King Lear And A Thousand Acres: A Comparison Essay, Research Paper
In William Shakespeare s King Lear and Jane Smiley s A Thousand Acres, the reader will
find that both works use similar character types that mirror each other to increase further
the similarities and meaning of the works.
Perhaps no similarity is as striking as that of the fathers . They share three
characteristics which bind them and make their parallels unmistakable. The first, and most
obvious, is that they are both proprietors of a large estate. King Lear s property consists
of England and Larry Cook s property is that of a thousand acres of land in Iowa. This
land brings the primary conflicts of the two works into focus. Before their downward
spiral, both men are revered and respected. Their social status has brought them honor,
only up to the point where the fathers seek to divide their land. After that, things take a
turn for the worse. As it relates to King Lear, he gathers his royal entourage and begins to
divide the kingdom between his three daughters. To determine who would receive what,
Lear asks that his daughters profess their love for him. When his two eldest, Goneril and
Regan speak falsely about their affection for their father, Lear bestows upon each of them
a portion of the kingdom. When it comes time for Cordelia to speak, she admits,
Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/ My heart into my mouth. I love my majesty/
According to my bond, no more nor less (Shakespeare, 13). Her insolence results in her
exile. As the play progresses, Lear becomes maddened by his decision, culminating with a
storm on the heath. Before that, his other two daughters throw Lear out of their houses.
Regan says, The old man and s people/ Cannot be well bestowed (117). Similarly, Ginny
and Rose disrespect their father. Ginny says, Daddy, if you think this is bad, then you d
be amazed at what you really deserve. You don t deserve even the care we give you. As
far as I m concerned, from now on you re on your own (Smiley, 183). In yet another
parallel, this tirade occurs during a storm. Because of the betrayal at their daughters
hands, the fathers take similar courses of action against their children. Shortly following
the threat by Ginny, Larry shouts, I curse you! You ll never have children, Ginny, you
haven t got a hope. And your children are going to laugh when you die! (183). Similarly,
an enraged Lear says, All the stored vengeances of heaven fall/ On her ingrateful top!
Strike her young bones/ You taking airs, with lameness! (109).
In addition to the fathers resemblance, the daughters bear striking correlation
themselves. In a grammatical sense, the letters of the daughters first names match in
chronological order of their births, i.e., Goneril-Ginny, Regan-Rose, Cordelia-Caroline. As
obvious as that is, it is no coincidence. Aside from that, the girls share other unmistakable
parallels. Goneril and Regan split their inheritance with their husbands. Lear confirms this:
Of all these bounds, even from this line to this…To thine and Albany s issue/ Be this
perpetual (11). Similarly, To thee and thine heredity ever/ Remain this ample third of
our fair kingdom (13). Ginny and Rose also receive a substantial portion of land. In the
meantime, Cordelia and Caroline receive nothing. In fact, Lear banishes his youngest
daughter for failing to profess her love to him: If on the tenth day following/ Thy
banished trunk be found within our dominions/ The moment is thy death. Away! By
Jupiter/ This shall not be revoked (19). The relationship between the novels continues to
The subplots of these two works are indeed also similar. Gloucester is blinded by
Cornwall in Act III, scene vii. Corwall says, Lest it see more, prevent it. Out, vile jelly!
(165). The medieval foil of Gloucester, Harold Clark becomes blind as a result of a
chemical known as anhydrous ammonia. Ty explains, Harold Clark s had an anhydrous
accident. He s blind now (233). Edgar, the legitimate son of Gloucester, can be compared
to Loren Clark, who has stayed to work on the family farm. Loren, much like the
legitimate Edgar, is well-liked by the residents of Zebulon County. Ginny describes Loren
as, …a big sweet guy…seeing him somewhere was always a pleasure, like taking a drink
of water (7). Conversely, in Shakespearean times, illegitimate children had few rights.
Edmund expounds bitterly on his situation:
This is the excellent foppery of the world, that/ when we are sick
in fortune (often the surfeits of/ our own behavior) we make guilty of our
disasters/ the sun, moon, and stars, as if we were villains/ on necessity…An
admirable/ evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish/ disposition on the
charge of a star! (37).
Jess Clark was just as neglected when he left for Vietnam. Ginny says, …Jess and
everything about him slipped into the category of unmentionable, and no one spoke of him
again until the spring of 1979 (6). The secondary characters in these works bear evident
Although separated by hundreds of years, these similarities help to tie the works
together. Be it through patriarchal mirroring with Lear and Larry Cook both dividing their
property, or through filial conflict between the daughters, or even congruity within the
subplots, these correlations send a clear message: the basic conflicts between family
members never change. These conflicts may be disguised, which coincidentally is a
prevalent theme in King Lear, but the root problem is unchanged. Sibling rivalry and
patriarchal power struggles inevitably lead to devastating family consequences, often
causing rifts to emerge between the afflicted which can become irreconcilable with time.
Unfortunately, these issues, as is the case with the aforementioned works, are often driven
by the human condition itself, or more accurately, selfishness. The act of self-preservation
magnified beyond practical bounds can act as a catalyst to augment the hidden struggles
within a family structure. The similarities found in King Lear and A Thousand Acres serve
as a constant reminder that although time itself may change, the relationships and the
people whom they involve remain quite stoic in their ways.