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.