In the beginning of the A Thousand Acres ,by Jane Smiley, Larry Cook divides his land amongst his three daughters, Ginny, Rose, and Caroline. It’s seems as though all is well in Larry’s family unit, until his youngest daughter Caroline, refuses to take her share of the land. Harsh words are spoken to Caroline by Larry and she is left disowned from the family and the farm. To some this may seem like a typical novel about family drama, but it is actually Smiley’s reinvented interpretation of William Shakespeare’s King Lear.Larry Cook’s farm symbolizes the kingdom in which King Lear haves in the play. By doing so, Smiley is not only revealing to us that Shakespeare’s work is relative to today, but she is also has shown us that patriarchy is something that is still practiced in today’s society. She also makes us question whether or not it’s good for us to be practicing it. In her novel, Smiley shows us that the patriarchy system is corrupt by casting Larry Cook as a symbolic patriarchy figure.
Larry first symbolically shows us that the patriarchy system is corrupt by how he divides his land. Like his King Lear counterpart,Larry divides the land to his daughters according to his love test. He plans on dividing the land by which daughter loves him the most and supports the land division. Daughters Ginny and Rose agree with the plan enthusiastically, but Caroline feels indifferent. Larry responds by saying, ” You don’t want it, my girl, you’re out. It’s simple as that.” ( Smiley 21)
This shows that there is corruption within the patriarchy system because Larry is dividing his land through nepotism and inheritance. Something in which that still happens today in how corporations and land dispersers work. It’s later revealed in the novel that the girls didn’t even want the land. Both daughters, Ginny and Rose agreed to the division because they thought it was the right thing to do. They did not want to disappoint their father because he is use to hearing yes.
In addition to how the land was divided, Larry symbolically shows patriarchy corruption by whom the land was actually run by. Although he put his daughters through a competition with one another to acquire more land in the division,it is ultimately his daughters husbands who truly run the land. Ginny’s and Rose’s husbands are the ones that makes the important decisions about their land. The downfall of having a patriarchy system such as Larry’s is that the women often do not play a significant role in making decisions. We can see this when Ginny is talking about how her husband Tyler has a plan for their new land already and he hasn’t discussed it with her about it.
Not only the women in A Thousand Acres are not allowed to make important decisions in Larry’s patriarchy system, but they are also encouraged to be silent and not voice their opinions. We see this especially with Ginny after Larry divides the land within the daughters. In chapter six, Ginny talks about how Larry is super sensitive if one does not speak to him correctly:
My father was easily offended, but normally he was easily mollified, too, if you spoke your prescribed part with a proper appearance of remorse. ( Smiley 33)
Like most Kings of a kingdom, Larry wanted his subjects to speak words that he wanted to hear, not the truth or opinion.
Larry also symbolically shows how patriarchy is corrupt by how he destroys his own kingdom which is the farm. He first destroys the farm by ruining his land through hazardous farming methods in attempts to yield more crops. This causes his well water to become poisoned.
By doing so, Larry also ruins his kingdom by harming his subjects through the poisoned well water. Ginny and Rose are the ones that suffer the most from this. Because Ginny had been drinking the well water, she continues to have miscarriages after another. Rose develops breast cancer and may not survive to see her father die before her.
In a way Larry has physically and symbolically raped his land and his people. Larry raped his farmland of good nutrients, and he has also raped his daughters. He has left physical scars for his land and for his family because they have gone into bankruptcy because of the land being depleted of nutrients. Because he had raped his own daughters, both now have emotional scars. Rose handles her emotional baggage from the rape by trying to seek revenge on Larry, while Ginny maintains ambivalence towards the subject matter.