Thousand Acres


Thousand Acres Essay, Research Paper

A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley, is a story of incest, ignorance, and the

imperialistic voice of the almighty man. Ignorance of being lead by a man, particular

views of Rose and Ginny, and domesticated to believe that "When we are good girls and

accept our circumstances, we’re glad about it. . .When we are bad girls, it drives us

crazy" (99). The imperialistic voice usually comes from the omnipotent Larry Cook, Rose,

Ginny, and Caroline?s father. And the incestuous relations only entangle this

dysfunctional family. The eldest daughter, Ginny, is the most loyal and idolizes her

father. The second eldest daughter, Rose, is linked to her father through Ginny, who keeps

her from losing faith in him. Rose questions whether the loyalty that Ginny shows her

father makes her obedient or if her reluctance to judge him proves her ignorance. Rose has

two daughters, Pammy and Linda, who are also first hand witnesses to the episodes of the

Cook family trauma, but remain dormant to what goes on around them. Caroline, the youngest

daughter has left the one thousand acres of land they grew up on to become a lawyer.

Caroline is married to Frank Ras, whom also is a lawyer and they do not have any children.

The book is narrated from Ginny?s viewpoint. Ginny is married to Ty and they don?t have

any children, but Ginny secretively keeps trying. Ginny also has an extramarital affair

with Jess Clark, son of Harold Clark the neighbor and best friend of Larry Cook. Jess has

just returned to Zebulon County from the food corp. Given the basic character summary, one

of the themes or recurrent ideas that was present throughout the whole book was

domination. This domination concept was usually brought to life through the character,

Larry Cook, over issues like farming, food, appearance or anything else that didn?t sit

well with his expectations in life. Being that domination is not something tangible,

conflicts such as the above mentioned were used to develop the theme idea into a concrete

representation and also illustrate the effects that the domination theme had on the women

of Zebulon County.

The whole farming conflict begins when Larry Cook impulsively decides to distribute

his one thousand acres of farmland to his three daughters and Caroline, the youngest

daughter, rejects the farmland offer. Larry is initially angry at Caroline, but

continues to let Ty, Ginny?s husband, and Pete, Rose?s husband, keep up the

traditional farming methods on the farm that Larry has put into place. Ty has much respect

for Larry as Larry does him. This is because Ty?s background ?showed proper history-Ty?s

dad,? whom ?had inherited the extra farm? that Ty had farmed for six years (12). His good

manners were also a favorable aspect with Larry. Ty also shares some of the same views as

Larry. Pete on the other hand, was not as well liked by Larry as Ty was. The feeling

seemed to be mutual, but because of the marital connections they remained amicable to one

another. And often used Ty as a mediator for disagreements. With the Cook farm transfer

negotiations still pending, preparations were made to expand the farm?s operations and

make a profit. Initially, the transfer has the Cook family on edge. The whole transfer

idea was Larry?s. His character simply gleams rays of control to all those around. Even

when he announces his plan, at a party of all places, Larry positions himself at the

center of the circle of family members. As he boldly pronounces, ?We?re going to form a

corporation…you girls are going to have shares…we?re going to build this new

Slurrystore, and maybe a Harveststore, too, and enlarge the hog operation? (18). At this

point, the decision seems to be made. Nowhere within his declaration does he say ?Would

you girls like to. . .? or ?What do you think about this . . .?. The overall masculine

attitude in this scene is acceptance to the idea. Ty seemed to be ecstatic, but contains

himself. And what opposition do the females convey inspite of their real feelings? ?It?s a

good idea,? (19) says Ginny. ?It?s a great idea,? (19) says Rose. ?I don?t know,? (19)

says Caroline, seeing the ?plan as a trapdoor plunging her into a chute that would deposit

her right back on the farm? (21). It seems that these girls have never stood up to their

father. It?s like they are afraid of him for some reason. All three daughters still refer

to Larry as "Daddy" exhibiting the level of respect or fear that they have towards him.

Ginny even remembers as a child being afraid to look her father in the eye. And to

compare her fathers with other schoolmate?s father was something that could not be done.

In her childhood mind the other fathers were impostors, as farmers and as fathers. ?To

really believe that others even existed in either category was to break the First

Commandment? (19). That?s a pretty high thrown for one man to sit on, but this childhood

representation still seems to exist within her mind. Larry Cook, the god!

The food toxin conflict also illustrates the domination theme. Marv Carson, who does

most of the towns financial business, brings up issues of toxins being in the food. Marv

is serious about this. Marv talks about it as he sits down to a ?sausage, fried eggs, hash

brown potatoes, cornflakes, English muffins and toast? breakfast with Larry to discuss the

Cook farm transfer (28). ?People don?t know it?s not what you eat, but the order in which

you eat it in that counts? for ?digestibility, efficient use of nutrients, toxin shedding?

he says as he eats his eggs and sausage (29). Toxins are something that can?t be escaped

from and ?thinking that you can is just another symptom of the toxic overload stage? (29).

Toxic overload stage is the act of being so dismayed with what you?re eating that you take

dieting measures to the extreme. Marv goes into details on how he concentrated so much on

what he ate that it started to affect his thoughts. As Marv eats an English muffin, he

asks for hot sauce for his muffin to help get rid of some of the toxins. Or draw ?off a

good sweat? as he says (30). Always ?be aware of toxins and try to shed them as regularly

as possible. . .urinate twelve to twenty times a day. . .keep a careful eye on bowel

movements? (29). Ginny seems genuinely interested in what Marv is saying, even freely

asking questions about his beliefs. And what is Larry?s remark to all of this. ?Hmmp?

(30). Larry seems to be insulted by the ?funny? way that Marv is eating and his grunt of

resentment silence Ginny?s questions as well as Marv?s explanations. And even Ty shared

the opinion after being told about the scenario. ?Shedding brain cells is more likely?

(49). Ty considers Marv a fool, therefore diminishing his creditability on nutrition.

Larry Cook, the businessman!

The appropriateness of appearance also substantiates the domination

theme. It?s as if maintaining a veneer of social respectability has to be withheld. ?Many

issues on a farm return to the issue of keeping up appearances? (199). A good appearance

was the source and the sign of all other good things? (199). Larry at one point gives some

insight on this ?model farmer? in Zebulon County. ?A farmer is a man who feeds the world?

(45). A man whose first duty is ?to grow more food? (45). A man whose second duty is ?to

buy more land? (45). Characteristics or signs of this man would be one who has ?clean

fields, neatly painted buildings, breakfast at six, no debts, no standing water? (45). A

good farmer ?will not ask you for any favors? (45). Larry?s objective is to maintain this

?model image?. ?Everyone respects him and looks up to him. When he states

an opinion, people listen? (104). So for the most part he has accomplished his objective.

A change in appearance from these standards was somehow viewed as ?crazy? and questioned

the character of the farmer. No matter how unhappy a person is the appearance had to be

maintained as a happy family. Even on frustrating days "they all looked happy" from the

outside (38). That was a ?lesson in that lifelong course of study about tricks of

appearance? (56). To add even more depth to this ?model farmer,? he had a patriarchal

attitude. ?Time to plow! Time to plant! Time to spray! Time to harvest! Time to plow! (73)

No compassion. Larry knew that his daughters would not be able to pay the inheritance

taxes on the farm. So to maintain what the Cook family struggled for years to put together

the farm was transferred and the land expanded. New buildings. Hog operations. Every

morning Ginny walks a half a mile to cook breakfast for her father. ?Every

morning he eats the same thing for breakfast? (73). Not only does he eat the same

breakfast, but also he is served the same breakfast. The constant overruling attitude

portrayed silently and even verbally by the male characters toward the women is evidence

of the affirmed domination standard held within the community. Although characters like,

Jess never really come out to saw where a women?s place is, his actions of seducing the

two sisters, Rose and Ginny, make his beliefs evident. Larry is more up front with his

opinions. In this male-dominated culture, it?s as if women are material possessions and

the place of women is dependent on men. And at first, the women accepted this. Ginny

remarks, "of course it was silly to talk about my point of view. When my father asserted

his point of view, mine vanished" (176). And so did her dignity. Larry Cook, Farmer of the


In conclusion, the above conflicts portray the domination overtones and the effect

that the domination had on the women. Larry Cook seems to be a jack of all trades. He is

portrayed as being a god, a businessman, and a farmer. But Larry lacks when it comes to

the being, Larry Cook, the father. He is so strict about having things done a certain way

with little variations that it blinds him to the wants and needs of those around him.

Initially the novel, Ginny suppresses her voice and remained an obedient figure. She has

been cultured to believe that a woman has to rely upon the masculine authority figure. As

Ginny?s character develops, she begins to break through the mental chains of masculine

dependency and start a new life for herself without regret.

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