings. It has been a long time since I have hated a literary character as much as I hated Larry..


George (Georgejazz) | 324 comments Mod
Thanks for recalling the incident when Larry makes Ginny remain sitting in the car. Another good example of Larry behaving badly.


Irene | 422 comments Smiley is certainly a skilled author to elicit such strong emotions from me toward one of her characters.


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